Television Review

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The Independent Culture
AT THE end of Walden on Villains (BBC2), the head and shoulders of Brian Walden faded to black, to be replaced by the head and shoulders of Adolf Hitler. I'm sure they were striving for an altogether grander effect - to suggest that the charisma and intellect of Walden are a match for any historical figure who falls under his forensic gaze in both this series and its predecessor, Walden on Heroes. But it looked like some wag had Pentelled a cartoon moustache onto Walden's upper lip. Between one man's communication skills and another man's deranged seduction of an entire nation there is but a small smear of facial hair.

Walden on Villains is basically a radio programme that has wandered onto television. There is no visual diversion, nothing for the viewer to process but words. What you get with pictures is the sight, as well as the sound, of Brian Walden. The choreography, apart from occasional semaphoring with his arms, is confined to the abundant swagger of his sagging jowls, which shudder in a chorus of agreement every time their owner shakes his head to punctuate a particularly emphatic sentence.

You also get an eyeful of virtuosity. Walden delivers these half-hour lectures without an autocue. Quite why I'm not entirely sure, unless it's pure showing off. On the radio, you wouldn't be able to tell that he isn't reading. Here, you know he isn't because he inserts signal hesitations. As in, "Er, Adolf Hitler remains one of the most extraordinary of all the tyrants. Today, er, his crimes of genocide and aggression continue to appal the world." In any other programme, the director would bawl "Cut!" at the first "um", but Walden's stand as badges of authenticity. They are, er, artful flaws. They may even be written into the script.

I wonder whether his introductory subject wasn't also a flaw. No tour of evil is complete with a stroll round Hitler in the same way that no tour of Paris is complete without a trip up the Eiffel Tower - ie some things you can miss. I'm expecting greater novelty with his pieces on Saddam Hussein and Nero. Walden battled hard to insist that he had found new things to say about Hitler. His career raised questions that are "insufficiently discussed". His relevance "isn't something that's often mentioned, but it ought to be". He concluded, with a terrible shudder of the jowls, that modern electorates are as inclined "to make a gut emotive response to a gut emotive slogan" as they were in Nazi Germany. Does this mean that Walden didn't see The Nazis? The series was even subtitled A Warning From History, and was broadcast to universal acclaim not once but twice on the self-same channel. You can't be more sufficiently discussed than that.

Sitcom, like the Third Reich, has been sufficiently discussed. Laughter in the House (BBC1), which concluded with the 1980s and 1990s, dressed up an orgy of clips as a PhD on trends in humour. Some of the shows discussed were repeated this week, as they seem to be most weeks. The unconfident scheduling - two parts on Wednesdays and one on Friday - perhaps hints that even the BBC is tired of putting old wine in new bottles.

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