TELEVISION / Sweetened porridge

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The Independent Culture
40 MINUTES (BBC 2) went to Grendon prison, where they operate 'a psycho-therapeutic regime'. Here, the prisoners get into one-to- one and group situations with therapists and expose events in their pasts which may, or may not, have informed their criminal acts. It's not exactly an open prison - more an 'open up' prison. One of the psychologists mentioned 'the requirement that inmates be honest'. Let's face it, this is a bold thing to require in a prison. As Fletcher once said in Porridge, 'You can't trust anyone round 'ere - bunch o' criminals.'

Could we trust Al, jailed for rape and drug-dealing? Was the Grendon course really sorting him out, or was he pretending because the cells were nicer? Actually, the atmosphere in general seemed more high-octane than one expects from Her Majesty's more conventional premises. If the cameras were to be trusted (and there was no reason to take that on faith, any more than the encounter-group confessions of a convicted rapist), intense conversations about self-image continued between prisoners over games of pool in the recreation room.

'He felt the need to play the tough guy,' one specialist informed us. But Al had already confessed to assaulting people with sharp instruments, so this was a conclusion which those of us without psychiatric diplomas were already heading towards. In the end, Al was transferred to a normal prison because it was felt analysis could serve no further purpose. Still, group therapy is presumably preferable to the newly- devised Group 4 therapy, wherein you try to put your finger on exactly where things went wrong, but somehow it all escapes you.

In the amiable, old-fashioned Maiden Voyages series (C 4), Noreen Hurlin, an HGV driving instructor from Halifax, took a lorry the size of a low-rise industrial complex on a journey around California. After Coltrane in a Cadillac, Noreen in a juggernaut. This was another of those 'hit the open road' programmes. Except that, what with all those 'hit the open road' programmes, the road is less open than it used to be. You partly expected to see Noreen ease onto the freeway leaving Los Angeles and run straight into a 15-mile tailback of other television crews, making still more programmes about driving on Route 66, or heading from California to Florida, or negotiating the country between LA and New York.

If this trend continues and the gridlock spreads backwards, watch out for a rash of 10-minute shorts about trying to get a vehicle out of the hire lot.