TELEVISION / Rights and wrongs

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The Independent Culture
ALTERNATELY lucid and distraught for no discernible reason, the woman weeping in the back of the car seemed to be perceiving things which weren't there, as she cruised through a desolate urban landscape.

Another documentary about care in the community? No, this was Madame Nina Simone - The Legend (BBC 2, Saturday), and to be kind, she may have been visualising her childhood neighbourhood from the vantage point of age. The truth is, however, that it would be hard to tell one way or another, since this once majestic figurehead of the Civil Rights Movement has, by her own admission, suffered from delusions and hallucinations that have clearly taken their toll in the intervening years.

The most operatic of soul divas, Simone became almost the female equivalent of Sidney Poitier, a performer in whose noble, disapproving visage cohered the ethical judgement of an entire race. At shows, her stern gaze carried more of a moral face-down than an entertainer's unctuous desire to please - which was fine when civil rights activism replaced music per se as her main life interest, but which denuded her audience somewhat when Vietnam replaced civil rights as the cause celebre du jour. For fans, being chastised no longer seemed an enjoyable way to spend an evening out, when what you wanted was something more like music.

Simone's unforgiving attitude extended to her own family, too: she wept as she recalled how she had once caught her father lying and never spoke to him thereafter, to the extent of not even attending his funeral. Frank Lords' moving film left the viewer with a very specific impression of the link between genius and madness: this was an artist whose slide into mental illness seemed somehow self-inflicted, her own moral and aesthetic standards being so high that she developed an almost pathological aversity to anything even slightly lower.

The same, thankfully, could not be said of Robbie Brookside, the professional wrestler whose Video Diary, 'Blood, Sweat And Cheers' (BBC 2, Saturday), was one of the most entertaining in the series. Robbie, one half of the Liverpool Lads tag team, also suffered from delusions, not the least being his assumption that we couldn't tell that his drop- kicks were not even touching the chins of his opponents as they vaulted out of the ring.

In fairness, his diary did open with a dash of spilt blood, as a mistake during a complicated manoeuvre left Robbie unconscious and his partner in need of stitches. Back in the dressing- room, they were whingeing to camera when an enormous (and clearly more tele-conscious) American wrestler muscled in on their defeat, telling them in no uncertain terms that they deserved to lose their championship belts because, in a nutshell, they were pussies.

A brief but heated exchange of views ended with the Lads agreeing, somewhat disconsolately, not to talk about the matter, which must be a bit of a drawback when you're trying to do a Video Diary.

Buzzing round the country in a small car stuffed with satin and silver lame, the wrestling troupe was like the Bleasdale Boys On Tour, a bottomless fund of working-class jocularity in the face of hardship. 'There are times when you just don't know what more you can do to keep an audience happy,' mused the slightly-built Robbie later, as he fought for an inch or two of ring-space between such behemoths as Skull Murphy and Giant Haystacks, in front of a handful of pensioners.

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