REVIEW : Always guaranteed to spin a good yarn

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The Independent Culture
As Max Clifford tells the story, he lost his first job - in a snooty south London department store - for impertinence. He worked in floor coverings, and when a haughty female customer asked him to show her something suitable for her back passage, he promptly directed her to the candle section. Now, as Max Clifford tells the story, you have to be cautious here. He has a fine eye for a good tale and shows no unseemly prejudice against those that aren't true. Nor is he particularly abashed by this. Did you make up the story about Prince Andrew's girlfriend, asked Andrew Neil sternly in Is This Your Life? (C4). "Yes" said Clifford, without hesitation, his face a mask of guileless candour.

He'd been described, at the beginning of this deliciously ironic confrontation, as "the most single-minded, manipulative person you're ever likely to meet", a tribute he accepted with a little smile. I've had a soft spot for Mr Clifford ever since he routed the humbugs of The Moral Maze last year, and he didn't disappoint here; his performance was an object lesson in giving an interview while under pressure - a brilliantly judicious blend of trap-door admissions, which open up beneath the interviewer, and bold sallies of self-defence. He is, in his own complicated way, an honest man, a figure whose relationship to the real facts is as calculatedly arm's-length as that of a good defence lawyer.

Is This Your Life? exists, as the stylish credits make clear, to reveal the truth beneath the hype, so it made a nice twist to have a hype-broker in the chair. Nicer still was the fact that his interviewer had been on the wrong end of the hype. "He was also involved in the case of Pamella Bordes, the House of Commons researcher... who was so much more as well," said Neil, brushing up against Ms Bordes much more gingerly than was once the case. To Neil's credit he behaved like a grown-up here; his interview never had the faintest whiff of old grudges and he was, for once, as vulnerable to humiliation as his guest. It never came, though Clifford did reveal that he broke the Bordes story as a distraction, to prevent another story from emerging. "She was a sacrificial victim," he confessed.

In truth, the two men actually have a lot in common: a taste for mischief and a slightly chippy contempt for the rules of the establishment club. Politically, they are at opposite ends of the spectrum (Clifford is a devoted Labour supporter and spoke with real anger about the destruction of the National Health Service), but I suspect Neil responds to Clifford's lack of piety, his relish for a fight, even his indifference to the judgements of others. So while he conducted the necessary cross-examination about cruelty and exploitation, his heart wasn't really in it. If the best witnesses against the accused are people like Antonia de Sancha, Eve Pollard and those self-pitying opportunists, the Harkess women, even the fiercest prosecutor might start to have doubts about the verdict.

A few days ago I wrote that I tried not to identify too closely with primates, but Karen Bass's touching film for The Natural World suggests that I was wrong. It opened with capuchin monkey playing a computer game - which won't strike everyone as conclusive proof of intelligence - but went on to reveal that monkeys and apes are far closer to us in culture and social behaviour than was once believed. In some cases, they rather exceed us. The most startling footage was of bonobos having sex, a hairy orgy which took no account of gender, time or place. The only taboo in bonobo society is on sex between a mother and sons older than six. Apart from that, anything goes, and when you've seen four of these animals hanging from a vine and shaking like a washing machine on spin cycle, you know the real meaning of swingers.