Wednesday 05 March 1997
Jan Ruston was 42 when she went to Cyprus, fresh from a divorce and looking for a new life. She met Pavlos Georgiou, "Paul", a fisherman who was looking after his four children while his wife died back in Britain from cancer. They fell in love - Jan is evidently not someone who takes sexual relationships lightly - had an affair, and everything looked rosy. Except it wasn't. Martha, Paul's wife, wasn't dying of cancer at all: he had infected her with HIV, contracted during one of what his doctor described as "hundreds of affairs", and died in 1994.
When Jan got wind of this, via a friend's boss - nobody among Pavlos's family or close acquaintances had seen fit to inform her, despite the fact that the story had been in the local papers - she confronted him. "He denied it," says Jan's cousin, Sharon. "He denied it again and again. No, no. My wife is dying of cancer. The press got it all wrong, they had no right to print that ... he convinced Jan completely." The tragedy of it is that he was probably this convincing because he had convinced himself. Pavlos didn't want to be HIV positive, so he wasn't.
Jan is back home now, in Essex, being cared for by her elderly parents. During the course of Carrie Britton's film, she lay, wasted and hairless, on the sofa, though happily she had rallied somewhat by its close. Sharon, in Cyprus to press the authorities to prosecute under a law that allows a two-year prison sentence for knowingly transmitting a deadly disease, encountered another example of ostrich syndrome: a solemn official who stated that "we can't tell who infected, male or female". Given that Martha was ill before Jan met Pavlos, the evidence would seem quite straightforward. We never actually found out what has happened to Pavlos, or what state he's in now. Jan and her family are devastated. The disease, meanwhile, remains blithely indifferent to legislation.
The House Detectives (BBC2) combines many pleasing ingredients: attractive settings, the potential for snooping, stories about the lives of strangers, handy decorating tips. The gumshoes of the title are the architectural historian Mac Dowdy, the interior designer Judith Miller and the landscape archaeologist David Austin, who each week are given five days to find out as much about a house as they can: who built it, who lived in it, how it was decorated, what bits were added on and taken away. Cue woodchip, utility fireplaces, and layers and layers of ancient gloss paint.
Last night's subject was a fine example of that red-brick and wooden- beam style that the Edwardians so rejoiced in - "wedding cake architecture", as one of the experts called it - which rejoiced in the marvellously arts- and-crafts name of Fayre Haven. I love watching experts on the telly: they do ham it up so for the camera. Every expert I've met in real life has erred toward the unenthusiastic: "I'm not sure, I'll have to verify it, but ..." is usually as committal as they get. Not so on the BBC. Here, they squat by skirting boards, they say things like "isn't that wonderful", they interrogate other experts.
Fayre Haven, it has to be said, was priceless: built by a wealthy plumber, painter and decorator, it read like a sample book: every type of Anaglypta was represented, as was all the stained and crenellated glass an Edwardian suburbanite could want. The experts cooed and warbled, they found another expert to show them how to restore the damaged wallpaper, they tracked down photos of the builder in his incarnation as Mayor of Preston. Anyone who's ever wielded a paint-stripper will love it.
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