Last Night's Television - Clone, BBC3; The Ascent of Money, Channel 4; The Department Store, BBC4

Don't lose your rags
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The Independent Culture

Hereford, the city closest to where I live, recently lost its venerable, family-owned department store, Chadds. I joined in with the general wailing and gnashing of teeth, but Chadds, in truth, had become something of an anachronism. Closing down was the most modern thing it had done for ages.

Milners, in the Yorkshire Dales town of Leyburn, is cut from similar cloth. Which is to say, the kind of cloth your grandmother's antimacassar was made from. Owned by the same family for generations, Milners is defiantly old-fashioned, and any sign of it nosing into the 21st century certainly has nothing to do with David Milner, who inherited the store from his father, but who at 65 has grudgingly decided to hand over the reins to his daughter, the rather exotically (for the Yorkshire Dales) named Leoni.

The fraught handover of power from father to daughter, with David's wife, Linda, hovering discreetly in the background like a pantechnicon with its horn blaring, was the subject of the first of three films by Richard Macer under the umbrella title The Department Store. It was quirky and entertaining, but beware the documentary that credits a composer. The obligatory music was more than a little self-consciously jaunty: this programme, the music declared, is quirky and entertaining.

At the heart of the story was the relationship between David, Linda and Leoni, who love each other in that Northern way of not appearing to like each other very much. If Chekhov had come from, say, Thirsk, his plays would have been populated by characters exactly like these. "This is what he does better than anything else, yacking to the customers," a frowning Linda told Macer's camera, as over her shoulder David engaged a shopper in conversation. Later, Leoni lost her rag with Linda, who was interfering with the organisation of a fashion show for the store's core fan base: elderly, genteel and female. "I don't fucking care if she fucks off because she fucking pisses me off," Leoni ranted. One can only hope that the Leyburn branch of the Women's Institute did not arrange a special preview of the film. They might take their clothes off for calendars up there, but a torrent of profanities in the millinery department is another matter.

Still, Leoni had plenty to swear about. David, it transpired as the film wore on, neither really wanted nor really intended to retire. Meanwhile, Leoni and her husband, Keith, tried to contrive ways to get him out of the shop, while they trained an ex-postman called James to do the job David had always done, fitting blinds and curtains.

There is an old joke about a woman who asks her saucy teenage daughter to talk to the blind man in the front room while she makes him a cup of tea. With him being a blind man, the daughter stands in front of him in her underwear, pulling faces and flashing her private parts while all the while chatting politely. Then the mother comes in with the tea. "Ta, love," the man says. "I'll just watch the end of this cabaret, then you can tell me where you want your blinds." I don't suppose that's ever happened to David, who seemed something of a sexual innocent, guilelessly describing a vibrating massage cushion as "a vibrator", and later speculating that Macer, with his work taking him to big cities such as Leeds and Manchester, must presumably be a frequenter of brothels.

Anyway, in the end, James the ex-postman turned out to be too highly-strung, which ironically is not a quality required of a curtain-fitter, and David appeared to have got his way. It was then revealed that he'd never had any love from his own father, who'd treated him like a member of staff, and who had also struggled to let go of the reins of power. None of which ever happened at Grace Brothers, in Are You Being Served?

Speaking of the 1970s, in 1973 Dr Jacob Bronowski presented a groundbreaking documentary series called The Ascent of Man. That Professor Niall Ferguson is now presenting a series called The Ascent of Money perhaps says something significant about the last 35 years, and although I'm not exactly sure what it is, I don't think it's particularly reassuring.

In last night's opener, Ferguson, as dashingly as always, presented his theory that money makes history tick. Banks financed the Renaissance, the bond market decided wars and the stock market built empires, he said, none of which there is any real arguing with, but it was good to have it explained so cogently, and also to marvel at the budget that allowed the thinking woman's crumpet, as my wife categorises Professor Ferguson, to make his case from a variety of fancy locations.

Clone, a new sitcom in which Jonathan Pryce plays a scientist who unveils a cloned "super-soldier," was also worth marvelling at. How anyone could think this utter bilge worthy of Pryce's talent and our time is one of the minor wonders of the age.

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