Television Review

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The Independent Culture
I KNOW WHAT you're thinking: you're thinking: "Oh no, not another fly-on-the-wall series." And you're right, of course you're right, we've seen far too many of these things lately. But to give Nurse (BBC2) its due, it is trying hard to be something rather more than just another Vets' School minus the cuddly bits. As to whether it succeeds - well, it's a bit early to say.

Jenny Abbott's seven-parter, which follows eight student nurses over their three-year training, certainly flaunted its serious film-making credentials. For a start, it really is filmed, none of your video rubbish, and in proper wide-screen format at that. It's also got lower-case subtitles and bleak pictures of back-to-backs in Leeds and stony beaches, the lot. Now there's classy.

More impressive than the film style is the fact that it attempts to nudge the experience of these students into some sort of political context, with voice-overs on the recruitment crisis in the NHS, the low rates of pay and high rate of natural attrition - the NHS has (or had when filming started in 1995) an annual turnover of 20 per cent of nursing staff. It has to be said, though, that the analysis has been fairly primitive. One example: the voice-over informed the viewer that the NHS's annual bill for nurses' salaries is pounds 600m. This sounds like a lot; but since no attempt was made to explain how that fits into the NHS's total budget, how could you be sure?

This first episode took things at a measured pace, introducing the eight students at home, then watching them move into the nurses' home where they will all live. This last part was a little too measured - you've seen one student being shown a bleak cupboard to live in, and you've seen 'em all - but the introductory interviews established the individuality of the series' subjects, and set up all the right cliffhangers. How will Katie, who only knows about city life from visits to Derby and news bulletins about shootings and rapes, cope with Newcastle upon Tyne? How will Catherine's unemployed husband and two children cope with her studies? It is in its focus on the personalities, on their uncertainties and misplaced certainties, that the series promises most.

Interestingly, John, the oldest student here, talked about how nurses fit into four stereotypes: camp male (the category he hoped to avoid) matron, Florence Nightingale and the pert, active Barbara Windsor-type. This is a small instance of the way in which Barbara Windsor has come to dominate the national consciousness, achieving a sort of apotheosis in Terry Johnson's Cleo, Camping, Emmanuelle and Dick at the National Theatre, where she is presented as a sort of tutelary deity of good-old English vulgarity, Britannia with a D-cup. It's not surprising to find her turning up as the first subject of a series called The Best of British (BBC1) (though it is surely Englishness rather than Britishness she personifies).

The film amply confirmed what has always seemed clear, that she is a remarkably intelligent and warm-hearted person, with a readiness to weep sentimental tears and a self-doubt which only adds to her appeal. What was more surprising, perhaps, was that outside the tits 'n' bums context of the Carry Ons, which always turned her into a Donald McGill caricature of desirability, she was genuinely sexy. It would be hard to make a dislikeable programme about our Babs; this film's only real mistake was bringing in Zoe Ball and Gaby Roslin to say what a party animal she is - as if she needed their presence to confirm her status. Otherwise, pure joy.

Inside the X-Files (BBC1) did a rather less impressive job of puffing those modern icons Mulder and Scully. David Duchovny, in particular, was a disappointment - in magazines he gives great interview; here, though, he'd evidently been told not to express his contempt for the show too openly. The programme provided a handy guide to the various sorts of aliens encountered in The X-Files, and a quick precis of the over-arching conspiracy as it has developed so far - useful for the occasional fan who has missed out on a few plotlines. Otherwise, it was a samey account of life in the studio, with actors explaining how privileged they feel to be a part of it all and out-takes of Gillian Anderson corpsing. What strangely dull people, you thought, almost... almost as if they were human bodies inhabited by something inhuman, alien. But hey, that's actors for you.

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