Television preview; RECOMMENDED VIEWING THIS WEEKEND

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The Independent Culture
Dido and Aeneas Sat 8.05pm BBC2

Performance: After Miss Julie Sat 9pm BBC2

Equinox: Kaboom! Sun 7pm C4

Timewatch Sun 7.30pm BBC2

The Final Cut Sun 9pm BBC1

The South Bank Show Sun 10.45pm ITV

It's obvious when you see it - or after The South Bank Show (Sun ITV) points it out. Coronation Street, with all those strong, peroxided and quasi-panto leading ladies, could only have been the invention of a gay man. "This particular gay man, anyway," corrects Tony Warren, who wrote the first 13 episodes of Britain's longest-running soap, and who moulded it in his image ever after.

Warren grew up in Salford during the war years, when men were scarce and, anyway, he preferred the company of the local matriarchy. And when the men returned from the war, they too took up their rightful place in the background. Melvyn Bragg finds himself with Warren in the bar of the Rovers Return because it's the Street's 35th anniversary, and Granada has decided it's time to allow cameras backstage for the first time. The most startling revelation is the actress Sarah Lancashire without her Raquel wig and false eyelashes. She is a real beauty. Viewers in Scotland will have to wait until Wednesday for the pleasure.

Few other characters in TV drama have had the potency of the likes of Raquel, Ena Sharples, Elsie Tanner, Vera Duckworth or Bet Gilroy, but Ian Richardson's Mephistophelean Prime Minister, Francis Urquhart, is one. When Richardson addresses the camera with that tiny supercilious smirk, a real chill blasts through the surrounding comedy thrills of The Final Cut (Sun BBC1), the third instalment of Michael Dobbs's political yarns.

The opening credits make no mention of Dobbs. As you've no doubt read, Dobbs was displeased with the opening scene depicting Lady Thatcher's state funeral, and demanded that his name be removed. So, credit where it's due - to Andrew Davies, who sees his adaptation take over the slot just vacated by his version of Pride and Prejudice, and the terrifying Richardson.

Would it surprise you to learn that the old Hollywood studio system was in hock to the mafia? Why not, every other industry in America that relied on smooth labour relations was. Timewatch (Sun BBC2) explains how it worked. The movie moguls made regular trips to the mobsters' hotel rooms with suitcases full of used notes, or a phone call went through to every projection room in every cinema in the USA. Like all successful business plans, it was dead simple, with the emphasis on the dead for anyone foolhardy enough not to cough up.

The chief delight of Equinox: Kaboom! (Sun C4), a history of explosives, is one Sidney Alford, a freelance explosives expert with the looks of Robin Cook's eccentric elder brother. Alford likes nothing better than seeing whether he can successfully recreate 9th- century Chinese recipes for gunpowder - and whether he can get a bicycle to fly by strapping rockets to the back of the saddle.

Performance ends its current run with After Miss Julie (Sat BBC2), Patrick Marber's free interpretation of Strindberg's Miss Julie, updated to the day of Labour's 1945 General Election victory. It's a menage a trois involving Geraldine Somerville's decadent aristo, Phil Daniels's manservant (looking very much like David Byrne in his big suit phase) and Kathy Burke. Dido and Aeneas (Sat BBC2), Henry Purcell's tragic opera, is in English, but I only understood every third word. Matters not: I could look at the extraordinary Maria Ewing until the fat lady sings.

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