ARTS / Cries & whispers

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The Independent Culture
SO THE critics didn't like The Big Breakfast. It's easy to blame this on the critics - snooty types who are hardly the market the show is aimed at. It's easy to blame it on the Big Breakfasters - wacky types who just wannabe Tiswas. But I suspect the real blame lies with breakfast television itself.

We should wake up to the fact that it has never been done well. TV-am Mark One was too heavy. Mark Two is too fluffy. Breakfast Time was too cosy, BBC Breakfast News too worthy, The Channel 4 Daily too dreary. Six different approaches, none of which has worked. Maybe there's a single cause behind them: maybe breakfast telly can't be done well. It came from America, where it seems to work, in a stomach-churning sort of way; but America doesn't have national radio stations, or national newspapers of any substance. If you do have those things, you don't need breakfast TV. Apparently children like it, but (at the risk of sounding like Paul Johnson) I doubt it will hurt them to amuse themselves for the first hours of the day.

If Peter Brooke wants to make his mark on his new fiefdom, he should let a discreet interval elapse (until The Big Breakfast drops off the ratings scale, say), summon Michael Grade, John Birt, and whoever runs ITV these days, and persuade them, by any means at his disposal, that telly should begin at elevenses.

ON TUESDAY the Booker Prize will be awarded. This shouldn't be of much interest, especially when it comes just after the award of a much bigger prize to a writer of undoubted greatness. But I shall be glued to the box all the same, and not just in order to hear Tom Paulin say how bad all the nominees are. I'll be rooting for Barry Unsworth's Sacred Hunger, which is sensible and moving, if not actually finishable. My tip is Michael Ondaatje, because his book flatters readers into thinking their responses are refined enough to match those of the author. My each-way bet is Ian McEwan, on the basis that they like to reward the right author in the wrong year.

FEMINISM and God are two subjects I try to avoid. Recently it's been a bit difficult. If it isn't Gore Vidal curling his lip at Christianity, it's Neil Lyndon giving a laddish two fingers to the sisters. This week both men were called to account. Vidal gored a pair of identikit dons and a simpering Catholic novelist on The Late Show. At Logan Hall in Bloomsbury, Lyndon did his best not to kneel before an onslaught led by Yvonne Roberts. It was billed as a debate, but felt more like a publishers' promotion: Roberts, like Lyndon, has a book to flog. Matters weren't helped by a motion that was actually a question - 'Has feminism failed?' Answer: no, but literacy may have.

FURTHER EVIDENCE this week that our strictures have not fallen on deaf ears. The 83 shops in the HMV chain are holding an autumn sale, in which 'some chart CDs' are reduced to pounds 9.99. How many is some, I asked them. Er, seven of the Top 40, said a

spokesman, and another six from lower down the chart. Better than none, I suppose. So if you're thinking of buying the latest CDs from Simply Red, Annie Lennox, Extreme or INXS, or a compilation of Lionel Richie, the Police or Madness, get down to HMV. If it's the new Joe Cocker collection you're after, get over to Woolworths, who have that and a few other discs at pounds 7.99. If you want anything else, please hold on to your cash and seek out one of the smaller shops that led the way in discounting CDs. They have our sticker in their window.