Television Review

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The Independent Culture
LAST NIGHT produced the greatest television moment of the year so far. It came during the documentary, The Life and Loves of Geoffrey Boycott (ITV), served point to coincide with Boycott's appeal against the decision that he had assaulted his former lover, Margaret Moore.

Trevor McDonald had been appointed as Boycott's interrogator, and he posed the double-century question. "I suppose people are just mystified... how does old Geoffrey keep all these relationships going at the same time?" Within the immaculate decorum of his expression, Trevor had the air of someone who really wanted to know.

But Boycott said nothing. Briefly, he shrugged: the universe was full of mysteries, after all. Then he opened his hands, to show that the matter was out of them. Then he shrugged again. Then, in a moment as delectable as honey, he cracked. The smile that had been pushing and pulling at his lips broke out, and a gigantic shrug took over his body like a wave, and for about five seconds the whole of Geoffrey Boycott basked in the secret knowledge of his own seductive power. How could he give Trevor a reply, when the answer was so obvious?

This kind of moment is nearly extinct in television, because it can only come from people like Boycott, who are perfectly poised between self-awareness and its polar opposite. Nowadays, self-awareness is such that delicious dialectics of this kind can rarely be relished.

This was a simple documentary, played with a very straight bat, but it did the job. Geoffrey and Trevor were inter-cut with Ray Illingworth, Tony Greig and the rest, who severally told us that Boycott was arrogant, avaricious, a bad captain and obsessed with cricket. All of which he himself admitted: "But I cannot see what's wrong with that!"

On the surface, the impression was of a peculiar man being described by a lot of normal men. If this was the programme's intention, however, then it somehow defeated itself, leaving a deeper impression of scores being eagerly settled. Frankly, what with their whingeing and gossiping, the normal men came across as a bunch of old women. Might this solve the mystery of Boycott's seductiveness?

Anyway, those who find Boycott unconvincing as a great lover have perhaps never seen Frank Butcher, who has of late become the sexual focus of Albert Square. This proves the theory that much of the attraction of EastEnders (BBC1) lies in its unspoken offers of hope to its viewers. If Frank can cop off with Barbara Windsor, goes the subtext, then anyone can get lucky.

The programme is currently propounding one of its complex equations: Frank plus Peggy over Pat equals minus Roy. Meanwhile, Grant plus Tiffany equals plus or minus Louise simmers ominously away. The way in which EastEnders drives its best plots should shame most "serious" dramatists, who have nothing to worry about except the state of their own inspiration. Could they create tension and structure out of continuous flow? Could they fashion storylines around the exodus of half their cast to play the pantomime season? Could they turn a used car dealer, played by Anthony Newley, into the sinister agent of Roy Evans' nemesis?

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