Television: MacIntyre unbesmirched

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The Independent Culture
In Renaissance (BBC2), the art critic Andrew Graham-Dixon insisted that "the greatest intellectual and artistic achievement of the last 2,000 years" was the Renaissance, which was one in the eye for those who supposed it to be The Magic Roundabout. Renaissance is a six-part series, an eloquent one-man riposte to the accusation that television is relentlessly dumbing down. Graham-Dixon blasts his own intellect at us with both barrels. But he is easy on the eye, has written a persuasive script, and certainly cannot be blamed for the fact that the art-history lectures I sporadically attended at university took place just after lunch, with the regrettable result that I am programmed to nod off the instant someone says "Adoration of the Magi". I tried hard to stay awake during Renaissance, I really did. And I did at least catch a heavy-lidded glimpse of Botticelli's magnificent Venus, the modern incarnation of whom, I suppose, is Kate Moss, dressed by Galliano.

MacIntyre Undercover (BBC1) sought sleaze in the fashion industry and found, perhaps, more than it bargained for. Our intrepid sleuth Donal MacIntyre discovered that models as young as 13 are routinely supplied with drugs, often by their male chaperons, many of whom also assume the right to have sex with the girls in their care. As a result of his findings, some of these men apparently have been suspended by their employer, the model agency Elite, and a "thorough investigation" is already underway. In the meantime, the message is: don't put your daughter on the catwalk, Mrs Worthington, not at any price. Not with so many sleazebags waiting to pounce.

Moreover, there are sleazebags and there are Prada sleazebags. MacIntyre became befriended Gerard Marie, the European president of Elite and one of the industry's most powerful men, who boasted of his sexual exploits with hundreds of models. I have never thought of a sexual exploit as a marriage of sex and exploitation, but in his case it's the perfect definition. We didn't learn whether he had broken any laws, but then it is often more damaging these days to be judged morally corrupt. We even saw Marie propositioning the BBC's Lisa Brinkworth, offering her a million lire if she would go to bed with him. So what did she do? She did what anyone should do when offered the chance to become a millionaire - she phoned a friend. And MacIntyre duly arrived, in the guise of a fashion photographer, with his beloved secret camera.

What are we to make of MacIntyre? Physically, he is early Roger Moore rather than later Roger Cook and, dare I say, looks as if he knows it. He is good at his job, which is all that really counts, although he was a little too eager last week to let us know that he was suffering for his art. "I'm trying to give the impression that I feel quite at home in a high-class brothel," he said, looking quite at home in a high-class brothel.

We followed him to parties awash with cocaine and beautiful girls. "I'm slowly beginning to master the art of pretending to have a good time, but it takes its toll," he told us, conspiratorially. If there was irony there, I missed it. "It's hard to stomach," he added, as lots of snorting and fondling went on around him, "but I want to act as if it's normal." The laddie, methought, protested too much. But I wouldn't want to sound peevish, still less envious. Quite clearly, the BBC has found a star. Its only problem is to decide what to do with him - Changing Rooms or the Red Alert with the National Lottery? - now that his cover is blown.

Irving Watkin operates undercover, too, but otherwise bears as much resemblance to MacIntyre as a mackerel does to a Spacehopper. Watkin runs a detective agency in his home town of Barnsley. He is a small, balding ex-miner who calls a spade a bloody shovel unless it is Sam Spade, on whom he appears to model himself, or would if Barnsley were anything like Los Angeles. In Real Life: Private Detective For Hire (ITV) Watkin told his own story. He worked hard to enunciate every word, this being the telly and all, but it came out a bit staccato, curiously reminiscent of the Yorkshireman who narrates my children' s Rosie and Jim tapes: "Jim ... could ... not ... find ... his ... way ... home ... he ... was ... totally ... surrounded ... by ... fog."

Unexpectedly, the programme turned out to be a small, unpolished gem. Watkin's territory - serving court orders on big men with fierce dogs, following faithless husbands to run-down housing estates, digging through yesterday's rubbish to find solicitors' letters marinated in baked beans - isn't particularly scenic, but he seemed proud of it. A man called Dave was Watson to his Holmes, until Dave, depressed about his broken marriage, tried to kill himself. Forlornly, he told the camera how he had gone about it. He started by taking an overdose of Paracetamol, but that didn't work, so he slashed his wrists, but that didn't work, so he plugged himself into the mains, but that didn' t work either, so he tried to electrocute himself in the bath, no luck there, so he tried to drown himself, still no success, so he thought sod it. This would have been terribly funny if it hadn' t been so sad. Or rather, it would have been terribly sad if it hadn't been so funny.

The Real Life strand was well-served by Private Detective For Hire. Not so Cutting Edge with Cars, Caravans and Chaos (C4), which, far from being cutting, seemed pretty pointless. On paper, or in the producer's Range Rover in a 10-mile tailback outside Beaune, it must have seemed like a good idea: a film about French motorway hell during the annual migration to the south of France. But it never quite came off - like my friend Martin, who once spent three days stuck on the inside lane of the Peripherique.

With that crack, of course, I am being inconsistent. It is true that Brits are habitually useless when it comes to driving through France, and true that, more often than not, the French won't even lend us a hard shoulder to cry on. Nevertheless, there was hypocrisy as well as condescension in the suggestion that traffic chaos starts at Calais. Jam for jam, I bet our M6 leaves their A6 for dead. And speaking of death, I was troubled by the notion that horrible crashes leading to disastrous tailbacks were exactly what the Cutting Edge camera crew were hoping for. One of television's many unpalatable truths is that one person's misfortune is another person's documentary.

Hollywood Greats (BBC1), at least, sought only to celebrate. Katharine Hepburn was the final subject of this brief, enjoyable series, and while my wife grew impatient with the reverential tone of Ian McShane's narration - "she's only a person, like the rest of us" - I was firmly with McShane. Old home-movie footage showed Hepburn executing a perfect tumbling dive into the Atlantic, and skilfully playing tennis and golf. We saw Bryn Mawr college girls taking a post-exam skinny-dip in a fountain, a tradition she started 70-odd years ago. Later, she refused to be intimidated by the movie moguls, or even to move to Hollywood. Far from congratulating herself when she heard she had won an Academy Award for The Lion in Winter, she snapped "Oh for God's sake" and then had the Oscar shoved to the back of a cupboard, where it probably remains. By wearing loose tops and trousers, she singlehandedly pioneered a fashion style for women. And she was not only a marvellous actress but also an accomplished director and writer. She was, is, a Renaissance woman.