Review

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The Independent Culture
John Redwood's newly-fitted humour chip, which had worked so efficiently on its first public outing, ran into some teething problems yesterday. I promised I wouldn't make claims about voting figures, he said, opening the press conference at which he sketched out his manifesto, "but I can let you into this secret - all those so far canvassed are planning to vote for John." There was an appalled silence from the assembled journalists, no longer quite as excited or giggly as they were yesterday. Mr Redwood had got away lightly - the "joke" (scientists later confirmed that its composition was consistent with that description) deserved an audible groan of contempt. But he was rattled by his change of fortune. After all, he had knocked them dead in the Jubilee Room, prompting an ambitious booking at a larger venue. Clearly it couldn't be his material that was at fault. It must be the audience. "You are slow this morning, aren't you," he said, with a decidedly tetchy attempt at jocularity. There was another embarrassing silence.

Mr Redwood is lucky - this revealing moment was never going to make it into the news bulletins, which, as he well knew, would be inclined to select those passages when their sound meters jumped with synthetic excitement. "We CATCH far too few criminals - detection rates HAVE to be raised," he yelped, conscious that volume would help editors pressed for time. He also promised us more treats to come. Where would he find the money for his proposed tax cuts, he was asked. "I have worked out a device for improving the system," he said tantalisingly. He wouldn't reveal what it was, probably because they haven't yet scraped together enough dilithium crystals to power the thing. His press conference also provided an early opportunity to check the pertinence (or impertinence) of the Shakespeare lines about Cassius, which Newsnight had used to enliven their Monday night profile of Mr Redwood. Uncanny, I would say - particularly this fine passage: "Seldom he smiles, and smiles in such a sort/As if he mock'd himself, and scorn'd his spirit/That could be mov'd to smile at anything". One hopes that Newsnight will learn the lesson of this broadcast - they had earlier forced a luckless reporter to play shuffleboard with discs bearing the pictures of the principal contenders, one of those ludicrous props to which the programme resorts whenever its dread of tedium flutters into outright panic. Shakespeare's lines achieved what Styrofoam never will - a sense of wit and flair which kept you watching.

The same might be said for Hancock's World (BBC2), an enjoyable compilation of clips from Hancock's Half Hour introduced by John Peel from a lovingly detailed recreation of 23 Railway Cuttings. Peel was just right for the job (his own comedy of dry suburban bathos is in the right spirit) but even he couldn't do much with the dangerous task of telling an audience what they should laugh at. The comedy, he asserted, "can still seem fresh as a spring morning these days". Some of it can, it's true - I yelped aloud at Hancock's impassioned cry to his fellow jurors in "Twelve Angry Men": "Does Magna Carta mean nothing to you? Did she die in vain?" Elsewhere, though, Hancock's very influence has left him looking dated. The largely wordless sequence in which he attempted to tune in his new television set was probably a brilliant piece of observation when first broadcast, but it suffers a little now from having been replicated almost exactly, down to the very gestures, in a recent episode of Mr Bean. That said, some of the clips suggested repeats might do as well as Steptoe and Son, currently the third most popular programme on BBC2 despite picture quality that makes it look as though you're receiving the original transmissions on the rebound from Pluto.

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