LAST NIGHT

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The Independent Culture
"Pssst. Wanna buy a triceratops skull? Only $60,000 and it's guaranteed to make your neighbour's Capo di Monte look a bit sick. Fell off the back of a palaeontologist's lorry, if you catch my meaning." There are more than a few takers for such an offer, it seems, which means that a lively international trade in dodgy fossils has established itself, fuelled by a general dinomania. Dinosaur Cops (C4) profiled one man's attempt to police this lucrative business - a quixotic enterprise in which scientific values found themselves battling against commercial ones. The fossil poachers have a clear advantage - the fines are a tiny fraction of the potential profit, and in any case, the contraband is very difficult to trace back to its source. You can pick this sort of thing up all over the place. The programme itself was very solemn about the scientific threat posed by rogue dealers, who often destroy priceless information in the process of digging out the commodities they trade. In a picture frame a fossilised sting-ray has a high aesthetic value, but is scientifically worthless, because its origin and position relative to other fossils tell the palaeontologist just as much as its shape.

Even if you bought this line, though, and even if you suppressed the thought that regulation might offer a more practical course than prohibition (why not tax the dealers so that scientists could be funded to study the richest sites, rather than leaving them tantalisingly unattended, an open cashbox in the hills?), you couldn't quite suppress the thought that Sergeant Rogers himself was in seventh heaven. He had been delivered from the numbing tedium of policing a town in which bike thefts were the pinnacle of criminal enterprise, into a job in which he could go undercover at the Tucson Gem and Mineral show, swoop from the skies in a camouflaged helicopter and - more delirious still - have a gun waved vaguely in his direction. This may be a touch unfair - his family has been threatened by disgruntled poachers - but he looked to me like a man in no hurry to get back to jaywalking and litter violations.

I hope that the proposed anti-hunting bill contains a small clause about the bloody sport of sitcom baiting. This pastime usually involves first- run comedies, often still too weak to properly defend themselves, which are placed in an exposed position and left to fight off the critics. It isn't an edifying sight at the best of times. But it is even more unnerving when the sitcom itself seems to conspire in the bloodletting. One of the running gags in Pilgrims Rest (BBC1), a comedy about a transport cafe, concerns a faulty neon sign (for Pilgrim's Restaurant) which flashes up various acrostic phrases. Halfway through last night's episode it read "Grim start", which is rather audacious for an opener, to say the least; they are presumably saving "Pig's ear" for a later episode.

In fact, there are some promising elements in Bernard McKenna's script about an ill-matched pair of siblings forced together by financial misfortune. There's a treacle-witted policeman, for example, whose remarks teeter ambiguously between sly common sense and simple idiocy, as well as several jokes that emerge from the characters rather than from the BBC's gag heap (a large spoil dump of ancient jokes, kept available for recycling). But it rattles a bit more than it should, given that it has just emerged from the showroom. Did the effete, over-qualified policemen really have to be called Quentin, for instance? The name is explained later in the course of a joke - his mother had been reading Walter Scott's Quentin Durward when she was pregnant. "You're lucky she wasn't reading Frankenstein," remarks his colleague. This gets a laugh from the studio audience, but the gag really isn't good enough to warrant the business that has preceded it, or the cliche of the Christian name (indeed, it is a good example of the "it'll do" finish which so often mars British comedy). Get some humour mechanics in to give all those bolts just one more turn, though, and it might yet prove a dependable runner.

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