When bitching and bleaching cease to matter - The Salon (C4)

EVEN a fly-on-the-wall documentary soap can stop you dead in your tracks with a reality check, as The Salon proved this week.

This is the series set in a hairdressing and beauty salon, set up specifically by the programme-makers for the purpose of observing stylists and clients on camera. Like other reality shows, it's really nothing of the sort - real life is chopped up into bite-size pieces and, inevitably, the producers prefer to show viewers the sexy, sordid or confrontational moments of the day. The view is as lop-sided as any fictional drama series. Just occasionally, and totally unexpectedly, real life slips through and intrudes on the mundane, stopping both participants and viewers in their tracks.

The return of manager Paul with news of whose contracts would be renewed was the talk of the salon at the start of the week.

Olly was the first to be told his contract wasn't being renewed. As well as being lazy and swearing on the job, there was what Paul referred to as "the tanning incident". Not a clandestine bout of S&M but Olly having an all-over tan applied during working hours when he should have been looking after clients.

Other members of staff were given the good - or bad - news about contracts. Adee's was renewed, then his 3.30 appointment arrived and he chatted with 17-year-old student Bradley about football and discussed colouring his hair.

Then Bradley dropped his bombshell into the conversation when Adee inquired, matter of factly, why he'd booked an appointment at the salon.

His lecturer had arranged it, said the student, because he was leaving college as he had cancer. He would be going for high-intensity chemotherapy that would result in losing all his hair. He thought he might as well have a decent haircut before his hair fell out. He explained that a tumour, for which he'd already had treatment, had returned.

This is not the sort of confession you expect to hear in a series that's normally about bitching and bleaching rather than real life or death matters. Adee was caught off-guard as, I suspect, many viewers were by Bradley's confession.

Adee, who doesn't look like a man with a soft centre, was clearly affected by this revelation, despite, or perhaps because of, the cheerful smile that the student maintained while relating details of his illness. Later Adee was found in tears in the manager's office, saying that Bradley's situation made all the fuss about renewing contracts seem irrelevant.

True, but the show must go on. Soon it was back to the business of who stays and who goes. Three members of staff now face a public vote. Among them is Ricardo, the flamboyant and temperamental stylist who's emerged as one of the characters with a capital C. I can't see Salon followers wanting to get rid of him. But it's Bradley who'll deserve viewers' votes as the bravest client.