REVIEW / Boy-racers by jingo: Britain at its best

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The winner of the 1994 International Young Driver of the Year competition was awarded his gong by the Duke of Devonshire. His Grace had the grace to admit that he'd never held a driving licence. From historic houses to housing estates is a small step: unlike most joyriders, however, the lack of a bit of paper allowing him to drive has probably not prevented the duke from legally accumulating a nice collection of motors.

The cast list may have been international, but you've got to hand it to our boy-racers: they're unbeatable. Gold, silver and bronze - they were all British lads. The French and Germans might make better cars, but they can't drive them anything like as dangerously.

Jingoism satisfied, the final of International Young Driver of the Year (BBC 1) was mainly for automaniacs. There was one event that had you sitting up and watching, in which a six-wheel mega-ton truck tackled a course including a slope that most sensible people would rather abseil down.

For non-specialists, though, the sight of 10 competitors reversing a speedboat on a trailer around the Chatsworth courtyard was gripping primarily because it opened up the prospect of someone smashing chunks of masonry from the duke's priceless fountain.

'That is sensational]' screamed the commentator, Barrie Gill, when one British boy-racer completed the job in a third of the time that all the foreign competitors needed. I'm not sure we can all agree on that.

While the riff-raff element visited a cultural shrine in one programme, it was the other way round in A Kind of Heaven (BBC 2). During the Second World War, Stanley Spencer exchanged his rural Cookham cocoon for the cacophony of Glasgow, where he fulfilled a Ministry of Information commission to portray the shipbuilding industry at the height of its productivity.

One assumes that this film was not compiled purely as an innocent historical document. The Pathe newsreel of Spencer on the Clyde, sketching centripetal struts supporting hulls with whale- like ribs, yielded images of clanging, Homeric activity.

Spencer's finished canvases read like busy Tuscan altarpieces that capture crowds of toilers devotionally working towards some spiritual higher task. Sent on the same job now, even Damien Hirst among contemporary artists would struggle to find an image that fully conveyed the putrefaction at the heart of the British shipbuilding industry.

Delivered as a drama-documentary, Nicola Black's film fell victim to the usual failing of the format. There are only so many shots of Spencer writing at his desk that the viewer can consume, but only so many of Spencer in the midst of the industrial hubbub that the film's budget can afford.

The reverence that an intimate camera paid the artist was not always shared by those who had known him. Welders with names such as Jessie and Nessie remembered him simply as Stanley, a taciturn and eccentric man, who wore pyjamas under his inadequate clothing and who pushed his belongings around in

a pram.

When one local asked him if he was Stanley Spencer the painter, he steeled himself for an accolade only to find that she wanted her ceiling seeing to. It never happened to Botticelli.

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