Television Review

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The Independent Culture
"COULD THE appliance of science create a better bra?" asked the narrator of Designs on Your Bra (C4), using that cliffhanger intonation so popular for narratives of investigation and research. Probably not, was my initial cynical response, but it will provide an unbeatable excuse for an hour of scantily clad women. Already, for instance, the director had taken the opportunity to film a phalanx of women jogging topless through a wood - a kind of Benny Hill fantasy sequence, though here run in slow-motion so that you could better appreciate the liquid heft and jostle of the unleashed female breast (a load of "up to 20 Newtons" apparently, though what are a few Newtons between friends?). Harnessing these dynamic energies was, we were told, "one of the most complex engineering problems known to man". Getting a bra off may be hard enough, in other words, but making it fit in the first place is even tougher.

My base suspicions about the programme's motives turned out to be unfounded. This account of Dick Powell and Richard Seymour's attempt to re-invent the brassiere did have its Loaded moments, including a funny scene in which Dick was filmed at the Paris Lingerie Fair, trying to cope with basic ambulation while surrounded by hundreds of gorgeous women in their underwear. There was also a messy sequence in which dental alginate was applied to the bust of Loen, the team's chest-pilot for their early prototypes. But the revelation that bust sizes are on the increase and that only 10 per cent of women can find a reasonable fit from the current ranges available suggested that there was a genuine opening for innovation here, not just a peephole for a prurient camera.

Powell and Seymour, coming from outside the industry, were astounded to find how badly designed bras were - complicated to manufacture, uncomfortable, and incapable of carrying a larger load in anything more alluring than a lace-trimmed haversack. Charnos, the manufacturers who would have to apply any new solution, were more sceptical: "There's nothing like ignorance of an industry to give people confidence in refining it," said a wary executive after one of his leading lines had been dissected by the design troubleshooters. In the end, their confidence triumphed over his caution - having cannibalised a ring-shaped frisbee for its double-shot plastic moulding Powell and Seymour came up with the Bio- form, a patentable improvement on the underwire which - after some early snags - had the outspoken Loen purring with contented uplift. As an advertisement for Charnos's forthcoming product this was pretty good, but as an advertisement for the services of freelance industrial designers, it was even better - which will no doubt please the Design Council, who were involved in the programme's production.

Funny Women (BBC2) is very similar to Channel 4's recent Heroes of Comedy - an occasion for lots of favourite clips interspersed with people going "marvellous, marvellous, marvellous", which can be irritating if you are of a contradictory bent. This first programme, about Prunella Scales, made me grumpy almost immediately by playing an extract from an advert as an example of her comic talent and then compounded the fault by including substantial contributions from its subject's son - the actor Samuel West, who unsurprisingly thought she was pretty good at her job. Fortunately, the clips themselves mended the mood - along with more thoughtful contributions from Scales herself (complaining about the tendency of the British to think that "sexy" and "funny" were incompatible virtues in a woman) and John Cleese, who correctly cited her performance as the Queen in Alan Bennett's A Question of Attribution as the finest illustration of her talent.

The extracts from Fawlty Towers reminded you of what an ample "feed" she had been, a sumptuous buffet of little grace notes and inventions, which Cleese gracefully acknowledged as hers. But that flattering caricature of the monarch - knowingly interrogating her treacherous servant, Blunt - was something special. "Oh we were in Venice two years ago," she said at one point, after Blunt had pointed out one of the Venetian paintings she owned. "...Unusual place." Bennett should get the credit for the regal indifference of the remark, but it was hard to imagine anyone delivering it with better timing or lightness of touch - as confidently dismissive of the punch-line as the Queen was towards the Pearl of the Adriatic.

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