TELEVISION / Before the flood

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The Independent Culture
A HOORAY Henry in a dinner jacket was laughing so uncontrollably that he fell off his chair. A wine-bar resounded with the brays from a melee of merchant bankers popping champagne-corks.

Greed and Glory (Sunday C4), a recent history of the City of London, was full of such charming period details. As soldiers abseiled down the side of a multi-storey building to unfurl the share price for the Government's great BP sell-off, all that was missing was a cut to a clip of the 'Greed is good' speech from Oliver Stone's Wall Street.

But it wasn't all wallowing in dewy-eyed nostalgia. As in his programme on Rupert Murdoch, producer/reporter Christopher Hird managed to make the often Byzantine structures of international finance comprehensible to the viewer on the Clapham Omnisofa. He also succeeded in extracting some nuggets from unexpected mines. Cecil Parkinson, the former Trade Minister, recounted his horror at the schoolboyish behaviour of men at the Central Securities Market for whom the idea of a good joke was setting fire to the newspaper someone else was reading. This led him to conclude that de-regulation of this old boys' club was essential. Denis Healey, one of three former Chancellors on the programme, recalled the occasion the markets went into free-fall after a rumour that Mrs Thatcher was pregnant: 'The thought that there might be another Mark Thatcher sent the pound reeling.'

The one irritant in this otherwise admirable film was the weakness shown by the director, Patrick Forbes, for the shot of City suits scurrying about the Square Mile like so many worker ants - an image as old as Fritz Lang's 1926 film, Metropolis.

Many of the City high-flyers brought down to earth by the recession must have eyed with envy The Royal Collection (Sunday C4), the first in a six-parter on the most important private art collection in the world. The presenter - Christopher Lloyd, the Surveyor of the Queen's Pictures - offered some wry touches in his commentary. The collapse of the Gonzagas, the Italian family from whom Charles I snapped up many an art treasure now in the Queen's collection, was brought about by, 'strange to relate, an unhealthy interest in dwarves and parrots'.

As the Surveyor of the Queen's Pictures ushered his boss around her collection, it was impossible to avoid associations with A Question of Attribution, Alan Bennett's fictional depiction of exactly that process. Peering at a cracked and faded Cranach, the Queen snorted, 'That looks a mess.' 'Well, it's a very fine mess,' Lloyd soothed, delivering a line Bennett would have been proud of.

In The South Bank Show (Sunday ITV) profile of Peter O'Toole, the actor read extensively from his new memoirs, which tell of the two greatest influences in his childhood - his father and Hitler.

In the first half of Frances Dickenson's film, O'Toole revisited his childhood haunts in Leeds, where he recalled that the local lads' idea of a posy for the lasses was a fistful of leaves ripped off the nearest tree. But, in the second half, too much time was devoted to O'Toole the Hitler Hunter and his related exploits (like climbing a ladder to peer into the Fuhrer's old flat in Vienna). While the documentary was refreshingly free of fawning tributes, you did yearn for some discussion of O'Toole the actor, which was, presumably, the reason why The South Bank Show chose to feature him in the first place. The nearest we reached to an insight into Lawrence of Arabia was the anecdote that O'Toole and co-star Omar Sharif once had to try to sell their passports in a Beirut loo after losing nine months' wages in one afternoon's gambling.

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