Television review

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The Independent Culture
Ten years late, Sex with Paula (C4) finally made it on to the screen. In 1986 it was thought to be too lascivious to transmit: the government had just begun to enjoin us all to terrified chastity in its early Aids campaigns, and here was Paula, lolling wet-lipped in front of various rock stars, working the nation into a concupiscent froth. It may have been one of the first television programmes shelved because it was deemed to be a health hazard.

Ten years on, one can see what they meant - I think most medical authorities would agree that this level of embarrassment is inadvisable, even in the safety of your own home. Ordinary viewers' cringe reflexes are simply not up to the stress. Television reviewers, naturally, are better prepared, but nothing like enough. When Paula appeared, laid like an adoring pajama- case on the tummy of Dave Stewart, my own trapezius muscles went into spasm. I get a numb ache in the neck to think what the full version would have been like - these were edited highlights, relieved by musical interludes from the stars in question but, even so, Paula was running out of questions after about five minutes.

She was particularly fond of a statistic that revealed that one in 12 women fantasise about rock stars while having sex. "Are you one in 12?", asked Gary Kemp. "Well, I do it with rock stars," replied Paula, in a don't-ask-stupid-questions tone of voice.

None of the interviewees had anything remotely interesting to say, occupying themselves principally with finding somewhere to look rather than into Paula's eyes, a peroxide-topped impression of a dog that has missed its dinner. Actually, I tell a lie. Dave Stewart supplied a neat response to one of Paula's eyelash-fluttering inquiries. You being a rock star and all, she said coyly, do girls ever ask you to do, you know, particular things. "Yeah," Stewart chuckled. "Buy them stuff."

In Equinox (C4), Arthur C Clark described the four developmental stages of any revolutionary technology. "One: it's nonsense, don't waste my time. Two: it's interesting, but not important. Three: I always said it was a good idea. And four: I thought of it first." We are, he suggested, at the first step of this cascade of acceptance when it comes to alternative energy sources, particularly those that appear to break the fundamental laws of physics by tapping into the mysterious zero-point energy, a cosmic power-station located in the gaps between atomic particles.

Not just one but several garage-lab inventors in the United States claim to have made devices that break the biggest law of all - that there's no such thing as a free lunch. They insist that they get more energy out of their machines than they put in. The results are keenly disputed, but there's no doubt that these devices are capable of generating awesome quantities of heat under the collars of mainstream scientists.

Such programmes themselves can easily produce more heat than light, but William Woolard's film was, by and large, cautious and respectable. It titillated you with the possibility of a great secret about to be unlocked, with paranoid thoughts of entrenched interests and Arab oil skulduggery, with X-File hints at secret research and covert funding. But it also used the story to analyse the components of scientific research - and the impurities of snobbery, ambition and money to be found in an apparently pure medium.

At least one of the inventors involved has secured patents for his devices from the US Patent Office, something of an achievement in itself, as he had to demonstrate to sceptical officials that the machines did what he claimed they could. He was, understandably perhaps, a little paranoid about just how far oil companies might go to keep a water-fuelled car out of the market. If he's right, you thought, how come he's still walking about? Then you realised that the multi-nationals were probably already fully occupied working out how they can corner the market in tap-water and how much they will charge per litre.

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