Television Review: Paddington Green

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The Independent Culture
ANOTHER PREMATURE child of docu-soap parents emerged last night. Paddington Green (BBC1) was born of those prolific progenitors whose battery-farmed offspring speak before they think and may yet suffocate the free-range documentary. Last night's was unusual, however, and, to an extent, shrugged off its dubious parentage as it focused on a seamy cross- section of west London: a rude 85-year-old wig-maker, a shrill woman in a scooter shop and a prostitute formed an exotic triptych.

At times it felt impressively realistic, but it was let down by an intrusive lens and Ross Kemp's voiceover. Occasionally, the latter was more Tiffany than Grant Mitchell, as when Jackie the transsexual prostitute was booking a room for piano practice. "Jackie's hiring a room for an hour... the piano rehearsal rooms." This was a bitchy pause which didn't respect its subject; a cheap shot which would have made Bianca squeal, but left me hot with indignation. An earlier image seemed to pass a crass judgment on Jackie as she bought some sheet music ("Bach or Handel, grade five," she asked). The camera couldn't help staring as she handed over a pounds 20 note, but what it was trying to say, I wasn't sure. That money has a different meaning for whores, perhaps, or that the only way for prostitutes to regain self-respect is to pay for it? It was a visual daydream on dirty money; who gave you that, it wondered crudely, and what did you do to get it?

The subjects of the first of The Royal Institution Christmas Lecture (BBC2) were biological mechanisms of regulation, which was ironic given that it is output such as this which will be marginalised by broadcasting deregulation. I love these children's lectures, enjoying the feeling of being talked down to without being patronised. It's a form of cognitive regression in which all those things you feel you should already know are patiently explained. At their best they are spellbinding, and the first in the week-long series was a treat.

Olympic gold medallist Chris Boardman was a guest, but it was Brian, a 22-week-old orphan monkey, who emerged as the star turn. Regulation, as I mentioned, was the subject of the interactive discourse from Professor Nancy Rothwell, who herself could have been concocted in a laboratory from the voice of Emma Nicholson, the face of Helen Mirren and some collagen lip-implants. "Within Brian's body there's also a remarkable network of sensors," Rothwell continued, as Brian settled on her arm. "...telling him when he should eat, when he should breathe and when he should sleep." This analysis was incomplete in one important respect, as Brian then demonstrated by peeing on her blouse. To demonstrate the thankless task of educators around the country, the monkey got a round of applause.

On Rothwell gamely ploughed, with a demonstration of the steam engine, assisted by a rather elderly, fragile-looking man. After her brush with the incontinent monkey, I feared the worst. The excitement of television, the studio lights... any bladder-related incidents here would be rather harder to brush aside, but highly amusing for the young audience. Thankfully, Ron kept his nerve, but when Buddy the dog bounded on stage, a buzz ran around an audience, whose appetite for catastrophe had been well and truly whetted. Rothwell was ready for them and the tables were turned when she revealed that Buddy was there to sniff out some explosives which had been hidden under a seat in the auditorium. On hearing this, a near- riot broke out, with the Prof having to appeal for calm as the young crowd looked in danger of stampeding for the exits. Tremendous fun.

You Make Me Feel Like Dancing (BBC2) was a pleasure, a non-dancer's survival guide to the rhythmic demands of a wedding reception. The search for an unintimidating presenter, someone unnaturally ungifted in the sphere, ended with Alexei Sayle, a man so impressively flat-footed that he seems unaware that the sole consists of both a ball and a heel. At times he was as leaden-footed as a deep-sea diver, at others he resembled a baby giraffe in leg-splints, and this, of course was the point. Sayle demonstrated the mechanics of such dances as the waltz, the jive and salsa. To a non-dancer it was reassuring; under the flurry of skirt, the jive is merely step-touch, step-touch, back, step-step; a working waltz can be achieved by pretending to step around the four corners of a flagstone.