Television Review

BE GLAD you are not a Pekin-ese: apparently, because their faces are so flat, they find it hard to bite through their offspring's umbilical cord, so they can't give birth without assistance. Also, being short in the legs, they have some trouble procreating in the first place - you have to stand them on telephone directories. Presumably, you'd want to use out-of-date ones.

Then again, some of the people on Modern Times: a Passion for Pedigree (BBC2) would probably treasure a phone-book with a few intimate stains and the imprint of scrabbling paws. Liz, by her own admission "a mad dog- lady" and the "doyenne" of Peke breeders, compared her craving for dog- shows with drug addiction. At the end of the film, she was seen winning a prize at Crufts: afterwards she explained how difficult it had been for her, with her husband having died in a hospice on the Tuesday. "I don't care how I got it," she confided to a friend, "whether it was a sympathy vote or not, I got it."

Colin Napthine's film was one of those cabinets of curiosities at which Modern Times excels. The curiosities here included Stephen and Stephen, proteges of Liz in the Peke game, a balding, bespectacled, slightly stooped Tweedledum and Tweedledee. They met when appearing in a production of Die Fledermaus, and cemented their relationship during a run of The Desert Song. For the benefit of the camera, they duetted on "If I Loved You" from Carousel - Stephen on keyboards, Stephen singing and turning the pages (though seemingly not very well, since Stephen hastily turned them back again).

The dogs seemed colourless in comparison, though their names made for up it: Stephen and Stephen's prize bitch was called Yackey Once More With Feeling For Camerata, but they called her Anna; her mate ("another Yackey dog") was called Mission Impossible. Then there was Steve, whose Rottweiler was Champion Reizend Earth Wind and Fire - the beast was lucky that Steve wasn't into heavy metal, or he could have been called something stupid.

There was a lot of other incidental silliness here: several of the breeders regarded the dogs as surrogate children ("The son I never had," Steve said); and they all endowed their dogs with unlikely attributes - Liz spoke of the "glamour" of the Pekin-ese, Steve of his Rottweiler's tendency to be "stand-offish with people who are insincere". More startlingly, Jacquie, who bred St Bernards, summed her pets up as "15 stone of killing machines", adding that they loved children, begging the question: how did she cook them?

There were stories of the competitive ferocity of dog-shows - green dye thrown into fur, Valium planted in water bowls, that sort of thing; and, as a coda, the Stephens helped Anna to deliver her pups. ("Hello," said Stephen, "that was quick: I wouldn't have made the tea.")

It was an expertly made, very funny film. But Modern Times is assuming a certain ritual quality: the oddly angled tableaux; the faintly spoofy music (here it was Iolanthe and a cocktail-bar take on "Sleepy Lagoon"); the ironic, deadpan way it is poised between objectivity and piss-taking. It's often enjoyable, but a little bit bloodless. If I were Colin Napthine, I'd keep an eye out for Rottweilers.

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