TELEVISION / Witness at the killing field

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The Independent Culture
NEVER seen a massacre before. There they were one minute streaming out of the horizon, 60,000 marchers: a Lowry doodle of felt hats and vivid frocks. Then they were spilling onto the grass like jubilant fans, running to breach the border. That's when the shooting started. Nothing like guns in the movies. The sound is of polite clapping in the distance. A sound out of Ascot, not Arnhem. So when the bodies start crumpling you can't quite believe that the poppies of blood blooming through clothes have anything to do with that gentle kkkkrrrr. They are stampeding now, lost in the dust they have kicked up, trying to run bent-triple. 'Ninety seconds of sheer horror,' says Jeremy Thompson. Oh, do shut up. We can see it. We can see.

Thompson, News at Ten's man in South Africa, felt obliged to speak when catastrophe should have got his tongue, but he made up for it. Reporter and cameraman continued working at Monday's massacre (29 dead, 200 injured) long after feebler souls would have scarpered. In one remarkable scene, the camera was pitched backwards only to emerge peering up through a pile of terrified people. We were pressed up against a fat lady in banana calico, the oval of sweat under her arm becoming a lake. On the ground, a wounded man hugged a gravely- injured friend tight to him as he tried to wriggle both of them to safety. Here was television bearing unflinching witness. No amount of political post-justification in the days that followed would argue away the evidence of our eyes. Back in the studio, Trevor McDonald was talking to the ANC's head of information: 'Mr Jordan, what's your reaction to the fact that Pik Botha says ANC hardliners provoked the killing?' Mr Jordan looked universe-

weary: 'Ash in the mouth.'

In a poignantly-timed Seven Up South Africa (ITV), Lunga talked about his country: 'We have problems, lots of problems. Like killing each other.' In 1964, Michael Apted had a great idea: film a cross-section of seven-year- olds, then interview them every seven years. Behind it was the Jesuit saying: 'give me a child until he is seven and I will show you the man'. But what the films most powerfully revealed was not fixed characters, but rigid class destinies. A working-class lad would soon be brought down to earth from that first whispered ambition 'astronaut' to doing something with a shovel. Not so the prep-school boy already more at home with the FT 100 than footie.

South Africa can teach the world a thing or two about knowing your place. 'Who's the most important person in this country?' they asked Frans who lives in a stinking township. 'God,' he said, 'and whites.' Unfortunately for him, not in that order. Angus Gibson's film made an agonising political statement by cutting between black and white, rich and poor. There was the black boy who said you could tell a person was wealthy because 'He looks drunk.' Any man in his village with money bought brandy. Afrikaaners Tienie and Lizette giggled and swung their legs on a school table: two adorable little bigots. They got you thinking about when exactly a child becomes responsible for its opinions. This pair's were written in their DNA. When Lizette called Mandela a 'scoundrel', you could see her mother in the indignant placing of hand on hip and the bad-smell face. Asked what his country's biggest problem was, Katlego said: 'There's darkness.' With Ciskei still fresh on the retina, that seemed right. I wonder how many of the children will live to keep their second appointment with history.

Diana: End of a Fairytale? (ITV) was set to an Elgar tune, fitting, if I may make so bold Ma'am, for such a dignified subject: Pompous and Circumstantial. Here, once again, was the dismal spectacle of the media having its Royals and eating them. Reporter John Suchet, warming over the story of the Wales's frozen marriage, had a bad case of Highness-speak - the language of Royal commentators which draws on a vocabulary that fell out of favour about the same time as Charles I. We saw Diana and Fergie 'engaging in more frolics'. Frolics? Zounds, sir, prithee talk like a citizen not a serf. The usual 'experts' (expert being a technical term for hacks who have grown rich and sanctimonious on Royal biography) came out to bat for the rival camps. I learnt nothing new, and remained fascinated throughout. Watching the Princess has the same appeal as House of Eliott (BBC1): thin characterisation, lousy dialogue, but the frocks, the hats, the muffs]

It was a big week for splendidly dressed queens. Julian Clary starred in Terry and Julian (first of six, C4), a variation on the immortal Terry and June, which sets out to 'subvert the traditional sitcom'. Given the current state of the sitcom the most subversive thing anyone could do to it is to write a line that made you laugh. Julian lived up to expectations. Only Dame Edna can make a more emphatic entrance. Lights, pink smoke, the Hallelujah Chorus. Nor does the attire disappoint: canary and sapphire satin catsuit, feather boa, glittering headpiece and wings that give him the aspect of a Pharaoh, hair curled tight in a style favoured by the young Mae West. After years of television's tame wooftas - Grayson, Inman, Williams - whose limpness was an insult to their sexuality and a sop to a prudish public, Clary's up-yer-bum approach has a certain robust charm. Julian is not just glad to be gay, he is ecstatic. Some viewers could be forgiven for not sharing this enthusiasm.

Lee Simpson plays Terry who advertises for a flatmate. Enter Julian playing Julian Clary. This is a delight or a drawback depending on your innuendo tolerance. Julian is the marquee of camp; other actors have to work around him, trying not to trip over the guy ropes. Funny for half an hour, this could become limiting later on. Simpson, who has the hangdog charm of Hugh Laurie, did well to keep a straight face. When Julian remodels the bachelor pit in the style of a wet dream by Louis Quinze, he asks his decorator, 'Didn't you have a hand in Nanette Newman's interior?' before turning on Terry: 'I do find your three-piece aesthetically displeasing. And I don't think much of your sofa, either'. Terry peers regretfully at the front of his trousers. Infected by Julian's tumescent imagination, you wonder how long he can keep it up.

This Week (ITV) looked at the rise of the vigilante. Philip Purser in Done Viewing recalls the programme's progress after a dodgy first edition in 1956: 'The important thing is that This Week survived the hard times at ITV . . . that it was to attract editors of the distinction of Jeremy Isaacs, Alasdair Milne; that Robert Kee, Paul Johnson and Jonathan Dimbleby would be among its reporters; that it would take on councils, corporations and governments of either party; and that it would still be doing so 35 years later.' Now, in its 36th year, it is to go when Carlton takes over from Thames in December. And with it part of that broad and civilising consensus about the common good.

Carlton has set a target of eight million viewers for current-affairs shows, which means no Northern Ireland, no NHS scandals, lots of Roger Cook argy-bargy on censorship (chance to show pictures of naked women). It's worth remembering what a programme like This Week can achieve. Last series, on the day the cot death programme was going out, the Chief Medical Officer changed his official line and pounds 2m was found for a campaign. In a period of weak Opposition and newspapers too poor or too supine to cause trouble, This Week has worried away at scandals and injustices. 'The job of television,' Sir Hugh Greene said when he was head of the BBC, 'is to make mischief.' The only mischief the current generation of suits is making is with our broadcasting heritage.

What do they know, who only ratings know?

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