Robert Hanks' Television Review

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"`MERREDITH SAID it was better to bear things than to be a sneak.' The captain's stern look relaxed gradually into a smile. `So Merredith told you that, did he? Well, you can tell Merredith from me that he's a brick; and as for you, you're a brave fellow. I shan't ask you again, for I think I know who did it; but I'll tell you what - I shan't forget you. You're the right sort, and I wish all new boys were the same.' " - from Frank's First Term by Harold Avery

Nothing clogs the average person's mental and moral processes like drugs: you don't have to take them, just start an argument about them. This is what Living with the Enemy (BBC2) did last night. James Hellyer, boyish former chair of the Cambridge University Conservative Association ("It's my belief that those who take drugs become fit only for their own company"), was plonked down in the middle of the Exodus Collective, a Luton-based community that likes to challenge the criminalisation of cannabis by openly smoking and growing it.

James - no surnames here - was, at first, a little apprehensive, comparing his feelings to those of Boswell and Johnson as they set out on their tour of the Hebrides: off to visit a strange and savage land not far from their own, and perhaps to experience a little danger. In fact, he encountered nothing but goodwill. The Collective, determined to impress him with their organ-isational skills, transformed a stark room in a single day into a comfortable living space for his sole convenience (uh-oh, massive Changing Rooms flashback). There was some argument over dinner, but it was mostly a stale recitation of traditional views, and the atmosphere never became heated. A couple of nights later, the Collective even held a rave in James's honour. As it turned out, though, James wasn't around to enjoy it - perhaps just as well, since he was evidently something of a Three Tenors man, and he wouldn't have felt at home.

Things had begun to go wrong when James and Glen, the Collective's spokesman, went on local radio to debate the issue of drugs and the law, along with Dr Adrian Rogers, director of the Conservative organisation, Family Focus. In the course of the conversation, the show's host cheerily asked Dr Rogers whether James, having witnessed open cannabis- smoking, should have called the police. James clearly took Dr Rogers' positive response to heart. By that evening he had cleared out of Exodus, and was wrestling with his conscience in a local hotel. The next day, having concluded that for evil to flourish it is necessary only for good men to do nothing, he went to the police.

However you feel about drugs, however overblown you found Glen's description of himself as a "freedom-fighter", James's readiness to sneak, his absolute ignorance of the obligations a guest bears to his host, suggested a depressing lack of moral awareness. His attempt to square his actions with Glen was squirm-making; and the punchline was thoroughly dismal: James, running into Dr Rogers again, ended up being appointed youth director of Family Focus. What a coincidence! I switched off feeling like the wedding guest in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, a sadder and a wiser man. Well, sadder anyway.

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