LAST NIGHT

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The Independent Culture
Bloomin' Marvellous (BBC1) is that most unnerving of things - a new sitcom. I think the publicity describes it as "bittersweet drama" actually, but the title sequence (tea-shop watercolours) and the laugh-track disagree with that distancing description. Even the apostrophe makes a bid for the sort of matey association which sitcoms usually hope to strike up with their audience. With that title it's a miracle that it isn't about a garden centre or a municipal park - but when you watch it you can see that there is an escape bid underway here - an attempt to tug the prime- time domestic comedy away from its farcical obsessions and towards some kind of emotional complexity. It isn't working yet. That judgement is premature, naturally, and I wouldn't offer it so soon if this first episode hadn't presented a rather eerie spectacle of possession - the spirit of Terry and June suddenly manifesting itself in a rather different kind of fiction.

The episode began as an astringent comedy of married life. She is a capable radio journalist, he is a babyish novelist - emerging from hospital to convalesce and consider the form his mid-life crisis should take. They decide to have a child and that is where the trouble starts - sex being a subject that almost invariably reduces the sitcom to a condition of bashful confusion. There have been intimations already that the nerves are unsteady - when the husband moans to his wife "You should try being in bed with a drip for a month," the line needs no further punchline than a look. Not here though, where she has to wait until the laugh has subsided before explaining the joke which has provoked it ("I've been in bed with a drip for the best part of 15 years").

But it is when they prepare for an attempt at conception that the ghosts of sitcoms past really rattle their chains. This couple is educated (Caspar Friedrich posters on the wall, classical music on the stereo), media-savvy and prosperous. And yet they approach sex with each other as if they've both just emerged from a closed religious order. Suddenly she is the sort of woman who will unlace the ribbon of her high-collar nightie as if it is a gesture of whorish abandon; suddenly he is the sort of man who will don a pair of pyjamas that are ludicrously tight - and not take them off again as soon as that becomes apparent - even though he doesn't usually wear pyjamas. (We know this because he has just said "Why do I need pyjamas anyway?" - the answer to which, it soon becomes clear, is because the writer needs a running gag.) They become a couple who have awkward exchanges about whether to have the light on or off. They become psychologically incredible, in short. What is more puzzling about this sudden transformation is that it follows a brief scene in which they prepare for bed and he casually pees in front of her - not exactly a milestone in the representation of marital familiarity, but not a sight which June Whitfield ever had to pretend to be indifferent to. One moment these people look vaguely familiar - the next minute, they might as well be from Mars.

Decisive Weapons (BBC2) returned with a fascinating film about the Hurricane - an object lesson in the injustice of beauty. Despite the fact that it shot down almost twice as many planes in the Battle of Britain as the Spitfire, the Hurricane has never enjoyed the same sentimental affection from the general public. With its humpy profile, it was the ugly friend of the air-war, much less glamorous than its beautiful companion. But those who got to know it soon fell in love with its less superficial virtues - dependability, robustness and speed in the turn. The most astonishing fact was that it had been developed as a private venture - Tommy Sopwith of Hawker taking the decision to start manufacture without a single order in place - a leap of faith that meant 150 fighters were ready when the war began, a figure that quite possibly made the difference between defeat and victory. I hope he got a medal.

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