TELEVISION / New Broomfield doesn't sweep clean

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The Independent Culture
NICK BROOMFIELD's film Tracking Down Maggie (C4) achieved something I never thought possible. It made Margaret Thatcher a sympathetic figure. Broomfield took his usual approach - harrying his subject with merciless diffidence - but the more he shuffled about in the ever-diminishing press pack that followed the relegated premier on her book tour across Britain and America, the more it became clear that this was a film that should have been made when she was still in power. Then it would have been brave. Now, with the rusting Iron Lady reduced to boring the well-drilled backsides off captive audiences of American servicemen, it was like using a sledgehammer to crush a grape.

No one need doubt Broomfield's intentions: they are entirely mischievous, and there is nothing wrong with that. But the charm of his wilfully cack-

handed approach is wearing thin - 'We were reduced to filming dogs which we thought might belong to Lady Thatcher,' he smirks. 'We then discovered Lady Thatcher doesn't have a dog.' The most telling moments were not of Broomfield's making. Archive footage showed Margaret Thatcher finding emotion in Rolf Harris's 'Two Little Boys', and then introducing us to her Favourite Thing - a truly horrible sculpture of ceramic Marines raising the Union Jack on the Falkland Islands - '(The statuette) is the spirit of Britain,' she said, 'it is everything that makes us great.'

This is a judgement that might be better applied to Coronation Street (ITV). Weatherfield is not in fact the calm, cosy backwater of popular imagination, but a bloody battleground where traditional values of strong characterisation and gentle humour clash with ambitious directors and writers determined to make their mark with bizarre camera angles and gratuitous references to contemporary popular culture. Did Jack Duckworth's errant pigeon, for example, really have to be called 'Fergie'?

Friday night's rooftop antics were a bit over the top, but generally the forces of decency had the upper hand this week. Two classic storylines were in full flow: the mayoralty of God's grocer Alf Roberts (motto: 'He won't leave when there's food that's paid for'), and the tortuous love quadrangle centred on Medusa-eyed barmaid Tanya Pooley. Tanya, played with terrifying, porcelain intensity by Eva Pope, has ensnared chirpy betting-shop manager Des Barnes and his slimy boss Alex with her ability to apply lipstick under pressure. When heartbreak comes - as it must - for Des's live-in companion, the saintly, clueless Racquel, I hope she will be allowed to keep her dignity.

Screen Two's Sin Bin (BBC2) continued the apotheosis of Pete Postlethwaite. Now that this fine and long undervalued actor is finally getting the respect he deserves, he will have to be careful not to go down the Warren Clarke road and do too much work. As Mitch, a psychiatric nurse / warder in a Broadmoor-based receptacle for the criminally insane, he did some of the best anguished running down corridors I have ever seen. There were superb supporting performances, too - especially from Kathy Burke - but Catherine Johnson's screenplay took a lot of easy options, finally succumbing to Sammy and Rosie's Iron Law of hard-hitting drama: if in doubt, end with a riot.

For the authentic feel of the madhouse, you can't beat This Morning (ITV). On Monday there was live on-air navel piercing under hypnosis. A visibly shaken Richard Madeley crossed the studio to the apparent safety of a cookery item, only to find frontier chef Susan Brooks dispensing advice on how to cook boil-in-the-bag food in the washing machine ('set the programme to whites'); salmon in the dishwasher ('it'll be lovely and moist'); and casseroles in the compost heap ('make sure the lid is securely fastened'). Her piece de resistance was a revolutionary method for de-salting cured pork by leaving it in the toilet. 'Remember to use the cistern,' Richard counselled weakly, 'not the actual bowl.'

Frasier (C4) took a couple of episodes to settle, but is now as sublime and elegant as a Cheers spin-off should be.

Kelsey Grammer's pedantic psychiatrist has moved to Seattle and is now hosting a radio talk- show, while struggling to preserve his lifestyle from attack by his crusty ex-cop father (brilliantly played by John Mahoney), his dad's mutely malevolent terrier, Eddie, and their kooky but not excessively irritating English housekeeper, Daphne Moon (Jane Leeves). The exemplary wit of this show's script makes it the quickest 25 minutes to be found anywhere on TV at the moment, and Frasier's effetely evil brother Niles (David Hyde Pierce) is the funniest new sitcom character to emerge in a month of Wednesdays.

Last night's Audience with Bob Monkhouse (ITV) gave a well-deserved showcase to one of the nation's most under-

valued comic talents. A couple of weeks ago, Bob wiped the floor with his rival panellists on Have I Got News for You. The 'Audience with . . .' format did not work quite so well for him. The subordination of a studio full of celebrity egos to the greater glory of a single individual is always a tricky business. Oddly for such a consummate professional, he seemed slightly ill at ease. But there were still some great moments. 'You'll be remembered after Robin Williams has been forgotten,' Bob assured Bobby Davro. 'But not until then.'

With the local elections out of the way, the screen was finally safe for Panorama's (BBC1) expose of corruption in Westminster Council. The effect of this programme's shocking revelations was somewhat muted by their familiarity, but simple- minded presentation didn't help either. The special-effects department had a field day, splattering key phrases - 'Planning', 'Yuppie Flats', 'Be Mean and Nasty' - all over the borough's advertising hoardings in the grand manner of a Day Today spoof.

Norma Percy's Watergate (BBC2) is a better advert for the documentarist's art. It moves slowly, but covers a lot of ground. The second episode got deep into the cover-up, giving the legendary Gordon Liddy - a man still on the run from the trading-standards authorities for styling himself Campaign Intelligence Chief - his chance to shine. 'John, I'm a soldier,' Liddy remembers telling a bewildered Nixon aide. 'You just tell me when and where . . . I'll be there and you can shoot me.'

The conspirators' melodramatic idea of themselves comes out very clearly: in John Mitchell forcibly sedating his wife Martha to stop her talking to her friends in the press corps; in the obvious delight Nixon's basset-jowled private eye Tony Ulasewicz took in distributing hush money ('dollars 25,000 - that's a lot of lettuce'). But none can match their boss for psychotic self-validation. 'I didn't feel at that time,' Nixon tells David Frost in 1977, 'that any erosion of the strength of the President, or his defeat in the election, would be in the best interests of the country.' Oh well, that's all right then. It is interesting to note the respective fates of the two participants in this encounter. Richard Nixon's recent demise was deemed a suitable occasion for a national day of mourning, while David Frost

is condemned to repeat the same jokes for all eternity on Through the Keyhole (ITV). I ask you, is that justice?

Allison Pearson returns next week.