A forest of wood and a load of dry rot

Click to follow
Catherine Cookson's The Glass Virgin (ITV) is one of those programme titles that lays the blame for what follows fairly and squarely at the feet of the author. It might sound like a triumphant fanfare but, as in the phrase " the devil's advocate", the possessive can be read as a disclaimer: she wrote this; we merely filmed it.

There must have been some motive that caused someone to set in train the second of these events, issuing in a kind of frockcoated flim-flam whose natural home has long been Sky One. But it's difficult to put a finger on what that motive might have been. Perhaps it was to create jobs in the North-east, for this costume drama comes to your screen courtesy of Tyne Tees. Or there might have been sponsored by the Northumbrian tourist board, as it gives the impression that the region endlessly basks in brightsunshine.

In fact, the whole extravaganza looks like an arts project by the local Forestry Commission, which seems to have supplied off-cuts by way of characters. So wooden is the entire enterprise that Ladbrokes are quoting miserly odds on a Manderley-style conflagration at the end of Part 3.

If you can say one thing for Catherine Cookson's timber, it's that it comes in all shapes and sizes. Young Annabella is the lonely little twig who lives in the big house and befriends a nice tree trunk called Manuel Mendoza, the meaty, mighty, muscly Oirish-Spanish groom. Her mother is a dry old stick, so dry that in fact she's not the twig's mother at all, and her father is that old chestnut in the CV of Nigel Havers, a cad who cross-pollinates on the side with fruity saplings. When these characters go for a walk in the woods, you can't see them for the trees.

Seven years later, the screen announces in a burst of urgency, just when you're wondering how much dastardliness Havers can squeeze into one long hot summer. Thanks to a generous concession on the part of the Northumbrian tourist board, it is chucking itdown. You wouldn't bet on that conflagration happening now, but the plant life has come on a treat. The twig has grown into a sprig (played by John Mortimer's daughter, Emily), and a couple of mulberry bushes have sprouted abundantly on the Havers cheek. In the arboretum of Catherine Cookson's imagination, character development is indicated botanically.

Once commissioned, it would have been too late for major tree surgery, but the script could have used a raid from one of the "Rotbusters" (C4) featured in the best of the current crop of Short Stories.

Just how would the a dry rot specialist have tackled The Glass Virgin? - the softly, softly approach, with hi-tech rotometrical scanners rooting out localised patches of cancerous decay, or the loudly, loudly approach, in which you strip everything out and replace it?

One rotbuster profiled specialises in old piles, presumably where the superior rot hangs out. He had the soothing bedside manner which is the sine qua non for telling toffs their houses are falling down. "It's actually a geophilic organism," he diagnosedafter pointing his rotometer at a skirting board in a hall previously owned by Led Zeppelin. "It grows in soil in the wild Himalayas preferentially." Well, that's a relief, then.

When you've got dry rot, the last thing that you need is a speech impediment. The boistrous little chap who owns Led Zep's old place boasted: "We've got the best dwy wot in the countwy." It has plainly given him something to talk about. He vaguely reminded you of Cheggers (the presenter, not the pile). Unlike some of the other more melancholy, less moneyed victims that we encountered, the dry rot had not seeped into his soul.