TELEVISION / The art of taking the punters for a ride

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Ellington (ITV) ends with a toast - 'Here's to us. Who's like us? Damn few.'

There's quite a smattering of Yiddish in the otherwise cut-from-the-roll script so perhaps we should describe this as chutzpah. Other phrases occur, though - 'pushing your luck', perhaps, or 'shameless'. Of course, a bit of cheek may be fitting in a drama about a tough sports promoter with a heart of gold. Audacity is his stock-in-trade - the ability to front it out with rivals and low-life reporters, even though he knows that his client account has just been Hoovered spotless by a dodgy accountant. But there is a danger in borrowing your character's manners like this - audiences don't generally like to be treated like mugs, for instance.

And when you get Ellington out into the light it is quickly clear that it isn't the genuine article. There's no particular reason why it should feel dated - greed and finagling are always with us - but it does all the same.

'I wanna know the colour of his underwear. Do it]' barks the love interest, all coffee-advert glances and power-dressing. 'I want him hung out to dry]' bellows someone else. You get the feeling that the exclamation mark key on Don Webb's typewriter is slightly more polished and concave than the others.

Chris Ellison (formerly of The Bill) is good at being pike-lipped and wily, but he has some difficulty in persuading you that he is one of nature's gentlemen - a pike who escorts the little chicks across the pond rather than biting their legs off. I'm sure there are sports promoters who are diamond geezers in their own rough way, but one wonders how long they would be in business if they were quite as selfless as Ellington. He's little more than exasperated with the accountant who robs him blind, and the driver who makes off with the petty cash (he's having a bad week). The defection of a promising boxer (to whom he has been like a farver) is the occasion for sorrow rather than anger, for a little lecture on the morality of profit. 'I just do the marketing,' says one-tough- lady. 'There were people at Auschwitz who just did the laundry,' replies Ellington, neatly combining character implausibility and scriptwriter's impudence in a single line. The plot is a desultory affair, too. In fact the only good thing in the drama is Ellington's stroppy but loyal secretary, but I think she'd be wise to start looking for another job.

In Video Diaries (BBC 2) Benedict Allen went up the jungle, on an expedition to discover a remote lake and its legendary inhabitant, a giant snake. He doesn't like the Indiana Jones label which has been attached to him by his marketing men, but he is undeniably game - in England he showed you his torso, covered with scarification marks, the souvenir of a previous excursion. Halfway through this trip he prepared himself for a hunting trip with his hosts by putting on make-up and ingesting a toxin scraped off an unfortunate frog. 'It's supposed to make you fit, alert, ready for anything,' he said. The next scene showed him vomiting with impressive vigour - if his aim had been better he could probably have brought a monkey down from a tree.

Video can sometimes seem redundant these days, a device for laying a glaze of immediacy over footage which could just as well be captured by a full camera crew. But here it proved its utility. It wasn't that the camera got to places it wouldn't otherwise have reached (though a full crew would have had more difficulty avoiding the government drug patrols) but, most importantly, it preserved Allen's solitude.

The scenes in which he pressed on alone to the lake, his Indian guides having refused to accompany him, were genuinely spooky. As he sat by the lake, jumping at every sound, he was badly frightened by the sudden appearance of a wildcat, staring at him from the jungle. Even sitting on your sofa you had a prickle of superstition, reminded that the word panic has its origins in the god Pan. As Allen's breath rasped on the soundtrack you felt his terror at being alone with nature rising up like milk on the boil.

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