television review

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The Independent Culture
There was not much, on the face of it, to recommend Hetty Wainthropp Investigates (BBC1): the creaking Alan Bennett name, the quaint Northern setting, the tiresome concept of a wrinkly female private eye. No Tarantino- style fun to be had here, you thought.

Unexpected, then, that it turned out to be a pleasure, if not unalloyed, at least enough to cheer the January gloom for 50 minutes: fun, frolics, the occasional invitation to laugh out loud. It worked because, unlike Miss Marple or the character Angela Lansbury essays in Murder She Wrote, Hetty appeared to be a recognisable human being. The way Patricia Routledge played her - petty, fussing, interfering, rude, self-righteous - made the premise of a 60-year-old woman turning herself into a private investigator almost plausible. What a perfect way to legitimise poking your nose into others' business; much more sophisticated, certainly, than my grandmother's excuse for peeping through the curtains at her neighbours ("I'm not nosey, dear, just interested").

"We'll send a copy to Derek in Australia," said Hetty to her husband at one point, as she admired a write-up of her activities in the local paper. "Let that wife of his see the mettle her mother-in-law is made of."

It seemed plausible motivation like that: a sort of Mrs Brady Old Lady P.I. Moreover Routledge's was not the only character forming before our eyes. Her hatchet-faced school marm was nicely counter-balanced by Derek Benfield as her husband, a man not so much hen-pecked as assaulted by beak on a daily basis. When Routledge said "Don't you raise your voice to me, Robert," he looked as most of us would when spoken to in a tone which could chill blood at 40 paces. "They tried to kill me Robert," she said later, "just remember that and it'll keep you serious." Keep him hopeful, as well, judging by his expression.

Dominic Monaghan, too, as her scally of an assistant, was a cut above the usual side-kick, his mind focused purely on the important ethical considerations of criminal investigation.

"We may be out of our depth, here Jeffrey," said Routledge.

"We made 150 quid out of it, though, didn't we?" came the reply.

Much more of this and it could become a habit.

After a very promising debut, it was good to be re-acquainted with an old friend - Daniel Reed's Modern Times film The Fame Game (BBC2). Reed had added a coda to his wonderful original screened in April, returning to see how his heroine, the indefatigable party-organiser Liz Brewer, had fared since he first introduced her to the nation's consciousness. It was great to be swept back again into Brewer's world, a strange social realm of glitter and froth inhabited by quite the silliest people imaginable, a place so pitiful the height of ambition is a mention in Nigel Dempster's Diary.

Brewer's favourite word, uttered time and again as champagne corks flew and the mayflies flittered, was achievement. An odd choice of noun that, to describe a living made, it seemed, from facilitating an entree for rich and stupid clients into a social whirl, apparently made up entirely of her other rich and stupid clients. With a joyful twist, it turned out that the two richest and stupidest members of her circle - Ivana Trump and the preposterous Mona Baewens - did not like Reed's original film, presumably for the uncanny accuracy with which it portrayed the pointlessness of their existence.

"Were they cross with you?" Reed asked Brewer, a woman so resilient that she could out-bounce a rubber ball.

"Not with me," she smiled. "With you."

"Are you cross with me, then?" flirted the film-maker.

"No, of course not" said Brewer.

And you had to believe her. When you are as addicted to pure publicity as she is, the last thing you do is fall out with your dealer.

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