LAST NIGHT

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The Independent Culture
When Shaun Kent first bought the wreck of the Kow-loon Bridge, a shipwrecked bulk carrier, he thought of it merely as a nice little earner. But long association has changed the relationship: "Over the years I've come to appreciate it more deeply as the world's greatest pile of scrap." Different men have different Everests, and you can see that pounds 7m-worth of steel might have a certain romantic allure to a totter. Then again, marine salvage is a somewhat specialised trade. "What is his curriculum vitae?" asked a fastidious Irish caller, phoning the Gay Byrne talk-show on which Shaun was appearing (the Kowloon Bridge is off the Irish coast). Pretty short I imagine. "Previous experience: Bit of this, bit of that. Further Qualifications: Indefatigable optimism." "Think she'll make it?" asked an off-camera voice as Shaun's battered pick-up groaned down the motorway with half a ton of second-hand agricultural pump on the back. "Of course it'll make it," replied Shaun, taking advantage of the unusual fact that he could tinker with the engine from inside the cab while he kept one hand on the wheel. And, of course it did, after the breakdown truck had helped out with a tow.

There is something decidedly uplifting about this degree of dogged persistence - the head-down way in which Shaun went about cobbling together a salvage ship from recycled parts and canny barter. Michael Clifford, the director of this delightful Short Stories film (C4) had certainly fallen hard for his charms. The film included some rather surprising shots of its hero lying on a bed in nothing but a crisp white towel (not to mention a couple of those rock-video sequences in which a tightly framed pair of eyes suddenly flick open, a cliche well suited to Shaun's ice- blue gaze). Clifford was also at pains to make it clear that Kent wasn't just a man with an eye to the main chance - including scenes in which he marvelled at the beauty of a caterpillar (he plans to spend his hoped- for millions opening a nature reserve) and detailing the way he had helped those campaigning for an inquiry into the sinking of the Derbyshire (a sister ship to the Kowloon Bridge which went down with all hands).

But even if you didn't quite share the director's infatuation, the tale of sunken treasure and lonely determination was a captivating one - underwritten by a firmly expressed ethic of self-reliance. "You just don't do that, do you?" Shaun said, when asked whether he had ever signed on. "How can you be a proper rebel when you're on the dole?" The film finished with his salvage ship putting to sea for tests, but it's inconceivable that we won't see more of Shaun - he is the Fred Dibnah of the scrap world, one of those Professors of Life Studies ("If life is a learning curve, keep it vertical," he advised in the film's last moments) who have always proved irresistible to television producers.

We will shortly see the last of Preston Front (BBC1), unfortunately. Because, however sagacious it is to leave the audience wanting more, Tim Firth's drama series offers the best British comic writing currently to be found on screen. In last night's episode, Mr Wang, the Chinese scouser, arranged for Prince to visit his restaurant in order to drum up some word-of-mouth publicity. "The artist formerly known as" not being available himself, he was represented by Diesel, disguised in a vast leopard-skin coat and shades and attended by everyone else dressed as bodyguards and hangers-on. It didn't work, naturally, the evening ending with Lloydy and his friends pursuing a stolen limousine in a car with a malfunctioning voice computer ("At least Lloydy will have someone to talk to while he waits for the breakdown van," Diesel said drily, when the car was purchased in the teeth of his expert advice). Firth is now able to employ your familiarity with the characters to excellent effect, but he doesn't forget their disappointments or anxieties in the search for a laugh. It is popular television drama at its very best and it won't be easy to replace.

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