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  • Writer's pictureJulie Vouillemin

Joe Lycett vs Sewage review

In this Channel 4 documentary the comedian, Joe Lycett, uses his own distinctive brand of humour to focus on the ongoing pollution of our rivers and seas.


Comedian Joe Lycett on the toilet.

Joe Lycett vs Sewage sees Lycett asking why huge amounts of raw sewage - untreated faeces to you and me - is going into our waterways for hours and days at a time. Using a fast-paced delivery of wisecracking gags, Lycett tackles this serious matter head and bottom on!

 

First stop for the comedian is a visit to a Cranfield University laboratory where he provides a poo sample. He wants to find out what happens to it and how it should be correctly treated. While the process for Lycett is stomach churning, the point is that sewage treatment does work when it’s done properly.

 

However, we discover that the industry needs a whopping £350 billion of investment in new waste-water sewage facilities to be able to stop untreated spills effectively. Sadly, after decades of underinvestment, it’s our rivers, lakes and seas and those who want to enjoy these spaces, that are paying the penalty.

 

Next stop for Lycett is Aldwick Beach in Bognor Regis which local bathers refer to as ‘Shitwick’. Swimming in these polluted waters comes at a risk to their health. Last year alone Southern Water was responsible for 16,688 spills of untreated sewage. “Shouldn’t this be illegal?” Lycett asks.

 

We also hear from the excellent campaign group Surfers Against Sewage who keep track of spillage incidents. From October 2022 to September 2023, 2,000 sickness reports in the UK were made via their app – and as for falling ill, even dogs aren’t safe!

 

The most powerful part of the programme comes when Lycett interviews a water company whistleblower (voiced by an actor). Jokes and silliness are cast aside to reveal several shocking facts: some sewage works haven’t had any investment since the 1950s, mechanical breakdowns are frequent, and senior water company managers turn a blind eye to spills so they can “go quicker up the greasy pole”.


The whistleblower explains that the more spills are reported, the less bonus you’re likely to get. The message is stark: water companies don’t care about the environment, they care about profits. So, what’s needed? Better regulation and more investment says the whistleblower. Is this likely to happen anytime soon? It doesn’t seem hopeful.


Lycett goes on to disclose the monopoly structure of the private water companies, the ebb and flo of employees between water companies and the regulators Ofwat and the Environment Agency, and how paying dividends seems more important than investing in failing infrastructure.


The programme ends with a stunt involving a spoof podcast (aided by Gary Lineker), a ‘Turdis’, a launch event in Liverpool and a call out to the public to email their water company via turdcast.co.uk to make the world one “that stinks a bit less of sewage” (20,000 and counting!).


While the stunt falls a little flat, the message doesn’t: the scale of sewage dumping is huge and real change needs to happen. Joe Lycett’s brand of humour might not be to everyone’s taste, but his serious mission to raise awareness of the sewage crisis is spot on. Put this documentary on your watch list.


By Julie Vouillemin ©


The Channel 4 documentary, Joe Lycett vs Sewage, first aired on Tuesday 20 February 2024 at 21:00 GMT. You can watch it on catch up over the next few weeks.

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