TELEVISION / Lamont loses in the gallop poll

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The Independent Culture
A HORSE called Very Very Ordinary failed to win The Cheltenham Gold Cup (BBC1). Cursed from birth by the kind of wit who would call his daughter Hopeless, Ordinary lost no time in living down to his name. 'And Very Very Ordinary, still the back- marker,' yelled Peter O'Sullevan, on pretty ordinary form himself as he disappeared into long silences and let gleaming rumps clatter past unidentified. Over at 11 Downing Street, Even More Ordinary Still, a strongly unfancied rank insider, got off to a promising start, trotting round the paddock with a delightful filly called The Charming Rosemary. 'All smiles, despite the calls for him to be replaced] It's been a difficult year for Norman, not to mention the country,' sighed John Suchet in the Budget 93 (ITV) studio. No one was backing Norm, it wasn't a safe place to put your money.

Over on BBC2, Field Marshal Snow talked us through the course; those tax hurdles in full, plus the big question: would Norm lead from the front, or would he run true to form and hide behind a hedge until he was overtaken by Force of Circumstance? 'The Chancellor would dearly love to stimulate the economy, but here's the burden he has to bear.' After last November's Ross Perot 'landslide' incident, Snow wisely kept a respectful distance between himself and the tumbling-coin computer graphics. He made up for it by turning in his usual Great-Dane-on-Ecstasy performance during the Chancellor's likely shopping list. Everyone else seemed sadly listless. David Dimbleby had a sat-here-seen- this-said-that weariness about him, and you could see why. BBC gave too much time to futile crystal-ball gazing; ITV was shorter and sharper with better guests (a wickedly fluent Neil Kinnock) and a report from Liverpool, where one in ten is now unemployed, to stone the crowing optimists. Both channels tried to whip up excitement with random emphasis. 'AND we'll be go-ING LIVE to the BudGET speech AS it HAPPENS,' said Suchet.

Live turned out to be a bit optimistic. The Commons was a tedium of suits. Only the women had caught spring fever, with Gillian Shephard cutting a brave, seasonally adjusted figure in daffodil yellow against the bath-salts green of the bench, while Betty Boothroyd brought a wincing touch of the Mrs Slocombes to her Aw-dah] But then, Norm pranced forward, and we were off: Yes, it's Force of Circumstance, Force of Circumstance, well in the lead now from Falling Pound, and, oh, Election Promise has fallen at Bunder's Bank] But now it's Hypothermia, Hypothermia coming up strongly on the outside. Hypothermia from Falling Pound on the rails now, with Whisky Galore pipping Flexible Friend to third place]

There were no winners either in Will They Ring Tonight?, only sick people caught in the grotesque poignancy of waiting for someone the same size and blood group to die. The last two 40 Minutes (BBC2) have proved how hard it is to pin down the ordinary without flattening it into dreary. The art of documentary is not just to notice, but to hone that noticing pencil-sharp, until you can write a drama in the detail. This week, we saw what can happen when gifted direction finds an extraordinary subject: Papworth hospital's heart-transplant list. Only 400 are chosen each year, but thousands are waiting. Peter and his 21-year-old son Jamie had come from Birmingham to see John Wallwork, the surgeon. Jamie had reached the stage where hoarse gulping did for breathing: his father guided him along, setting the pace with their gentle mantra: 'Good day today, better day tomorrow.' When Wallwork told Jamie he would put him on the list, his smile was so dazzling it lit up the oxygen tube girdling his face like a halo. Meanwhile, Sandy was being pummelled to jerk the gunge from her lungs. Her elfin son Matthew - his gestures as prematurely old as his thoughts - confided: 'I sometimes wish I were dead, so me moom could 'ave me 'eart cos my blood's the same.' Robert, the young entrepreneur tucked up in his pink Georgian rectory, cracked jokes ('I've told her she'll be a rich widow') while downstairs his wife Liz cried quietly. In the operating theatre, blood whizzed through a giant cafetiere as Lorraine's new heart twitched in its cavity.

The editing caught vignettes in a blink, and allowed voices to drift from one scene to the next. There was no narrator, but the case for donor cards was branded on to our eyes: watching Jamie shuffle along told you everything about the shame of vital organs going straight to the morgue. As he cut and sutured, Wallwork complained: 'The media thought I should describe the heart in some glowing terms as it being the secret of where love is.' You could understand his impatience, but it was hard not to see Colin Luke and Leanne Pooley's film as an allegory of love. Up in Birmingham, Peter cradled his son: 'Good day today, better day tomorrow.' Jamie was silently mouthing a word over and over: Papworth, Papworth. 'Maybe, the phone will ring tonight,' Peter said. Jamie died the next day.

Mr Wroe's Virgins (BBC2), directed by Danny Boyle, went out in glory with Kathy Burke bringing Martha's Story to battered life. Her face looked like a potato, her hair like the tufts left after being tarred and feathered. Martha was too traumatised to speak at first, so the camera had to show us what she was thinking. Her past was seen in grizzled black and white, as if she were condemned to wander a Bill Brandt photograph forever, while the present lowered in on her gashed senses: when she kicked over a bucket she heard a cacophony like a shriek of Messiaen. The screen went black for blotting out horror, blazed white for revelation. Which it was: awards all round.

Without Walls: Diana Unclothed (C4) was a devastating expose of one of the world's most famous women. So much for Camille Paglia. 'America's most controversial cultural critic' has perfected a style best described as hit and myth. The Princess of Wales is 'a very great Pagan goddess'. She is also Botticelli's Venus and 'the ultimate feminist'. The last one took your critic by surprise, but then neither had she twigged that when the Princess left her husband she was 'activating the mater dolorosa archetype'. Paglia studiously avoided looking at the camera, an inferior Man-made object, and displayed similar contempt for the idea of a script. The performance was wildly enjoyable, but only as a form of intellectual camp. It would have been easier to give her theories consideration, had they not been illustrated by footage of the Princess frolicking in an archetypal tangerine bikini.

Paglia was a surprise omission in last night's Bore of the Year Awards (BBC2). Private Eye's ceremony threatened to be by those in the know for the knowing: a full circle of self-regard. But it turned out to be a fitfully brilliant satire on ritual backslapping, and a welcome inoculation against tonight's British Academy Awards. Michael Palin took the Alan Whicker Award, prompting a blissful self-parody, Kerb to Kerb, in which he unsuccessfully attempted to cross Great Portland Street. The highlight, among many performers on full beam, was John Sessions accepting Luvviest Actor. He kissed simply everyone, and cradled the yawning bronze statue with neon humility. After five minutes, Angus Deayton warned that they were running late, but then he had an idea: 'We can pick up time on the 10 minutes we've allowed for the standing ovation for John Birt.'

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