Review

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The Independent Culture
It would be worth watching Surely Some Mistake? (BBC2) for the illustrations alone. I don't mean by this the standard fill-ins of television convention, all those sequences which give the narration space to do its explanatory work, but the Trog cartoons which are used to give the audience something to look at besides talking heads. I can't recall whether this is a new idea, exactly, but it is a very good one, and pulled off beautifully here. As the participants recount their cautionary tales of business mistakes, you see huge close-ups of a cartoon being worked on. These are both sensually pleasurable - there is a childlike delight in mark-making seen at such a scale - and cannily incomplete, preventing you from catching sight of the whole drawing, and thus the punch-line, until the moment is right. With a lesser artist, I imagine this final revelation could easily be something of a let down, but Trog's witty, slightly edgy caricatures also give the fables a useful hint of astringency. You can't imagine that Patsy Bloom, the successful founder of a pet insurance company, felt entirely happy with the caricature of her as an over-eager terrier, scampering to get into the American market, but it was a neat emblem for the puppyish enthusiasm which had lead her astray.

The rueful anecdotes turn out to be intriguing, too - obliquely instructive about the ways of the world. The most interesting case-history was that of Anita Roddick's involvement with a Nepalese paper-making factory, a tale which cleverly aroused your prejudices against the Mrs Jellaby of cosmetics and then subdued them again. It looked at first as though it might be a case of commercial Don Juanism, with Roddick having a mad entrepreneurial fling with a local businessman who had set up his factory on idealistic principles, and then skipping town when the affair cooled. Offered a guaranteed order by Bodyshop, he became totally dependent on her custom alone (despite her warnings not to get too attached). Unfortunately, the product wouldn't sell and the orders had to be cancelled. But at this point, rather than leaving the seduced virgin holding the baby, Roddick seems to have done the decent thing and sorted out some maintenance. No workers have had to be laid off and the factory has been helped to develop in less fanciful directions. It was a story from which both parties emerged with credit - partly for having the nerve to try, and partly because they managed to repair the damage so well.

I have been wondering whether I would have to make a confession of error myself after an approving review of Chalk, BBC1's classroom sitcom, resulted in pitying looks from some colleagues and enquiries about my state of health. Looking at it again last night, I thought at first that I might be in trouble. It was about sex - a subject which always does strange things to comedy writers - and it really couldn't be said that quality control had been maintained throughout; there were some rather strained double-entendres (a man referring to tracksuit trousers as his "bottoms"), a new teacher called Mr Cockfoster (gales of obedient sniggers), not to mention some rather unconvincing misapprehensions.

But I think I'm going to ride this one out. If you don't warm to the extravagance of the thing, then it is never going to work for you. But Steven Moffat's farce-plotting is genuinely tight and inventive, and the heartlessness of his central character is displayed with a fresh ingenuity: pinned behind his desk because he is trouserless (Chalk is not afraid of the old favourites), Eric Slatt has to resist increasingly urgent demands for his attendance elsewhere, including an apparent suicide bid by one of his pupils. "While you're sitting there writing, that girl could be throwing herself off this building," says a disbelieving policeman. "So, what you're saying is there may be no point in my coming now anyway," says Mr Slatt with desperate logic. I'm sorry, but I laughed this time, too.

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