Television Review

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Adam Curtis's "pounds 830,000,000", an Inside Story Special (BBC1) on the Nick Leeson story, offered you two contrasting styles of bold inscrutability: on one hand you had Peter Norris, the chief executive of Barings Securities at the time of Leeson's world-beating demonstration of how to throw good money after bad. On the other, you had Leeson himself, in a by-now rather dated interview from his Frankfurt prison. These two, as Curtis took pains to remind you, were on opposite sides of the class divide, and if that notion sounds a little dated itself, that was only a register of the dusty antiquity which reigned at Barings, a gentleman's bank which had realised it needed to hire some players for the rough and tumble of new markets.

Norris's demeanour was a perfect example of that patrician understatement by which you suggest that the egg on your face is actually a rather fetching kind of cosmetic. Leeson offered something closer to a type of insubordinate recklessness - the insouciant candour of the private who has nothing left to lose. "Cos they're sjoopid," was his deadpan, unelaborated response to a question about how his bosses could have failed to spot the catastrophe unwinding. Faced with the same question, Norris began with measured reserve and concluded in Wonderland: "I was pleased at the success of that business over that period of course..." He halted, suddenly aware of the impossibility of making his actions look responsible: "...you know... Mad Hatter's Tea Party," he concluded airily, his features conceding that he had surrendered.

On the previous night this story - short-term profits driving supposedly professional institutions into a Gadarene madness - had been presented as a protestant tract by Will Hutton. Here, the same elements were reconfigured as a British film comedy, a decision which gave free rein to Curtis's trademark appetite for strategic flashes of cinema footage. The stupefied avarice of the Barings senior management as they contemplated the ballooning profits emerging from their Singapore office was nicely represented by a scene from The Ladykillers, in which the gang stand in reverent adoration of their loot. Leeson, on the other hand, was summed up by an agonising passage from Billy Liar, a suggestion that we should not accept his story of managerial buffoonery and his own hapless entanglement at face value. This was a useful caution. Leeson is charming enough to persuade you that he was merely a scapegoat for a larger failure, but he is also capable of lying to himself, as the internal contradictions here suggested. He talked of Barings and its management with unreserved contempt, but in an interview with David Frost insisted, a rueful grin on his face, that he "was always working in the best interests of the bank". He claimed that he didn't care what anybody thought of him, but took care to point out that most people were on his side and explained his fall as driven by a hunger for the approbation of others.

Secrets of Lost Empires (BBC2) is television archaeology in more senses than one. The makers, burrowing down through dense strata of recent Radio Times have come across a well-preserved copy of Time Team - Channel 4's successful marriage of Challenge Anneka with serious archaeology - and decided that some kind of reconstruction might be worthwhile. This may cause mild dyspepsia down at Channel 4, but the point for viewers is not whether a programme is imitative but how good the imitation is, and Secrets is good. To be fair, the idea has its own shape - where Time Team pursues a generalised knowledge about specific sites, Secrets challenges experts to solve conundrums of ancient engineering (putting a canopy over the Colosseum, in last night's programme). But the hands-on, Blue Peterish element of the programme is very similar - "three pieces of timber, a couple of pieces of string and a fairy liquid bottle," said one designer, noting the components of his project's impromptu crane.

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