Review: An old face from Albert Square goes undercover

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The Independent Culture
As, beneath the shadow of Barbara Windsor's embonpoint,the relationship between the Mitchell brothers swings ludicrously from the Oedipal to the murderous and back via the psychopathic to the incestuous, it is somehow reassuring to discover that t he blueprint for EastEnders villainy is still abroad, spreading his slime across the Thursday evening schedules. Dirty Den is back.

For his new series, the erstwhile landlord of the Vic is calling himself Mick Raynor and claiming to be something in the security forces rather than a puller of pints and blondes. But his disguise cannot fool us. We know Den Watts when we see him. Everything about him was just as we remembered, every mannerism intact: the sigh, the lips taut in annoyance, the heavenwards look, the sarky comments, the dollies falling at his feet one moment then giving him serious ear-melt the next. The series

presently inhabiting ITV's peak-time slot may be called 99-1 in Radio Times, but that must be a typing error. Surely it is really 99-Den. Either that or Leslie Grantham is an actor with the range of a Trabant car with half a pint of petrol in the tank.

Den, however, is not the only old lag cropping up in 99-1; this was no one-man blag. In one short hour we were treated to most of the cliches of the modern television detective serial. The story begins with Den - sorry, Mick - determined to disassociate himself from the malevolent tentacles of the agency - it is not clear which agency - but finding himself instead blackmailed out of retirement.

Back in the swing, he is soon working for the good guys, the bad guys and all shades of guy in between. He is also soon in trouble with the good guys, the bad guys and all shades in between. He is, in other words, in so deep he needs an aqualung. His co n troller, in the manner established by Francesca Annis in Between the Lines, is a fruity-voiced and ruthless woman, this time played by Frances Tomelty. Behind her, in the manner of the John Deakin character in Between the Lines, is a shadowy cynic, pulli ng conspiratorial strings while wearing an eye-patch and a red gingham shirt to prove his lack of trustworthiness.

But worse, behind the lot of them is a scriptwriter who thinks villains really say things to each other like: "I hate to break this to you, Mick, but there is no Heaven". When you saw Charlie Drake, as the wheelchair-bound villain - a sort of Davros in glasses - holding a razor to Den's cheek and suggesting he returned the money forthwith, you couldn't help thinking he would be better off back in the Square, mixing it with Mrs Mitchell. At least he'd get the lines.

Ludicrous macho posturing was clearly the theme of the evening. For a change in Bad Boys (BBC1) it was played for laughs. Well, deliberate laughs anyway. Bad Boys was firmly in Minder territory, the comedy drama in which the naughties were the nice guys.In places the plot creaked, in places it was daft, in places it was so transparent you could read the paper through it. But Bad Boys was, at least, in possession of dialogue that never failed to sparkle. Ian Pattinson, creator of Rab C Nesbitt, has moved on from grubby string-vest philosophising, but he maintains an alert ear for the richness of low-rent conversation.

"Tissue?" said one of the hero Bad Boys. "That's a bit of a nancy name for a gangland boss." "We're not talking tissue as in atishoo," said the other. "We're talking tissue as in human tissue." At one point in 99-1, Leslie Grantham announces through gritted teeth: "I live in the gutter." It never sounded like it. Ian Pattinson, on the other hand, has clearly spent half his life down there. And kept his notebook open all the while.