Television Last Night

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Lies, damned lies and semantic prestidigitation have been very much in the news recently, and last night's television was full of them. I had not seen the first two instalments of Angus Deayton's The Lying Game (BBC1), but the contents of part three did not suggest that I had missed a great deal. The theme was professional mendacity as practised by a used-car salesman (who behaved exactly like the sort of man you wouldn't buy a second-hand car from), a male escort (whose mind had the perfect vacuity to suit the sort of air-head who might want to hire a male escort), an affluent but crooked art dealer (who oils the cogs of civilisation by selling forgeries to people who think they are buying stolen paintings), and an ex-window cleaner who got jobs as a civil engineer in Saudi Arabia and first officer on a Caribbean cruise ship by the simple expedient of forging his CV.

Or did he? How do we know he wasn't a man who had wheedled his way onto television by telling fibs about his past career - forging his forged CV, in fact? You just can't tell when people are telling the truth these days, and the trouble with this programme is that its shallowness of approach casts little light on what should be a fascinating topic. Perhaps the only message to emerge is that lying, as a component of salesmanship, is part of our cultural script. But even that lesson does not come through strongly enough.

There was a splendid piece of professional fibbing in Tracks (BBC2), the first of a new series on things to do with a rucksack. In an item on finding amber, we saw an expert explaining things to a presenter as they strode purposefully along the beach at Cromer as the cameraman ran backwards to keep pace: "The weather's absolutely perfect (stride, stride), really windy (stride, stride), just the right sort of conditions (stride stride)... but we're in the wrong bit of the beach." Okay, so the cameraman thought this bit of the beach would provide some prettier shots than the right bit, but this was not the only time he got carried away. Was it, incidentally, really so difficult for the pot-holer later in the programme to clamber through a narrow space in a cavern when the cameraman had clearly managed it in front of her? With potholers, walkers, beachcombers, snowdrop lovers, bonking frogs, a Victorian strip cartoon telling us the difference between slow-worms and snakes, and everything presented with the same relentlessly enthusiastic, but hopelessly stilted dialogue, Tracks is a magnificent exercise in being really, really dull. Unmissable.

While Surrey man was tramping through the vegetation, Channel 4 was All at Sea with the crew and passengers of the Carnival Destiny, the biggest cruise ship in the world on the most disastrous maiden voyage since the Titanic. "This is cabin 8152," said one of the 3,500 passengers into a phone. "I called a little while ago about the toilet not working." But the elevator wasn't working either, nor was the central computer, the plumbing and several electrical installations. "A lot of shit don't work," was the cruise director's eloquent description of their state of preparedness 10 minutes before boarding. Will the Austrian chef drown in his cooking sherry? Will the passengers riot when they discover that the 25 movie channels can only show one film? Or will the policy of not telling the passengers anything have to be modified into outright lying? And who is responsible for all the mess? Did the entire thousand-strong crew forge their curricula vitae? Don't miss next week's disastrous episode.

For real honesty, I had to turn to Transylvania Pet Shop on Carlton, with its first episode of a new series entitled: "A true fairy tale". This story of Dr Zitbag's problems with lead-sniffing, long-snouted dwarfs (the result of a laboratory experiment that went wrong), the Transylvanian actress Meryl Crypt and the divine, poison worm-eating Exorsisters was considered "very good" by Nicholas, 5, and "great" by James, 8. They liked the worm-eating best. But I'm not sure it was true. That's the trouble with Angus Deayton. He's made me cynical.

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