Review

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The Independent Culture
I have been nervous about watching much of Secrets of the Paranormal (BBC2) for fear that I might spontaneously combust through unvented rage. But after last night's concluding episode I wondered whether I might not have been a bit narrow-minded about the series. By all accounts, the programme, which detailed Uri Geller's paranormal support for a football team was not exactly a glowing endorsement of his powers, and while "In Search of Jane" contained some bad moments for the sceptical, its final effect was a bracing drench of common sense. Perhaps the secret intention is "give them enough rope and they'll hang themselves". I'm not sure this is very realistic - give the credulous enough rope and they'll usually use it to make a macrame model of the spaceship which abducted them - but it suggests that the BBC hasn't entirely capitulated to superstition.

Maxine Harrison, assailed by the double grief of her child's death and the mysterious disappearance of her sister, had turned to psychics for help. She was sure that they could help her to resolve the question of what had happened to her sister, who never returned from a shopping trip in North London, leaving two sons behind her. Maxine's first excursion was to visit a dowser called Mrs Sullivan, a brisk, no-nonsense woman who looked as if she might have a sideline in clipping dogs' nails. "If this woman can't give me what I want, I'll go to someone else," Maxine said, perfectly summarising the uncritical hunger that keeps such people in business. Mrs Sullivan swung a pendulum over a road-map and announced with utter conviction that Jane was dead: "25th of June she died," she rattled on. "She's in the river, they should look north of Aldermaston." Maxine wept to hear her vague fears given such an inventive finish.

Next she visited Carol Everett, a computer psychic who concurred with her colleague and then went on a fishing expedition for foreign travel. "I've got a Spanish link, a Portugal link?" she said, as though puzzled by the oddity of such places. "She'd just come back from Portugal," said Maxine, awed by Carol's percipience. By the time of her visit to Sue Devere ("She's in a watery grave") I was beginning to get a bit testy with this parade of blithe assurance about someone else's tragedy. A bit testy, too, with Maxine's apparently undentable confidence.

But then Maxine, to her great credit, got the giggles during one of Sue's trances. It was an odd scene - the medium doing a bit of am-dram on the sofa, re-enacting a horrible strangulation and the victim's sister casting imploring looks at her boyfriend as she tried to stifle her laughter. She carried on for a bit, searching with two mediums for her sister's final resting place, but that moment of healthy ridicule seemed to mark a turning point. She concluded with some unequivocal advice for anyone in a similar position: "Some's told me she's in a river, some's told me she's buried in a shallow grave, one medium has told me she's not dead. I wish to God I'd never started all this because it's really making me ill... and I beg anyone out there don't attempt to do what I done because it'll slaughter yer." A message from the other side, you could say, but how many will actually listen?

There was much grief in 3D (ITV) as well, though here used in a more conventional manner, as a lubricant for drier issues of policy. The report on MCAD deficiency, for example, a rare genetic disorder which can kill new-born babies, began with a graveside visit by two grieving parents, while the piece on the dangers of jet-skis included two families bereaved after accidents. The brevity of these packages is such that they can offer little more than a couple of sentences in addition to the bait of the human drama. There is an ethical dilemma over the test for MCAD because it also highlights untreatable diseases - should parents be told or shouldn't they? That isn't a summary of 3D's report, incidentally, it's an unabridged account.

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