TELEVISION / Nurses to the rescue

EVERYWHERE else in the world was in trouble as usual. The BBC pronunciation unit still hasn't decided where the stress should lie in Herzegovina, and so they are cunningly referring to the area as 'what-was-once-Yugoslavia'. Their man out there collected some shrapnel in the gut. They sent in Kate Adie as a replacement. This is what is known as serious retaliation.

Meanwhile just over the way in the Gulf, Saddam was threatening retaliation too. The Tornadoes are going upstairs like a bat out of hell, their afterburners making twin columns of fire in the night sky. It's hard not to make these aircraft look sexy. And when commentators say things like 'The RAF say they don't expect to fight . . . but they are ready for battle', why is it that one can hear the faint strains of The Dambusters March in the background? As usual, your reporter was in two minds about being stirred by this stuff. I wish they weren't there, but since they are, I wish them all the luck in the world, by Jingo. A few words were spoken by one Group Captain Jock Stirrup. With a name like that, he should have been in the cavalry.

Back home it is very much August. Wimbledon is over, the Olympics are over, the autumn schedules have yet to tee up, and so the average viewer watches the tube in the usual spirit: it is all dross, and it is all rather wonderful. Punch the buttons as you might, all you get is the undammed river of showbiz effluent. A man reviewing the August offerings needs a snorkel if he is not to drown in porridge.

You know that you're in trouble when Ps and Qs (BBC2) is becoming a programme you feel less and less guilty about watching. Even the participants have abandoned that air of I-don't-quite-know-what-I'm-doing-here. Jonathan Meades, a promising writer and the one fixed star in the programme's whirling firmament, is entering into the spirit of the thing by wearing a strip of dead moleskin in place of a tie. He was even seen to smile. He rightly identified the mark of a Leander Rowing Club man as pink socks. Whether this is a sign of good manners is moot. I have encountered more loutish behaviour at Henley than in a gang of steamers at the Notting Hill Carnival.

That's the problem with the programme. It thinks that good manners are a matter of knowing that the Duke of Buccleuch is in fact pronounced 'Chumley'. As Lady Tryon implicitly understood: true good manners are a form of kindness.

Small gem of the week award goes to Through an Open Window (BBC2), another bull's-eye from the Screenplay First series which has injected some life into the moribund form of the short film. A woman flees when a bird invades her home. Director Eric Mendelsohn realises that fear can be found in suburban children playing, and the mounting heat of the noonday sun. You never see the bird, only an obscene flapping between the sheets. An apprentice Hitchcock might have made it. Might even have called it The Bird.

Michael Caine was the subject of Hollywood Greats (C4) and a thousand reviewers reached for some revelation about which they could say: 'not many people know that'. As a matter of fact I didn't know that he was a keen gardener, although one might have guessed. What was laudable about this episode was its relative lack of squelching. Most Hollywood actors will only appear if they are first covered in honey, and then a lot of other luvvies lick it off. Caine's one great gift to those of us who came of age with the Len Deighton 'Arry Palmer films in the Sixties was in making ordinariness look sexy. If a man with that accent and those glasses could pull the bird from the typing pool, there was hope for the rest of us.

All that doesn't make him Robert De Niro, but one is quite enough. Like Sean Connery, Caine has maintained his appeal well into middle age - a rare thing in a leading man. And he is much more versatile than even this programme gave him credit for. When he appears in such dogs as The Swarm, he strides through the ruins with the dignified air of a man who has read the script but is still hoping for a miracle.

Relief of the week was provided by Nurses (C4). This is a new comedy series from Susan Harris who brought us Soap and The Golden Girls. The format is much the same: a team of wisecracking women. Americans may not appreciate irony, but they have raised sarcasm to a high art. The black nurse launched into a tirade about how her husband was tiring of sex with her: 'If he tried doing it while I was awake, maybe it would be more exciting.'

The rest of the humour revolved around poo and sex. Not so far from our own dear Carry On team, except this is funny. You can't help but warm to the rookie nurse, who looks like a cross between Sally Kellerman and Julie Hagerty only more neurotic. She won't get into lifts and has a phobia about germs. If she doesn't get you barking with laughter once or twice you are probably plugged into a life support, like one of the patients. 'How are you today?' 'I don't know, I never died before.' The day British TV can come up with sitcom as funny as this, is the day we can say it's the best in the world.

Encounters (BBC2) lurched another step towards dramatic doom. The trick this time was to confront Sir Arthur Conan Doyle with his greatest fictional creation. 'Be gone with you,' cries Doyle, 'you are a figment of my imagination,' or words to that effect. 'Nonsense,' is roughly Holmes's reply, 'I have outstripped my creator'. This was the show's one interesting idea: like Thomas Harris's Hannibal Lecter, Conan Doyle's character outshone the author's literary merit. But it went for nothing. Frank Finlay was Sir Arthur. He sounded like a man wrestling with a waterbed full of treacle.

Meanwhile, back in the real world, news on all channels was showing a hurricane trashing the southern parts of America with all the abandon of the Blues Brothers in the shopping mall. Saddam could learn a thing or two from nature about retaliation.

Allison Pearson is away.

Arts and Entertainment
Sir Nicholas Serota has been a feature in the Power 100 top ten since its 2002 launch
art
Arts and Entertainment
Awesome foursome: Sam Smith shows off his awards
music22-year-old confirms he is 2014’s breakout British music success
Arts and Entertainment
Contestants during this summer's Celebrity Big Brother grand finale
tvBroadcaster attempts to change its image following sale to American media group
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Dales attempts to sell British Breeze in the luxury scent task
tvReview: 'Apprentice' candidate on the verge of tears as they were ejected from the boardroom
Arts and Entertainment
Kate Bush: 'I'm going to miss everyone so much'
music
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Laura Wood, winner of the Montegrappa Scholastic Prize for New Children’s Writing
books

Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search

Arts and Entertainment
Pulling the strings: Spira Mirabilis

music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Neville's Island at Duke of York's theatre
musicReview: The production has been cleverly cast with a quartet of comic performers best known for the work on television
Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol

art
Arts and Entertainment
Lynda Bellingham stars in her last Oxo advert with on-screen husband Michael Redfern

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman

film
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Minchin portrait
For a no-holds-barred performer who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, Tim Minchin is surprisingly gentle
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
film
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Team Tenacity pitch their fetching solar powered, mobile phone charging, heated, flashy jacket
tvReview: No one was safe as Lord Sugar shook things up
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.

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
    Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

    Lost in translation: Western monikers

    Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
    Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

    Handy hacks that make life easier

    New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
    KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

    KidZania: It's a small world

    The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
    Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

    'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

    The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
    From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

    Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

    From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
    Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

    Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

    A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
    The 10 best smartphone accessories

    Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

    Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
    Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

    Liverpool v Real Madrid

    Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
    West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

    Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

    Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
    Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

    A new American serial killer?

    Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
    Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

    Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

    Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
    Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

    Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

    Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
    Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

    Wildlife Photographer of the Year

    Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
    Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

    Want to change the world? Just sign here

    The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?