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The Independent Culture
They'll never be part of any rock 'n' roll hall of fame," says a surprisingly wry and likeable John Denver, "but neither will I." Indeed, the recently deceased rock 'n' roll history series, Dancing in the Street, made not one mention of The Carpenters, the MOR brother and sister act whose songs quietly dominated sales charts throughout the 1970s. But then with Abba and Burt Bacharach disinterred and reappraised, it was perhaps inevitable that Karen and Richard Carpenter shouldn't be far behind.

Bacharach was a fan, but then so was Richard Nixon, who declared that this is the way that American youth should be - by which, presumably, he didn't mean anorexic and addicted to sleeping pills. Bacharach describes Karen's voice as "clean, clear, like a flag above the music". Her life, however, was anything but clean and clear - as the sly, sly documentary The Carpenters - Yesterday Once More (Sun BBC1) makes plain. Watching Joanna Bailey's film is like learning a new language - in which things are half-spoken, or said with the eyes. It seems to suggest that Richard, looking in middle age like a mildly demented version of the Duke of Windsor, was trapped between clinging sister and domineering mother. What was really wrong with Karen - except a generalised loneliness - remains a mystery.

Where Karen had soul, HG Wells had a sex drive. "He was a naughty boy," is how Jill Craigie puts it in her husband Michael Foot's two-part biography for Bookmark (Sat & Sun BBC2). "If a man's going to behave like a bastard, he had better be a genius," she continues, and Foot, doing that absent- minded professor bit that made Lady Thatcher seem so attractive to voters, sets off in search of his Bromley boy made good. Foot, as Professor John Carey points out, tends to want to turn Wells into a socialist plaster saint, while the unfolding film rather makes it clear that Wells wanted to join the ruling classes, not reform them. He also had some rather unpleasant eugenicist ideas, but then so did an awful lot of people at that time. The solution to the "problem" of the Asiatic and African peoples? "They will have to go." Old news, though. The film's scoop is in persuading HG Wells's only surviving child, Anna-Jane, to speak publicly about her father for the first time.

The Bite (Sat & Sun BBC1) is an engaging two-part thriller belonging to that sub-genre, the Westerner in trouble over drugs in a Far Eastern country. The Australian actor Hugo Weaver (if you've seen Jocelyn Moorhouse's wonderful film Proof, he's the Martin Amis look-alike who played the blind photographer) and Mike Leigh's favourite yuppie, Lesley Manville, portray the innocents abroad. When their Burmese-based jewellery business goes belly up, they become involved in smuggling heroin.

A new series of Rough Guide to the World (Sun BBC2) finds Magenta DeVine in the most expensive city in the world outside of Japan - Moscow - while the beguiling Sister Wendy's Story of Painting (Sun BBC1) takes on Impressionism. She tuts and shakes her wimple over the perceived misogyny of Degas's ballet dancers. "I say to myself that I don't think that I really like you Degas." It reminds you strangely of that Harry Enfield sketch with the two geezers in the pub. "Look, Degas, don't come round 'ere with your misogyny and yer fancy colours."

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