Robert Hanks' Television Review

YOU CAN tell from miles away when a politician has started talking about family values: just keep an eye out for the vultures circling overhead. They must have been licking their lips back in 1990 when Margaret Thatcher dreamed up the Child Support Agency. As the Conservative government saw it, making errant fathers pay for the upkeep of their offspring was a marvellous way of reinforcing family values, and if the Treasury could make a few bob at the same time - well, why not?

Can't Pay, Won't Pay (Sun C4) came up with some very convincing reasons why not, and in the process offered a lovely illustration of how easy it is for politicians to get things horribly, horribly wrong. Initially, the CSA seemed an obviously attractive idea - the principles behind it pure "motherhood and apple-pie", in the words of one ex- minister. But because everybody was so busy supporting the principle, nobody, including the supposed opposition, bothered to scrutinise the details. Frank Field pointed out that voters always want politicians to agree on things: in fact, agreement is a recipe for disaster.

Some shrewd politicians spotted that the CSA might be a political hot potato. One school of thought had it that the agency should be run by the Inland Revenue. Peter Lilley, chief secretary to the Treasury at the time, popped up to describe how he had argued against this view, objecting that if the tax system got embroiled in family disputes, people would be more reluctant to pay tax. The CSA was hived off to the Department of Social Security; unfortunately for Lilley, shortly afterwards so was he, thoroughly hoisted with his own petard.

Even though it wasn't running the scheme, the Treasury still did its bit to cock things up. In Wisconsin, a similar agency had been run successfully on the assumption that budget savings could not be a primary objective. Over here, though, the Treasury's eagerness to save money won out: it was decided that mothers would not be allowed to keep any of their benefit payment once they were getting money from their husbands. As the commentary mordantly put it: "At a stroke, millions of mothers were no better off" - which meant they had no incentive to co-operate with the CSA.

The blunders piled up: it was decided that the CSA should not just take on new cases, but should rake up a lot of old ones. The formula devised for deciding how much money should be paid by fathers was of sufficient complexity to boggle an astrophysicist; the CSA's new staff, poorly trained and using an unreliable computer system, didn't have the foggiest how to work it. The result was thorough-going chaos.

Bureaucracy is rarely a subject to make the pulse race, but here, the snowballing idiocy was presented with a clarity and understated wit that made it a grim sort of pleasure.

If you subscribe to the Larkin theory of history, which holds that sexual intercourse began in 1963, you will realise that it can all be put down to popular music. A refinement of this is the Sex, Chips and Rock 'n' Roll theory, which holds that everything permissive started in 1965 in Eccles: two weeks into Debbie Horsfield's series on BBC1, and the theory is still looking darned cute but not very plausible.

If you do follow that line of thought, you may agree with the witness who suggested, in Mr Rock and Roll (Sun C4), that Colonel Tom Parker, Elvis's Svengali-like manager, should be compared with Hitler and Mussolini. Even if you don't, Colonel Parker didn't emerge as a terribly nice man: he greeted Elvis's death as a terrific marketing opportunity. It is also likely that he was a murderer, on the run from the law in his native Holland. (His real name was Andreas Cornelius van Kuijk, and he was never in the army; but as a friend said, "He's as much a colonel as anybody else, I guess... Probably as much a colonel as Colonel Sanders.") By his own account, in his early days he ran a dancing chickens show - the chickens were persuaded to dance by being placed on a red-hot boiler.

These were exciting revelations but, rather unwisely, they all came in the last five minutes of what was otherwise an oddly dull programme. Given a choice between Elvis and the civil service, I'd pick Elvis every time; but this time, I would have been badly wrong.

Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tvWhy BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Arts and Entertainment
Drake continues to tease ahead of the release of his new album
Arts and Entertainment
Former Communards frontman Jimmy Somerville
Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade
radio The popular DJ is leaving for 'family and new adventures'
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TVViewers predict what will happen to Miller and Hardy
Arts and Entertainment
Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright in season two of the series

Watch the new House of Cards series three trailer

Arts and Entertainment
An extract from the sequel to Fight Club

Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant, Eve Myles and Olivia Colman in Broadchurch series two

TV Review
Arts and Entertainment
Old dogs are still learning in 'New Tricks'

Arts and Entertainment
'Tonight we honour Hollywood’s best and whitest – sorry, brightest' - and other Neil Patrick Harris Oscars jokes

Oscars 2015It was the first time Barney has compered the Academy Awards

Arts and Entertainment
Patricia Arquette making her acceptance speech for winning Best Actress Award

Oscars 2015 From Meryl Streep whooping Patricia Arquette's equality speech to Chris Pine in tears

Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015 Bringing you all the news from the 87th Academy Awards

Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars ceremony 2015 will take place at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles
Oscars 2015A quiz to whet your appetite for tonight’s 87th Academy Awards
Arts and Entertainment
Sigourney Weaver, as Ripley, in Alien; critics have branded the naming of action movie network Movies4Men as “offensive” and “demographic box-ticking gone mad”.
TVNaming of action movie network Movies4Men sparks outrage
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
Kristen Stewart reacts after receiving the Best Actress in a Supporting Role award for her role in 'Sils Maria' at the 40th annual Cesar awards
A lost Sherlock Holmes story has been unearthed
arts + ents Walter Elliot, an 80-year-old historian, found it in his attic,
Arts and Entertainment
Margot Robbie rose to fame starring alongside Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street

Film Hollywood's new leading lady talks about her Ramsay Street days

Arts and Entertainment
Right note: Sam Haywood with Simon Usborne page turning
musicSimon Usborne discovers it is under threat from the accursed iPad
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
    A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

    It's not easy being Green

    After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
    Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

    Gorillas nearly missed

    BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
    Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

    The Downton Abbey effect

    Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
    China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

    China's wild panda numbers on the up

    New census reveals 17% since 2003
    Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

    Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

    Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
    Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

    Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

    Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
    Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

    Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

    Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
    New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

    Dinner through the decades

    A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
    Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

    Philippa Perry interview

    The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

    Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

    Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
    Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

    Harry Kane interview

    The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
    The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
    HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

    Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

    Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?