REVIEW / Who you gonna call? Starsky and Hutch

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WHAT WOULD you do if the neighbours started singing Abba's 'Thank You for the Music' out of an open window around midnight at a decibel level that would perturb even the partially deaf judges of the Eurovision Song Contest? Having resisted the temptation to reach for the 12-bore, you would of course reach for the telephone. Who ya gonna call? 'Noisebusters' - as the ludicrously overblown trailer called the two Westminster Council environmental officers featured in last night's Inside Story (BBC 1).

With its zappy editing and earnest voiceover, the taster would not have looked out of place on the news spoof, The Day Today. It tried vainly to convince us that John Wilkinson and Paul Harrington, the stars of 'Noise Patrol', were a latter-day Starsky and Hutch. In fact, in their flowery pastel ties and gentle voices, the pair were about as macho as Rabbit and Hutch. At one point in this quietly gripping film, they even expressed concern about gaining more powers and becoming 'over-zealous' - not a qualm Starsky and Hutch ever experienced as they threw countless badly dressed drug dealers over the car bonnet.

Olivia Lichtenstein's documentary played on this preconception of Wilkinson and Harrington as rough and tough but likeable and friendly with a swooping pre-titles crane shot of them leaving Westminster's council building to the accompaniment of an unmistakably Seventies 'wah, wah' soundtrack. The music played again as Wilkinson pooh-poohed the notion that they were a 'Starsky and Hutch department'. (After all, would Westminster Council Tax payers want to foot the bill for all those souped-up red and white cars - not to mention the dernier cri wrap-around cardigans?)

'Noise Patrol' offered many such neat touches - not trumpeted from the rooftops but whispered softly in your ear. The very first complainant Wilkinson and Harrington visited was a yoga and meditation teacher tormented by her neighbour's music (not Abba this time). As the singing crescendoed, the camera settled for a still, small moment of calm on the stained glass sign in her window which read 'Peace on Earth'. Later, after an ear-damaging confrontation with a loud-mouthed builder, Wilkinson returned to find a parking- ticket on his car. 'It's the same department as well,' he laughed with a certain hollowness.

The understated tone continued to the end. Following a day spent dealing with wild-haired bagpipers and people who complained about noise pollution from their own clothing, Wilkinson chose to go to an Eric Clapton concert at the Albert Hall. The man's a glutton for punishment.

Punishment was one of many weighty themes crash-tackled in 'Hope in the Year Two', Trevor Griffiths's Screen Two (BBC 2). Others you could tick off included liberty, fraternity and equality. Yes, it was another re-reading of the French Revolution and its aftermath, this time to mark the 200th anniversary of Danton's death.

The conceit could be summarised as a 'game of two Dantons'. Danton (Jack Shepherd) was imprisoned in a cage Hannibal Lecter would have had trouble escaping from. But, to distract his rioting supporters, the authorities had installed a decoy Danton in another prison.

With his piercing eyes and avian features, Shepherd could bring dignity even to the role of a loud-mouthed builder. In a somewhat unegalitarian way, he bossed the film - whether rattling his cage with frustration or melting from laughter into tears. You can pay him no greater compliment than to say he went some way to evading the gigantic shadow cast over the role by Gerard Depardieu.

Shepherd's achievement was all the more impressive as he was battling against a cheap production (a speech from a lectern was filmed without a cutaway to the audience) and a script top-heavy with abstracts. Griffiths has an honourable record in political writing (Reds, Bill Brand), but this felt more like a pamphlet than a play.