Laugh? I nearly did

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The Independent Culture
HAROLD PINTER said recently that people take his plays too seriously and that actually he's quite funny. I decided to check out his claim with his 1968 play Landscape (BBC2). At first it looked promising. The Borrowers - Ian Holm and Penelope Wilton - were sitting in their kitchen, talking. But where was the kid, and when were they going to go borrow something (the cupboards were bare)? As it turned out, they never moved from the table.

Of course it's a feat to create a host of characters, a shared history and numerous settings just through dialogue, but it wasn't funny. Wilton, who's usually cast as a huffy housewife, broke out by playing a wistful housekeeper who spends all her time escaping from the present by thinking about tender moments at the seaside some years ago. There's a touch of Molly Bloom about her heartfelt monologue but she wasn't funny. Holm, the gardener, yearns to engage her in conversation. She's not interested - no wonder since all he has to talk about is dog shit, beer-making and the day, some years ago, when he'd confessed he'd been unfaithful. No laughs there either. What with her poetry and his prose, the tiny marriage was blown out of all proportion. You wished they'd just shut up and have a good shag. Off screen.

What they needed was Angus Deayton's ponderously comical course on how to be content, In Search of Happiness (BBC1). After reading 12 self-help books, he reached the conclusion that all you have to do to be happy is change something. "But what do you change?" he asks, rather unwisely, since it's obvious what he should change: his incessant deadpan expression, sluggish turns of phrase and those unbecoming sideburns.

What seems to make Angus happy is making everybody else look silly. One was a tedious fellow from Bolton who, in the nature of boring people, became bored. So he moved to the Lake District where he soon became bored again. Then it was off to Sydney for a complete change. Six months later he realised that the place to be was ... Bolton. He seemed to think this was quite amusing. We weren't told how his family remained happy under these trying circumstances.

Then there were some ageing hippies who live in such a beautiful topiaried house in Oxfordshire that they have no right to be unhappy. But in the Sixties they took bliss one step further by trepanning each other. The Mrs explained that drilling a hole in your head allows more glucose to oxidise in the brain, or something like that. Mr said it brings out the child in you and makes you worry less - at least until you bump your sore head on those 18th-century beams.

A man living in more modest surroundings

(Stockport) believes, modestly, that you can be "firmer" and get more out of life if your name has the initial "G" or "Y", or both, in the middle. He feels that Elvis would have been better off with the name Jon G Presley, Marilyn Monroe could have averted disaster with the name Mary G Monroy, and Judy Garland should have been called Apryl. Would Oscar G Wilde have been spared a prison sentence? And what about Adolf G Hitler, Mao G-tung, Napoleon G Y Bonaparte? Perhaps we got off lightly.

(NB: tonight's show features an American woman's advice on how to catch a man, which mainly consists of moving into his apartment in an unobtrusive sort of way and making him do all the cooking. Now this seems worth knowing.)

Desperately Seeking Something (C4) has a similar but less engaging mission. Pete McCarthy (of Travelog) is concerned not with ennui and despondency,

but with our late-20th-century spiritual vacuum. "I decided to put my vacuum on the line," he jests. What he Hoovers up is a weird crowd of people living in remote cottages, building machines "chan- nelled" to them from other planets, worshipping Mother Earth, singing flute-like harmonics through their noses and fooling about with herbal remedies.

He found one poor fellow who believes that Jesus popped over here from Venus, and that prayers can be stored in a battery ready for instant release in the event of a major cataclysm, possibly involving aliens. We were shown the battery. It didn't look big enough to run a moped, much less heal the world.

"Cap'n Smith and Pocahontas (click)/ Had a very mad affair./ When her daddy tried to kill him (click)/ She said, 'Daddy, oh don't you dare./ He gives me fever' (click, click)."

Hard to choose between the two versions of Pocahontas on offer this week, one at the cinema, one on television. They were both dismally inadequate - but Timewatch (BBC2) had the best tunes. As a documentary it was amiably flawed, full of colourful personalities who offered views with variable relevance to the tale. American Indian history is as obscure as that of women. Combine the two and all you have are the fanciful stories of people claiming to be Pocahontas's descendants. Most of them live in Norfolk or Virginia and seem obsessed with petrified stumps of trees under which she might have sat.

At the thought of her heroism, a blue-feathered Chief Webster "Little Eagle" Custalow is moved to tears, but white Americans have a long way to go. The only reason they honour her is that she saved the life of a pale-face. A couple of her descendants, decrepit southern belles, proclaimed that they had never been ashamed of being related to an Indian - but in that case why mention shame at all? "They were a musical people," says the one on the right, forgetting that she's one of them, and that the Indians are still there, however musical they may be.

Disney's film should really have been confiscated by the Vice Squad. According to Timewatch, Pocahontas was only about 11 when she had her supposed affair. The Paedophile Propaganda Society must be thrilled with Disney's efforts. But it seems that John Smith had little suspicion that Pocahontas was his one route to immortality. When she arrived in England, by then married to another Englishman, Smith didn't even bother to visit her for several months. She died at the age of 20, muttering aphorisms. How different things might have been, if she'd only been named Poca G Hontas.

Molly Dineen, who directed the award-winning The Ark, has turned her attention to the much less endearing subject of the British Army. She trailed around after them in Northern Ireland, before the cease-fire, but the first episode of In the Company of Men (BBC2) held no revelations. They train, they line up, they live in cramped conditions, they intimidate the locals and generally feel sorry for themselves. We knew all that. The officers are particularly silly. One seemed to be stuck on Molly, and kept luring her (and us) into his bunk for another intimate chat about the Army. Perhaps he was just in love with the camera.

The unspeakable in pursuit of the uneatable. But as long as the Army exists, vicious and bitter Right Honourable Gentlemen will search for wars to send it to, and Molly Dineen will apparently be in the front line, handling PR.