Television: Last Night

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The Independent Culture
There could hardly be a better voice for a series about angling than that of Geoffrey Palmer, the vocal epitome of disappointment stoically endured. Last week, the producers of Tales from the River Bank (BBC2) - an unusual hybrid of social observation, natural history film and leisure instruction - showed you him fishing, neatly wrapping an introduction to the philosophy of the pursuit with images of his own patient stand on the riverbank. And that first programme itself appeared to stand at some remove from the figure of the angler - inspecting him and his colleagues with an air of faint bemusement (or even open ridicule, as in the case of a kit-fixated man who took to the water in a pair of inflatable trousers). It seemed to be taken for granted that this was a passion which required explanation and which then received it in such a variety of forms that you were hardly in a position to generalise from the results. Some people do it because they love buying gadgets, others to get away from their wives, still others because they have become infatuated with the look of a particular type of fish. The end result was a programme which was beautifully filmed and put together, but left you a little uncertain about who it was for - those already addicted or those who had never touched the drug.

Last night's edition didn't exactly resolve that mystery but it was equally enjoyable. A sedately old-fashioned sort of broadcasting which serves as a kind of interlude from the dynamite-fishing techniques of other leisure programmes - rather literally so when it comes to the montage sequences, in which nature's splendours are cut together to a rippling piano, passages that are strongly reminiscent of the old interval fillers. The natural history content has been turned up a little after last week's opener - this programme concentrated on the salmon, giving you a resume of the countless documentaries that have already been made about the life-cycle of the fish (proof positive that evolution has no interest in an easy life). But there is still wildlife above the water too, eccentric in its habits and arcane in its appearance.

Last night's film was built around the activities of George Woodward, a gillie on the River Wye. A gillie is a kind of waterborn valet, helping a man with much more money and much less knowledge not to make a fool of himself. An etiquette of servitude seems to be observed - the client casually first-named George but remained Mr Hodges himself, even at the generously-spaced moments of excitement. On the other hand, the gillie doesn't wait until he is spoken to - indeed, so voluble was George about the beauties of the scene, that I began to wonder what the etiquette might be for telling a gillie to shut up. If you had taken up fishing for the peace and tranquillity, you would possibly feel you were not getting quite what you had paid for, as George burbled ceaselessly on about the disadvantages of being a mayfly ("Poor little bugger lifts off and boof! Four or five wagtails are after it") or speculated on the psychology of the salmon.

One of the reasons Tales from the River Bank (BBC2) is so relaxing, is that there is no sense of anxiety about whether you will like it or not. The same cannot be said of Mrs Cohen's Money (C4), which is aflutter with panic that you might find it dull. This leads to rather strenuous jollification (no prizes for guessing what item of household equipment Mrs Cohen was standing on when she delivered the line about getting your first steps on the investment ladder), as well as a missionary desire to enlist you to the virtues of personal investment. But underneath the nervous tics there is something sturdy - a series that has championed the ordinary joe against the mystifications of financial experts. Last night's concluding programme ended with the Beardstown Ladies investment club, a group of little old ladies who have consistently outperformed most professional fund managers. I'm not sure why they haven't been snapped up by a Wall Street bank, but it was a heartening tale all the same.

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