Fry's Gadgets is short on fun

stephen fry: gadget man (ch4) the dark charisma of adolf hitler (bbc2)

Pat Stacey

"I was one of the first people to have a Polaroid camera," says Stephen Fry: Gadget Man. Really? That's interesting. Actually, it's not all THAT interesting.

Loads of people had Polaroid cameras. I had one.

I got it one Christmas back in the 1970s when they were all the rage. Pretty lousy it was, too. It took only black-and-white pictures (the colour cameras cost twice as much).

The film, which came in a cartridge, was extremely expensive. So were the flashbulbs. The chief selling point -- the only selling point, really -- was the pictures were self-developing.

You pointed the camera, pressed the shutter button, pulled out a square of film that had popped out of a slot, counted to 60, then peeled off the backing. Hey presto -- an instant photograph!

No matter that the image was dull, flat and ill-defined, and that the eyes of the people in the picture glowed, making them look like they were demonically possessed. It was INSTANT!

Hey, hey, look at this: click, pull, wait, peel -- see, it's INSTANT! You ran around the house on Christmas night, click-click-clicking and flash-flash-flashing away in everyone's face, annoying the adults, who forced themselves to look amused and impressed.

I'd say Stephen Fry was like that with his Polaroid camera -- click-click-click, flash-flash-flash -- although I bet he had the colour version. Fry is a gadget addict, you see, and that's why this series is called Gadget Man.

Metaphorically speaking, Fry is still clicking and flashing in people's faces, only now he's doing it with a variety of gadgets and gizmos most of us will never want, need or be able to afford.

Each episode of Gadget Man has a theme and this one's was "How gadgets can take the misery out of your daily commute." It was just an excuse, really, for Fry and his mate Jonathan Ross (each episode also has a celebrity guest, by the way) to muck about like a couple of middle-aged schoolboys and get paid a lot of money for the privilege.

Here come the boys on their Trikkes (pronounced like Nikes), which are trikes that look a bit like those V-shaped contraptions you've probably seen kids in your area riding, except they run on electricity.

Now they're on an electric scooter called the Yike Bike, which is made in New Zealand. The Yike Bike looks a lot like a midget Penny Farthing. Fry called it "the perfect commuter vehicle", but I wouldn't fancy riding it along Eden Quay with a bus brushing my shoulder.

In the event of falling off, you should make sure you're wearing an inflatable helmet, which is a bit like an airbag for the cranium. Alas, just like an airbag, it's only good for the one use, so pick your falling-off spot carefully.

It's well known that Fry likes to drive around London in his very own black cab. Here he got to pilot an amphibious black cab, which has been developed by scientists simply because they can.

Gadget Man is a bit like Top Gear for nerds. It's harmless enough if you have an idle half-hour to kill.

But, like a kid with a Polaroid camera, it's more fun if you're the one doing it rather than the one watching someone else, even someone as likeable as Stephen Fry, doing it.

"Hitler was always certain that he was right," said the narrator in the second part of The Dark Charisma of Adolf Hitler. Really? You don't say. We also learned that he hated Jews (who'd have though it?) and that he spent a lot of time alone with his thoughts.

There's an awful lot of good material in this three-part series -- including some fascinating colour footage -- but it counts for little when the whole approach is so insultingly dumbed-down and simplified that it seems aimed at an audience that has never read a book or watched war film.

stephen fry: gadget man HHIII the dark charisma of adolf hitler HHIII