Television Reviews: Hooked and Horizon

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The Independent Culture
I GAVE UP eating sweets in 1976 (ugly threats from a sadistic dentist), so Hooked (C4), focusing on the addictive qualities of chocolate, was a bit outside my experience. Beautiful elderly ladies confessed to a lifelong habit while the kindly tones of the ubiquitous Zoe Wannamaker gave us the history of British chocolate. This involved a lot of monochrome Playschool-style footage of enrobing machines churning out chocolate bars and shots of old Cadbury's wrappers. The cheap commodities of the Empire provided puddings for all: sago, tapioca and chocolate, which, until then, had been an exotic luxury. Manufacturers evolved an ingeniously complex message that sold it as a guilty but wholesome pleasure. Women, easy prey to a strategy that played on chocolate's dual role as a reward and a compensation, were particularly susceptible. Men soon got wise to this and the box of chocs became a commonplace payment for little sexual favours ("the boxes that single ladies get and that married ones dream of!").

The British taste for sweet, fatty chocolate plays havoc with the blood sugar and it is this glucose rush that cons the body into "addiction". One interviewee remembered regularly locking herself in the loo with four bars of chocolate and then flushing the evidence away. A guilty secret, certainly, but does a harmless bit of confectionery really belong in the same league as booze and fags and hard drugs?

Kevin has a habit. "It's like a drug. The more you do, the more you want to do." He's talking Strictly Hairdressing (C5). Kevin is really Kevin Wilcox International (of Doncaster) and he and Susan Vargas International (of Hull) are among the competitors in the British National Hairdressing Championship at the Blackpool Winter Gardens.

There were three categories: Technical skill against the clock; Senior ladies' hair by night and, er, they forgot to tell us what the third one was exactly - Most creative use of Bostick, perhaps. Contrary to what the above mugshot might suggest (Photo-Me booths aren't what they were), I'm not a big hairspray user. So this bottle-blonde lacquer-fest was rather fascinating. But, like a lot of Channel 5's output, this was a good idea that went on far too long. There was too much preparatory back-combing and not nearly enough coverage of the main event where ambitious crimpers vied to make pretty girls look "For Rent". It was all a lot like Crufts, but the smell is presumably a bit different. Susan (who must have shares in an eyeliner factory) uses hairspray with a particularly lavish hand and her Edward Scissorhands interpretation of "Ladies' total evening" was more "Full Metal Jacket".

The lacquer-laden air in the Winter Gardens would have stopped a mosquito in its tracks, but it's one of the few things that would. In an identikit study of this resilient insect, Horizon (BBC2) charted the history of man's fight against malaria. The most significant blow came when the World Health Organisation began spraying DDT with abandon. Unfortunately, mosquitoes and the malaria parasite adapted to survive and are now even out-manoeuvring quinine (the traditional prophylactic and remedy) so that two million people are dying each year. Thankfully, a new cure has emerged based on an ancient Chinese medicine and the WHO hopes to halve the number of deaths within a decade - unless the mosquito has other ideas.

Rude Britannia (C4) was a short film by Russell England about bad manners. Or, more specifically, about videoing a handful of extremists who object to rudeness in others. It had strong echoes of Andy Hamilton's Pointless Fights in Corridors, a spoof docu-soap suggested in his excellent Royal Television Society Huw Weldon lecture on Monday. In Rude Britannia, a Plymouth man, disgusted at having his street used as a late-night latrine, keeps a power-hose on his roof garden. We also get to meet a couple who spend a depressing amount of time confronting people who pinch disabled parking spaces. The encounters leave them both quivering with distress, but they carry on doing it. They'd better steer clear of Accrington, where an obnoxious young man prides himself on pushing in and picking fights and who considers good manners a mere obstacle in the rat race - "I've no time for old people at all". He's got a steady job in customer relations.

Thomas Sutcliffe is away