Television Review

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The Independent Culture
IT'S BEEN a spooky weekend. The Real... Rupert Murdoch (C4, Sat) was spooky in that, because the Great Dictator is so sparing with interview time, I had always thought of him more as a black-and-white still photo than a real person. Realising that the geezer actually walks, talks, and even smiles, even if it is the predatory smile of a well-trained panther, was one of those chill-down-the-back moments.

The interviews alone would have made riveting viewing. As it was, the whole programme had one on the edge of one's seat, nervously chewing the skin on the side of one's fingernails. Wonderful archive clips showed the Dirty Digger's progress from bullying oik sneering about "snobs who only read papers that no one else wants" to reasoned elder statesman talking about "I don't say that disparagingly of The Guardian or [its readers], I think it's a terrific paper. [Lengthy pause] I don't like it, but I think it does a great job for that particular audience..." made it as much an essay in good PR training as an expose of the man beneath the ruthlessness.

But it got spookier still. Despite the evidence of a merciless pursuit of business above all else, one couldn't help but develop a grudging respect and even - horrors - liking for the Evil One. There was once no shortage, after all, of toffs lining up to praise the Krays' social skills. The film showed us some pleasant things: a man who did not enjoy school, whose children are articulate, confident and unafraid to voice the occasional word of dissent, a mother who talks about him in robust matriarchal "he's a naughty boy" tones, and even gleams of humour. Spooky he may be, but one got the terrifying impression that one might enjoy sitting next to Murdoch at a dinner party.

Even spookier was Brian, the spiritualist medium from Sleaford with a livingroom full of taxidermised animals in Everyman: Is There Anybody There? (BBC1, Sun). The religion- based slot's demolition job of the arcane arts was admirably handled, the more so because the commentary offered no opinion. We met, instead, two people in search of reassurance, one set of psychic researchers and two mediums: Gaynor, who channels a preposterous native American "spirit companion" called Blue Mountain (as in the coffee), and Brian, whose chats with the bereaved were of a more cosy variety.

Now, among my many past lives, I have had an incarnation as a tarot reader, so it was fascinating to watch a fellow professional at work, popping out generalities like backache and depression, and rescuing himself without drawing breath when they didn't work. "He did swear as well sometimes, didn't he?" he asked Pat and Gillian from Prestatyn. "No," they chorused firmly. "Sometimes," he said quickly. "He says: `They won't allow me to do it.' Do you understand? No, but that's what he's saying to me. That's his character coming through. It's just a bit of fun. He had a lovely sense of humour, didn't he?" Pat and Gillian pronounced him spot- on and went away comforted. As the men from the Psychic Research Society said, it's a type of bereavement counselling. It's just a shame Pat and Gillian paid pounds 38 an hour for it rather than going to the NHS.

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