Television Review

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The Independent Culture
IF I WERE a betting man, I'd wager that a betting man would be a bit insulted by the episode on gambling in Hooked (C4). The subtitle - "Britain in Pursuit of Pleasure: 1900-1975" - makes it sound like someone's specialist subject on Mastermind. But this series works on the principle that once you've heard one tale of addiction-fuelled woe, you've heard them all. Hence the mere half-hour given over to a history of throwing good money after bad.

The area has been extensively documented as drama in Cracker, in which Fitz's compulsive personality was a glamorised version of Jimmy McGovern's own fondess for gambling. In one episode, Fitz's wife made the key point largely missing here, that gambling is an addiction that materially affects all the family. There was one testimony from the wife of an addictive gambler who lost their house on the horse at the Grand National which surrendered a 20-length lead over Red Rum going into the final hurdle. They had to move in with her parents. When he lost, "he went to bed for days. That was the worst," she mused. And then she paused, and you could hear a whole life sentence in the split second of silence. "But then he still tends to do that."

The problem with this three-furlong sprint through the subject was once all the facts had been laid out, all the forms of gambling listed to which the vulnerable might be prey, there wasn't much time to investigate the root cause of addiction. One old rogue reckoned that: "it's the same anticipation of sex as it is to gambling". He then pulled the rug from under his own analogy by recalling the night he sold his girlfriend for pounds 100 in a casino so he could place a bet at the roulette table. Footballers often compare scoring to sex, but here was the man who traded the opportunity to copulate for the opportunity to bet. He had lost all his hair, and you wanted to ask him if he had gambled that away, too.

If gambling is the cruellest addiction, it is because hope is an anaesthetic that shields sufferers from the pain of delusion. A woman perfectly encapsulated the warm glow of self-deception when she was winning at the wheel. "People seemed to laugh louder around you if you were winning. It was as if the limelight had been turned on you."

Gambling was once the most popular leisure pursuit in Britain, but that was before television. From the safety of its sofa, the nation has discovered less harmful addictions, like watching programmes about sick animals. This habit has been ruthlessly fed in Pet Rescue, Pet Power, Vets in Practice, but the greatest of these is Animal Hospital (BBC1), which has returned for a 10th series. I never had a pet as a child and, trying to redress this omission as a parent, I've looked helplessly on as a series of guinea-pigs have fallen victim to the unsentimental attentions of a local cat (though I absolve the accused of the murder of our hamster). So I claim immunity to the seductions of Rolf Harris's crocked menagerie. There's also something thoroughly resistible about the little homilies in Harris's links, which he backs up with outsized hand signals for the hard (or reluctant) of hearing. "It's great to see John so happy there!" said Rolf, giving us the double thumbs-up after a cockle-warming report from a seal sanctuary. "We've all got our fingers crossed for her!" said Rolf of a budgie with its leg in a splint fashioned from cotton-bud tubing. No one had their fingers more crossed than Rolf, who wrapped his digits into a complicated bind from The Manual of Maritime Knots.

Talking of links, Horizon (BBC2) looked for the missing one between dinosaurs and birds. I can just about dredge up a Jurassic memory of Wildlife on One that once tackled a similar subject. This new film was fascinating not only for what it told you, but also because it illustrated evolutionary advances in science documentaries. On the one hand there was a much more highly developed analysis of the argument. But by concluding with a discussion of whether it would be possible to clone a dinosaur from a bird, on the other hand, it pandered to the modern taste for sensationalism.

Thomas Sutcliffe is away