Television Reviews: Panorama and Why Men Don't Iron

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The Independent Culture
IS SHE INNOCENT? It's hard to imagine that any viewer of Martin Bashir's interview with Louise Woodward didn't ask the question, and more than once at that. And, in one respect, the answer was unequivocally "no". Two years of press attention and criminal procedure, two years of being both wronged heroine and unfeeling villain, would be a powerful education in public performance for anyone, and, as Monday night's Panorama (BBC1) showed, Woodward has graduated with honours.

Whatever innocence she had as an 18-year-old has long gone. The young woman you saw here was self-possessed and articulate, in control of her own emotions - there were none of the nervous smiles and girlish laughter that marked her interview with David Jessel some months ago. This may have been partly because the stakes were upped on this occasion - Jessel's manner was openly sympathetic, whereas Bashir took a more dispassionately interrogative line - but it was also to do with the fact that she's learned more about how to handle the ordeal of examination.

This sophistication is not always in her interest - the public who responded sentimentally to the tabloid pictures of a hounded child in handcuffs may have recoiled a little at the spectacle of an adult at ease with the language of technical defence. "I felt that if I presented a case to at least pose reasonable doubt... that I'd be believed," she said, a remark which will have sounded too tactical for those who want an anguished cry of denial. She knows this can be a liability - her demeanour in the witness box did not satisfy the American taste for emotional display - but she still declines to water her arguments with tears. The factious comparison of this interview with Bashir's encounter with Diana (there are only so many ways you can shoot a two-person conversation) fell down further here - this might have been a knowing performance, but it was nowhere near as thespian as its famous predecessor.

That consistency of manner argues in favour of her honesty, I think, as does the ambiguity of her remarks to the policemen who first questioned her, remarks which the prosecution turned in the light until they looked like a flustered confession. It seems to me that a guilty person would either have exonerated herself with a categorical denial or with a plausible accident, but not this confused assembly of perhapses and maybes. There were internal inconsistencies to her account, even in this short conversation. "Furious" rows in the kitchen over her late nights does not sound like "the normal friction there is when someone comes into your home" and her insistence that she only talked on the phone when the children were napping was contradicted by her own account of the last day (not to mention common sense about the habits of 18-year-old girls). But these were the prevarications of an adolescent in trouble, not a killer. The interview finished with a perfect soundbite - "I don't know what happened, all I know is what didn't happen" - a line whose conclusive attractions had been recognised by whoever edited the raw tape - but which had been supplied by an interviewee now familiar with the appetites of interviewers. It won't prove conclusive in any other way, naturally, but I ended up believing her.

Why Men Don't Iron (Channel 4) promised an answer it did not deliver - indeed, it rendered that vexed gender distinction even more mysterious since this intriguing account of sexual differences in brain structure made a solid case that men are innately better at spatial problems while women are far better at languages. I hadn't thought of ironing as being principally a verbal task, but perhaps men are just good at being in another space altogether when the ironing has to be done. The investigation of biological differences between the sexes is always fraught with political anxieties and Anne Moir's series actually opened with an apologia for study in this field. "To do an experiment where you find a difference is not to create the difference," pointed out one researcher. Indeed, as demonstrated by the school in which boys are taught in ways that take into account their low concentration span and linguistic gormlessness, knowledge of difference can be used to diminish its social consequences rather than endorse them. If you use a brain in your daily life, you should find this fascinating.