Television preview

Fine Cut Sat 9pm BBC2 Equinox Sun 7pm C4 The Immortal Emperor Sun 7.40pm BBC2 Rhodes Sun 8.30pm BBC1 The South Bank Show Sun 10.45pm ITV
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Why the hell is the BBC soft-selling Norma Major (Norma Major: Behind Closed Doors; Sun 4pm BBC1)? Are they so craven that they don't realise that Stormin' Norma is the "stealth bomber" of the Tory re-election campaign? OK, so here's a harder one. What is the difference between a civil servant and a baboon?

Surprisingly little, according to Equinox, "The Great Leveller" (Sun C4), when it comes to life and death issues. Junior Whitehall mandarins may not go round showing their bottoms to senior Whitehall mandarins - or not in public, anyway - but both civil servants and baboons live in strictly hierarchical societies, and both hierarchies have been copiously studied in an experiment to see whether rank effects life expectancy. It does. Put bluntly, if you are at the top of the pile, you can expect to live longer - and be freer of disease. Subordinancy can be bad for your health. Great inequalities of wealth within society can also affect life expectancy, which is why Britain in the Blitz was a surprisingly healthy place - out of the way of the Luftwaffe, that is.

Cecil Rhodes died at the tender age of 49 and you can't get much further up the pile than he did. Having founded De Beers diamond cartel, Rhodes became only the second individual in history to have a country named after him (Simon Bolivar was the other one), and suitably enough, Rhodes (Sun BBC1) is the most expensive BBC drama ever, an epic eight-parter weighing in at more than pounds 1 million an episode. And all this to debunk the man. Filmed in Nelson Mandela's South Africa, Rhodes comes stamped with the approval of both Mandela and Robert Mugabe, while Martin Shaw talks in the publicity material about interpreting him as a combination of "Hitler, Napoleon and Saddam Hussein".

Not that you can tell from the first episode, which stars Martin Shaw's son (and Hugh Grant lookalike) Joe Shaw as the young Rhodes. He goes to Africa for his health, and, brimming with blue-eyed idealism, takes over the burgeoning diamond industry. Antony Thomas's script also implies that Rhodes was homosexual. I wouldn't want to be on the BBC complaints switchboard on Sunday evenings this autumn.

Heroic in a quieter way are the Jordan family, fourth generation farmers from Iowa, now facing foreclosure as the US farms crisis limps on into the 1990s. The Fine Cut documentary, "Troublesome Creek: a Midwestern" (Sat BBC2) was made by the Jordans' daughter, Jeanne, and watches as her parents auction everything they have - everything except their land, that is, to stave off the banks.

Apparently only three performers can guarantee to sell out the Opera House in Blackpool - Shirley Bassey, Ken Dodd and Victoria Wood. The South Bank Show (Sun ITV) goes on the road with Britain's first stand-up comedienne to find out why. Wood herself puts it down to women thinking she's their best friend. That from a performer who admits to not liking to see individuals in her audience. The Immortal Emperor (Sun BBC2), meanwhile, goes back 2,000 years to find out what you give the man who really does have everything - in this case the Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi. Why, immortality, of course - although as emperor, Qin Shi could at least have hoped to live longer than his mandarins - and any local baboons.

The big picture


Sat 9pm ITV

For years, the Hollywood intelligentsia derided Clint Eastwood (above) as a "shoot-'em-up" cowboy. More recently, however, he has been re-appraised and recognised as the fine moviemaker he is. He finally gained acceptance, and a Stetson-ful of Oscars, with this bleakly compelling western. It features Eastwood as a former hitman, William Munny, who comes out of retirement in search of one last bounty. This brings him into bloody conflict with an old foe, a sheriff known as Little Bill (Gene Hackman).

The big match

Newcastle Utd v Blackburn Rovers

Sat 10.50pm BBC1

How Blackburn Rovers must be rueing the departure of star striker Alan Shearer (above) to Newcastle United. Since he moved to his home town, before the season began, Blackburn have been a shadow of their former selves. From four games so far they have a solitary point. The last player they probably feel like encountering this afternoon is Shearer, especially as his new team are on a high after mid-week success in the Uefa Cup. Expect Shearer to show no mercy to his old team mates.