Television Review

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The Independent Culture
YOU'LL HAVE to forgive me if I seem preoccupied, but I've just chanced upon Win Beadle's Money (C5), and I'm still trying to come to terms with the disappointment. As the title suggests, the object of this quiz is to win money from Jeremy Beadle, but it turns out to be not as satisfying as it sounds.

There are two main drawbacks. The first is that Beadle only has to put up pounds 1,000 of his own money, which is surely a fleabite to him (he must get paid more than that for each edition of the show). The second is that Beadle can stop contestants winning the money by answering questions himself - and he is competing with people who think that Uncle Vanya might have been written by Ben Jonson (no, not the disgraced athlete). Beadle has been to college and knows that the answer is Chekhov (and if you ask me, knows it without having to strain for the answer, as he pretends to do here); so there's not much chance of his ever losing out substantially.

In fact, while the programme pretends to relish Beadle's unpopularity, the effect is to work towards his greater glory. The studio is decked out with mock-classical columns, and adorned with busts and portraits of Beadle in a laurel wreath, but the message is not that he's some latterday Caligula or Nero. You're not being invited to relish his discomfort, to enjoy a joke at his expense, but to witness what a good sport and merry fellow he is.

His own performance doesn't help matters. He's far too nice to the contestants, congratulating them on the money they do win, when he should be raging and cursing, possibly even trying to steal it back as they leave the podium. But he probably isn't up to that sort of acting: his fits of despair when the answer is on the tip of his tongue are not entirely convincing. No, I'm being too kind: they're not remotely convincing.

Now, if they changed the name of the show to something a little more extreme, such as Bankrupt Beadle or Give Beadle an Almighty Electric Shock - giving him something to be genuinely upset about - there might be some value in it all. As it is, the whole sorry enterprise fuels my growing suspicion that we shouldn't look for justice in this world.

Meanwhile, the National Theatre of Brent has begun a historical project which, for better or worse, will define our era to succeeding generations: Massive Landmarks of the 20th Century (C4) began last night at the zenith of the pax Britannica - the atmosphere pithily summed up by a newspaper-seller's cry of "Read all about it! Read all about it! Absolutely nothin' to worry about. Victorian epoch here to stay! Everyone knows their place!" And then it plunged us straight into the maelstrom of the 20th century - relativity, the Freudian unconscious, Mrs Hankypankhurst and her sufferin' majorettes fighting for emaciation.

It is reliably silly, but with occasional disturbing moments: Desmond Olivier Dingle and his assistant, Raymond, while out on a country stroll, noticing that the birdsong has stopped - the First World War had broken out. Really, Sebastian Faulks couldn't have done it better.