Television Review

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The Independent Culture
Richard Horton, editor of the medical journal The Lancet, appears to take the title of his publication seriously. Last night, in The Citadel (C4), he took his surgical steel to the present-day medical establishment, those august and well-upholstered bodies which notionally serve the interests of patients but which, according to Horton's cutting polemic, are actually "arrogant and largely unaccountable". And almost the first point he made was that, as bodies go, they have considerable powers of absorption when it comes to outside assault. Standing in a ceremonial parlour at the Royal College of Physicians, he recalled that the last time he had been in the room was to receive an Honorary Fellowship - a rude article about the College in The Lancet having been followed by what looked like a determined campaign to tranquillize him, which began with West End dinners and breakfast with the President, and concluded with the Fellowship. Quite why he accepted this drugged lamb-chop he didn't explain, but it doesn't seem to have stopped him barking.

I don't think he should hold his breath waiting for the Royal College of Surgeons to follow the same course of action either, because you had just seen the President of that grandiose trade union come as close to calling him a liar as his sense of decorum would permit. Horton had put it to him that surgeons (the plural was rather vague) routinely damaged organs so they could show their trainees how to put them back together again. After an expression of amused incredulity from Sir Rodney Sweetnam, Horton said that he'd seen it happen with his own eyes. "I frankly don't believe it, I'm sorry," said Sir Rodney. "You're telling me that I'm a liar?" replied his tormentor, in a manner that suggested that at any moment he might add "come over here if you think you're hard enough". I imagine this anecdote won't have appeared quite so incredible to any viewer with first-hand experience of medical loftiness - which left Sir Rodney looking as if he was either naive or not entirely candid.

This counted as an unfair advantage for Horton, I think, in that the practised urbanity of his interviewees - indistinguishably male, middle-aged and emollient - was bound to look a touch complacent set against his own inflamed indignation. He had the whip hand in the editing suite too, so that he was able to illustrate his contention that the big institutions would soon be fighting it out to protect doctors' interests with a sly one-two, in which you first saw Professor George Alberti, of the Royal College of Physicians, making a claim for supremacy and then Sir Alexander Macara, of the BMA, genially begging to differ. The two denials of Horton's proposal neatly added up to a confirmation. All of this was entertaining and fed a healthy scepticism about professional freemasonry, but I couldn't suppress a whisper of suspicion about Horton's ambitions either - sometimes a career can be advanced by noisily knocking the ladder over, rather than patiently climbing it step by step.

I think Bramwell would have liked Horton's approach, given that Jemma Redgrave's Victorian doctor is essentially a flare of radical indignation in long skirts. "Loose Women", the second of two feature-length episodes broadcast this week, was a peculiarly unsettled, querulous affair for a popular series. True, it offered the last-minute analgesic of a marriage, which rescued Bramwell (ITV) from the disgrace of pregnancy out of wedlock, but even then, she was getting yoked to a military rugger-bugger whose shallow emptiness she had persuasively flayed only 20 minutes earlier. It's true, too, that collegiate quarrels are the very stuff of prime-time drama, but they are rarely this bitter and mean, and unbandaged. The point of a quarrel in such dramas is that it can be made up, with much heartfelt regret on both sides. These weren't and, what's more, your exasperation with Eleanor's priggish self-righteousness wasn't appeased in any way but poked repeatedly - until you were almost too aggravated to care. Add to that a plot about child prostitution, a very gloomy marimba on the soundtrack, a child's death and some baleful dream sequences involving nuns and you had a decidedly peculiar piece of prime-time entertainment. Not enjoyable exactly, but perversely intriguing all the same.

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