reviews; television BBC1 Jasper Rees on documentaries that want to be dramas, and vice versa

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The Independent Culture
The inside story on The Vet, BBC1's late, unlamented bid for ratings domination on early Sunday evenings, is that the programme makers were desperate for a more charismatic title. Apparently they offered a crate of champagne to anyone who could come up with anything. ITV would have invested thousands in market researching a dozen possibles, but this was the BBC.

This must be a cautionary tale. A programme's title performs the same function as the riotous tie or the thrusting shade of lipstick; it's an advertisement of personality, a glimpse of the colour within. You dread to think how Cracker would have fared under the name of The Forensic Psychiatrist, or if Inspector Morse would have steamed ahead as The Detective Inspector.

Sometimes, though, the title that states the obvious works. We're into the second week of a series about a Scottish gamekeeper: It's dour, it's tightlipped and it's called The Gamekeeper (BBC1). It's also a documentary, so it can afford to be seen to keep its feet on the ground. Yet The Gamekeeper is one of those documentaries that aspires to the condition of drama. This doesn't mean that it wishes to tell lies, merely that it knows which side its bread is buttered and has alighted on a subject that can present fact with added production values.

The sequence that accompanies each week's Clannad-cloned ambient theme- tune is a drama producer's wet dream, a vision of beetling crags and undulating snow-layered moors, careering stags and indomitable four-wheel-drive boldmobiles. The only conceivable reason why no one has bothered to upgrade from documentary to drama (or downgrade, depending on how you look at it) is that nothing much happens to a gamekeeper, or indeed to anyone resident in the Highlands. This much was proved by Hamish Macbeth, another of BBC1's Sunday night flops, in which the local crime rate soared even more implausibly than it did in Morse's Oxford in order that plots might be found to justify broadcasting the landscape for several weeks in a row.

In the second Gamekeeper film we butted in on the Glorious Twelfth, when the estate played host to a party of grouse hunters from Ulster. To emphasise gamekeeper Charles Pirie's sergeant-majorly sternness, the programme tried to paint the Irishmen as legless wassailers, but actually they behaved rather well. There was slightly more mileage in the rumpus between Pirie and his trainee gamekeepers, surly lads from the bright lights of the big smoke who grumbled that under his tutelage they weren't allowed anywhere near a disco. The complaint seemed a touch academic, because from this side of the screen it looked like the nearest strobe light was at the wrong end of a 50-mile drive. That's precisely why The Gamekeeper is so soothing to watch, and would be murderously dull as a drama.