Further revelations at Accountancy House

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The Independent Culture
A cautionary tale: as Channel 4 increases its expenditure on drama, the BBC slices into its budget like a deranged knifeman let loose in an abattoir. And, by no coincidence at all, as The Politician's Wife climaxed on Channel 4, so on primetime BBC1 Castles whimpered into existence. The similarity between the two - one slick and ambitious, the other slack and tawdry - appears to begin and end with the central place in the plot of infidelity. But maybe there is another link. Perhaps whoever commissioned Castles has taken a lead from Flora Matlock's Machiavellian scheming in The Politican's Wife, and is attempting to wreak vengeance on the Birtists who control the BBC by destroying the whole system from within.

There can be no other explanation: Castles is dire. Set in an unnamed suburb of London where everyone lives in cardboard houses, this is a family saga with stilted delivery, an undercurrent of crisis, lots of rolling eyes, and the camera constantly eavesdropping on conversations clipped straight from the GCSE manual on plot advancement ("What I really want is to have a child of my own").

If it all seems frighteningly familiar, then you will not be surprised to learn that Castles' genesis lies in Revelations. It comes from the same Granada stable that brought some of us (fortunately it was not networked) that unlamented ecclesiastical melodrama which was so bad you assumed it must have been made that way in a cynical grasp for the cult market. Revelations may have gone - after an interminable 26 weeks - but here we saw many of its methods disinterred: a limited number of sets, a limited time in expensive rehearsal, a limited number of actors, technicians and directors. Qualities, in short, that add up to the ability to consume large quantities of the schedule cheaply. And that is all that counts these days at Accountancy House, formerly known as Television Centre.

This was waffle drama, hot-air soap, a production spread so thin across 50 minutes you could read the paper through it. And the poor folk who will be blamed for it are the actors. Just as in Revelations, in which Paul Shelley was weekly left looking embarrassed, there are quality performers marooned aboard this enterprise. Here was Tony Doyle, fresh from telling Neil Pearson that he was out of his depth in Between the Lines, floundering around in the shallow end. "Yes, you're right, that's it, I'm off," he yelled to his ridiculous blubbing spouse at the end of last night's opener. After 26 weeks of this, he will be wishing he had meant it.

"Everything's wrong with it," Sir John Harvey Jones spluttered in Troubleshooter Returns (BBC2). "It's an insult to skilled workers. I felt bloody angry and very sad. It really offended me." Not a critical response to Castles, but a characteristically robust reaction to a bit of cheap-skate corner- cutting he had encountered in India. S Kumars, he found, manufacture suits in the old-fashioned way. Actually their advertising calls their output Premium Suitings and clearly Sir John, crumpled into khakis apparently left over by the Raj, was not a customer.

"My God, it's like a museum," said the rotund industrialist, sweating profusely as he stumbled around the middle of the sweat-shop. "It's dangerous, dark and cramped."

Never one to pull his verbal punches, Sir John tore round India investigating how the place had changed since he lived there as a boy, 65 years ago. Less industrial diagnosis than personal voyage of discovery, Troubleshooter Returns was nevertheless brim-full of Sir John's trenchant observations, all delivered, like a smiling cobra, through an avuncular giggle. Nothing escapes his coruscating eye. Not even himself. "Back in England," he tells one local, "I'm a figure of fun." Maybe, but the country's a cheerier place when he is on screen. Which is not a bad industrial legacy.