TELEVISION / Jason and the argonauts: James Rampton on David Jason, safe sex, expensive toys and Neil Kinnock's inexorable rise to showbiz stardom

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The Independent Culture
A film of David Jason reading out the telephone directory would be guaranteed good viewing figures. So it was only a matter of time before somebody came up with the idea of putting him in a detective drama. Yorkshire Television are so confident that A Touch of Frost (Sunday, ITV) will send the BARB statistics off the radar that they have already commissioned a second series.

On the strength of the first episode, 'Care and Protection', their confidence looks justified. Sometimes Jason's Detective Inspector Jack Frost appeared to be merely a Greatest Hits Compilation of other telly 'tecs; he is workaholic, lonely, and prone to over- identification with suspects (Inspector Morse), he has an ill wife (Taggart), and he refuses to play it by the book (all of them). Furthermore, the prickly relationship between the grizzled old pro (Frost) and the naive young sidekick (Matt Bardock) has become as hackneyed as policemen saying 'You're nicked' or ' 'ello, 'ello, 'ello.'

But director Don Leaver often contrived to raise the material above the level of join-the-dots detective drama. In one scene, the camera went on a long, slow pan around Jason's still face; too exhausted to sleep, he stared vacantly at a television blaring out weird Oriental music in the wee small hours.

Jason suffers from the Michael Caine Syndrome; however many fancy sideburns and period costumes you put him in, he always looks and sounds the same. When Frost told his sidekick 'never wear a suit you wouldn't be happy letting a drunk be sick on', it was difficult not to think of Del Boy admonishing Rodney in Only Fools and Horses. Cast against type, he soon reverts to it. But, like Caine, Jason has presence. Short, balding, greying and jowly he may be; but he's still a star.

Neil Kinnock is fast becoming one too. On the back of an appearance on Clive Anderson Talks Back, he was interviewed at greater length by David Dimbleby on Neil Kinnock: the Lost Leader (Saturday, BBC2). Kinnock came as close as politicians ever get to admitting a mistake when he expressed regret about aspects of the triumphalist Sheffield Rally before the last Election. If he had toned down the rock star-style whooping that evening, Dimbleby might have been interviewing the Prime Minister rather than a stand-in on the Jimmy Young show. But then, this would have deprived us of the sight of Kinnock as a competitive guest on Have I Got News for You (Friday, Saturday, BBC 2) laughing at Margaret Thatcher and John Major, but also at himself when finding he had once again surged into an early lead he could not sustain.

To the disappointment of millions, Sex (Saturday C4) was not the long-awaited television adaptation of Madonna's best- seller, but an Australian spoof documentary about the dangers of unprotected sex. Much of the send-up was well-observed. One lad, wanting to impress his girlfriend with his New Man credentials, told her: 'I'll cuddle anything - bricks, saucepans.' And a couple, who only learnt about protection through sex education films, made love with a carrot sheathed in a condom on their bed-side table. Despite the familiarity of the pseudo-documentary device, Sex made its point in the most effective way - through parody, rather than proselytising.

As parents swoon and children screech in front of the Christmas displays in the shops, 'Toying with the Future', a timely Equinox (Sunday C4), examined this apparently recession-proof industry. Debra Hauer's programme - which might have been subtitled 'Toys R Dosh' - occasionally lapsed into cuteness but, in the main, the cutting helped rather than hindered the story. A precocious young girl rejected the sexual stereotyping of toys and then footage from a toy trade fair showed a stall offering, 'Building Sets Designed for Girls.' Showing off the adorable little pink homes, the company rep proudly informed us that 'you can actually decorate the dream' with stick-on chintzy curtains.

This film offered a candidate for The World's Second Worst Job: the composer of music for computer games. (The holder of the World's Worst Job is, of course, Mark Lamarr, who trails traffic jams for The Big Breakfast.) But Equinox was strongest on how much the toy world has changed. Once the Meccano Guild handbook urged children to be 'clean in thought and habit' and an advertisement for a sickly yellow Meccano monster enthused that it was 'gay in space-age colours.' Those were the days.