Television Review

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The Independent Culture
ONE HUNDRED and fifty kilometres inside the Arctic Circle, Ray Mears pulled out a banana and rapped it against a piece of wood to show how solidly it had frozen: "You could use it as a tent peg," he announced proudly. Well, thanks. Next time I'm in the far north with a crateful of bananas and find I've left the tent pegs at home, I'll be sitting pretty.

To be honest, I'm not at all sure it was meant as practical advice. But then, despite the boy-scout didacticism, the Blue Peter keenness on using every- day materials ("This is lichen that I pulled off a tree earlier"), the actual information content of Ray Mears's Extreme Survival (BBC2) is pretty much academic. Suppose you just happened to be stranded in the Arctic, with daytime temperatures of 30 degrees below: do you really think that the Mears 60-second course in rigging up a pair of improvised snowshoes out of birch twigs and nylon cord, which you happen to have in your pocket, would give you an edge?

In fact, the pose of utility is a purely formal device, a way of giving the programme some thematic unity. Its real appeal is romantic: the vicarious thrill of seeing one man pit himself against the elements, coupled with the reassuring glow you get from being settled at home with the curtains drawn and the central heating up full. It provokes the same ambivalent pleasures you get from an effective ghost story, and, sure enough, the programme was careful to have its own little stock of horror. Bob Thomson described cheerfully his experience of being stuck for some days in a plane's frozen wreckage, ending up losing only one leg and a couple of insignificant toes.

Mears - curled up in his sleeping bag as the hyperborean night folded in - recounted a cautionary tale about an aircrew perishing in Labrador; and a happier one about a man who had obeyed the Arctic code, which tells you to leave some matches sticking out of their box whenever you leave a hut: after an accident left him with frost- bitten hands, he was still able to light a fire with his teeth.

What makes it such a grand programme, though, is Mears himself. If the unthinkable did happen, and you were stranded on Baffin Island or wherever, he's the man you'd want with you. That's only partly because he's a hefty lad, and if the worst came to the worst you could split him open and crawl inside for warmth. It has more to do with his supreme confidence and the delight he feels at extreme personal discomfort. At one point, sitting in his spruce-branch lean-to, he announced that the film-crew were off to sleep in a hut for the night, while he slept out in the open, as the temperatures dived to 50 below: "But that's all right," he said, "I'm pretty much looking forward to it." I think he actually meant it.

Lagos Airport (C4) was even scarier than this remark. Charlotte Moore's fly-on-the-wall series began with troops patrolling the airport perimeter. After a series of attacks on planes, they have adopted a shoot-to-kill policy, although as one officer explained after a wary encounter, they aren't indiscriminate about it: "Like the man we met now is staff of the airport. I cannot kill him..."

Later, hoping to stop local people farming on airport land, the troops tried vainly to burn their crops, in the process using up all the fuel meant for their patrol cars. It's almost a comedy; but as the commentary harps on about the extravagantly overloaded luggage trolleys, the grounded planes, the broken air-conditioning, it can't avoid seeming a tad patronising.

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