TELEVISION / Clocking off: Andy Gill on a Red Nose Day for Britain and a red face day for the FBI

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The Independent Culture
COMIC RELIEF'S Red Nose Day (BBC1, Friday) - or 'splattery tomatoey thing' day, to use Griff Rhys Jones' helpful description of this year's plastic protuberance - stretches the pantomime season into March, with sundry celebs lining up to do their turn for charity.

With creeping incestuousness, everything seemed to spoof something on television: a combination quiz called Have I Got A Question Of Sport For You, an all-purpose omni-game-show in five parts that started out as 15 To 1 and ended up as Mastermind, and fake 'screen tests' featuring familiar faces attempting to host the wrong programmes. Geoffrey Palmer brought the full power of that lugubrious countenance to bear on his attempt at reading the weather forecast: 'It's going to rain.' Uncannily, he was about as accurate as the real forecasters; Saturday turned out nice again.

In one of the best South Bank Shows of recent years (ITV, Sunday), the novelist and screenwriter Richard Price took Melvyn Bragg on a guided tour of the Bronx stamping ground of his youth, and promptly got lost. Heaven only knows how Melvyn took this, but judging by his unease moments before as the car purred down the ramp into this urban sump, probably not too well. Maybe he was thinking of Price's curriculum vitae, which includes Sea Of Love, The Color Of Money, Night And The City and similar odysseys of sleaze. Price, though, was on home turf even when he couldn't exactly place which particular piece of corrugated patchwork blight they were cruising through. Winding the window down a little, he verbally ambushed a passer-by. 'Tryna get to Vyse and 172nd,' he barked. No excuse me, no please. It worked, though. The hapless pedestrian stopped, scratched his chin and offered up directions, probably thankful it was only a camera pointing at him from the back seat.

Price may have lost contact with his own neighbourhood, but he seemed well at home in another which was, if anything, worse: the New Jersey ghetto of his latest novel Clockers. His main writing gift, it was claimed, was his facility at hanging out - in this case with the cops who patrolled the handful of looming tenements, and the attorneys and investigators who seemed delighted at being the models for the characters in Price's book. 'I'm happy as a pig in mud,' admitted one cop, with admirable restraint. It was easy, Price acknowledged, to get addicted to hanging out with cops, to the excitement of the unknown and the extreme. Like a gambler, he admitted feeling fearful that if he missed a night, he might miss the jackpot payoff, the event that would surpass everything he'd seen thus far.

The documentary series Fine Cut (BBC2, Saturday) continued with Michael Apted's excellent Incident At Oglala, an account of the 1975 killing of two FBI agents and one Indian activist at the Pine Ridge Reservation, and the hunt for a perpetrator - any perpetrator. As one of the accused Indians noted with glum irony, 'they always get their man', and it was obvious which man they wanted to get. Though two of the three Indians accused won their case against shakey evidence, by the time the third, Leonard Peltier, was extradited from Canada on patently trumped-up evidence, the FBI had papered over the holes in their case with some dubious additional evidence, including obviously fake testimony.

Mr Apted's programme, narrated with quiet righteousness by its executive producer Robert Redford, explored the background to the case, revealing that the three deaths at Oglala that received such blanket press coverage were part of a chain of murders which, since the victims were Indians, were ignored by both media and law.

'A Fatal Dream', latest in the Everyman series (BBC1, Sunday), demonstrated that a xenophobic American establishment can still get up to its old tricks. This time, the dubious testimony came from four plea-bargaining ex-members of Rajneeshpurim, the community built by the Bhagwan's followers in Oregon, and the accused were two middle-aged English women, Sally Croft and Susan Hagan, facing extradition to America on charges of conspiracy to murder the state attorney.

Ms Croft, an accountant, was in more idealistic times head of the Bhagwan's financial affairs, the person who secured the means to build the cult's city; Ms Hagan, an aromatherapist, was in charge of the construction. Both were members of the cult's matriarchal inner circle, run by the Bhagwan's ruthless right-hand woman, Anand Sheela, who responded to the bombing by a Christian fundamentalist of the cult's Hotel Rajneesh in Portland by arming the cult members.

Ms Hagan said: 'It's like a bad marriage. You keep trying to get it back to what it was originally. It takes a long time before you can disassociate your ambitions and your idealism from what is actually happening.' When she and Ms Croft saw the light and left the commune shortly before it collapsed, they found themselves smeared by the Bhagwan, who flew off to start another commune in Poona, India. The women, who returned to England, were not so lucky. (The German authorities have reportedly refused similar extradition warrants on Bhagwanites there). Now that the FBI has its evidence, Ms Croft and Ms Hagan may be sacrificed to a system which, thanks to events in Texas, is not likely to look too kindly on former cultists, however doubtful the evidence.

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