Television Review

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The Independent Culture
ONE OF the more disturbing trends in contemporary television is the way in which bad driving and crashes are recycled as entertainment, either in the form of police videos or as dramatised re-enactments. The very least you could say in favour of Car Trouble - Insurance (C4) was that it didn't try to cash in on the thrill of the pile-up. At one point, Joe Layburn found himself in a motorway caff, illustrating the finer points of one accident using a milk-jug as a bus and a salt-cellar as a car with a drunk driver. I did wonder later, though, whether this wasn't a rather ostentatiously low-tech approach: did Layburn find himself in the service station with a camera and decide to get it over with, or did they make a special trek out there?

Even with crockery, the programme was shocking. Layburn had uncovered a number of cases in which innocent victims of other people's driving had suffered enormous trouble getting any money out of insurance companies. In the case of the milk- jug, Jim Halford had suffered neck injuries when a car ploughed into the bus he was driving. The other driver was doing 50mph in a 30mph zone on the wrong side of the road with six times the legal limit of alcohol inside him. He was jailed and banned, but his insurers refused to admit liability, claiming (in flat contradiction of the evidence) that Mr Halford had swung out on to the wrong side of the road.

The most shocking part of the programme was Alex Westmoquette's story. In the accident that killed her husband, she lost both legs and part of an arm as well as suffering severe burns to her face. Although the other driver was convicted and imprisoned, his insurance company stalled and quibbled over payment. In court, they came up with a number of reasons for reducing her claim, including the very real saving she would now make as a consequence of no longer having to bother buying tights.

Where the programme went wrong was in trying to make these cases lead somewhere. The insurance company in Alex Westmoquette's case had new owners: they simply held up their hands in horror and said they would never have let such things happen. So, no scandal there. It wasn't easy to see any wider implications. A survey of solicitors established that most lawyers have had trouble with insurance companies at some point. But what was Layburn arguing - that insurance companies should automatically cough up, no questions asked, regardless of expense? Investigative journalism always wants to find something concrete - a villain, a stupid law - to come down on. Sometimes you just have to settle for stupidity and insensitivity.

Which brings us to Kiss Me Kate (BBC1), the sitcom starring Caroline Quentin as the counsellor surrounded by stupid and insensitive people. Watching last night, I realised that it has only three jokes: literalism (an attempt to explain VAT with an analogy about farmers and ducks ends up with everybody worrying about what happened to the duck), solipsism (characters regularly ignore actual answers to questions, instead reacting to expected answers) and total male inadequacy. Still, that puts it at least two jokes up on most of the competition, so I suppose we shouldn't grumble.