REVIEW / See the comparisation or be disastered

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The Independent Culture
IN A slightly uncanny scene, Sheena McDonald offered Vladimir Zhirinovsky a red felt-tip and a school atlas and asked him to draw the borders of a restored Russian empire. Pakistani viewers will have been relieved that he drew the line at annexing that country, steering the nib around its borders, though they might be a little perturbed at his casual explanation that it belonged to India anyway. Those with attachments to Iran, Afghanistan and Turkey would still have been digesting the information, underlined by some dismissive slashmarks, that those countries face five or six years of bloody chaos before Russia steps in to fill the vacuum. The Baltic states, Zhirinovsky explained, would have their electricity cut off and would rapidly elect to return to Russian control.

Zhirinovsky was a bit messy with his felt-tip but the thought occurred that the map would still be a hell of a souvenir if he gets his way, as if someone had asked Hitler to sketch out his plans for European domination on the back of a Munich beer-mat. This is not an association that Zhirinovsky likes, by the way. 'It's impossible, this comparisation,' he said, fully aware that it is not cute branding at home, where the wounds of the Great Patriotic War are still unhealed. He was talking in The Vision Thing (C 4), a series of conversations with those in the grip of righteous conviction; Sheena McDonald, whose familiar expression of wry scepticism is peculiarly suited to these encounters, was playing the part of someone trying to prise a limpet from a rock with a plastic spoon.

She had an extra difficulty here in that Zhirinovsky's command of English allowed him to ignore awkward questions or simply answer a completely different one. It also, dangerously, made him appear less dangerous than he is. We really needed to see him fluent, in command of his idiom, plausible even, to have some sense of why 12 million Russians fell for the salesmanship. 'I hope to be not failed - to be upper, more higher, not in down,' he concluded, after she had asked him to contemplate failure. I very much hope that he be disastered and that the Russian electorate give him the boots, because this conversation revealed him to be anti-Semitic and dictatorial, but McDonald had better keep the map just in case.

None of Barry Hearn's enemies compared him to Adolf Hitler, but only, you felt, because they thought the comparisation might be limiting. Hitler wasn't a chartered accountant at the age of 21, for a start, and he could have learnt a thing or two from Hearn about PR. On the Line (BBC 2) followed the promoter as he tried to replicate his domination of snooker in the tougher field of boxing (he already promotes Chris Eubank and has Herbie Hide as part of his stable).

Territorial ambitions, ruthless will, the genial insistence on his own guileless good intentions - there was something rather familiar about all this. Zhirinovsky wants Russian troops to wash their boots in the Indian Ocean - Barry Hearn has his eyes set on football as the final frontier, along with much of televised sport.

'Boxing Clever' was a touch too obliging in listening to Hearn's patter (he used them more than they used him), but they conveyed something of the low-life schmooze of sports promotion. In one scene he was seen trying to sell live televised fishing to a sceptical Sky Executive. Perhaps aware that five hours of a muddy lake might not make the pulses race, he had arranged to have Chris Eubank do a bungee-jump. Surely not the first occasion on which a promoter has asked a boxer to take a dive, but probably the first time it's been done with a giant elastic band attached.

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