Television Review

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The Independent Culture
"HE SHOOK hands, looked people in the eye and remembered their names when he saw them later," recalls one commentator in The Clintons, A Marriage of Power (Channel 4). Bill Clinton did these things so well and so diligently that he got from Arkansas to Pennsylvania Avenue.

His genius for productive glad-handing was apparent from a very early age. Young Hillary Rodham's old boss, Bernie Nussbaum, remembers how she told him in 1974 that her boyfriend would be President some day. He thought she'd gone mad.

Paul Mitchell's three-part series is a smooth narrative of Clinton's rise to power illustrated by archive footage of a young man on the make. The first half traces young Bill's path to Congress, to the Governor's Mansion (at 32 Clinton was the youngest Governor in over 100 years), and the first tentative steps towards the White House.

In 1988 when he was good and ready to run, he suddenly pulled back. This uncharacteristic reticence is now widely assumed to have been a response to Gary Hart's experience when his "appetites" were exposed by "The Sex Police".

The consistently astonishing thing about Clinton is that, while various footage may reveal his Machiavellian pragmatism, it can also expose you once again to his full-frontal charm, that survives even as he confesses his mistakes.

I have to confess that I am of a generation that remembers one of the earliest Blue Peter Advent mobiles made from two wire coat hangers. But I didn't inhale. Was I alone? The extraordinary self-importance of the ex-presenters and editors of the programme in BP Confidential (BBC2) suggested that Blue Peter was life and death to those who watched.

At one point, a former glue-queen maintained that the 1993 "make" Tracy Island was "the talk of the nation". Anthea Turner insisted that everyone who ever tuned in to the show was guilty of either making one, writing in for one of the tragic badges, or collecting detritus to raise millions for good causes. Not me, I'm afraid. I always meant to but somehow never got round to it. Besides which, glue was a messy home-made flour-and-water affair so I was a bit short of materials.

Meanwhile, viewers are supposedly digging each other cheerily in the ribs at the very thought of John Noakes and a length of fireproof tinsel. All very post-modern, but really this sort of middle-aged reminiscence is no funnier than your aunt Florrie having a good laugh about powdered eggs and parachute silk. And at least her generation had the excuse that their nostalgia for Forties' trivia was code for the shared experience of global warfare. Sticky-backed plastic is hardly in the same league.

This is not to say that there isn't 60 minutes of first class social history in the Blue Peter phenomenon. It's a fine programme in the increasingly polluted landscape of children's television, a fixed point of good sense, good manners and good citizenship but that doesn't stop Blue Peter Night being three hours of cheap, self-congratulation.

Perhaps it's more fun looking back at a youth culture you didn't share. Mystery Science Theater 3000 (Sci-Fi Channel) has realised that the beach- belle-meets-the-smog-monster movies of the Fifties were never designed to be watched in the sitting room, but by large groups of teenagers snogging in the local fleapit. This wonderful programme supplies you with a surrogate audience in the shape of a human and his two alien chums whose heads occupy the front row at the bottom of your screen and make smartass remarks.

As hopelessly dubbed Japanese C-movie actors prepare for a space invasion the one with a head like an egg-whisk will shriek: "Stop moving in! I have no emotions to show you!"

Perfect for anyone who wishes they had lots of witty friends to sit and watch television with.

On Saturday, the commercial break was further enlivened when our three mutant television critics staged a hilarious pastiche of the old Abbott and Costello "Who's on First" routine: "Will you tell me the name of your favourite Japanese theatre?" "Noh."