TELEVISION BRIEFING / Setting the scene

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The Independent Culture
Alan Bates has not looked this dissolute since he portrayed another obsessive writer, Proust, in Alan Bennett's 102 Boulevard Haussmann. In UNNATURAL PURSUITS (9pm BBC2), Simon Gray's witty, semi-musical two- parter, he plays Hamish Partt, a hard-drinking, chain-smoking writer determined to get his play, Unnatural Pursuits, absolutely right - whatever the cost to his health. Disillusioned with snooty London audiences who tend to sneer 'If I have to sit through another play about pampered Oxbridge undergraduates . . ,' he takes up an offer to refine his work - particularly the cursed Act 1 scene 2 - with the Actors, Go Grab It Company in Los Angeles. Once there, however, he finds the American theatre types, given to puritanism and psychobabble, just as insufferable as the English. The American director urges the cast to exercise their 'life muscles'. As the bottle takes its toll, Parrt begins to hallucinate and see the luvvies as loonies.

Simon Raven's Julian Symons adaptation, THE BLACKHEATH POISONINGS (9pm ITV), combines those two perennially popular elements: the Victorian drama and the murder mystery. When duplicitous businessman Roger Vanderbilt (James Faulkner) dies suddenly, the corruption of his family's dealings is rudely exposed. Never mind the script, feel the costumes.