TELEVISION / Greene concerns and party politics: Giles Smith on Arena's Graham Greene profile and Marti Caine's Your Best Shot

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The Independent Culture
One of many good things about Arena's Graham Greene profile (BBC 2) was its preparedness to enter a few reservations about Greene's writing - no small feat when you're simultaneously trumpeting him to the heavens by alloting him a three-part hellzapoppin' biographical special (Part 2 tonight, Part 3 on Sunday). Even amid the patient and admiring attention to the details, there was still someone to speak up for those who, given Greene, see red.

And that someone was Anthony Burgess. Writers popped up between the old film stock to put Greene in his place. On the 'carried the flag for English literature' side of the argument stood John Le Carre and William Boyd. But on the 'well, let's just hold on a minute' side was Burgess. He found Greene cold in places. And he said it would be reasonable to think that Greene could have been a great, difficult novelist but actually opted to be a good, popular one. 'This in itself may be considered a sin,' said Burgess, thus offering the electric chair to a fashionable line of thinking which says that, while it's one thing to have a parameter-busting literary novel in you, if you can turn it into a million-selling airport 'n' beach read then, hey, why not?

On the soundtrack were thin and trembling violins, as if the programme was perpetually on the edge of some terrible revelation, though this never came. Instead, we were asked to think of Greene as beset by 'the sense of being an outsider within'. A bit of a hoary old chestnut, that, and also an odd thing to say about a man who skipped off to foreign lands whenever he could. For a considerable portion of his life Greene was, perhaps more interestingly, an outsider outside.

Still, the passages from A Sort of Life were stirring, in particular Greene's observation, while in a hospital ward, of the distress in an adjoining bed. Everyone on the ward was trying to ignore it. Everyone except Greene. 'There is a splinter of ice in the heart of a writer. I watched and listened. This was something which someday I might need.'

Nobody needs Your Best Shot (BBC 1), a new mid-evening amalgam of games, quizzes and challenges held together (very loosely) by Marti Caine. This is a game of Russian roulette without the bullet, a series of dull clicks. Caine introduced a family who were prepared to gamble by giving their cooker to charity before competing for a new one in a round of general knowledge questions. It all worked out fine in the first show, but presumably, sooner or later, someone is going to risk the entire contents of their bathroom, fail to identify last year's Christmas No 1 single, and go home to a life of unwashed misery.

That was about as original as the programme got. The 'One of the Family' section has three wideboys competing for a woman by trying to impress her parents. In other words, it's Blind Date meets Mr & Mrs - a new low for television in-breeding. This worryingly prevalent trend (see, for instance, Surprise Party, in which This Is Your Life merges with Beadle's About) can only, in the long run, have deleterious effects on the bloodline and may eventually result in programmes with webbed toes and low foreheads.