TELEVISION / Where there's muck, there's maggots

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The Independent Culture
'THE Maggot Mogul' (BBC 1), a QED film that managed to be repulsive and charming at the same time, faced a tricky technical problem. It was, essentially, a documentary about a smell but, short of giving out scratch 'n' sniff cards or arranging a major mail shot of dead rats, there wasn't much its makers could do to transmit the throat-clenching odour of maggots gorging on putrefying meat.

In the end, they solved it imaginatively. After thoroughly testing your gag reflex with close-ups of maggot pits, simmering like some unimaginable soup; after shots of men shovelling the squirming grain into boxes and women up to their ungloved elbows in the creatures; after a microscopic inspection of their slimy exudations, Michael Elphick quietly informed you that the stench is far worse than the sight. All over Britain, viewers raced for the lavatory.

It's hardly surprising that Bruce Silcock, the man responsible for this miasma, is in bad odour with his neighbours. For them he is not so much a maggot mogul as a shell-suited Lord of the Flies, an impression reinforced by the sight of him in the breeding room, running egg clumps through his fingers and expatiating on the bluebottle's productive merits.

'This sheet alone will produce 80, 90 gallons of maggots which will then consume a ton and a half of meat,' he said contentedly, as a few hundred of his workers took a toilet break on his head.

Contrary to appearances, though, there are no flies on Bruce, who, having made a pretty penny out of supplying British anglers with bait, has now come up with a scheme to make a profit out of his principle waste product, rag-meat. Rag-meat (you had better brace yourself for this) is the stuff even maggots won't eat. Bruce has skipfuls of it and thinks it will make excellent fertiliser; he has already tested an early batch by writing his name on the lawn with it. Andrew Palmer's film followed his attempt to get planning permission to build the world's biggest maggot factory.

Bruce is helped by the fact that he isn't the slightest bit abashed by his trade: indeed he sees himself as something of an environmentalist, recycling the diseased carcasses produced by factory farming (bad sight No 32 was a delivery of this not-quite-raw material). He has a giant plastic fly attached to the handset of his telephone and seems genuinely puzzled by the prejudice he encounters - 'I would think that 99 per cent of everyone in Great Britain has never visited a maggot farm,' he said in tones of wounded incredulity. 'They only imagine what it's like.' He finally obtained his planning permission, at which point he had his friends round to celebrate with champagne and a maggot-shaped cake.

The first part of 'The Hamar Trilogy' (BBC 2) introduced you to a society utterly different in its concerns to our own, sublimely untouched by the petty anxieties of modern urban life. At least I thought it did, until you got to this subtitled exchange between a Hamar widow and the man she lived with:

'The children are as scruffy as you.'

'Nag, nag, nag. And the kraal?'

'I didn't sweep it.'

'You just lie around farting.'

'I lie around? With all these kids?'

'Nothing ever gets done. I do everything.'

Along with a later exchange about stroppy teenagers just wanting to go off to parties, this reminded you of the unspoken part of this series' title, Under the Sun. It's not quite true, of course - there is something new under the sun, even if it's only the revelation that domestic rows are the same, whether you're bickering about who's going to Sainsbury's or who's going to water the oxen.