Television Review

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The Independent Culture
ON Scrapheap Challenge (Sun C4), teams are asked to knock up something extraordinary from old bits of rubbish that have been left lying around. The BBC runs a similar game, but it calls this "Primetime Scheduling". So, for instance, Debbie Horsfield (The Riff-Raff Element) has rummaged through piles of worn-out cliches from the Sixties - dead-end Northern town, lure of London, sexual awakening, youthful rebellion, adult repression, etc - and come up with Sex, Chips and Rock'n'Roll (Sun BBC1).

The surprising part is that this particular contraption does work, more or less, though with plenty of creaking and sputtering and the occasional backfire. It's Eccles in 1965: twins Eloise and Arden (Gillian Kearney and Emma Cooke) are turning 18 and looking to the future. Arden is blonde, and therefore sexually precocious: she has visions of becoming a pop star, strutting down the King's Road in a red catsuit. Eloise is brunette and hence doomed to cleverness ("Clever girl like you should be aiming high," says an ambition-quashing careers master. "Top-class secretarial college..."). She likes to make up words and tunes, and wonders if there could be a career in that ("Think you're in the wrong place, young lady. This is a careers office, not Cloud Cuckoo Land").

Both are shocked that it's Ellie who gets the first chance to escape from the grind, when cousin Norman, big in chip shops, asks her to marry him. But then temptation arrives for both of them, in the shape of the local rock band, the Ice Cubes, and more particularly, the charismatic Dallas McCabe (Joseph McFadden).

The first episode was so infested with stereotypes it needed an environmental health officer to sort it out. Sue Johnston did her best to add conviction to the repressed and repressive battle-axe of a grandmother, with her ludicrous back-story. Apparently, Gran's husband popped his clogs on their honeymoon: so that explains why she doesn't hold with boys or this new- fangled pop music rubbish. Nicholas Farrell tried to add at least a second dimension to the downtrodden but loving father. Phil Daniels gave a spark to Larry, the lizard-like manager of the local dance- hall and leader of the Ice Cubes.

Horsfield doesn't always manage to make the Sixties background plausible, either. The Ice Cubes seem to have cottoned on to heavy guitars and velvet suits a couple of years before everyone else. And would Larry really have said, backing Arden into a corner, "That's what I love about you liberated girls"? Had the terminology of "liberation" really arrived in 1965?

But the nostalgic cloudiness is dispelled by the grubbiness of Arden's sexual initiation, and by the greedy raptor's eyes that David Threlfall brings to Norman. There are also some unexpected but thoroughly fitting turns of phrase - Gran demanding over the tea-table, "Give your cousin Norman some tongue, Eloise," and Arden, bitterly congratulating her newly engaged sister on the treats in store: "Posh clothes, posh car, posh house... all the chocolate you can eat."

Unfortunately, the series' ending had already been spoiled by Skint (Sun BBC2), in which Jet Harris, formerly of the Shadows, talked about what happens after you've made it to rock stardom. He had a crash, lost interest, spent his money, started drinking, ended up travelling miles in a dormobile to play "in little tiny back streets" for 30 quid a shot. His wife, Janet, expressed beautifully the misery of their situation: "There's all these empty promises, `Oh, I'll do this for you, I'll do that', and you wait and wait. And there's no money. And you want things. I want things. I want to go and... get things."

This story had its depressing side, but there was more than cold comfort to be gleaned from Harris's toughness, his belief that "I can take it", and from the patience and affection that existed between the couple. A nice little programme; I do hope they got paid for it.

More stories of life in a dead-end Northern town, and another kind of scrapheap challenge, in Twockers (Sun BBC2), a moving drama-documentary featuring real-life unemployed teenagers on a Lancashire council estate, their lives a round of petty theft and vandalism, relieved for one of them, Trevor, by writing poetry. There wasn't much comfort to be got from Trevor's dismal situation and prospects; but the gentleness and humanity he still, somehow, held on to - that was a ray of hope.

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