Inside the tube

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The Independent Culture
Celebrity travelogues have become ten a penny. Television controllers seem to think that they can guarantee high ratings by merely sending some bog-standard game-show host somewhere not often visited by package tourists.

But Planet Ustinov, starting on Channel 4 next month, promises to be that little bit different. For a start, the polymathic, multi-lingual Sir Peter Ustinov (above) - novelist, playwright, film-maker, Oscar-winning actor, traveller and raconteur - is not your average "I'd attend the opening of an envelope" D-list celeb. Also, during his epic journey, he brings his undoubted intellect to bear on examining the question of national identity.

Following in the footsteps of Mark Twain, who a hundred years ago undertook a round-the-world trek which resulted in the travel classic, Following the Equator, this four-parter is made by Michael Waldman, the man behind perhaps the best fly-on-the-wall documentary, The House.

Over the course of the series, Ustinov visits countries such as Hawaii, where extremists are demanding independence from the US; Australia, which is facing up to the challenges of its multiracial heritage; and South Africa, struggling to find itself after decades of isolation. On his travels, Ustinov will discuss issues of national character with people as diverse as the South African president, Nelson Mandela, and the 11-year-old Tibetan Buddhist leader, Kyabje Thuksey Rinpoche II. Hardly Wish You Were Here, is it?

The colonisation of the schedules by Robson Green (above right) apparently knows no bounds. Just a week or so after the end of Reckless, he's back in Grafters, a new eight-part drama starting on ITV on 27 October. In a piece of "dream ticket" casting by some canny commissioning editor, he plays opposite Stephen Tompkinson (former star of BBC1's ratings banker, Ballykissangel). They play that staple of modern drama - the odd couple. They are two mismatched builder brothers who come down from their hometown of Newcastle to do up a London house. Joe (Green) is a roguish chancer, adept at juggling lovers and businesses, while Trevor (Tompkinson) is more vulnerable and thoughtful. This series must already have them salivating over the potential viewing figures at Network Centre.

Nothing if not eclectic, a new four-parter currently in production for BBC1 will centre on Victoria Wood (left), Lenny Henry, Barbara Windsor and Cliff Richard. Going by the title of The Best of British, the series will profile these "four showbiz legends". What exactly they have in common - apart from being British or the cast of some fantasy, post-modern Carry On film - is hard to fathom, but I'm sure that won't stop people watching the series.

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