REVIEW: Reader, I married him - and him, and him

Love, Lies and Bigamy (ITV) began as Citizen Kane, with a long tracking zoom passing through the stained glass of a church window and straight into the vicar's mouth. But after that flourish of cinematic ambition, it subsided into something decide dly less elevated, an extended version of the romantic narratives so popular on daytime television. This time, of course, the syrupy cocktail was spiked. It wasn't Our Tune but Our Tunes - one for Lynne in Morecambe and another for Pauline in Sheffield ( and don't, for God's sake, get them the wrong way round).

I'm not sure whether the allusion was deliberate or just the natural form that this sort of gossip takes on television - all first names and a story-time narration. But it's only fair to give Roger Corke the benefit of the doubt, because his film was clearly about a derangement of the romantic instinct, a wry take on the hearts-and-flowers cliches of boundless love.

Those involved had bought the biggest lie of all - the soft-focus lie in which marriage is invariably the final page of the story, an ending that assumes anxiety is over. Indeed, they believed this so unquestioningly that they thought their devotion to it justified any number of other lies. It was their initial guilelessness that had turned them into masters of guile. "Lynne was so happy I just went with the flow," said one, as if it would have been unspeakable cruelty for him to point out that he already had a wife. "I may tell white lies," conceded another, grudgingly, when confronted with his serial dishonesty; he had more wives than a middling Zulu chieftain, but in his mind he was just a blameless servant of love.

Naturally, those who have schooled themselves to explain Christmas morning absences and the mysterious tan that appears after a "week's work down south" are also expert at telling lies to themselves as well - in this case, the little boy's conviction that a new exercise book will sort everything out. They all swore that their current wife was the last one, but you would be unwise to trust them as far as you could throw confetti.

Interestingly, only the female bigamist seemed to think the activity might need some psychological explanation. Her urgent addiction to wedding bells stemmed from the death of her mother, she said; the result was 10 husbands, overlapped like a motorway pile-up. She had even managed to be bigamised herself three times, which suggested that bigamists have some sort of contact network - a wedding ring, you might say.

Like the men, Pat thought she had come to a stop now, ending up with an understandably glum chap called Malcolm. He declared himself "very happy", but you weren't greatly encouraged by the fact that he bore a striking resemblance to that ingenuous Brummie in the Prudential ad, the one who says, "We wunt to be togither", and doesn't see that we aren't sure about it at all.

There were elements of real farce in Love, Lies and Bigamy, for all the grief and betrayal. Enough, anyway, to make the synthetic confusions of Joking Apart (BBC2) look even thinner than usual. The series deals with adult material - unwanted erections, sexual jealousy and so on - but does it in a manner of startling juvenility. You would only experience a frisson of comic recognition if you lived in a world of unremitting stupidity, one obedient to the strange physics of sit-com: every doubl e-entendre will be misunderstood, secrets will be blurted out and social embarrassment will always result in a stammering panic - a world populated by utter ninnies, in short. Last night's episode was so reckless in its abandonment of credibility, so sha melessly mechanical in the way it levered its characters into the gags, that the only charitable assumption was that it was one long dream sequence. The charity was misplaced.

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