In the 18th century those who ran what were then called lunatic asylums had a lucrative little sideline.
They used to charge the public to come and watch the suffering and despair of the inmates – and business was depressingly brisk.
The original exponent of this particular type of family entertainment was an institution called Bedlam (an ironic corruption of the word ‘Bethlehem’).
I regret to say it is alive and well on ITV every Sunday evening and is now called The X Factor, which is produced by a company called SYCO (an even more ironic contraction of the words ‘Simon Cowell’).
The show reached its nadir last Sunday with the scandalous exploitation of a deluded middle-aged widow from Wales.
Ceri Rees had failed to get on the show at three previous auditions for one perfectly understandable reason – she can’t sing.
This makes her a potential figure of fun who should not be allowed within a country mile of any show purporting to discover new talent.
But this is television we’re talking about – where nothing is valued quite so highly as a cheap laugh. Not only did producers not show her a duty of care, they actively encouraged the unfortunate woman to try once again with offers of free travel and overnight accommodation.
There are those who will trot out clichés about showbusiness being tough and about knocks having to be taken.
But Ceri Rees can’t be compared with the deluded, over-confident, under-talented youngsters who strut on stage, perform badly, and slouch off again five minutes later snarling defiance at the world in general and the judges in particular.
They are possessed of a confidence bordering on arrogance which equips them to deal with rejection.
This was a vulnerable woman who had placed herself in the hands of others and was deliberately and cruelly ridiculed in the name of ‘entertainment.’.
If Cowell has anything about him, he should seek out those responsible, march them before the cameras and publicly sack them. Let them see what it feels like to be made a laughing stock in front of millions.