TELEVISION / Laughing on the other side of their faces

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The Independent Culture
A WEEK ago this column suggested that, thanks to the United Nations dictat, the easiest way to get on television was to belong to a family. The other easiest way is and always has been to break the law in eye-catching fashion. It's a shame the Krays are still doing time, because as good family men and dastardly criminals they'd be scoring a double TV whammy at the moment. They could star in a series about ways of relaxing quietly at home with mother called R & R: Rest and Recuperation with Reg 'n' Ron.

Or maybe not. Anyway, television's celebratory week of the gangster ended with the return of The Jack Dee Show (C4), which is surely no coincidence. This is not to suggest that Britain's cockneyest stand- up is a dastardly criminal too - back off, libel lawyers - but just that he looks like one. With his laarvely grey three-piece whistle set off by a truculent face and no- nonsense haircut that growl in unison 'One false move and you're suet pudding', we really could be in the presence of someone who had wandered in off The Underworld's cutting-room floor. All this monochrome throwback is missing is one of those comic-book sobriquets that only the super-top criminals are allowed - Jokin' Jack: 'He guns you down with gags'; or Deadly Dee and his Short Sharp Show.

If there was the slightest whiff of misdemeanour in the performance itself, then it was in the length of time Jack Dee spent delivering The Jack Dee Show. He was in and out of there like a cat burglar, except cat burglars don't gelignite open safes stuffed with diamonds to whoops of orchestrated applause. The programme is scheduled for half an hour, but once you've spooled in the ads and a couple of dollops of Cyndi Lauper, there's not much room left for the man himself. Including the laughs, his two slots clocked in at 15 minutes and 50 seconds. As he doesn't ever change his outfit and doesn't do jokes about what happened yesterday on the news, so long as you shifted the audience seating around, you could record a whole series in just over 90 minutes.

Of course for every minute of hilarity on the screen there are doubtless hours of graft, nail-biting and hair loss. Dee may pretend to look like a nasty piece of work, but his comedy is always a nice one. His subject this week was school and teachers, and thankfully there wasn't a single joke about John Patten in sight. He's far more concerned with observation: the timeless types of the teaching trade were all here - the one who can't write on the blackboard, the trendy one who wants to be called by his first name, the one who is easily diverted on to the topic of steam trains.

And there was one whom Dee claimed actually taught him, but who was almost certainly invented for the extraordinarily side-splitting potential in his name: he was called Lunt. How everyone laughed at that, in that slightly annoying way that gives you the impression that the live audience is having a better time than you stuck on the sofa.

This was literally true of the start, when Dee announced that 'the weekend starts here'. For the hundreds at the recording on what was probably a Tuesday, this was worth a conspiratorial 'We're all in this artifice together' laugh; for the however many millions (one? two? nought point six-five?) at home on a Friday it looked smug, as if to say 'You had to be there'. Fortunately, for the other 15 minutes and 37 seconds, you didn't.

Gardener's World (BBC2) has been going for roughly as long as the Krays have been inside, and gives no indication of age. The thing about gardening is that, apart from being the only place on television where you can still see ordinary pullovers, it never seems to change, which is why the staple gardening programmes on radio and television don't need to evolve either.

If you disagree with this last statement, please don't send hate mail: just work off your head of steam with a spade in a flower bed. Even at this time of year, says Gardener's World, there's loads to be getting on with.

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