review

"Well, we have a copy of that picture," said Andrew Neil, in a faint echo of the curtain-up tones of Eamon Andrews. Germaine Greer, till now the image of practised insouciance, looked a little rattled, as well she might, given that the picture they were talking about had first been published in Suck, a work of radical pornography... sorry, eroticism. A photo appeared on the screen behind her, a portrait study in which the young Germaine peered between her legs at the camera. Her ankles were around her ears and she was completely naked. There followed a brief philosophical wrangle about whether a calculatedly unexhibitable picture could constitute evidence of exhibitionism.

You might care to argue about that one among yourselves. A greater mystery (although one not unconnected with exhibitionism) is why any sane person should consent to appear on Is This Your Life? (C4) a programme entirely dedicated to such discomfiting revelations. Here, half-forgotten voices boom out across the studio, not to inform the world what fun you were at school but to catalogue your shortcomings. "I think really she was an anthropologist doing field work," said an old academic colleague of Germaine's three-week marriage to a builder's labourer; "She's never in her life been able to have a mature or full relationship with a man," opined Richard Ingrams; "She's one of those people who need fame as other people need meat and drink," concluded a youthful looking Clive James, speaking before he grew plump on fame himself. Germaine reacted to these stings with a variety of verbal flaps and shrugs. If Neil's follow-up questions got a bit close, she retreated into a feigned indifference about the answer - "I dunno," she said more than once, as if the question were barely worth consideration. At other times she gave an exasperated gobble, an ululation that suggested even language would be doing too much justice to the matter in hand.

The fascination of the programme lies less in the bowling than the batting. The wicket favours the delivery, after all, so the real interest is in the elegance of the defensive shots, and there were undoubtedly revelations there. Germaine's high-pressure giggle, an attempt to render every charge as laughable, occasionally gave way to something more troubled. Asked whether she regretted never having children, her fingers smoothed at her chin, as if they wanted to check the words coming out of her mouth. Again and again she contradicted herself: "I was the sort of child who could never forget it," she replied when Neil asked her if she had been maltreated by her mother. "If my mother had kissed me a thousand million times and then beaten me once I would remember the beating - and I can't tell you now whether I was beaten often. I don't know... And I don't even hold it against her particularly." We needn't trouble Dr Freud to construe this marvellous tangle of conditional clauses and localised amnesia. Later, after insisting that her attack on Suzanne Moore had nothing to do with competitive pique about a younger writer she made an even more surprising concession - "I behaved extremely badly and it was wonderful. I now know why old ladies behave badly nearly all the time - it's the only way they can get any attention." That, and appearing on television to defend yourself against charges that you're a mere attention-seeker.

The Preston Front (BBC1) has returned, with that almost undetectable air of swagger that often afflicts second series. It's hard to tell whether it's false expectations on my part or a genuine change, but suddenly every character seems to display exactly the same poised comic fluency. It's still very good, but the freshest scenes last night were the beautifully written moments of inarticulacy, when emotion blessedly interrupted eloquence for a while.

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