Review: A death-defying plunge into a Bottomley pit

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The Independent Culture
As yet, no Royal Commission on the BBC has suggested that the only way out of its funding crisis is to accept sponsorship for programmes. If the doors were opened to commercial endorsement, there would be no question which show Bupa would go for. Cardiac Arrest (BBC1), the medical drama which does for the NHS what Frederick West did for the patio-laying business, returned for a second series last night. It would have made engaging viewing for anyone who regards it as their role in life to persuade us all to go private: Virginia Bottomley for instance.

As the first series - rough, raw and unpleasant - indicated, Cardiac Arrest is not in the usual run of television hospital shows. This is not Casualty or Emergency Ward Ten or ER, where heroism is the point, and if there is a problem with funding or maladministration or cack-handedness it is only to make the eventual triumph the more heroic. In Cardiac Arrest, when the doctors save somebody's life, a look comes over their face. A look of total astonishment.

The new series picked up precisely where the old left off, with a doctor looking down a corridor which, as the camera pans along it, works as a metaphor for the modern health service: a crazed, nonsensical jumble of fighting, sprawling humanity, with, at the top, a man lying on a trolley coughing up blood. And virtually the first line uttered is from Dr Maitland, perhaps the most corrosively cynical character in modern drama, who gives her freshly qualified colleague the low-down on his new job: "You work in a pool of excrement, your job is to swim for the shallow end."

As is typical of the way the government greet the bearers of bad news, the first series of Cardiac Arrest was accused by certain MPs of left- wing bias and gross exaggeration for political purposes. This one, with its bigger budget and better production values, with, in the first episode, a death rate higher than Saturday night in Mogadishu, will be dismissed by those who do not wish to face its message as even more malicious in its disinformation. But it seems to me, from admittedly limited acquaintance with the system, that it has got the NHS and those who work in her bang to rights: the smothering blanket of bureaucracy, the pompous consultants in new Jaguars, the fact half the staff are colonials ("no worries, mate") all give the show a worrying sting of authenticity.

Besides, you can tell its writer, John MacUre, was once a doctor. Most of his gags had a previous existence in medical student revues: "There is no point you helping," says a consultant about to examine a patient with rear end problems, "we wouldn't want an arsehole at both ends of the colonoscope."

The really important thing about Cardiac Arrest, however, is that John MacUre is no GF Newman. It is not simply didactic, his work. There is a real, sustainable, drama going on here, populated by real, engaging, characters; at the end of the first episode, you looked forward to the next. Which must make the executives at BUPA sleep all the easier.

Blood on the walls might be the limit of John MacUre's attitude to interior design, but were he keen on that sort of thing, he would be interested to learn from The Home Front (BBC2) that paint is no longer fashionable. As they might put it in the ludicrous Style section of the Sunday Times: forget rag-rolling, suddenly, it seems, wallpaper is in. According to the parade of stylists recruited by the programme to get excited about prints ("I do feel the design reflects my personality," purred one, sitting in a bathroom apparently decorated by Ray Charles), the louder and more pronounced the pattern the better. In which case the photographers from the World of Interiors magazine can be expected round my local tandoori any minute now.