Television Review

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THE DANGER in a series like Back to the Floor (BBC2), in which top-rankers put on hard hats and "return" to the nuts and bolts of their particular industry, is that the central figure is everything. Many movers and shakers cut rather stick-like figures under the spotlight, and the showy dynamism, back-slapping team-work and fast learning curves displayed on our screens of late has sometimes rung a little less than true.

And, as Heather Rabbatts' experience showed last night, there is the celebrity problem. In the same way that most of the country would smell a rat if Pauline Quirke turned up serving in their local caff, so the people of Lambeth can spot their council's chief executive. Rabbatts is definitely a dynamic woman - and a brave one, grasping what to all intents and purposes is a poisoned chalice. She is also something of a London celebrity. She ran into trouble in her first home visit as a housing officer, when the man opened the door and said "I know you. You're Heather Rabbatts". He then launched into a diatribe against the council, mostly, one felt, for the benefit of the camera.

Not that he didn't have a point. One could feel the entire Conservative electorate, all three of them, heave a collective "humph" last night as example after example of shoddy workmanship, jobsworthness and timewasting came to light. But it's hard for someone like Rabbatts to work incognito. The poor old housing officers - who seemed a decent lot - pointed out that the housing benefit office was constantly losing files and failing to come up with money. Rabbatts pointed out that, when she employed an entirely new team there in January, they discovered 35,000 pieces of unopened mail, and shot off there to investigate. Miraculously, by the time she arrived, every one of the case files she was chasing had turned up. Rat? I smelt one as big as the rotting nappy on which the camera lovingly focused in the rubbish left behind at a recently vacated tenancy.

One got the feeling that nothing short of magic would sort out the chaos which reigns in Lambeth. Perhaps Heather Rabbatts should consult the management of Alton Towers, which claims to have bottled the stuff for public consumption. Modern Times: The Magic Factory (BBC2) went behind the scenes at the theme park and, once they'd dropped the irritating "fairytale" narrative technique ("long ago in the heart of England there was a beautiful house called Alton Towers..."), it was an amusing trip.

This film exposed the gnarly, grimy bits which Pleasure Beach left out: staff cynicism, the boredom of a life spent serving doughnuts. "Magic", as far as one could see, involved writing mission statements and making staff play musical chairs at morning meetings. Star of the show was Frank, "cleansing assistant". "They call me Frank the Magical Bin Man," he said po-facedly. When asked what he thought of the training, and inspirational texts like "You are a superstar ready to go on stage!" scattered about the non-public areas, he replied "I suppose it's a good idea if you can get people to smile. Unfortunately," he continued after a pause, "for pounds 3.40 an hour you don't have a lot to smile about." You should try being a Lambeth housing officer, mate.