They began with catastrophe (pleasure at the misfortunes of others being a crucial element of such shows) and if ever a couple deserved their bad luck it was these two. Martin was an ex-mercenary and bodyguard, one of those men who boast about how easy they find it to shoot people and then come over all cootchy-coo about small dogs. Caroline was an acid-tongued blonde, confused enough to believe that County Cork would offer a glittering reprieve from the rural ennui of Cornwall. They hadn't even seen the house they were buying, having viewed it only on video. "There's a horrible smell of damp everywhere," Martin said gloomily when they arrived, discovering the hard way that odour doesn't register on magnetic tape. Only the hired help brought a gleam of light into this dismal scene - Martin's possessions included his mother's ashes, taped into a large cardboard box. The moving man demonstrated the tact and respect for which his profession has become famous by shaking it like a maraca and giggling maniacally.
Glen and Glenda, seen later, were moving for a common reason, lack of room, though their case was extreme. They had 12 children in a three bedroom house, and neither Glen nor Glenda could be described as economical in terms of air-space. Your feelings of vicarious pleasure when the council gave in to their demands for a larger house were almost exactly matched by your dismay on behalf of their new neighbours, who woke up to find themselves living next to a Harry Enfield sketch. The couple were promptly shopped to the Sun, which produced a double-page spread about dole-scroungers being given a mansion. "Can you tell me where we do deserve to live?" asked Glenda indignantly, holding up the offending article. It was a large question which hung around for some time after the credits rolled.
If we're talking of strong formats, they hardly come more robust than Great Railway Journeys (BBC2), a series which offers viewers the simplest of narrative pathways but has also shown itself capable of a great breadth of emotional tone. It was in quirky mood last night, as Alexei Sayle travelled from Aleppo in Syria, to Aqaba in Jordan along the decrepit remnants of colonial railways; one of the trains hooted the opening notes of "The Last Post", a lament for a dying system. It was a programme which also made some sly jokes about the series' bad habits, particularly its requirement for a valedictory moral when the journey is over. "At this point I should say something profound," said Sayle, arriving at the Jordan-Israel border. "So here it is - if you're adjusting electrical equipment, don't do it with wet hands." The film that preceded the gag had offered some fine sights (including a steam locomotive derailing itself, like a weary elephant stumbling to a halt), and other good jokes: in Aleppo, Sayle noted that while the ubiquitous posters of President Assad might intimidate the locals, they reminded him of the kind of desperate promotion a concert performer gets if he hasn't managed to sell all the tickets.
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