Television Review: Correspondent

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The Independent Culture
CORRESPONDENT (Sat BBC2) always gets off to a bad start: over a shifting montage of photographs of world leaders and events, a series of BBC voices announce "Reporting from Washington", "Reporting from Phnom Penh", and so on. This is about as evocative of the variety of global culture as a T-shirt that reads "My parents went to [fill in name of exotic location] and all I got was this lousy T-shirt".

If you can get over that small hump, though, it is probably the most regularly gripping current affairs show on air. This week's edition was devoted to a report by Phil Rees on "Sloba and Mira" - Slobodan Milosevic and his wife Mira Markovic, the Frankie and Johnny of Balkan politics (my gawd, how they did love). Anybody who entertained any doubts about Milosevic's guilt in the Kosovo conflict, or who simply couldn't get their head round the serpentine manoeuvres of the last 12 years of Serbian politics, should have found this enlightening. If nothing else, clips from Serbian "news" bulletins demonstrated the extent to which Milosevic has erected an old-fashioned, Stalinist cult of personality.

But around this was woven stories of Mira's sinister influence on her husband - how he phones her obsessively, how she talks and he listens, how every broken deal and betrayal in his career can be traced back to her. Some of this came from people formerly close to the couple (one of them, Slavko Curuvija, has since been murdered), so it has credibility. It's worrying, though, how often the cherchez la femme line is used to discredit politicians. So Hillary was always said to be the one who really wore the trousers in the Clinton household (until the focus switched to Bill's untrousered activities), and Neil was nothing without Glenys, and Cherie is the smart one in the Blair-Booth partnership. There's some atavistic distrust of clever women at work here, and it isn't confined to men. The Filipino cleaning lady in a house where I was once a lodger used to complain about having Cory Aquino as president - a woman was no good, she said, you needed a strong man like Marcos in charge. When I suggested that he had been a bad leader, she replied that this was only because his wife made him do bad things.

At least we can be fairly sure that there is no woman running Peter Mandelson in the background. Now We Are Two: the Real Peter Mandelson (Sun C4) didn't solve the political enigma, but it did make him into a three-dimensional puzzle - Rubik cube rather than jigsaw - as The Independent's Donald Macintyre sorted through the non sequiturs and contradictions of his cv. Trevor Phillips, who shared a room with Mandelson at an international youth conference in Havana, recalled how he would party into the small hours, while young Peter would scheme until 10pm and then turn in for his beauty sleep. A friend from another phase in his life recalled Mandelson's manic clubbing in Prague and what a fantastic dancer he was.

On one point a consensus did emerge: Mandelson is too abrasive, too ready to fight when he should conciliate, to really be the arch-manipulator of legend. Then again, maybe that's exactly what he wants us to think.

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