TELEVISION / The height of good manners

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The Independent Culture
IT LOOKED as though Compo, the gurning clown from Last of the Summer Wine, had taken up rock- climbing. Dressed in a pair of old- fashioned hob-nail boots and a tattered tweed jacket, cinched at the waist with a length of rope, a figure was hauling himself up a stretch of icy granite. He was in fact a top alpine guide, kitted out in fancy dress to add authenticity to the reconstruction of a celebrated Victorian climb. A little behind him, breathing rather more heavily, came Chris Bonington in knickerbockers, knee-socks and a tramp's hat.

The first episode of Climbers (BBC 2), a series about the development of modern mountaineering, dedicated itself to one man, Alfred Mummery, and one climb, his ascent of the Grepon, a jagged ridge above Chamonix which culminates in a dizzying tusk of rock. Mummery was blackballed by the Alpine Club for that most grievous lapse of Victorian manners - taking it all too seriously. His belief, that you should climb for the sake of climbing and ascend by the tougher routes, was treated rather sniffily by gentlemen scientists and, indeed, by gentleman aesthetes; Ruskin didn't think much of the peaks he scaled, describing them as 'greased poles suitable only for gymnasts'.

For those who like to make base-camp on a well-upholstered sofa - and then stay there - some of the early rapture about Mummery's contribution to the modern sport had a slightly theological air. But once the actors set off you began to understand the reverence. They didn't look properly equipped to tackle Primrose Hill but were soon dangling above the void, numbed fingers scraping against the rock. Their notion of what constitutes safety obviously differs from the rest of us; wedged precariously into a crack a surveyor wouldn't even notice Bonington bent over to take off his boots and put on tennis shoes for the final ascent (as Mummery had done), apparently perturbed only by the prospect that his footwear might take a short route to the glacier below. The terror of the final ascent was slightly vitiated by the presence of a large statue of the Virgin Mary standing on the summit, an addition which testified to the current popularity of the climb. Then the costumes reminded you that Mummery and his guides had done it first, fully conscious of the fact that what goes up doesn't always come down. You couldn't have turned over - partly because you were clutching your chair in empathetic terror - but also because the camera work was so giddily compelling. Odd, though, that television should be so infatuated with a subject that probably induces mounting nausea in most of its viewers.

Which neatly brings us to Ps and Qs (BBC 2), a new quiz show which takes etiquette as its subject matter. The opening titles, which contain a brief glimpse of a young flapper on a mobile phone, suggest that modern manners will be under scrutiny, as does Tony Slattery's spirited introduction which promises that you will be told 'what to do if you find a member of the Royal Family face- down in a Jacuzzi of warm gin'. But as the thing unfolds it just turns out to be old chestnuts about how to introduce the Duke of Buccleuch and what you do with your grape pips.

Any sort of urgency drained from these questions at around the time of the retreat from Dunkirk, which leaves a quiz show with some problems. You might argue that very few viewers cared about 'LNER Rolling Stock, 1912-1939' or 'Baltic Trade in the 18th Century' and that didn't prevent Mastermind from lodging itself in the nation's heart. But with Mastermind at least those answering the questions cared. Here the competitors range in their response from open indifference (Jonathan Meades) to gloom-inducing silliness (Victoria Mather).

Slattery and Meades made some valiant attempts to drag the thing into the gutter but unfortunately the prevailing tone was one of constrained jollity. They should be tackling really knotty problems - like what to say if your host suggests you all watch Ps and Qs together.

(Photograph omitted)