TELEVISION / Pink and droopy

THE first couple of weeks you just thought it would improve. Here was one of our most appealing comedians delivering scripts written by the funniest man on British television. Surely, between them Julian Clary and Paul Merton would be able to raise a titter. But three weeks on Terry and Julian (Channel 4) shows every sign of getting worse.

The premise of this sitcom is that the world of a wimp is disturbed when he gets a queen for a flat-mate. Initially Paul Merton, the script-writer, was due to play Terry but, wisely, pulled out at the last minute. He had, after all, seen the scripts in advance.

Not that this is a joke-free zone. Merton's reputation as a craftsman of one-liners will not be seriously diminished by gags like: 'You can't miss it, it's next to Big Jim's Tattoo Parlour; he does a very good swallow.'

Nor, indeed, do you need more than a sentence-long premise to invent a classy sitcom: 'grumpy man owns hotel', or 'four students share flat', or 'old man and son run ailing rag and bone business' all worked more than satisfactorily. The 'world of a wimp is disturbed when he gets a queen for a flatmate' could be a legendary success if there were characters within it. Situation comedy, even the antidote to situation comedy, demands some sort of character structure to give a context to the gags. An episode of The Young Ones contains far fewer one-liners than this, but has the asset of funny characters to deliver what it has.

The presence of Julian Clary militates against any character developing here. He is a hopeless actor. What you see is not a queen at sea in an alien environment, but Julian Clary telling a series of jokes in a series of frocks. And even that he doesn't do particularly well. He seems nervous with a formal script, relaxing only when he strays into the audience and engages in some of his much-loved corny banter.

And if you felt Julian was ill-thought-out as a character, that's because you blinked during Terry's moments on screen. Lee Simpson may well be doing his best, but then so is the man at the bottom of the human pyramid in the Halifax Building Society ads. The two Barbie dolls walking through the title sequence are more animated than these two.

Rather like the presenters of the Channel 4 Daily (which died yesterday morning with very few in attendance) everyone concerned with Terry and Julian seemed to have given up by the end of last night's episode. It finished with an badly explained court scene, and Clary decked out in camp barrister's robes.

'Oh, so how long have you been at the bar, Mr Clary?' asked the judge. And yes, there came the punchline, announcing its arrival like a train whistling round the bend: 'Long enough for three lager and limes.'

This gag did not even produce a titter from a studio audience so indulgent they must have spent considerably longer in hospitality than Clary had spent at the bar. As a vehicle for a fine talent, this is in the Lada class.