Television Review

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THE LAST part of The Disabled Century (BBC2) opened with Richard Jameson's account of his confinement in a mental hospital in the early 1970s. At the time, he believed himself to be an international star of stage, screen and radio, and spent a lot of his time in the West End of London, talking loudly to the hidden microphones and cameras that tracked his every move. When he was shut away, it took him some time to appreciate how bad conditions were, since he thought he was in the emperor's palace in Thailand.

With his garrulous, polished rhetoric and his black-humoured account of how electro-convulsive therapy was administered willy-nilly, Mr Jameson was living proof of the potential entertainment value of mental illness - proof, too, that the mad are sometimes saner than their doctors. But that still doesn't excuse Psychos (C4), which also came to an end last night (hurrah!).

To do justice to David Wolstencroft's scripts, he does have a considerable gift for narrative brevity, packing a surprising number of storylines into every episode. Last night's included a brilliant mathematician who was borderline manic-depressive (madness and genius, two sides of the same coin, eh? How do they come up with these things?). There was also a Glasgow hard-man who was hoping to get off a charge of extreme violence by pleading diminished responsibility, and a Cassandra-like patient forecasting disaster on Friday the 13th.

The imaginative poverty of this parade of stereotypes and cliches was even more obvious when you compared it to The Disabled Century, where beauty and eloquence perpetually forced the viewer to look at and hear the disabled in fresh ways.

The main thread of this week's programme was the way that, in the last quarter of a century, the old, imprisoning institutions have been dismantled, and barriers between the disabled and the rest of society have started to break down. One woman recalled the old days, when she would be sent to bed at six o'clock every night, to stare at the ceiling for hours and think about dying: "You wouldn't be missing anything, because every day was the same." In the outside world, the lucky ones were patronised; some were ignored altogether as the idea of "care in the community" collapsed before the reality of no community, nobody caring. It was interesting to note for how many of the people interviewed marriage had been a sustaining institution.

Again, David Hevey conjured up startling images. Some were affected, like the man laid out on a bed of purple silk with a couple of skulls for company, an uncomfortable blend of cigarette advert and health warning. Others, though, were creatively unsettling - Mat Fraser, with only the vestiges of arms, showing poise and strength as he kick-boxed with his own shadow.

One reservation, though: after the images had unsettled the viewer and challenged any pigeon-holing tendencies, the commentary's slightly agitprop tone had the opposite effect, defining the issues too sharply. There's no sense in disorien- tating people if at the same time you're telling them exactly where they are.