REVIEW / Will the real Mrs Antrobus step forward?

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The Independent Culture
IN 1991, Eynsford was the Best Kept Village in Kent, and in 1992 it was the Best Kept Large Village in West Kent. I spent quite a lot of Twenty Miles from Piccadilly Circus (ITV, London only) trying to work out whether they had gone down in the world or up into the big league. (Is large village just a euphemism for dormitory town or is it what every little village aspires to? Where does West Kent stop and is it bigger than East Kent?) I had to shelve the problem when the tension of the Britain in Bloom judging reached fever pitch.

Would Margaret Newbold, the amiable bossy-boots who chairs the Eynsford Britain in Bloom committee, manage to charm the parvenu with the wrecked van in his front drive? Important this, as Eynsford's success in the regional finals had very nearly been scuppered by the unfloral eyesore. Unfortunately Mr Van took the view that he couldn't think of anything less important. Margaret retreated, vowing to win him over with a bottle of wine and a nice card, an Elastoplast for a bloody mind.

That clearly didn't work either, because the director made sure that he caught the judges walking past the rust bucket, eyes averted from the horror, in a scene that winced with genteel agony. (It was puzzling that Margaret hadn't just covered the whole thing in Morning Glory because her general determination suggested that if you stopped for too long in the high street you would end up with a hanging basket dangling from your elbow.) Elsewhere, her vigilance had paid off. Touring with her on a final inspection drive, you were alarmed when she hit the brakes and emitted an urgent moan of distress. Had she run over a hedgehog? 'Cigarette packet,' she announced, clambering over some railings to make the verge virgin again.

I think we were being invited to laugh at Margaret (although the director never nudged) but it was hard not to admire this civic busy-body, with her fussy determination to maintain her composure - given the choice between a neighbour who dumps a stained mattress on your doorstep and one who nags you to trim your borders, few would hesitate for long.

A better example still of loving cultivation was delivered by Life Studies (BBC 1), a penny-plain BBC Education film about Mary Doyle, a primary school headteacher who has amassed a multi- cultural family of seven without the benefit of a husband. Not a story for the tabloids but an account of a woman who decided to adopt the most difficult children, those unlikely to be placed with conventional two-parent families. When she started this often meant black children from broken homes, the practice of depriving children of family life for the good of their ethnic souls not having been introduced yet.

Someone has seen sense because she continues to look after mixed-race children, undergoing their tests of her resolve and love with admirable patience. 'She's never wilted from it,' her youngest said in a slightly wondering tone, as if admiring the stamina of a favoured Gladiator. She is proud of her family, and they love her - and this was an affecting and unpretentious programme, a useful corrective to the zealots who think roots are more important than nurture.

The only good thing about The Day I Nearly Died (ITV) is its title, which at least owns up to the power of personal anecdote. But the films themselves are tawdry things, cut together from shots that look like someone's attempt to come to terms with a new camcorder and indifferent to the words they notionally support. 'It was absolutely pitch black, the blackest black I've ever seen,' said a survivor, a memory illustrated with an image of swirling blue water.

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