REVIEW / The spy now departing from Platform 2 . . .

THE DEPARTMENT of Employment this week announced another fall in the unemployment figures, and dutiful citizens are busy masticating them. Until last night, this citizen was not alone in finding that they digest much more efficiently when seasoned with a pillar of salt the size of Nelson's Column. Secret Service (BBC 1) has changed all that by unmasking a job creation scheme of devastating simplicity.

The new growth industry is espionage. We've been here before, of course, but the difference between now and the Cold War is that the new spies are not just geniuses skimmed off the top of the Oxbridge creme de la creme. In this sector, anyone can apply: it actually pays to be a dullard full of dumb questions, although exactly how much is the one thing we never found out. One woman who spies full time would only admit that it was 'lucrative'.

The objects of the espionage are not despotic foreigners or industrial vivisectionists, but our lovable public services. Thanks to an elusive document known in some inner circles as the 'Citizen's Charter', but to everyone else as 'an absorbent piece of scented tissue that wipes away even the nastiest stains', these are meant to be user-friendlier.

The way we improve a public service is by spying on it, then putting the results on the box. The brilliance of the scheme is that it costs a lot less to pay someone to spot a leaking roof than it does to mend the leak, and anyway mending the leak won't massage the DoE's monthly figures.

In last night's episode, we were spying on the London Underground with a concealed camera, a mike masquerading as a brolly and a school-of-nerd presenter called Dylan. As Dylan accompanied various MI6 wannabes up and down the Victoria Line, it became apparent that this wasn't to be King's Cross's week. On Tuesday in The Day I Nearly Died (ITV) survivors of the conflagration in 1987 told how they brushed with death by fire. Here we met the clock that commemorates the victims of that disaster: it had succumbed to a burst water pipe. Just a little mechanical failure - nothing too serious - but, like the proposed D-Day fun day, indicative of the way we can't even remember the dead without a cock-up.

The programme was beginning to look like a brutal commentary on the fraying British infrastructures long before we were introduced to the manager of the Victoria Line. He was called John Self, who has an oafish doppelganger in the work of Martin Amis. Like the poems and paintings on the Underground, he was doubtless employed as part of the initiative to make the Tube look arty and hip. There are probably other staff called things like Daniel Defoe, Lady Bracknell and Martin Chuzzlewit.

By the end of the film it was the staff you felt for. The men all wear clip-on ties which, when grabbed, come clean away from the collar: you can't get a terser symbol of the gulf in trust between private citizens and public services than that.

If you think we've got problems with communication, watch Africa Express (C 4). Among last night's grab-bag of reports was one about a bush tribe in Namibia which faces economic marginalisation because its language is spoken but not written; another came from an Ethiopian village where, in order not to share water- carrying chores with the donkeys, women have enlisted in the army.

It was no surprise that one of the programme's chirpy presenters looked like a Blue Peter graduate, because this is anthropological tourism in the style of those summer hols John, Peter and Val used to go on.

The format targets the early-evening teenage viewer with a short attention span: reports aren't too long to get boring, and each begins with a tired title ('The Write Stuff', 'War and Peace' - Tom Wolfe and Tolstoy have a lot to answer for) and ends with a sprightly fact file. A similar series on that absorbent piece of scented tissue would be of great assistance to us all.

Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’


Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'


Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from


Arts and Entertainment
Team Tenacity pitch their fetching solar powered, mobile phone charging, heated, flashy jacket
tvReview: No one was safe as Lord Sugar shook things up
Owen said he finds films boring but Tom Hanks managed to hold his attention in Forrest Gump
Arts and Entertainment
Bono and Apple CEO Tim Cook announced U2's surprise new album at the iPhone 6 launch
Music Album is set to enter UK top 40 at lowest chart position in 30 years
Arts and Entertainment
The Michael McIntyre Chat Show airs its first episode on Monday 10 March 2014
Arts and Entertainment


These heroes in a half shell should have been left in hibernation
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Flanagan with his novel, The Narrow Road to the Deep North
books'The Narrow Road to the Deep North' sees the writer become the third Australian to win the accolade
Arts and Entertainment
New diva of drama: Kristin Scott Thomas as Electra
Arts and Entertainment
Arts and Entertainment
Daenerys Targaryen, played by Emilia Clarke, faces new problems

Sek, k'athjilari! (That’s “yes, definitely” to non-native speakers).

Arts and Entertainment
Polly Morgan

Arts and Entertainment
The kid: (from left) Oona, Geraldine, Charlie and Eugene Chaplin

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

    Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

    Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
    British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

    British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

    Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
    Let's talk about loss

    We need to talk about loss

    Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
    Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

    Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

    Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
    Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

    'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

    If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
    James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
    Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

    Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

    Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
    Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

    Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

    Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
    How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

    How to dress with authority

    Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
    New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

    New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

    'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
    Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

    Tim Minchin interview

    For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
    Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
    Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

    Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

    Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album