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The Independent Culture
I emitted an audible groan as the opening moments of Short Stories (C4) unrolled. Imagine you need to add some soundtrack music to aerial footage of Blackpool. Of all the records in the world, of the millions of combinations of notes, instruments and voices available to you, of the endless possibilities for irony, I would have thought one record would be ruled out from the first. But that song, "I Do Like to Be Beside the Seaside", was the one Riete Oord selected to welcome you to her film. I should admit now that I never recovered from the dismal obviousness of this decision so that in the half hour that followed I was continually tugged between pleasure at the story she had secured and reviving indignation at that introductory lack of flair.

The subject matter, though, was gold - a party of Russians lured by a Blackpool tour operator's extravagant advert in the Russian press. Blackpool, he claimed, was "a gleaming city, full of miracles and pleasant surprises". Eleven of Russia's new rich had fallen for the pitch and found themselves installed in the Balmoral Hotel, a seafront B&B. It was September and it was raining but Bob Waters, architect of this excruciating mismatch between expectation and actuality, was not dismayed. "When the weather changes tomorrow you'll be able to swim and take advantage of the heat," he announced. Provided you've brought a wetsuit and your hepatitis jabs are up-to-date, you thought.

The Russians had come expecting an England of stately homes, country pubs and countryside. They got the tacky splendour of the Golden Mile and attractions whose magnetic pull did not quite extend to the former Soviet Union. "Has no one heard of Coronation Street before?" pleaded a hapless courier, "I don't believe it... Jack and Vera? Hilda Ogden? No? Well, that's the World of Coronation Street and it's Blackpool's newest attraction." This was a comedy of misplaced condescension - a small-time tour operator patronising big-time tourists, in the mistaken belief that almost anything would be dazzling after the rigours of Moscow. The embarrassing truth was exposed when Oord's camera paused on the proud boast of another amusement arcade - "Full Toilet Facilities" read the poster. Well, there's something to tell the folks back home.

Redcaps (BBC1), yet another documentary about military training, should never have been commissioned - unless the BBC has some secret project to introduce viewers to every regiment in the British Army. I can see it now, new for Autumn 1997, Catering Corps - a six-part series detailing the selection procedure for the army's unsung heroes. In the first episode, "Marching on their Stomachs", new recruits are given a brutal and exhausting introduction to the standards required in the service - carrot batons accurate to the millimetre and sausages browned to a regimental colour card. Come to think of it, the Catering Corps might have offered an interesting twist to the form, something which couldn't be said for Redcaps, an impeccable parade of every weary cliche of the genre. "Shiny boots, shiny mind," bellowed a sergeant-major at some trembling-lipped recruit. "Shiny boots, tiny mind", you thought, but it was hardly a new perception or one worth half-an-hour's precious schedule.

It is not widely known that television critics also undergo a brutal training regime before they receive their commission, a goggle-box boot camp at which we're toughened up for arduous duties by marathon viewing sessions of fly-on-the-wall documentaries. Many can't take the gruelling repetitions but I doubt if even the elite graduates will have found Redcaps easy going. "They're just seeing how much mental pressure you can take without breaking," said a private in the film. I admit that I cracked and went AWOL well before the end.

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