I have never watched Britain's Got Talent; I gather it is similar to what happens when large families have get-togethers and all the children are encouraged to do a piece - recite a poem, play the recorder - and are enthusiastically applauded no matter how dire the effort, even while the adults are wincing behind carefully placed newspapers.
It seems I must change my mind. I learn, from this riveting piece in today's Guardian that on the aforementioned TV show not only do they permit animals to take part but that stunt doubles are used for the dangerous bits. For it was the winner - a dog, no less, who in a scandal that must surely be dubbed Boniogate, stood quietly panting by a handler whilst another pooch donned the leotards and did the dazzling trapeze act that secured victory. The audience who voted for the acts they liked the most were not informed of the deception; apparently it's all right because, according to his proud owner, (who was reported as sharing the prize with the now wealthy canine), the dog was capable of doing the high wire tricks but doesn't have a head for heights. Or to put it another way, was not capable of doing the high wire tricks. Because the whole and entire point about high wire acts is that they take place on a high wire, not on a bit of rope laid out on the grass.
Now this gives me problems, and I don't just mean taking easy potshots at the obvious aspects of this ludicrous story. Consider my bid to represent team GB at the London Olympics in the 100m. I was clearly the outstanding candidate with just the tiny defect that I can't actually run 100m in under 10s [or even 10 minutes: Ed]. Applying the BGT rules means this can be ignored and a suitable stunt double - Dwayne Chambers perhaps - could have stood in for me, and no-one would be any the wiser. Admittedly Mr. Chambers is black and I am not, and he is fairly muscular whilst I am somewhat more lissome in appearance but a bit of clever makeup and some camera trickery will easily get round that. So that's a gold medal in the bag for sure.
Let us return to the idea that "talent" can be measured in animals. What about my wonderful performing goldfish? Each afternoon I splash my finger in the pond, they emerge from the duckweed and open their mouths and I oblige with a pinch of fishfood that smells disgusting but which they adore. Should I enter them in next year's BGT? Or perhaps the Eurovision Song Contest - they could be filmed miming to something being sung by some suitable popular beat combo.
In any case, if you are going to include animals then the talent being appraised should surely be a talent that is meaningful to the animals themselves, not tricks taught in imitation of human activities. The fastest burrowing earthworm perhaps, or the squirrel quickest to unearth the tulip bulbs one's wife has just planted. The magpie with the most irritating "caw"; the fox that can lay the most crap overnight on one's finely raked gravel, the most persistently head-banging wasp in the conservatory. This is raw, natural talent and it ought to be recognised.
I am not sure how Boniogate was uncovered. Are there other cases of suspected mutt impersonators? Did a crack team from the Met Police Dog Squad take the case, with Rover going undercover as a yodelling poodle whilst Mr. Snuffles and Shep spent long hours in a kennel with the listening apparatus? Were there late night meetings in sinister, deserted car parks between Lassie and a hooded and cloaked beast identified only as Deep Growl, whose sage advice was "Follow the Kennomeat?" I look forward to the Parliamentary Select Committee that will uncover the whole rotten mess of corruption and half-chewed soft toys that must surely underlie this nefarious affair and which will inevitably lead to the resignation of the Chairman of the Kennel Club. As for the President of Crufts - dare I suggest that he will be hounded out of public life? [Ouch: Ed]