TELEVISION / With more bark than bite

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The Independent Culture
WOODEN delivery, rooted to the spot, essentially hollow - no, no, not Clive Anderson but the stars of Spirit Of The Trees, which now occupies Channel Four's green fingers slot. The Irish environmentalist Dick Warner, we are promised, will spend the next eight weeks exploring the world of our native trees. He seems to be taking his brief rather literally - the camera first found him halfway up an ancient oak tree, crouching like an elf in the bole. With the prospect of 30 minutes of sylvan psychobabble in front of you the cynical mind started to think lovingly of the noisy blat of chainsaws.

But the programme, and its presenter, worked its charm. It was partly the fact that trees crowded out to the edges of the screen and filled the soundtrack, a swishing susurration that bathed the mind like white noise. But there was also something relaxing about the sense here of ideas in freefall. One expert, indignantly rebutting the received opinion that hollow trees are unhealthy, protested that no one 'ever asked the trees'. 'The tree's strategy,' he continued, 'is to get hollow as soon as possible', which made you think of sessile oaks tapping their twigs impatiently as they waited for a passing fungus to get on with the job or weeping willows becoming hysterical about how time is passing them by.

A monk-forester described himself as 'a force of nature' as he swiped away with a billhook at the beech saplings which were threatening his young oaks. He was planting on a 500 year 'rotational cycle' and had found the experience of nurturing trees which would outlast him religiously consoling rather than gloomy. For some reason all this was extremely soothing after a week of waiting for the bus and swearing about the gas bill.

More so, certainly, than Splendid Hearts (BBC 2) which attempted to give some sense of the life behind three of the names recorded in the Runnymede Air Forces Memorial. Altogether 2,455 war dead are commemorated there and the programme reminded you that these cold inscriptions - surname first and initials rather than full names - represented people who still live in the memories of their families. What was touching was not so much the fact of early death but the truth that all three had some endurance in the love of those who missed them. Less moving were the moments when the demands of the camera appeared to have taken precedence over spontaneity. You could practically hear the director's instructions as the brother of Noor Inayat Khan made his first visit to the memorial - 'Could you possibly just run your finger slowly underneath her name so we can get a poignant close-up?'.

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