Television: small screen

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Puce and Pusillanimity

Andrew Davies, the television adaptor, is a phenomenon, a one-man industry turning out new products faster than Richard Branson. No sooner has his Pride and Prejudice (starring Jennifer Ehle, below) hit the screens and been praised to the skies by critics, than the BBC is announcing the latest hand-tooled item to drop off the Davies production line. Following on from his wildly successful version of her Middlemarch last year, he is now converting George Eliot's Daniel Deronda into a feature for BBC Films. Production doesn't start till next year (and his interpretations of Moll Flanders and The Mill on the Floss are still in production), but Davies addicts can get their fix in the meantime from a more contemporary adaptation. Later in the autumn, the BBC is broadcasting his reading of Michael Dobbs's novel, The Final Cut, the last visit to the dispatch-box of the scheming politician Francis Urquhart - one of the great modern television creations. "Urquhart's fascination for me," Davies asserts, "lies in letting him seduce the audience, lead them much further down the path than they wanted to go, and then turn around and say, 'I thought we'd agreed on this'. It very much comes from my memories of Olivier's Richard III. You realise too late that he's an absolute bastard."

Post and Postmodernity

Ah, the real world's a vile place, isn't it, viewers? Full of smog and guns and bombs, and cheeky kids with bizarre hair-dos who'd kill you as soon as walk a helpless pensioner across the M25. Who can blame us, therefore, for turning, by way of balm and benison, to the chintzy fantasy world that is the home of Postman Pat (above, with his black-and-white cat)? From this week, you can effect just such a sublime retreat from those quotidian woes at your leisure, because the Prosperian dream-mongers at Auntie Beeb have seen fit to release Postman Pat's Bumper Collection (pounds 9.99 from Monday). This is along with a gorgeous slew of other good stuff, like all four series of Blackadder (4 tapes, pounds 13.99 each) and the last series of Absolutely Fabulous (2 tapes, pounds 12.99 each). The Pat vid, meanwhile, contains no less than five stories, including the unusually exciting "Postman Pat and the Toy Soldiers", wherein, after a break-in at Garner Hall, Pat delivers the wrong parcel (!) to Major Forbes, and thereby catches the thieves. Is Pat's near-pathological obsession with delivering the right post to the right person just another tired expression of the perilous Saussurean gap between signifier (letter or parcel) and signified (its intended recipient)? Or is heroic Pat, rather than being just another village postie modelled out of clay, the cosmic guardian of universal meaning? In short, is Postman Pat actually... God?

Prose and Prosperity

Apart from smuggling in this extraordinary sort of revisionist theology under the guise of an innocent children's programme, the BBC is keeping bang up to date in other ways too. You can now get spoken-word releases on sparkly new CDs as well as on tape, though why anyone would want to pay more for a medium that's less portable, and whose increased sound quality is somewhat irrelevant, is another matter. From Monday, you can get a 14-CD limited edition boxed set (oh all right, it's extremely desirable, and hobbits are lovely) of Lord of the Rings, immortalising the 1981 radio production which starred such luminaries as Ian Holm and Sir Michael Hordern. To you: pounds 79.95. Also out on Monday, a double CD of the Alan Bennett Diaries 1980-1990 (pounds 11.99), read by the winsome bloke himself; a boxed set of Burton at the BBC (pounds 19.99), including, of course, Under Milkwood and In Parenthesis; and a double cassette (pounds 7.99) entitled John Betjeman - Letters, Volume 1: 1926-1951. Almost enough for small screen to advise you to blow up your television, lower those perfectly-formed eyelids, and use your imagination. But that would be invidious. Not to say silly.

Compiled by Steven Poole and James Rampton