If the constant debate around the EU referendum has coloured your world grey, then take courage. For it’s not all Iain Duncan Smith and Michael Gove on the horizon, but the funnest, sexiest show of all time has been commissioned for a one-off on EU referendum eve. I am talking, of course, about Eurotrash – the late-night Channel 4 show that tried its hardest to teach Britain about sex.
Brits often try to paint ourselves as a nation that would choose a cup of tea over sex. Eurotrash, meanwhile, was a window into a freakish world of nudist Europeans playing pit-pat on the beach. Cellulite, improbably small willies and whopping great fake breasts everywhere. “Yuck!” we cried. Only… an average of two to three million people tuned in every week. It was Channel 4’s most popular entertainment show. It ran from 1993 for 14 years. Clearly, we wanted Eurotrash. And we needed it, too.
The 90s were not a golden age for sex education or even sex discussion. A 1999 survey found that school children had an alarming lack of knowledge about sex – with only one third of 14- to 16-year-olds having heard of syphilis, 14 per cent of chlamydia, and one in six 15-year-old boys saying they’d heard of “gonaditis”, a disease the researchers made up. Nobody talked to us about sex. We were clueless.
Sex ed at my all-girls’ school consisted of a flustered teacher talking for 10 minutes about what mummies and daddies who loved each other very much got up to. I knew more about the mating patterns of frogs than I did about my own species. Of course, sex education wasn’t just limited to the biology lab – you also got to hear scurrilous tales of girls giving misleadingly named “blow jobs”. There was also the sexy and exciting option of watching the film American Pie. Fun fact: did you know that American Pie was invented by a team of scientists and sociologists to target and destroy the confidence of any adolescent girl? If the official sources were to be believed, sex in the late 90s was for 1) mummies and daddies who loved each other very much; 2) frogs; or 3) hairless honey-skinned blonde 18-year-olds called Courtney or Amber who, for whatever reason, were dying to get off with Jason Biggs.
In the year 2016, with education secretary Nicky Morgan announcing that sex ed won’t be compulsory in schools, it sounds like young people today could be in need of Eurotrash themselves
But, always, there was wonderful Eurotrash, the titillating magazine programme that showed sex in all its seedy glory. In a world where sex was either not spoken about, or seemed to be devoid of any joy whatsoever, there it was: a thrift store of curiosity for inexperienced teens across the country – without having to watch porn. Hosted by the improbably handsome Frenchman Antoine de Caunes (and Jean Paul Gaultier in earlier episodes), it was tacky, politically incorrect and incredibly knowing. And, in the year 2016, with education secretary Nicky Morgan announcing that sex ed won’t be compulsory in schools, it sounds like young people today could be in need of Eurotrash themselves. Better than what they find on Pornhub, anyway.
Richard Branson was an early investor in the show and, much like with the automatically opening toilets on his Virgin trains, there was nudity where you least expected it. Where else on TV would strait-laced Brits have the opportunity to see a fat middle-aged Dutch woman having an orgasm on a static bike, egged on by her curiously weedy husband? Where would young people have learnt that it’s natural for fat middle-aged people to have an orgasm, even if it is in a unusual situation? Or for lots of fat middle-aged people to have a fat-middle-aged-people convention in a nudist camp (naked apart from hats and socks) and hit each other with twigs? They were always having the time of their lives, unabashed about their bodies and in it for themselves. Eurotrash may have been immature, but this was diversity we didn’t see anywhere else. And we still don’t.
More conventional sex symbols, such as Lolo Ferrari, Victoria Silvstedt, Carla Bruni and Kylie Minogue slotted happily into the innuendo-laden programme. While it was sexy, Eurotrash was always mostly just silly. The game “Sit On Me” involved Antoine getting a pretty woman to sit on his lap and making jokes about his “stiffy” for 90 seconds. The woman was always in on the joke, and Antoine was the real target of fun. The more pornographic content was jollied up with silly voiceovers by comedy actors such as Maria McErlane and Kate Robbins. Eurotrash was meant to be funny – most of the people in it could have been played by Matt Lucas and David Walliams – but it was also a window into strange new worlds.
The edifying Eurotrash East Germany special – made long after the wall came down – is a good case in point and one of the few surviving episodes online.
It shows a German DJ with a rota of accessories and make-up that makes Jodie Harsh look like a model for Cos: fake nails painted violet, naked apart from tight, white underpants, rigged up to an East German-made slimming machine. This is what it means to be a sexual being! This is what it means to be European!
Hearing Antoine and Jean-Paul saying “penis” in French was much more compelling than learning how to book a room in une auberge de jeunesse in, I don’t know, Lille.
“Do you think what we’ve done tonight will help the struggle for European unity?” Antoine asks one woman during a round of “Sit On Me”. Probably not. But what it did for getting Brits to talk about sex should not be underestimated. It taught us that sex is a laughing matter.