Television Review

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The Independent Culture
AT ONE point in last night's Inside Story (BBC1), John Diamond spoke of the possibility that he had oversold his cancer. He had done the column, the book, the TV programme (two TV programmes now, this being an update of last year's Tongue-tied), the T-shirt, the souvenir mug. But so what? he asked: it had helped him to deal with it.

I suppose a purist might say there is something a little garish about Diamond's new image as "Cheerful Charlie Carcinoma, the Cancer King". But where is this purist? The world - well, a significant portion of this country's reading and viewing public - can't get enough of Diamond's disease. We've always been assured that death and illness, particularly that which results from cancer, are things polite people don't care to dwell on: nurse, the curtains. Now it turns out that everybody has been dying to gab on about it, or to hear somebody else gabbing on; the curtains are open, and we can't take our eyes off it.

There are creditable reasons for this - currents of sympathy and fellow- feeling for somebody suffering the thing we all fear most. Less wholesomely, there may be a superstitious sense that as long as the Reaper is revving his car outside his house, he can't be coming round to mine. And there does seem to be a basic voyeurism implicit in the business of watching somebody facing up to death (which, despite the fact that he is "in remission" for the moment, is what Diamond's situation amounts to).

Still, voyeurism is something Diamond shares: we saw him last night, after one operation to remove a tumour from the base of his tongue, asking to be shown the cancer in the flesh, as it were - something, he was told, nobody had ever asked for before. Later, when things had progressed further, the man hired to paint his portrait was fascinated to be told that Diamond's tongue had been removed altogether, and wanted to see. He was the first person to ask, too, and Diamond seemed pleased.

Olivia Lichtenstein's film had its moments of schmaltz and terror; more impressively, it was amusing. Sanctity and wisdom seem comparatively easy options for somebody confronted with the prospect of meeting their maker in the near future. For Diamond to keep waffling on as if nothing has happened suggests a certain coolness of nerve. You'd want someone like him next to you in the trenches, and not just because, with his luck, you know he'd be the one to take the bullet.

Prison Weekly (BBC2) is a magazine made by prisoners and prison officers. Everybody has their CV flashed up under their name: so it is presented by Richard Witherspoon ("Deception") and features reports from Jack Murton ("Served 13 years in prison for Armed Robbery and other violent offences"). A video diary about life in a young offenders' institution came from Lee Kirkman, aged 17 ("Serving 12 months for Grievous Bodily Harm").

Despite this unpleasant history, it's strangely calm, with affable warders and thoughtful, articulate prisoners. Why have these people been locked up, you wonder; but also, why do they mind being locked up when everybody is so considerate? In some ways, perhaps Bad Girls is closer to the truth.