TELEVISION / Tamed horses: Paul Hayward, Racing Correspondent, on the return of the series Trainer

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
How thoughtful that the second series of Trainer (BBC 1) should open with a perfect metaphor for the first: a riderless horse galloping aimlessly through a chocolate box setting. As a flashback, a memory-shaker, it worked perfectly.

This is a new recession-sensitive attempt to dramatise the 'highly charged world of horse racing' (it says here) in which everybody is going skint, or warning their bank manager not to get too close to the horses ('they bite too, you know,' says Mike Hardy, the trainer, as he begs for a loan).

The one redeeming strength of Trainer has been to suggest that everybody in racing is up to something. They are, but not the things Trainer implies. Compared to the reality of routine cheating, truth-bending and stroke-pulling in British racing, Trainer snuffles timidly through the undergrowth and emerges only with the Howard's Way formula of fraud and (muted) sex. Here is the perverse spectacle of drama much less venal than its subject.

So much for the 'spicy new storylines which bring sex and suicide to Arkenfield (Hardy's training centre)'. The only flashes to trouble puritans are shots of Hardy (Mark Greenstreet, an angelic figure in the white trilby) with his shirt off and Hugo Latimer (Patrick Ryecart, Hardy's rival and proud wearer of the black titfer) lowering himself on to his racehorse-owning mistress. 'If you're still interested, Summer Nights could fetch a fair price at stud', Latimer counsels from above. 'He's not the only one,' drawls the conquered client. Saucy.

Into dreamy shots of an Oxbridge college walks John Grey (David McCallum), who is not the average professional punter. 'The number of times I passed this way as a student . . .' he opines to Rachel Ware (Susannah York), thus ensuring his place in any remake of Brideshead. 'There were other interests, of course: history, art, philosophy. But nothing quite touched me like the beauty of a thoroughbred in full flight.' Good job he didn't say that in the betting ring at Sandown or Kempton.

Grey tells us that if the gambler's life hadn't claimed him he would have finished up in the diplomatic corps, and he behaves as if he was. The most patronising element in this depiction of racing is the assumption that only if you employ a 1950s tone will the punters be able to follow the plot. Thus the horses are called Dangerous Lady, Ocean Winds, Raw Silk and the owners are all colonels, landed businessmen and even university professors. No sign of the oil sheikhs without whom the sport in this country would crash to the turf.

The purpose of Grey's Oxbridge visit, we learn, is to persuade his old professor (tweed jacket, leather elbow patches) to take an interest in a new breeding scheme being set up by Ware. To attract the don's attention, Grey revives their ritual of setting fire to the other man's Racing Post while he is reading it, a jape that produces this line from the Professor Campbell: 'I knew at once this young man had a real spark.' It is among such dialogue that McCallum and the excellent David McAleer, who plays head lad, Joe, are stranded. And so we amble painfully to the release of Cliff Richard singing 'More to Life' over the closing credits, passing as we go the wretched Grey sprinkling his mother's ashes across the final furlong at Newbury. Ah, a metaphor for the second series, too.

Comments