REVIEW / The men who count paper-clips for Britain

THE last image of Stephen Lambert's True Brits (BBC 2) was that of a faulty light bulb in the ornate splendour of a Foreign Office corridor, an enigmatic footnote to the flag-waving speech we had just heard from a loyal functionary. I wondered for a moment if this was mean- spirited - one of those winks behind the subject's back which are always available to film-makers - but it was too dry and ambiguous to feel like that, more a hint that this rich inheritance of imperial diplomacy might already be beyond our means.

The men and women of the Overseas Inspectorate care about light bulbs and how much they cost. It is their responsibility to check the efficiency and budgeting of our embassies and consulates abroad and, as last night's episode revealed, they leave no expenses form unturned in their investigation. One inspector pooh-poohed the notion that they still counted the pencils, but Lambert wasn't going to let him get away with that, following up his assertion with a scene in which Our Man in Washington was quizzed on his subsidised drinking habits. 'We can only put bottled water as an addition on cola if after boiling and filtering the water it is certified as not being drinkable . . . that will have to be certified by a medical authority,' said one of the inspectors. His victim looked glum. Bilharzia isn't a big problem in Washington's smarter suburbs.

The film was a comedy of bureaucratic life, really, though you had to pay attention to see it. No belly laughs here, just the almost invisible manoeuvres of people defending their little patch of ground against the investing forces - a prickle of defensiveness here, a flare of wounded pride there. 'It's nice to see you here,' said the ambassador, presiding over a lavish welcoming lunch (which looked as if it should go straight into the inspector's report but almost certainly won't).

He was being diplomatic, of course, taking canapes out to the tanks on his lawn, but since being diplomatic is what he's paid for, you couldn't complain too much. Was this strategy or merely a display of what we get for our money? It was one of those films that would have benefited from Woody Allen subtitles, real thoughts against calculated utterance, but anyone who has ever parried their way through a budget could have supplied them. 'It could be an underestimate, that,' said one diplomat judiciously when the modesty of his home telephone bill was queried. 'Bugger,' he was thinking, 'far too low] Don't want them thinking I don't work hard enough.'

Nobody needs subtitles in Cardiac Arrest (BBC 1), which is both its weakness and its strength. The special pleading occasionally makes for poor art, as when an old hand remembered his days as a young doctor with the help of much misty-eyed recollection and some violins. If clouds of dry-ice had begun to drift in from the corner of the screen, you would not have been very much surprised. Lose that, though, and I suspect you would also lose the programme's emotional commitment, which drives the acid dialogue and the bracing rage about the treatment of young doctors.

The series has been explicit in every sense - plain-spoken about life as a young doctor, unabashed at the engrained cynicism of medical staff, unafraid to nag away at its own agenda. The final scene of this film ended with Andrew and Claire walking towards camera, faces numb, slowing gradually to a freeze-frame. It was the sort of image more familiar from films of combat, an apotheosis of the ordinary grunt, and it reminded you that, quite rightly, the series has always been less about diplomacy than open attack.

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