Television Review

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The Independent Culture
IN THE programme As the Crow Flies (BBC2), Janet Street-Porter has pledged to walk from Edinburgh to Greenwich in a straight line. Usually when people say they're going to walk in a straight line, they are trying to prove that, though they may have drunk enough sweet sherry to render them clinically dead, they're definitely not sloshed. But 400 miles? It must have been a hell of a bender.

Actually, Street-Porter knows what a straight line from Edinburgh to Greenwich looks like, having already charted one in television management. When still contracted to the BBC, she once ascended the podium at the Edinburgh Television Festival to deliver a famously bitter tirade against male, middle-class, middle-aged management in the industry. Shortly afterwards, her career travelled south to L!VE TV, stationed just across the water from Greenwich in the Isle of Dogs. Is the parallel not spooky? Anyway, I digress. Unlike Janet, who has more or less kept to her straight line, give or take the odd hedge. You wonder whether the series's vaguely millennial theme and the state-of-the-nation undertones are trying to position Street- Porter as a national treasure, like Stilton or the thatched roof, but I think that may be going it a bit. She has nonetheless been a chummy companion and guide these last few weeks. One of her charms is that while she has taken to this hiking lark with her usual militancy, there is a small part of her that remains the sullen teenage trudger. As she drags her feet through knee-high heather atop boggy peat, into horizontal sleet surfing a force 10 gale, you can practically hear her moaning, "Oh Dad, do we have to go on another walk?"

So although she doubtless knows that she's a lucky crow to have got the gig, it would topple the balance of the programme if she appeared to enjoy herself. Thus at least a third of each episode is given over to Street-Porter complaining about the inadequacy of rural sign-posting and the discrepancies between footpaths as marked on the map and as encountered on the ground. This week, in Rutland, the footpath took an unannounced vertical drop, unleashing the furies deployed in her spleen like a rapid- response commando unit.

The other regular is the celeb slot, slipped into the itinerary to suggest that Street-porter is meeting with equals rather than cadging an interview with some of the most famous people on the planet. In Northumberland, it was "a friend of mine" called Sting. Next week it's Elton John and here, pleasingly, it was Stephen Fry touring a school he was expelled from. The one hitch is the law of diminishing returns. There's more fine walking to be done in the north than the south, and this week she spent time hiking untelegenically along noisy A roads.

My favourite bit was the cheese-tasting session out of the back of a van in a Leicestershire downpour. Street-Porter, with her strong views about trendy fromage, realised that she was starting to sound like Jilly Goolden. "I'd better put that funny voice on," said the woman whose strangulated vowels and battered consonants have launched more impersonations than any other broadcaster in the last 20 years. Long may she trudge.

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