Television: Burning bright in the Cotswolds

The hospital starring in the new series of `Trauma Team' has unrealistically empty corridors. But a tame story has been rescued by a fierce tiger.

Tippoo's Tiger, a striking piece of automata made for tiger-obsessed Tipu Sultan of Mysore in the 18th century, has long been one of the most popular objects in the Victoria and Albert Museum. The organ within it (musical, not anatomical), which used to emit fierce growls, is, alas, forever stilled, but the little sculpture itself, with its prone British soldier and rampant, somewhat comical tiger, is a folk-art treasure. Its perennial attraction perhaps lies in the almost sacrificial brutality implicit in the image - for in many Eastern mythologies the attack of the tiger represents the wrath of the spirits of the dead visited on the living, and in Western pop psychology symbolises an explosion of repressed anger from an individual or community.

Nigel Wesson didn't have time to ponder these theories when a cat called Rajah, with all the "fearful symmetry" of William Blake's poetic tyger, pulled his left arm through the bars of a cage at Chipperfield Circus's winter ground last year and devoured it to above the elbow. If there are any aspects of luck in this ghastly cautionary tale, they are firstly that sensible folk at Chipperfields (including my plumber, who happened to be there fixing the central heating for the boa constrictors), did a tourniquet job on Nigel's arm; and secondly that the local hospital round here in the Cotswolds is the celebrated JR - The John Radcliffe, in Oxford.

Boasting the only accident and emergency service in the country with a 24-hour rota of resident consultants, it was a natural focus for the new ITV Trauma Team fly-on-the-wall series. Billing itself a docu-drama, the first episode last Monday at least lived up to its calling card, featuring as it did Nigel's arrival by air-ambulance, holding aloft a stumpy, bloodied parcel where an arm should have been. In the first episode of the fifth series of ER, which begins on 3 February on C4, Dr Green advises a new junior doctor: "pick up your charts, and there is no jumping over for a more interesting case". Mr Wesson's is just the sort of exotic, once- in-a-lifetime case to have most doctors chart-jumping like Olympic athletes and possibly even St Tony skulking in the corridor with a bunch of grapes and some Third Way tender loving care.

A comedy-bearded, bespectacled man in a brown boiler suit, Nigel Wesson may have resembled a giant Furby, but his bravery and sang-froid in the face of disaster was of the noblest order. There he was on the trolley, about to go into surgery. "Are you allergic to anything?" the anaesthetist asked. "Only tigers," came the wry riposte.

Mr Wesson's tragedy was a gift to film-crew and positive-image-making hospital managers alike. The inherent Schadenfreude in this crude tiger- versus-man encounter guaranteed viewers. After all, we greedily watch tales of hideous accidents for the same reasons mediaeval folk clutched anti-plague talismans to their bosoms, for the purposes of protective magic. With the tiger element removed from the programme, it was revealed for what it is, a bog-standard docu-soap with traveloguey "dreaming spires" titles. In case the medical theme wore a bit thin, this Yorkshire TV production, devised and directed by Nick Gray who was responsible for the Leeds-based hospdoc Jimmy's, had various tricks up its sleeve. We had the sub-plot of junior doctor Philippa Cheetham and junior doctor Titus Adams and their cosy love nest (the Vet School element); and Senior Surgeon Keith Willett's problems with his ill-fitting new kitchen units (the Changing Rooms element). At one low point it seemed as if the "Trauma" in the title was going to be about problems at the cutting edge of cupboard technology.

The John Radcliffe is a showpiece teaching hospital, a medical facility by comparison with which some NHS hospitals look like Boots first aid kits. However, like many other resources-strapped hospitals, it has recently suffered from bad publicity relating to poor staffing levels, refugee- camp patient log-jams in accident and emergency, and a shortage of intensive care beds. There is a tiny hint of this log-jam in one of the forthcoming programmes, but for the most Trauma Team pictures the JR as a place of long, empty, spotless corridors like something out of the surreal French film Last Year in Marienbad, or the new deeply unrealistic BBC1 Casualty spin-off, Holby City.

In the latter, alarmingly empty, fictional hospital the Sweeney Todd- ish chief surgeon (or "cutter", as they apparently like to be known in the trade) insists on classical music and a natty American-style operating cap while he's wielding the knife. At the JR they still wear traditional J-cloth balaclavas over their barnets rather than the batik surgical snoods favoured by the likes of barmy Dr Billy Kronk in Chicago Hope, but it may surprise you in episode three of Trauma Team to see a real live throat operation performed to Tina Turner's funky belter "River Deep, Mountain High".

