Last Night's Television: Cutting Edge: The Fun Police, Channel 4<br />Apparitions, BBC1

Health and safety is such a risky business
Click to follow
The Independent Culture

People can get very hot under the collar about health and safety, though speaking for myself, it's illness and danger that really get me worked up. At the end of Cutting Edge's "The Fun Police", Ed Friend, a health-and-safety consultant, read from a Richard Littlejohn tirade against health and safety, which mentioned the Stasi and suggested that "in another life, these are the very people who would have been loading the cattle trucks to the concentration camps". Mr Friend, who oozed the milk of human kindness from every pore, was aggrieved.

Mr Friend was the star exhibit of Nick Hornby's film (no, not that Nick Hornby; at least, I'm pretty sure not). At the start of the film, he conducted the camera on a tour of his garden ("Don't forget that an anagram of 'garden' is 'danger'"), pointing out the spiky plants and lethal bamboo canes lurking in innocent-looking flowerbeds. At other points, he led the camera gingerly up his drive (acorns littering it like ballbearings, positively begging the unwary to stumble and fall), showed off his safety-conscious kitchen arrangements (neatly serried rows of knives, handles all on the right so that the unwary groper wouldn't slice a finger), and offered a comprehensive critique of car-parking arrangements at a local supermarket. We also saw him at a window factory, delivering a talk on bad working habits to workers who had, judging by their expressions, heard it all before and not much enjoyed it the first time. Much of the time he was accompanied by oompah-ish background music, making it quite clear that the film-makers were playing this for laughs even if he wasn't. Other evidence was gathered of the pettiness of health and safety. In Dunstable, the cameras followed Pauline McIlravey, an environmental-health officer, on her rounds, checking up on the glue they use in local nail bars. In Llandudno, the organisers of a popular annual donkey derby explained that since they had been advised not to allow children to ride, because they could be liable for any injury, they had continued to run the race with inflatable animals for jockeys.

For anybody approaching the film in a Littlejohn state of mind, there was plenty here to confirm any prejudices; being of a nervous, risk-averse disposition, I was less sure about the message. Most of what Mr Friend had to say about the dangers of everyday life wasn't entirely stupid; the joke lay in his bothering to point it out, and in his somewhat pedantic manner. This being TV, it strikes me as entirely possible that in pointing out danger on every hand, he was only doing what he had been asked to do ("Go on, Ed, show us a risk"). Even if he was as neurotic as the film made out, that hardly amounts to an argument about health-and-safety regulation in general. I don't suppose, either, that Ms McIlravey's anxieties about glue would seem quite so petty if you'd found that the glue on the back of your falsies was eating through your actual nails, which is apparently one of the possibilities.

Towards the end, the film changed tack somewhat. Mr Friend was filmed at the World Conker Championships, now sponsored by health-and-safety types desperate to dispel the myth that they ever tried to ban conkers. Frank Sykes, an inspector for the Health and Safety Executive, talked about his morning's work, showing a young girl photographs of the scene of her father's death. He describes himself as an "expert in human misery": the bit of his job that isn't about preventing sloppy work practices is spent clearing up the mess that they eventually cause. It would have been nice if at some point the film had paused to give us a few hard facts: how many people are killed at work every year? How has that number changed in recent years? How many health-and-safety inspectors are there? And perhaps it could have given a little more consideration to what causes the excesses of "health-and-safety culture". It's not, by and large, a nanny state trying to swaddle us all in red tape, but the fear of litigation; not trying to avoid accidents, but trying to avoid being blamed for them. But it wasn't that kind of film.

I would like to see health-and-safety inspectors let loose on Apparitions, the drama series in which Martin Shaw plays a Roman Catholic priest fighting a lone battle against demons: "You could have someone's eye out with that crucifix. Oi, mind where you're swinging that thurible. Has that holy water been pasteurised?" It wouldn't be any more ridiculous than the scripts are already. This week, Father Jacob, our hero, was visiting an abortion clinic where attempted terminations kept ending in flickering lights and surgical instruments flying around the room. His conclusion was that these women were carrying demon fetuses determined not to lose their purchase on the flesh. Obviously. Sometimes we talk about programmes being so bad they're good; but as Father Jacob will tell you, sometimes you have to accept the presence of pure evil.