The Times, 29 August 2008


In a game of chicken against the BBFC, I reckon they’d blink first. This week, not even thirty years after banning the unexpurgated version of Caligula, the Penthouse/arthouse hybrid, they have finally allowed it an uncut DVD release. In other words, the extra hour of porn shot by Bob Guccione, the film’s financier and Penthouse publisher, and inserted two years after the original cinema release, can now be watched in the comfort of your own home. I’m delighted, since the last time I saw Caligula was during a lecture by Mary Beard, when I was an undergraduate. As my science buddies trotted off to their nine am lectures and day-long practicals, I was sitting in the Classics Faculty watching bowdlerised porn, as part of my Roman Emperors paper. And people wonder why there are fewer kids applying to read science every year. Add Helen Mirren, naked, to the Physics syllabus, and that could all change.

Malcolm McDowell, the eponymous villain, may be less pleased, however – he has previously expressed irritation at the extra scenes inserted by Guccione. "I'm proud of the work I did in Caligula, there's no question about that. But there's all the raunchy stuff, the blatant, modern-day porn that Bob introduced into the film after we'd finished shooting. That to me was an absolutely outrageous betrayal and quite unprecedented. Frankly, it showed that Bob had no class whatsoever." That is, of course, always the problem with pornographers – they’re so vulgar.

The BBFC says the reason for its change of heart is the film’s ‘historical interest’. I don’t know whether they mean the stuff about ancient Rome is interesting (Caligula certainly fills in the gaps left by I, Claudius, where John Hurt pretty much never eyes up some lesbians, even briefly), or whether they mean that mild seventies porn now has historical value. Either way, Caligula has been Penthouse’s best-selling movie, shifting 3000 copies a month, which makes me look at the crowds in the British Museum’s Hadrian exhibition in a whole new light.

And while the BBFC is jeopardising the moral well-being of all keen Classicists, a priest in Italy has been told to withdraw his idea for a nuns’ beauty pageant. Father Rungi decided that his blog was the ideal place for nuns to prove that they were just as minxy as the rest of us, and asked them to send in photographs of themselves so his readers could judge their favourite nun. A bit like America’s Next Top Model, but in Italy, and with nuns. ‘You really think nuns are old, stunted and sad?’ he demanded. To which I like to think we would mostly reply, ‘No. I rarely give nuns a moment’s thought. And when I do, I think of Sister Steve in the slightly ropey television drama, The Father Dowling Mysteries, who is extremely pretty and a card shark to boot. Also, did I mention her ability to mix an excellent Dirty Martini?’ Sadly, the beauty contest was binned the following day. So now we’ll never know which nuns want to travel the world and work with children.

Ofsted has released a report into out-of-school clubs and childcare, claiming that inadequate childcare has tripled in the past three years, to 6%, and the level of good childcare has dropped from 62% to 54%. Alarming statistics until you read their criteria, which include that at least half of the staff looking after kids must have GCSEs in subjects relevant to the care and development of children. I think that may be the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard. Looking after a child can, for me, be summarised thus: feed them, play with them, don’t let them run with scissors. I would far rather my god-daughter was being looked after by someone who possessed both common sense and affection. The GCSEs I can live without. And one of the worst cases Ofsted reported involved an eight-year-old child riding a bike unsupervised outside the childminder’s home. I sound so dyspeptic that I do feel compelled to tell you I’m 33, and have never been a colonel in any army, but I’m absolutely certain that when I was eight, riding a bike unsupervised down the road was called ‘playing’.

Finally this week, Nasa has confirmed that a computer virus is now in space. No, not cyberspace, Apollo 13 space. The worm was taken up in infected laptops to the International Space Station, where it sits poised to steal log-in details and passwords from online gamers. I mention this because I think of myself as quite a techno chick – we have two Macs and five games consoles in our flat; I’ve notched up so many hours on the Wii Fit that I have earned a golden FitPiggy, which is like the golden fleece, but jauntier and with a lower death toll. And I have got literally no idea what this story is about. Someone wrote a virus to steal gamers’ passwords? For what? To play as them and give them rubbish stats? As data losses go, that doesn’t sound too bad.