Television preview Recommended viewing this weekend

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The weekend before the Christmas schedules begin in earnest is the broadcasters' equivalent of finishing off the scraps - long-running series have to come to a conclusion, and nothing too dainty should be served up to outshine these left-overs. Which nutritional metaphor, as Angus Deayton might say, brings us to An Italian Christmas - Recipes from the River Cafe (Sat BBC2)

The River Cafe, in Hammersmith, West London - recently described by the New Yorker magazine as probably the best Italian restaurant in Europe - is actually more famous for the cookbook which bears its name. This bible of gastronomy (if you happen to have a wood-burning oven and access to top-quality Italian produce, that is) is an indispensable accessory in the home of any self- respecting young urban professional - even if rests on the coffee table rather than the kitchen shelf. It may not be the sort of tome one turns to after a hard day at the office, but at Christmas it comes into its own - especially if you are looking for an alternative to the dreaded roast turkey and plum pudding. Doesn't polenta with porcini mushrooms and white truffles, roasted loin of pork and vin santo ice- cream sound so much more grown-up?

Keith Allen, the former Comic Strip comedian who proved himself a strong dramatic presence in the BBC adaptation of Martin Chuzzlewit, has always struck me as, what you might call, a naughty boy. And lo, it turns out he was expelled from school and was in and out of borstal. Allen's principal memory of his father (an oft-absent Royal Navy submariner) was the thought: "O goodo - dad's away and I can be naughty". This week's Travels with My Camera (Sun C4), in which Allen and his father, Eddie, re-visit the scenes of Allen's misspent youth, continues the circle by showing the actor - a surprisingly disciplinarian parent - goading his own son into doing his homework.

TX: Dreamgirls (Sat BBC2) looks at the work of that dark genius of 1970s French Vogue, the photographer Guy Bourdin - whose work was the technicolor twin of Helmut Newton's black-and-white fetishism-as-fashion. Bourdin, who died in 1991, remains a shadowy figure. Mother-obsessed and misogynistic, he helped push the unsuspecting and uncomplaining world of haute couture into the realms of hard pornography.

Robert Hughes is at full steam in the ongoing American Visions (Sun BBC2). Zig-zagging across the continent and the 1930s, he takes in skyscrapers, Edward Hopper, the social realism of the New Deal artists, the black diaspora northwards, and the hokey vernacular of Grant Wood's American Gothic.

Talking of hokey American vernacular - Colonel Oliver North is captured in A Perfect Candidate (Sun C4), running to represent Virginia in the 1994 Senate elections. Primary Colours it ain't, but the man at the centre of the Iran-Contra arms-for-hostages deal showed a great deal of naivete in cosying up with filmmakers RJ Cutler and David Van Taylor.

Equinox (Sun C4) looks at how the current anti- science populism is endangering vital research. Ironically, given the Vatican's historical antipathy to scientific enlightenment, it is the Pope's medical adviser, Professor Robert White (the only man to have conducted a successful head transplant - on a monkey), who is leading the fight for tolerance.

The big picture


Sat 3.05pm BBC2

On the outside, Alfred Hitchcock's greatest film of the 1940s is a spy thriller about suspected Nazis holed up in post-war Brazil. At its dark heart, though, is a perverse love story in which American agent Cary Grant (above) forces Ingrid Bergman (above) (the daughter of a Nazi, but a patriotic American who loves Grant) into seducing the leader of the Rio-based Germans, Claude Rains. Terrific suspense, great performances and Ingrid Bergman at her sexiest.

The big match

Zimbabwe v England

Sun 7am Sky Sports 2

England's cricketers shook off just enough of their winter cobwebs against Matabeleland this week to make a fist of their first ever match against Zimbabwe on Zimbabwean soil - a one-day international at the Queen's club in Bulawayo. Captain Mike Atherton (above) has only scored 13 runs on the tour so far, but opener Nick Knight notched up a century against Matabeleland and bowler Darren Gough picked up five wickets in the same game. Today's opposition is a step up in class, however.