Last Night's Television: Coronation Street, ITV1
The Apprentice, BBC1
Thursday 30 April 2009
"We've already watched a lot of television tonight," moaned Ken Barlow in Coronation Street, flinching from the prospect of a marathon viewing of The Thorn Birds with Deirdre. Ken doesn't really approve of television, thinking there are better ways to spend your time, and who could gainsay him given the immeasurably more interesting drama you can get just down the road at the Rovers Return, a kind of Epidaurus with bitter on tap. Dynastic curses, incest, blood feuds and murder are stacked up behind the bar, alongside the pork scratchings and dry-roast peanuts. Last night, for instance, Colin – Rita's box-fresh fiancé – was revealed to have impregnated Julie when she was just 14 years old. Colin, rather unwisely in the circumstances, tried to argue his corner, pointing out that Paula wasn't exactly a blushing innocent at the time, but Rita was having none of it: "What you did is unforgiveable... you abused a child." She then went to sit in the dark in the Kabin, mascara streaming down her cheeks while her friends tried in vain to get her to pick up the phone. Rita declined, which won't really surprise you if you've ever seen her phone, a grim piece of faux-sophisticate tat that looks as if it's been made out of raw liver and prompts me to offer a word of congratulation to that unsung team of geniuses, the Coronation Street set-dressers. Ken, meanwhile, was off down the canal towpath looking longingly at a barge crowned with a stone Buddha, from which classical music was seeping through the net curtains. For Ken, this represents nirvana, and though he turned away from it last night I don't think it will be long before he succumbs to temptation.
I have a feeling Deirdre would have been watching The Apprentice anyway, rather than The Thorn Birds, since her mother, Blanche, takes a tricoteuse delight in the misfortunes of others, and things are beginning to get more heated. This week, the Testosterone Twins – Ben and Phil – were given command of a team each, a task which Ben, who can barely open his mouth without mentioning his Sandhurst scholarship, believed he was well equipped for: "Heavy gunfire, explosions going off around me, people getting injured, that's when I can bring a team together." Phil, meanwhile, was promising to rein in Mr Big Head and become a more sensitive, listening boss. Unlike Ben, Phil may not know of Von Moltke's celebrated dictum, "No battle plan survives contact with the enemy", but he knows how he feels about Lorraine and the moment she opened her mouth (to make a point he would have been well advised to listen to) his commitment to consensual team-building collapsed.
The task was to value and sell 10 assorted items, mostly junk but salted with a couple of high-value nuggets. Both teams energetically unloaded the gems at a fraction of their real value and managed to return with a loss, an event that always converts Sir Alan's synthetic for-the-camera dyspepsia into the growling real thing. Ben, who had reacted badly to the modest combat stress of having to sell a pair of vintage high heels (and ultimately lost the challenge) sat in the boardroom like a man in shell-shock, calculation flickering behind his beady little eyes. Should he bring in Debra, because she'd already managed to irritate Sir Alan by getting brusque with Nick Hewer, or should he choose James? He opted for the latter, only for Sir Alan to throw James a faeces-smeared lifeline. "I hope you're not thinking about James like there might be a village missing an idiot somewhere," he said warningly. Not a big man for Idiots Rights, Sir Alan, but the implication was clear. Don't just pick on the gormless one because you think he's weak. Ben stuttered and shifted his choice to Debra.
I'd be a bit surprised if there was anybody watching who wasn't praying that Ben might finally get his comeuppance, but fortunately he'd taken Noorul in with him, a man who has so far shown all the business acumen of a piece of polystyrene packing. Noorul got the cab but, as if to console us for Ben's continued survival, we were given an uncharacteristic glimpse of post-boardroom bickering. "You showed there that you were totally spineless and you shat your pants," said James as they all relaxed in the convivial atmosphere of the showhome. Ben, equally uncharacteristically, didn't respond – or at least we weren't shown it.
Rain was very, very watery and nicely timed to accompany the arrival of the British summer, with its increasingly familiar parade of drenchings, cloudbursts, flash-floods and washouts. It also paid a modest tribute to the man who made it possible for us to attend to precipitation with a trainspotter's regard for detail – G J Symons, the Victorian obsessive who first began the systematic collection of rainfall data. When they say "since records began", it's Symons they owe it all to.
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