Television: Last Night

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The Independent Culture
While the Spice Girls made their first-ever live performance in front of Prince Charles, the Chigwell Birds launched another new series. Birds of a Feather (BBC1) returned last night. As female warriors in the sexual revolution go, it is difficult to draw a line between the two groups - except that the Birds probably have the edge. They, after all, have had all the men in their lives locked up.

Until now, that is. Horror of horrors. Darryl, a man with access to more hair-grooming products than is decent while locked in a 12ft x 12ft cell, and Chris, a character who learnt to talk from watching re-runs of Mind Your Language, are due for early release. Why? you may ask. Or, as Sharon might say: "Have the scriptwriters been inhaling their dry cleaning again?" The only person who seemed ecstatic at this channel-switching prospect was devoted wife Sharon. But then it was Sharon who named the house "Dal and Shal", so what does she know? Tracey, on the other hand, speaks for all of us when she describes this catastrophe as being: "Like the menopause. We know it's coming, but it's hardly grounds for a finger buffet". Dorien, who pops in men as easily as she pops next door for an overdressed chat, is strangely non-plussed. If not even Dorien will shag them there's definitely no point in them coming out.

Thankfully, as we secretly knew all along, something goes horribly wrong and the boys inside stay there. It's ostensibly because Darryl causes a full-scale riot over a football result, but I suspect it's actually because he realises that there is no way he can afford to devote as much time to his coiffeur as well as redeveloping a meaningful relationship with his devoted wife after a seven-year absence. Something had to give. So Tracey narrowly escapes being shipped out to "Look back in Ongar" with Chris. Dorien, who's already had two rounds on the mattress within 30 minutes, has another on the leather-bound desk to celebrate and Sharon gives up worrying whether Darryl will have remembered how to do it or not - a closer look at his carmen rollers and she'd have had her answer years ago. So we all breathe a sigh of relief. There are some changes we should be afraid of.

There are also some fish we should be afraid of. In Tales from the River Bank (BBC2), unsuspecting viewers were introduced to that spookiest of things; men telling tall stories about pikes. These creatures, with their barracuda-like jaws and a reputation for being "bad, bad, fish", can apparently grow to a length of 6ft and a weight of 50lbs. Or over, depending on the amount of Guinness being consumed in Ernie's Bar. They skulk around the murky waters, shunning all vegetation, permanently on the lookout for a juicy bit of flesh. But, being a lazy kind of fish, they are occasionally tempted by the lure of a plastic, static blob dressed up to look like a fast-food meal - the pike equivalent of a Big Mac. On the end of this strategically placed ready meal is a grown man and his mate, freezing to death, huddled in a tiny boat, in the middle of an Irish lake. Occasionally, the men go on awaydays with other pike fanciers and dangle their wares in the Thames or a trout reservoir. And even more occasionally the pike actually grabs hold of the blob, whereby man and beast enter into a primal struggle. Beast is then yanked out of the water, into the wobbling boat, placed in a green net, weighed, photographed while being proudly held by the mate, then lovingly stroked back into the water while being told she's a good girl - are there any male pikes?

In short, these men prefer to spend their lives in pursuit of large wet fish (the bigger, the better), than doing anything else. They then retire back to Ernie's Bar to tell stories about how big their last conquest was, the one that got away, of course. Please, lads.

As a friend recently confided: "My father loves pike fishing. But then he also stood as a candidate for the Referendum Party. He does all sorts of things that you're not supposed to do."

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