Television Review

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The Independent Culture
THIS HAS been a good century to opt out of, as Cold War (Sat BBC2) has been reminding us. Last week, the series set off again on its long plod through the superpower years with a look at the doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction that kept the peace/left the world tipped on the brink of holocaust (circle your preference) for half a century. This week, in an episode scripted by Germaine Greer and entitled "Make Love, Not War", we got the recoil.

The programme started with footage of John, Paul, George and Ringo doing "She Loves You" on stage, while Kenneth Branagh explained: "Beatlemania hits the United States. With sex, drugs and rock'n'roll, the Sixties shake American values" - a nice demonstration that this is one series that doesn't fight shy of cliches. All in all, this felt a bit too much like a tour of a Sixties theme park - Kennedy and Camelot, assassinations, civil rights, student riots, Black Panthers and Vietnam. But along with all that, Greer's script slipped in some slightly harder- edged analysis - using a batch of missile and aerospace engineers talking about their comfortable Californian lifestyles, for example, to make a neat link between US prosperity and the booming armaments industry.

Cold War remains a drably orthodox view of history, but it does remind you of the attractions of opting out. In Escape to River Cottage (Sun C4), higgledy-piggledy Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall flees from the town to a country estate, rips up the flower-beds, massacres wildlife and sets up two pigs for a horrible fate. The idea is that HF- W - darned if I'm going to spell out his name every time - spends a year in an idyllic cottage in Dorset, by a river and not far from the sea, where he will try to live "the Good Life", a fantasy which is especially attractive to those of us whose lives are modelled on George and Mildred. HF-W referred to himself as a "downsizer", which I initially thought was a mistake - surely he meant "downshifter", downsizing being a managerial euphemism for sacking people. On the other hand, from the pigs' point of view, he may be absolutely right.

I'm concerned that HF-W may be running a bit of a risk with the pigs. He admitted that his only experience of keeping livestock involved a pair of sticklebacks in a jar, and they lasted a matter of days. With this pair of attractive eight-week-old Gloucester Old Spots, we have all the makings of, at best, a PR disaster, at worst, a Hardyesque tragedy (I'm thinking especially of the muffed pig-sticking in Jude the Obscure). But already HF-W is mortgaging out their choicer body parts in exchange for advice and seeds from a pair of local organic farmers.

He also flirted with tragedy when he went spear-fishing, leaving his glasses behind in his boots, but both he and his friend Gary emerged unscathed, the latter rhapsodised over the joys of his downsized lifestyle.

This is a cunning programme, a cocktail of bucolic idyll shaken up with a splash of cold realism, managing to have a quiet giggle at the expense of escapist urges at the same time as pandering to them. If opting out means giving up television, Escape to River Cottage is a small argument against it.