Television Review

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The Independent Culture
Auntie's TV Favourites (BBC1) is presented by Steve Wright, a disc-jockey with an unwise beard and the kind of manufactured charm on which you can still see clumsy stitch-marks. I usually wouldn't comment on the facial appearance of a television performer, but beards are expressions of will, not simply of genetic coding, and as you watch this man you have to consider that he elects to look like this every morning. Indeed, he presumably has to tend the beard to prevent it straying from the neat pubic triangle on the end of his chin. I am afraid it prejudices me against him irredeemably, and that may mean that I am oversensitive about his television manner, which, like Frankenstein's monster, appears to have been crudely assembled from exhumed fragments and borrowed parts - old jokes, comedy pronunciations and the occasional sage question, which he delivers in a "hey, I don't want to get heavy, but let's just be serious for a moment" voice.

Then again, perhaps it's thought to be appropriate to link memorable moments from the BBC's back catalogue with a script which is itself a collection of repeats. Back announcing a selection of clips from Some Mothers Do Have 'Em, Wright reprised a joke that I've heard on television at least twice before. "Michael... went on to star in Phantom of the Opera, the story of a man who found love and respect through music despite his unfortunate looks. Wonder what gave Lloyd-Webber the idea for that then?" And when he isn't giving ancient material another run out, he is raiding the cliche cupboard with quite reckless vigour: "So stay right there as we open our 'Where are they now' file. Tonight's blast from the past shot to fame as the Jonathan Ross of the Sixties, sharp-suited and sharper tongued, his career sadly nosedived in a blaze of bad publicity." I make that six cliches in around 10 seconds, which is probably as close to seamless as you can get without abandoning communication altogether. I am still trying to decide which was the most wince-inducing moment - the point at which he responded to a mildly catty remark from Ben Elton by saying "Oh ho ho, yeah!" in that knowing way which people use when they want to show that they're not in on the joke, or the way he pronounced archive as "arkeev" in a grating comedy voice. It's a tough call.

After that, it was a relief to settle the stomach with the sight of badly- scalded brewery workers in Bramwell (ITV), a canny blend of Victorian costume-drama and carbolic soap - not so much ER as VR. It's an odd experience watching this programme during the current election campaign because its outspoken passion for social justice and workers' rights seems dated in a way not quite intended by the producers. "You must go to your unions, talk to your employers," insists Bramwell, as the disfigured brewery foreman recounts the appalling conditions in his workplace. "Unions?" you thought, "Oh yes, I remember them. How quaint." There's even a brisk exchange about the funding for Elinor's prototype health service - "What does it matter where the money comes from as long as it's put to good use?" says her colleague Dr Marsham, when she worries over a large contribution from the owner of the brewery. I suspect Dr Marsham of planning to apply for fundholding status for the clinic, to be closely followed by delivery of a company barouche.

The other pleasure of the series is seeing the routine procedures of the emergency room at a time when they were still controversial novelties. Any regular hospital watcher knows that you have to get fluids into an emergency case, but when Bramwell says "He won't come out of this until we restore his fluid balance," she exposes herself to the curious glances of more conservative colleagues. Naturally, the patient rallies and the doubters have to bow to progress: "Your unorthodox methods seem to be working well," says her father archly, although he should surely have learnt by now not to question her far-sighted approach to treatment. It's Casualty without the bleeping noises.

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