Television: Jamaica? No, it was her idea

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
In Caribbean Uncovered (C4), a bridegroom from Plaistow went missing. "He ain't 100 per cent where he's meant to be," said the best man, looking anxious. A minute later the groom turned up. He'd been on a serious bender the night before and still didn't look 100 per cent where he was meant to be, only about 40 per cent. In the same programme - which focuses on the disturbing Jamaican resort of Hedonism - a young staff member phoned his girlfriend back in England. She told him she had decided to become a firefighter. "It's not easy, you know," he warned her. "It's hard work and you can get burnt."

Like some of the people in it, Caribbean Uncovered - which was first aired on Sky One - is good-looking but brainless. It does, however, contain flashes of eloquence. In Friday's episode we met three pasty middle-aged Yorkshiremen, let's call them Foggy, Compo and Clegg. The poor mad fools had carefully saved pounds 10 a week for more than three years so they could follow the England cricket team to the West Indies. They had saved enough to stay for one Test match, and we saw them settling into their seats at Sabina Park, in Kingston, Jamaica, absolutely beside themselves with excitement - which is manifest in pasty middle-aged Yorkshiremen as a kind of wan smile. Sadly, the match was abandoned after an hour, on account of the dangerously dicky wicket. "I'm gutted," said Foggy. He was close to tears. Perhaps you had to be there, but take it from me, it was a heartbreaking moment.

There was more heartbreak, and more Yorkshire, in Four Fathers (ITV), a four-part drama set in Sheffield about the trials of fatherhood. It is gloomy stuff, leavened by the occasional shot of a cooling tower. But something - the Radio Times, to be exact - tells me that perseverance will pay off. There is certainly some seriously good acting to savour, as well as some impressive cooling towers.

Tony Doyle - of Ballykissangel fame and Amongst Women distinction - plays a happily-married mechanic confronted by the daughter from a marriage he walked out on years before. It is a good role for him, although Doyle could play dead and still be worth watching. And there is Tom Bell besides, an actor whose range encompasses mildly irascible, loudly cantankerous, downright sadistic, and all points between. Within that range he is peerless, and here plays an ex-miner in the early stages of senility, mildly irascible, with moments of loud cantankerousness, and a sadistic streak. I don't suppose anyone else was even considered for the part.

Four Fathers has plenty to recommend it, but in common with many other dramas set on the right side of Newport Pagnell, sometimes makes the mistake of straining too hard to be Northern. A few of the accents sound Rada- Northern rather than naturally so, and Bill Gallagher's script errs in the same direction - "if you worry yourself to tatters, what good's that going to do?" Ugh.

Brookside (C4), in common with other soaps, has the opposite problem. By definition, indeed by title, it is rooted in one place. So it has to open itself up to the outside world, and does so by importing people with different accents. This can backfire both on screen and off. I am told that there was once a Hungarian director, who had Barry Grant loudly Hoovering in the background during an argument between Sheila and Billy, until somebody pointed out that the script said "hovering".

A more recent import is lovely Shelley (Alexandra Westcourt), who is not only posh but also a lesbian. Lightning rarely strikes in the same place twice, but Sappho is back stalking Brookside Close. I had assumed that television had finished its flirtation with lipstick lesbianism but I should have known better. One day, a director will be brave enough to cast someone butch, perhaps shaven-headed, possibly even wearing Doc Martens, or, heaven forbid, aged 60 or over, as a lesbian.

In the meantime, by swerving well clear of one stereotype, television keeps smashing headlong into another. Telly lesbians are uniformly young, slim, gorgeous and, more often than not, straight. Now there's a funny thing. Take the resolutely heterosexual Lindsey Corkhill (the excellent Claire Sweeney). On Friday she puckered up to Shelley, although, to be fair, who could blame her? Look what a gay kiss did for Anna Friel's career. It's not as though she was ever much of an actress, yet one minute she was being cuddled by Sinbad, the next, by Jack Nicholson.

What wouldn't Liverpool hairdresser Herbert Howe do for a cuddle from Jack Nicholson? In the docusoap Shampoo (ITV) he continues to camp it up shamelessly, and last week threw another tantrum when his favourite brush went missing. The staff spent the morning "combing the salon for Herbert's lost brush" - a line written to raise a smile but succeeding only in raising mild queasiness. Still, as docusoaps go - and I wish they would - Shampoo is OK. At least it appears to have picked its subject with some care. There was a time when docusoap-makers thought they could point a camera at anything from a bus stop to a shopping centre to a cowshed to be assured of a six-week primetime slot. And in fairness, they were usually right.

Modern Times (BBC2) also found a decent subject, the National Bingo Caller of the Year competition. Vivianne Howard's enjoyable film, Strictly Bingo, predictably threw up some odd characters, none odder than Patrick, a sinister smoothie from Morecambe, for whom there is no higher calling than bingo- calling. "I like to think I'm the Des Lynam, if you will, of bingo," he said. Someone should tell him that he is more, if you will, the Hannibal Lecter of bingo. Not that his wife has any doubts. Her mother told her to go down the bingo one night just to hear Patrick, and sure enough "he had the best come-to-bed voice that I had ever heard".

But what do you do with your come-to-bed voice when you have six wives? Jane Treay's documentary for Real Life (ITV), "One Man, Six Wives and 29 Children", studied a family of Mormons living in a remote part of Utah, and pretty soon got down to the (illegal) nitty-gritty. Tom Green's wives decide the bedtime rota, and it is always up to them to initiate sex.

"I know that I'm in over my head," said Green, whose family of 33 (one wife and three children have left home) live in a collection of battered old trailers in the dead centre of nowhere on an income of barely pounds 30,000 a year, raised by selling magazine subscriptions door to door. But for classic understatement, he was surpassed by his second wife, Shirley. "It's kind of rare to have your mother marry your husband," she mused. You could say that. Moreover, Shirley and her mum, June, gave birth in the same bed on the same day, which made their sons half-brothers, as well as uncle and nephew, a phenomenon known in certain distinguished circles as seriously weird.

It would be easy to dismiss Green as a dirty old perv ... were it not for the fact that he isn't. Or didn't appear to be. Fundamentalist Mormons believe that the more wives a man has, the more elevated will be his status in heaven. I dare say that there are some polygamists with their eyes more on earthly pleasures than celestial rewards, but Green - a ringer for Bill Bryson, disconcertingly enough - came across as genuinely pious. Rather a nice, reasonable chap, it seemed. I'd like to have heard from the three children who had left home - whether they had lost the faith, and if so why - but let's not quibble. It was a fascinating programme, meticulously and sensitively constructed, and there aren't too many of them about.

Comments