TELEVISION / Julie Andrews she wasn't

FLUTING vibrato, childish diction, burnished helmet of hair, bulldozing self-belief: what is it that makes Margaret Thatcher such good television? Simple: her incandescent simplicity. She has fused her private self with her public pose to such an extent that even her Spitting Image seems comparatively subtle.

In Thatcher: the Downing Street Years (BBC1, first of four), she is a caricature of a caricature. Clad in sculpted black, in mourning for lost power, she looks back in anger, while her ex-ministers look back in bewilderment.

As this coterie re-lived their times in office, we had a glimpse into what made Thatcher so hungry for power and so fearful of relinquishing it: 'To have a woman running government was a very great departure,' Lord Carrington said. 'She did exactly the right thing. She dominated. It was the only conceivable way she could have survived.'

How lonely she may have felt among those fluent, cynical 'grandees' was underlined in a would-be disclaimer from Ian Gilmour: 'There wasn't this phalanx of allegedly superior, snobbish people. That's a figment of Mrs Thatcher's fevered imagination. This group didn't exist, except that we all felt the same.' The solitude fed her creeping megalomania - or anyway made for an attractive defence: 'They just didn't know what life was like. They hadn't been through it.'

So although the series isn't going to tell us much about the history of Britain, 1979 to 1990, it certainly throws light on the bizarre psychological energies that magnetised the corridors of power, and remain in almost visible chips on those tensely padded shoulders. The producer, Denys Blakeway, neatly displays these currents by fading the interviewer into the background and setting the words of each participant in unadorned contrast with the one before.

Colleagues lined up to be patronising about their old boss. Blakeway happily colluded, playing 'Oh] What a Girl]' over footage of Thatcher waltzing. 'She was a pretty girl, and she looked as if she'd just stepped out of The Sound of Music,' said Sir Ronald Millar.

She wasn't, and she didn't, but never mind. The wets mentioned traits that might be considered masculine - giving jobs to good-looking members of the other sex, being dictatorial, taking an insouciant attitude to one's own sexuality - and put them down to the fact that she was female. No one saw that she could only use the handbag joke and the housewife metaphor because she was so much bigger than such motifs, so - in a word - unfeminine.

Now she is out of power, the motifs look freakishly camp, just as her self-belief has become parodic: 'I said at the beginning when I knew the enormity of the task, if you give me six strong men and true, we can see it through.' And now that we care less about the content, her voice has become a skit on itself, and we listen with delight as she brays and flutes through the rhetoric.

Still, it took only a few shots of riots or shut-up shops or dead factories, to show the far more important legacy she and her colleagues left. 'Perhaps it would have been better if we had resigned,' Jim Prior said thoughtfully. But so much more fun to stay.

Between the Lines (BBC1), three weeks into a second series, has emerged as a detective show with a quirkily intelligent agenda. Episode one, which tackled fascism, was a little too big for its jackboots, but the next two were spot on: dingy, crowded and full of understated emotion.

Episode three began with a shoot-out, with inarticulate black people high on crack betrayed by corrupt policemen. It ended with the flimsy plot torn to pieces, the detectives who had sought to expose corruption - even our hero, Neil Pearson - themselves exposed as well-meaning idiots, and a black woman, centre stage, showing plenty of articulacy: 'You look at me like I'm a bad woman. What would you know? 1959. When your people wanted us to fill your workforce you put up posters - 'Come to England and join the English family' . . . not your English slums, your English racism.'

Pearson is just right for such a series, bringing a charmed concentration to messing up. He is not only berated by his bosses - heroes always are - but never, ever gets the denouement where he can say 'I told you so'.

If the plot at first seemed merely fashionable in its mimicking of American patterns of inner-city life, Critical Eye (C4) - as well as real events in Clapham - showed that the American model may be frighteningly close. 'If you think there is a little bit of a crack problem in London,' warned one American, 'you gotta start working now 'cos you've got to remember, and be very clear about this, this is war.'

America usually does it worse, and always does it bigger. The Late Show special on US chat-show hosts (BBC2) relayed the awful spectacle of men without the cheek of Jonathan Ross or the maniacal glee of Clive Anderson being paid a fortune to deliver the dull feed-lines that get the dead jokes that send studio audiences into paroxysms: 'You look like a million dollars.' 'I look like a million dollars? That's only a twentieth of your salary.' (Cue: roars.)

Once again, parody has almost melted into reality. The spoof chat of The Larry Sanders Show (BBC2) is no more divorced from the rhythms of real life, and twice as entertaining. But as the real Larry Sanders, Garry Shandling, miserably told The Late Show, it's ruled him out of landing a proper show of his own: 'It would be very difficult for me because then I might become Larry Sanders.' A worse fate is hard to imagine.

Allison Pearson is on holiday.

Arts and Entertainment
Legendary blues and rock singer Joe Cocker has died of lung cancer, his management team as confirmed. He was 70
music The singer has died aged 70
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams looks concerned as Arya Stark
tv
Arts and Entertainment
photography Incredible images show London's skyline from its highest points
Arts and Entertainment
'Silent Night' last topped Classic FM's favourite Christmas carol poll in 2002
classical
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tv 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there