The man who begrudged Ann Widdecombe her success on Strictly Come Dancing would be hard hearted indeed. Her transformation into ‘National Treasure’ is now complete: the cap fits perfectly and long may she wear it!

But there is, nevertheless something about the programme itself (and others like it) which causes a certain unease. Between them Strictly and The X Factor have dominated television light entertainment for some time with a new formula based on competition, off-stage gossip and psychological tension. The tears, the tantrums, the disappointments – and above all the ejections – have launched a new sort of television. The vast audiences have broken records. No mistaking it – the viewers tune in to see hopes dashed and futures trashed; which, in a society which is increasingly ‘progressive’ in the new Coalition sense of ‘egalitarian’, is strange and disconcerting.

In our schools everything is done to take the raw edge off competitiveness, and yet here the nation exposes itself to an orgy of naked rivalry in which competitors ‘fight for their X Factor lives’. Of course there is a good deal of old-fashioned sportsmanship, and not a little of the stiff upper lip. But the fact remains that the pain is the attraction. People watch because vulnerable people get hurt.

Quite simply the sight of a seventeen year old crying her eyes out because her ambition has been thwarted is not entertainment. It is not edifying, It is not kind.

And someone should put a stop to it.

John Shepley ND