Television: What the general didn't see

BRIAN VINER ON TELEVISION
Click to follow
The Independent Culture
The "panoply of majesty" which David Dimbleby kept talking about during The State Opening of Parliament (BBC1) was rather sullied by the Millennium Wheel - apparently also known as the London Eye - looming in the background. "The London Eye again, there," said Dimbleby, sniffily, before getting back to more important stuff. The Queen's crown, he told us, contains 11 emeralds, 277 pearls and more than 3,000 diamonds, not to mention a sapphire from Edward the Confessor's ring. Cue a close-up of the crown, which, as well as the abundant jewels, boasts lots of luscious purple velvet. In fact I'm surprised Silk Cut hasn't asked to sponsor it. The Earl of Wessex, never slow to cash in on the panoply of majesty, could broker the deal - "Ma, they're offering three mill over five years, which is better than the Crown Paints offer. Frankly, Sophie and I think you'd be potty to turn them down."

The crown, as yet unsponsored, travelled from Buckingham Palace to the Houses of Parliament on its own, in a handsome golden carriage. On arrival it was handed to the Keeper of the Plump Velvety Cushion who handed it to the Keeper of the Slightly Plumper Velvety Cushion. "The crown has now been put on a new cushion and is escorted up the sovereign's staircase," said Dimbleby, respectfully. If there were any Australian Republicans watching, this was definitely the moment for a yowl of frustration. The Queen then set off from the Palace in another handsome carriage, and Dimbleby reported on her progress - "She has just reached Horseguards ... turning into Parliament Square, there" - like Peter O'Sullevan on Valium. Meanwhile, the camera flitted round the chamber of the House of Lords, briefly settling on their lordships Bragg and Puttnam. Dimbleby referred to Lord Bragg, through what sounded like clenched teeth, as a showbiz peer. "And, uh, um, a novelist," he quickly added; but it was too late, his cards were on the table. A peerage for Melvyn and not so much as a piddly knighthood himself.

On The South Bank Show (ITV) Melvyn interviewed Joan Collins, whose hairdo looked as if it had been gently winched into position, like the London Eye. Indeed, given that Melv is himself in possession of a fairly remarkable barnet, here was another sponsorship opportunity missed, this time by Vidal Sassoon. Because if not his lacqueur, then someone else's, did a heck of a job to ensure that Joan's hair did not begin to topple even slightly. Anyway, with the big hair firmly in place, Collins only needs a few more husbands to become Elizabeth Taylor. It wasn't mentioned, but I suspect she has always been a Liz Taylor wannabe, and she is getting close now that Liz has stopped acting. Because Joan never got started with acting. Not really. Her friends tried admirably to pay tribute to her dramatic skills, but all they could come up with were lots of euphemisms for ham. "She blossoms when she is given lots of direction," said Nigel Hawthorne, sweetly.

Still, in every respect except the ability to act, Collins is one hell of an actress. As Alexis Carrington in Dynasty she made more than a name for herself, she made an aura. And on The South Bank Show she played up to that aura marvellously. Showing the cameras round the California house where she lived with Anthony Newley and their two children, she swept into a room and declared, "This is where we told Sasha and Tara we were getting a divorce, right in that corner there." Memories, memories.

Unfortunately, the programme never really got under the skin of Joan Collins, which is perhaps understandable, given the range of cosmetics it had to hack through before it could even get started. But I was hoping for some exploration of the relationship with her sister Jackie, the celebrated novelist. I have heard that they cordially loathe each other, and Jackie's contributions certainly seemed laced with something other than sisterly devotion. Joan made a considerable impact on mid-1950s Hollywood, she suggested, because "how can I put this politely ... I think she did her own thing, sexually."

The script for Savage Seas (ITV) could have been written by Jackie Collins. "Its raw energy is remorseless ... a lethal progression of chaotic power," said narrator Ian Holm. He meant the Pacific Ocean during a storm, but might equally have been talking about a lantern-jawed bounder astride a pretty ingenue. His words certainly seemed more climactic than climatic. "This wild cauldron," he added, "predictable in its seething rhythm." If not Jackie Collins then who on earth writes this stuff? Mind you, I use the word "earth" loosely, because as Holm informed us, two-thirds of the planet is water, just as two-thirds of television is bilge.

And a third is not. The first part of Warriors (BBC1) was sensational - intelligently written (by Leigh Jackson), powerfully directed (by Peter Kosminsky), and exceptionally well-acted, especially by Matthew Macfadyen, a revelation as a Liverpool soldier sent with his battalion to join the UN peacekeeping force in Bosnia in 1992.

I don't mind admitting that I settled down in front of Warriors with mild dread. It was billed as hard-hitting drama, and I was in no mood for a clobbering. But it was sensitively done and, to Jackson and Kosminsky's credit, never got bogged down in didacticism. A less confident team would have felt the need to have soldier A explain to soldier B who in Bosnia hated whom and why. Similarly, when tank-driver Private Skeet (Darren Morfitt) was shot, it was all over in a humdrum instant. Which is apparently how it happens; not that you'd know from watching the telly, where soldiers tend to die in slow-mo, usually with a pair of cellists installed behind a nearby pile of rubble.

Warriors concludes this evening and has been deemed unmissable in our house. But I think we will survive the next five weeks without revisiting Lagos Airport (C4). This is a docusoap about Nigeria's chaotic international airport, but I think it has missed the boat. The docusoap craze is over, bar a few stragglers, and I for one have no intention of investing time and emotion in a whole new set of characters. More to the point, Lagos Airport seems little more than an exercise in racial condescension - "Fixing things quickly in Lagos isn't easy even if you can find a phone that works". Which may be true, but endless variations on one theme become tedious. Using a Nigerian narrator, Donu Kogbara, is no excuse.

That said, I was told the following joke by a Dubliner, which is my excuse. Michael Monaghan went on Mastermind and chose the Wild West as his specialist subject. He was informed that the Wild West had already been chosen, so opted for Greek mythology instead. "Michael Monaghan," said Magnus Magnusson, "you have two minutes on Greek mythology starting now ... which creature was half-man, half-beast?" Michael racked his brains. "Was it Buffalo Bill?" he said. Buffalo Bill, according to an excellent Timewatch: Tales of the Eiffel Tower (BBC2), was one of the celebrities, along with Sarah Bernhardt and Thomas Edison, to be lavishly entertained up the tower by the man who funded it, Gustave Eiffel. Built in 1889 for the World's Fair, the Eiffel Tower was instantly adored by the public yet loathed by intellectuals and aesthetes. It is said that Maupassant used to have lunch there every day because it was the only place in Paris he couldn't see it from. It was, moreover, only supposed to stand for 20 years. Don't tell David Dimbleby, but I bet the London Eye will still be there when the panoply of majesty is just a distant memory.

Comments