Last week, series narrator Veronika Hyks described the press milling at the JR for snippets of Nigel-versus-tiger information as variously "media hounds", and "paparazzi ... looking for cheap gags". Or, as the Trauma Team scriptwriter put it moments later with minimum good taste and maximum hypocrisy: "their pound of flesh". Nigel accepted pounds 25,000 jointly from the Express and the Mirror for his "exclusive" story, but was possibly ill advised to do so, as the programme PR officer told me he is having trouble getting compensation funds because of it.

Even when required to hold a packet of Frosties featuring a tiger logo for tabloid snaps this saintly chap managed to maintain his dignity. The way he saw it, being appallingly mauled by a big cat was just a case of "Tiger Behaving Badly". "It's normally a nice friendly animal," he volunteered, when it would have been understandable if he had wanted to hasten the extinction of the species by starting a traditional Chinese medicine import business with his windfall. Quite frankly, all he needs is a homespun Franciscan habit and a halo to usurp Rolf Harris as supreme animal buddy.

Hospital staff muttered ominously about his stoic "It's only a flesh wound" approach. "One way of coping with a devastating injury like this is to deny it," said surgeon Keith Willett gloomily after doing a second "neatening" operation on Mr Wesson's arm. "He's reacting as if he's lost his car keys."

In tomorrow's episode we see poor Nigel coping with not only terrible real pain in his stump but also phantom pain from his missing arm. "It almost feels like ball-bearings of pain rattling around inside," he explains. "Like little insects scurrying up and down the nerves themselves."

In episode three of Trauma Team Nigel has to cope with the look of his unbandaged residual limb, which with its neat Willett stitching and shiny stretched surface resembles nothing more offensive than a small piece of smart luggage. "In here the nurses and everyone understand, but out there it'll be different," he muses.

With typical low-key valiance he returns to Chipperfields for a post- prandial rendezvous with Rajah. "Hello pussycat," he says, to a prowling stripy beast the size of a refectory table. There is a shot of Rajah gazing with apparent interest at Nigel's new mechanical arm.

Mr Wesson now works with horses.

Arts and Entertainment
Jude Law in Black Sea

film

In Black Seahe is as audiences have never seen him before

Arts and Entertainment
Johnny Depp no longer cares if people criticise his movie flops

film

Arts and Entertainment
Full circle: Wu-Tang’s Method Man Getty

Music review

Arts and Entertainment
When he was king: Muhammad Ali training in 'I Am Ali'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film Ridley Scott reveals truth behind casting decisions of Exodus
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Scare tactics: Michael Palin and Jodie Comer in ‘Remember Me’

TVReview: Remember Me, BBC1
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
Arts and Entertainment
A comedy show alumni who has gone on to be a big star, Jon Stewart
tvRival television sketch shows vie for influential alumni
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Arts and Entertainment
Image has been released by the BBC
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Will there ever be a Friends reunion?
TV
News
Harry Hill plays the Professor in the show and hopes it will help boost interest in science among young people
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
A Van Gogh sold at Sotheby’s earlier this month
art
Arts and Entertainment

MusicThe band accidentally called Londoners the C-word

Arts and Entertainment
It would 'mean a great deal' to Angelina Jolie if she won the best director Oscar for Unbroken

Film 'I've never been comfortable on-screen', she says

Arts and Entertainment
Winnie the Pooh has been branded 'inappropriate' in Poland
books
Arts and Entertainment
Lee Evans is quitting comedy to spend more time with his wife and daughter

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
American singer, acclaimed actor of stage and screen, political activist and civil rights campaigner Paul Robeson (1898 - 1976), rehearses in relaxed mood at the piano.
filmSinger, actor, activist, athlete: Paul Robeson was a cultural giant. But prejudice and intolerance drove him to a miserable death. Now his story is to be told in film...
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is dominating album and singles charts worldwide

music
Arts and Entertainment
Kieron Richardson plays gay character Ste Hay in Channel 4 soap Hollyoaks

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Midge Ure and Sir Bob Geldof outside the Notting Hill recording studios for Band Aid 30

music
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.

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

    Christmas Appeal

    Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
    Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

    Is it always right to try to prolong life?

    Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

    What does it take for women to get to the top?

    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
    Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

    Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

    Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
    French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

    French chefs campaign against bullying

    A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

    Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
    Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

    Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

    Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
    Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

    Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

    Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
    Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

    Paul Scholes column

    I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
    Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
    Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

    Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

    The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
    Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

    Sarkozy returns

    The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
    Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

    Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

    Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
    Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

    Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

    Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game