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The Independent Culture
Guardians of Chaos (BBC2), Michael Ignatieff's film about Boutros Boutros Ghali, began with a shot of the UN Secretary General's private plane - UN1 - purring on a desert airstrip. For a moment it seemed an unkind cut, a suggestion that the world's chief constable is a playboy dilettante, wasting our money on rich men's toys. But then you quickly realised that this was the most powerful symbol of his role in the world. Ignatieff spent an exhausting 100 hours in UN1, trying to find out what the Secretary General does. And the answer is, he climbs aboard his plane a lot: Boutros Boutros Ghali (Boutros Boutros to his friends) has seen more of the world's runways than the Pope.

Like a Japanese tourist spinning through Europe, Boutros went on a breakneck trip through the horrors of Africa: if it's Tuesday, it must be genocide in Rwanda. He went to a town in the north of the country, where, after a hideous ethnic massacre, the locals did not bury their dead - just left them to rot where they fell. This was partly to make a statement to the rest of the world, but mainly because there weren't many locals left to do the burying. Boutros arrived in the town by helicopter, stepped uneasily through the corpses, met some locals, told them to carry on, then climbed back into his chopper. His visit lasted a total of 18 minutes.

Tracking him all the way through Africa, as he inspected yet another troupe of tribal dancers, or met the peace-keeping squad of blue berets and told them to carry on, Ignatieff's world-weary commentary perfectly captured the hopelessness of the Boutros brief. "There is something surreal," he said as he wandered through a prison camp of Hutus, who were greeting the main man with a tune about the Red Cross, "about people accused of genocide singing songs extolling the virtues of first aid." Occasionally Ignatieff got to snatch a minute of the man's precious 100 hours. On a plane, in a hotel suite, in an airport waiting-room, they talked about the UN's role in the world. Wherever they did, in the background was a television tuned to CNN reporting on the latest UN humiliation in Bosnia. It was somehow significant that though Boutros was capable of the most stomach-churning displays of intimacy with the grotesques of Africa - Savimbi in Angola got a bear hug, Mobutu in Zaire was greeted like an old friend - during these exchanges he never once looked Ignatieff in the eye.

The 100 hours ended as it began, a plane on a runway, an extravagant local dance, Boutros's arm emerging from a sea of suits to wave as it disappeared into the safe haven of the jet. Yet above this, Ignatieff's closing remarks completely jarred with the hour-long catalogue of craven hopelessness we had just seen: without Boutros, he said, "we would have chaos and no guardians to save us from it". Perhaps he didn't want to kick a man when he was down. Or maybe he realised if he continued his devastating assault to its logical conclusion, a brigade of UN peace-keepers would have been dispatched to Television Centre to intervene on Boutros's behalf.

The opening shots of the last episode of Rick Stein's Taste of the Sea (BBC2) looked as though Boutros was about to land in Padstow. The streets of Stein's manor were packed with people in silly costumes, indulging in local tribal dancing. Apparently, though, they do this for their own benefit, to celebrate May Day. And they have every right to celebrate, since every year Stein cooks up a salivating seafood salad for them all to help themselves to. At this year's trough-in, in addition to the standard complimentary "oohs" and "aahs", one of Stein's guests claimed that "this wild garlic is spondonkous". It was the most original piece of television cookery vocabulary since Johnny Cradock said he hoped the viewers' doughnuts all turned out like Fanny's.

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