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This is reality TV as it should be

There truly is one born every minute and you're looking at one.

I ignored the first two episodes of One Born Every Minute, the fly-on-the-wall series set in a maternity hospital, thinking: I've been through it for real with my wife three times in our lives -- the most wondrous, terrifying times of our lives -- so television has nothing to teach me.

But, like I said, I'm a fool. One Born Every Minute is brilliant. It's reality TV made the way reality TV used to be made, before the term became synonymous with stupid, needy celebrities trying to boost their worthless careers and inert, obese morons blubbing about their blubber.

The producers had the good sense to place 40 remote cameras inside a hospital in Southampton and then get the hell out of the place and let the stories tell themselves. And what stories they are.

Lisa and Will's first baby, a boy named Jack, was born with his bowels on the outside. His guts rest in a polythene bag on his belly while he rests inside a glass box, tubes and bleeping machines everywhere.

Lisa is not yet allowed to touch him and envies the gloved nurses who reach through armholes to cradle and feed him.

She doesn't feel like a proper mother yet. "It still doesn't feel that real," she says. "It's a very small, delicate human, covered in wires, that's apparently mine."

Sarah doesn't feel like a real mother either, even though she's on her second child. Her first labour was a protracted nightmare. Her body refused to open up enough to let the baby out, so she had to have a C-section. This time she wants to do it the natural way. Sarah's midwife is Dominique. She's a marvel: a living saint with the patience of an oyster and almost supernaturally cheerful.

Being a midwife is a tough job. Not only do you have to handle the mother and her baby, you have to handle the husband or partner as well.

It doesn't help that Sarah's husband, Darren, is an idiot -- a grating, know-it-all little twerp who gets in everyone's way and gets on everyone's wick. He whinges constantly about how nobody's taking any notice of him, how nobody's asking what he thinks.

As Sarah lies on the bed, heaving and howling in agony, he's berating her for not opting for the C-section. "It's gonna happen again, I've got money on it," he squeaks encouragingly. "You'll be hear till midday tomorrow and still won't have it." When Dominique walks into the room, he's staring dumbly at a monitor, like he actually understands what he's looking at. "I'll tell you when you're having a contraction, yeah, in case you don't know," he says to Sarah.

"We've got one midwife and one in training," quips Dominique -- cheerfully, of course.

When the big push comes, it's long and painful for Sarah. Darren stands there, lost and useless, which is a father's role in this situation. Finally, the baby squeezes out and into the world. "You're a goddess!" Dominique tells Sarah.

"What about me?" whines Darren. "You've been very good," Dominique tells him, beaming. And then she turns away, the smile vanishes and she makes a face like she's about to vomit.

Stacey's Stars

One Born Every Minute *****