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The Independent Culture
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The opening shot of The Beatles Anthology gives you an epic retreat from the band itself, a long tracking shot which reveals that the white background behind them is merely the footing for the letter "t" in a colossal three-dimensional rendering of their name. That's largely the story of what follows, four individuals who came to be dwarfed by a trademark (or even turned into one - the final credits reveal that John Lennon's name and likeness appear "courtesy of John Lennon Estate", as if even our memories have moved out of public domain). Here, though, we're still with the sweet innocence of their origins, the element of the myth which still dovetails perfectly with our own teenage fantasies. Very few of us know what it's like to live as one of the most famous people on the planet, but we know what it's like to have dreams of greatness on a candlewick bedspread or to sit on the top deck of a bus talking about your favourite records. This first episode shows that the Beatles were once just like that too. The title of Geoff Wonfor's series is exactly right - even though you half expect to encounter the word "story" rather than "anthology", with its suggestion of selection and bittiness. Wonfor appears to have scratched together every existing fragment of documentation, from snapshots, publicity material, performance recordings and interviews, and then formed it into his own narrative collage. Fortunately one of his strengths as a director is his ability to overlap material and blend contradictory images without losing his way. There is a terrific montage early in the programme in which photographs of all four Beatles rapidly flicker back through the years, coming to a stop on the concluding chord of a Glenn Miller number - a sequence which gives you a great push in the back, propelling you into the past and the very different musical culture from which the Beatles emerged. Much later, McCartney is remembering the recording of the Beatles first album and tells the story of Lennon nursing his voice towards the final recording - "Twist and Shout". It came last because everyone knew that he wouldn't be able to sing anything after it. Even so, his voice was beginning to splinter - it's what gives the record the thrilling sense that it might fall out of control at any moment. Wonfor played the track immediately after this account and increased the absolutely bankable frisson by cutting between many different filmed performances. As the faces and suits changed, you listened all the harder to that single original, an unrepeatable performance providing the backing for the necessarily repeatable business of selling it to people. Streetlife, Karl Francis's film for Screen Two, was hard going, just as we had been warned. I found myself stubbornly dry-eyed, despite a performance of impressive commitment from Helen McCrory as Jo, a single-mother finally driven to infanticide by the serial abasements of life on a rotten council estate. Perhaps it's because Francis has to negotiate rather tortuously between honouring the warm vitality of the oppressed (a socialist version of the Dunkirk spirit) and rubbing our noses in how unremittingly brutalising it all is. And though I don't doubt that life can arrange this multiple pile-up of miseries - drug-addict sister, abusive father, faithless lover and dying mother - I'm not convinced that the victims would be able to craft their pain into quite such tastefully formal soliloquies. The Mrs Merton Show is superb. After wiping the floor with Chris Eubank a few weeks ago (if there had been a referee he would have stopped the fight), she took on Germaine Greer this week. It is a stroke of genius to fill the audience with old- age pensioners, who confirm the sense that you have wandered into some hidden zone of daytime programming and provide the perfect foil for Mrs Merton's guileful naivety. "Are you courting, Germaine?" she asked with deadly compassion last night, "cos you're no spring chicken are you?" Germaine did a silent goldfish impression - which is probably a broadcasting first.

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