Television Review

THE ART OF television reviewing being based around videotape, I watched the Two Minutes' Silence (all channels) five minutes after watching a tearstained Thora Hird recount an Alan Bennett fictionalisation of a France-bound soldier's last date in Talking Heads: Waiting for the Telegram (BBC2). It's not so long ago that moves were afoot to put an end to the Armistice Day remembrances on the grounds that they were in some way a celebration of war. I'm glad that we have finally regained sufficient sophistication to understand that they are exactly the opposite. ITV's cameras had captured the Queen, looking customarily but appropriately grim in Paris, the service in Ypres, and an affecting outdoor ceremony in Staffordshire. I found myself, like, I am sure, many people who observed the ritual, in tears.

I tend toward the lachrymose during ceremonies like this anyway, but Talking Heads hadn't helped. The current series has been a bit like, well, the last series: lots of Bennettisms such as "He could've been a bank manager, except he had no socks on", grim situations, northern accents, dreary decor. He always seems to step up a gear, though, when the divine Thora Hird is involved; "A Cream Cracker Under the Settee" was one of those plays that people still talk about, and Waiting for the Telegram was so depressing that they'll be talking about it again.

Hird, a redoubtable 85 years old herself, played a 95-year-old stroke victim, mouldering in a home as everyone - the woman in the bed next door, her favourite nurse, Francis - died around her. And her stroke-led dysphasia kept pulling her back to the time of the Great War, when she had learned much of the lost vocabulary. When, searching for the word "telegram" she said "Lad comes on a bike, folk stood at the door weeping". You knew then there were going to be no let-ups. This was relentlessly depressing, powerfully political and undoubtedly memorable.

David Attenborough's (I'm sure half the adult population must by now have dreams narrated by the man) Life of Birds (BBC1) furnished another example of the savagery of the world in this week's episode, "Meat Eaters". The BBC wildlife unit always produces quite gobsmacking images, but they had really surpassed themselves this time: you've never seen so much gore so finely portrayed in such short a period of time.

In 45 minutes, we saw a falcon swoop on a flock of African sparrows (for whom, as always, Attenborough had built up some empathy with the viewer by describing their cute seed- eating lifestyles), a sheerwater chick dragged from its nest and butchered by a flock of parrots and a vole tracked down by a kestrel whose ultra violet spectrum vision showed up the urine around its burrow as bright yellow. It also showed vultures shoving their heads right up inside rotting cadavers, vervet monkeys dragged to their deaths by African crowned eagles, iguanas ripped limb-from-limb, and shrikes ripping apart their prey on acacia thorns. And all in the most gloriously clear, feather-ripping close-ups a cameraman could dream of.

Forget the miracles of nature: I will never cease to marvel at the miracle of being able to look at pouncing owl full in the face without suffering the consequent gouged eyes.

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