TV Reviews: Modern Times and Open Rhodes

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The Independent Culture
The best sight in Modern Times's rather esoteric film about rivalry at the upper levels of power-boating (BBC2), was that of Charles Burnett III ripping around the lawn of his country house in his own armoured personnel carrier. Gobbets of immemorial English turf spumed from the tracks as he spun and bucked across the grass, a small boy's fantasy vividly realised. Charles's extravagant 40th birthday party was also featured in the film, a pounds 100,000 affair which he preferred to describe as his "second 20th birthday". But after a while in his company and a glimpse at the interior of his Palladian mansion (photographs of shuttle launches and rocket-shaped table lamps), you wondered whether "fourth 10th" might not have been closer to the mark.

The tank wasn't Charles' favourite toy, as it happened. At the weekends he plays at the seaside, racing a set of sleek power-boats in pursuit of the sport's grandest trophies. His chief competitor for these useless lumps of silverware is Cliff Smith, a local boy who has begged and borrowed his way to the top of this fiercely expensive and dangerous sport. Up to a point, anyway. Cliff was introduced to you in the opening moments as a dustman, presumably to enhance the delicious sense of social distance between the two men. But if Cliff is a dustman, Lord Sainsbury is just a grocer. It's true that he is prepared to heave dog-poo for the local council, but Cliff owns the company that does it. His children all have their own ponies, and he also owns a floating restaurant in Littlehampton marina. While his empire might not be quite as large as Charles Burnett's (very few people's are, given that it is worth some pounds 2 billion), he is a long way from being the Alf Tupper of the Solent.

By the time you found this out, though, it looked as if the production team was happy to turn itself in - or at least to bend the prejudices of the viewer in a new direction. What had been sold to you as rich versus poor, a purchased ascendancy defeating a hard-earned one, began to look more like an assault on casual equations between poverty and virtue. If Charles had looked like some comic-book villain at the beginning, the billionaire brat, he was increasingly depicted as a poor little rich boy, insulated from any authentically adult relationships by his wealth. His mother literally hovered at his shoulder as he raced, watching his risky pursuit of self- worth from a private helicopter. Cliff, on the other, was revealed to be every bit as self- indulgent in pursuit of his pleasure, though, having less money at his disposal, the people around him had to pay a higher price - covering his absences at work and at home. He finally exited the film pursued by a bear, in the shape of his understandably exasperated wife.

If you want to make yourself a decent meal, I'm not sure whether I would unhesitatingly recommend Open Rhodes (BBC2). Some of Gary's recipes look excellent, others rather perverse, pursuing gimmicky associations with the Irish flag (steamed halibut with a sort of curried salsa and spinach in lime cream) or a pint of stout (crumbed cake with a topping of whisky sabayon). But if you want to make yourself famous on the telly, you could hardly do better than study this master of self-promotion. First of all, you must convert yourself into a trademark - his electric-chair hairstyle and checked trousers are so identifiable as logos that one participant in last night's programme was able to incorporate them into a Gary chair, made out of wrought iron. Next, you strenuously assert an intimacy with your audience, in the hope that they will believe you rather than their own recollections - "You know me," chuckled Gary insinuatingly last night, "I just had to take a look." ("Do I know you?" you think, but it seems rude to contradict him.) Last of all, you wave your arms around as if trying to conduct traffic in the Delhi rush-hour. The result is quite rich, and probably eats very well indeed.

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