TELEVISION / Putting up a front

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The Independent Culture
On Front Gardens (BBC 2), Susanna Brown told us that the patch of land outside our doors was potentially 'a source of delight, not just for yourself, but for the whole neighbourhood'. An awful lot of people, she explained, remain curiously happy to live behind a scrap of scorched grass with nothing more decorative in it than a colourful border of trapped litter. So, for the next six weeks, Brown is going to demonstrate how the place where we currently wedge our caravans could just as well be a national treasure and picnic area (size permitting).

For starters, the BBC - cautiously guarding its wallet as ever - paid to re-landscape four tea- tray scale frontages in a Victorian terrace in Birmingham. They all looked fabulous in the end - all angular, tasteful brick paths and dinky little colour-schemed shrubs - although perhaps it was a lot of trouble to go to for somewhere in which the postman spends as much time as you do.

What was odd was the way the programme made the transformation look magical, melting the before and after images into one another and leaving out the spade- work in between. If you'd never before fitted any terracotta rope- twist border tiling, you were, sadly, none the wiser when Front Gardens ended. Perhaps Brown is spearheading a new kind of non- interactive practical television; rather than showing you what to do, it shows you what you can ask a qualified designer to do for you.

Arena's engrossing profile of the writer and campaigner Larry Kramer (BBC 2) didn't let you off so lightly. Between scenes from Kramer's new autobiographical play, The Destiny of Me, the programme looked across the writer's life, revisiting New York in the 1970s, when gay sex was as popular on the streets as homelessness is now. While some were rejoicing in their liberty and managing four or five encounters just on their way up the street to do the shopping, Kramer was calling for restraint. 'There are ways of coming to terms with your sexuality without sharing it with the entire world.'

That made him unpopular with those for whom promiscuity had become a political platform; and still more unpopular with those who thought a political platform was as good a place as any to be promiscuous. When Aids started, there was some appalling sense in which Kramer was vindicated; though as he said here, it had never been the physical risks that worried him about promiscuity, so as much as the emotional damage.

Whatever, he was in there right at the start, writing and shouting his head off when the numbers of the sick were still low and looked manageable. He screamed in particular for medical research, which was slow coming. One of his tirades was headed '1,112 And Counting'. If he wrote it now, it would have to say 150 million and counting. Kramer is HIV-positive himself. A voice off-camera wondered if that wild period hadn't worked out for at least some people. 'Most of them are dead now,' said Kramer. And there was a long silence.

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