Review

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The Independent Culture
A video tour of the autobahns and road tunnels of Germany is not, on the face of it, the most appealing prospect, but Travels With My Camera (Sun C4) demonstrated that the pleasure of a journey has as much to do with the company you keep as the places you visit. Turning up in Hamburg, John Peel announced that he had a favourite place to show you. You prepared to gaze on the Santiago di Compostella of Beatlemania, the Star Club. But Peel had another destination in mind - the rarified delights of the Elbe road tunnel, a narrow, white tiled tube reached by means of gleaming steel lifts. "Just beautiful," murmured the champion of independent rock, as he gazed at its gleaming perspective.

Nor was that the end of the treats for tunnel enthusiasts - in Duisberg he drove reverentially through another underpass, admiring its organic curves and arterial branchings with a connoisseur's eye. As the programme proceeded, other strange obsessions came to light - he seems to have a thing about the health and safety inspectors, who were arraigned on more than one occasion for their bureaucratic hatred of eccentricity. He is also passionate about his car, an ageing Mercedes which he patted affectionately after it had conveyed him safely past spray-splattering juggernauts - "I want to be buried in it, really," he said, which is the sort of remark one would associate with Jeremy Clarkson rather than John Peel, this fabled piece of grit in the Radio One oyster.

But someone less like Clarkson it would be hard to imagine. Part of the pleasure of the film was spending some time with a celebrity ("C-list", as he carefully described himself) who appears to be without the merest whiff of affectation. I suppose it's just about possible that the mildly bemused demeanour and the self-deprecating style are all a pose - that when he closes his hotel-room door, he snorts a line of coke and rings up Sting for a chat about the new album - but it seems unlikely. There is a consistency to his references which it would be hard to fake - pointing at a barge on the Rhine he explained drily that it was "another shipment of Araldite bound for Leigh-on-Sea. When you've travelled as much as I have, you get an eye for these things". The trade-names, the fascination with Colditz (which he visited in a failed attempt to see the POW designed glider), the comfy affection for home and family are as authentically British and domesticated as the cover of an old Meccano box.

Musicals, Great Musicals (Sat BBC2) looked at the career of Arthur Freed, the creative force behind such great MGM musicals as The Wizard of Oz (he prevented attempts to cut "Over the Rainbow" from the film) On the Town, American in Paris and Singin' in the Rain. There were times when the programme's impressive scholarship (you were even shown the floor plan of Freed's suite of offices) threatened to eclipse the showmanship, particularly in an onerously detailed namecheck of Freed's collaborators (a sequence clearly aimed at those people who do not move a muscle until the credits have stopped rolling). But there were wonderful things to reward the patient, over and above the generous quotations from the films themselves. It was startling to see the first outing of the song "Singing in the Rain", for example, originally written by Freed for Broadway Melody of 1929 and performed by an oil-skinned chorus (including Buster Keaton) beneath a vast backdrop of Noah's ark. Even more startling was the discovery that "Make 'em Laugh", which Freed wrote to fill a gap in the later movie, was a wholesale rape and pillage of a Cole Porter song called "Be A Clown" (if you can sing the first, you can sing the second).

Freed's greatness, in truth, lay not in composition but in the intangible ability to make things happen. Leslie Caron recalled that he had a vocabulary of only four words - "Yep, nah, terrific, terrible" - but that, and a protective passion for the talents of others, turned out to be all he needed.

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