TELEVISION / Mavis tries harder: Thomas Sutcliffe spends the evening In With Mavis

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The Independent Culture
When Mavis Nicholson's afternoon chat programme was dropped by Michael Grade some time ago her friends responded with a small paroxysm of media indignation, as though the disappearance of a coffee-table half-hour was the final evidence of New Brutalism at Channel 4. Perhaps in response to that, and the avalanche of 4711-scented Basildon Bond that landed on Grade's desk, she was given a series on old age to present. The amends continue to be made with the appearance of In With Mavis at 8.30pm in the Friday night schedules.

Unfortunately, the effect on the evening is rather dampening, like having an aged aunt hanging around at a teenage party until she discreetly retires to bed to allow the young people to have their fun. It isn't that Nicholson is past it, just that the programme has that faintly devotional air you associate with religious programming and daytime fillers. From the ghastly chumminess of the title to the ecumenical stained-glass windows which line the set, the whole thing is redolent of broadcasting in which worthiness excuses all. Perhaps Grade, who is no slouch at competitive scheduling, has decided to cede the early evening to the BBC's re-runs of Bread and Birds of a Feather, calculating that at one stroke he can earn some brownie points and save money to be better spent elsewhere.

Certainly they're not splashing out on Mavis (she is something of a first-namer, though it is mostly her own). The filmed inserts have been cannibalised from the afternoon shows and Nicholson opened the studio section with the memorable line: 'My studio guest tonight is my sister Sylvia Bartlett.' There was a reason for this besides economy; Sylvia was there to talk about caring for their mother, an Alzheimer sufferer (Alzheimer's was also the subject of the moving introductory film), but the effect was decidedly uneasy all the same. Chat-shows have created a whole gestural vocabulary to convey intimacy and sincerity, almost none of which is genuine.

Here you had the odd spectacle of two people whom you knew were probably close and who would be very unlikely to dress up their emotions with each other in private, using the artificial conventions of studio chat for a television audience. The device by which an interviewer tells an interviewee what they already know is grating enough whenever it occurs but seemed positively perverse here. 'You had Mum for two years,' stated Mavis, as though the memory loss might have been contagious. Elsewhere she employed the notorious Wogan Prompt ('Because it took over completely, didn't it?'). It's a method that permits you to interview a bollard (or even a Hollywood starlet) but which, in a conversation about the decision to put your mother into a home, sounded more like counsel for the defence than a TV presenter.

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