What I Wish I'd Known When I Was 20 (BBC2): GEORGE Melly enjoyed being drunk. Joan Bakewell wished she'd been bolder and tried more drugs. Joan Rivers thinks money is very important as it "will get you a sex partner when you are 108 and make Elephant Man look attractive".

All this and more emerged during a documentary with a simple, but effective premise: take a couple of dozen reasonably well-known people of around pensionable age from all celebrity walks of life and get them to talk on a range of topics, from health and beauty to sex and marriage.

The researchers had chosen the talking heads well. Melly's life has been as colourful as the shirt he was wearing. He admitted to having drunk too much, smoked too much and stayed up too long. He had a one word comment to those who say you should do everything in moderation - "bollocks".

This contrasted sharply with Tony Benn, a teetotaller who observed that drink in his young days was like drugs today. Patrick Lichfield noted that, when he was younger, to be seen in rehab wasn't the badge of honour it seems to be among youth today. On the other hand, John Mortimer still enjoys a glass of champagne at six in the morning and wonders whether drugs shouldn't be legalised and the tax used to fund the National Health.

This was about as "old codgerish" as the conversation went. Comedienne Joan Rivers was unapologetic about having had plastic surgery. "People think I'm Frankenstein's monster, but I was the first one to come out and say I have done it," she said.

Radio One DJ John Peel would not approve, you feel. He confessed to loving his wife Sheila's wrinkles, although added: "she'll kill me for saying that".

I can't imagine she'll be too pleased with his description of having sex on the floor of the men's toilet with a go-go dancer. But perhaps the most extraordinary confession came from - who else? - Melly.

It wasn't so much his admission to "the odd trio" (very odd, in his case, I suspect) and "a few orgies" but the sexually-motivated incident with a trout that would outrage readers of the Angling Times.

He conjured up an idyllic scene of landing a trout in a little clearing dappled with sunlight. The fish had what he called a stimulating effect on him.

"A lot of people are appalled by that story but some fishermen say, 'Yeah, I quite understand'," said Melly mischievously, clearly a believer in growing old disgracefully.

The programme's title meant the participants were required to offer advice in the light of their experience. Mary Quant felt it vital to be passionate about whatever you do in your career, while Joan Rivers suggested looking at your goal and going for it. Don't take yourself too seriously, said American actor Elliott Gould.

But the last word should belong to Melly. Or rather, his father, whose last sentence to his son before he died was: "Do what you want, I never did."

Published: 06/08/2004