Last Night's Television: Girls On The Frontline, BBC3,<br/>Country House Rescue, Channel 4,<br/>Total Recall: the Toyota Story, BBC2

No place for the battle of the sexes
Click to follow
The Independent Culture

Four gutsy girls, intoned our narrator, would soon be forced to give up the booze, the make-up and the glamour, and go away for six months. Goodness, one wondered. Away where? Ah! Afghanistan, where they will be serving in the British Army. Naturally, make-up is bound to be top of their list of concerns.

If some of the assumptions apparent at the start of Girls on the Frontline grated, they didn't, at least, last long. Once dispatched, our four "girls" made sure of that, demonstrating just as much skill, strength and, naturally, courage, as the men around them.

The first of the servicewomen we met was Shaz. Preternaturally perky under the circumstances, she joined the army six years ago. "She was always a tomboy," reflected her mother, ironing her service clothes. "She loves it." Her fiancé is in the army too, and doesn't know what to expect from being the one left behind. "Told ya I weren't going to cry!" joked Shaz, pecking him goodbye.

On arriving at the base, she was joined by three others: Fiona, Holly and Zanna. Like Shaz, Zanna's fiancé is a military man. Unlike Shaz's, he was serving in the same regiment, and their engagement lasts the length of the programme. Given the dearth of time at home, it can be hard for the soldiers to form long-lasting relationships, and midway through her deployment Shaz called off her engagement. Without doubt one of the most difficult aspects of the tour is the leaving behind of loved ones. Of course, that's not something that's limited to the women in the military.

Indeed, little about life on the frontline appeared especially different for women. Last night was less a look at "girls on the frontline" as "Brits on the frontline". They have to train alongside the men, and are just as fit. On patrols, they carry the same weight in their backpacks and, for their part, their male companions show no sign of resentment or territorialism. They're doing their bit, seems to be the philosophy, why not welcome it? The feeling is mutual; there are no complaints from Shaz at the topless photos lining the tent she shares with her gun crew and none from any of the others at the constant "cocking" (essentially sixth-form level graffiti) that takes place. The one thing that is different, though, is the reactions the girls' solicit from the Afghani women. Shaz insisted that her short dark hair means that they don't realise she's a woman but Laura, with her long blonde mane, is frequently the subject of uncomfortable stares. Still, compared to the rest of the challenges posed on the frontline, it's a small hurdle, surely?

Battles of another kind, meanwhile, raged on Channel 4 in Country House Rescue. The Phillipses were trying to sell their house – a ginormous gothic-style creation dating back to the Industrial Revolution – in Staffordshire. They couldn't afford to keep it, they said. I'm not so sure. It looked more like they were just trying to keep their son, Ben, out of negotiations. "Perhaps if he were terribly gifted and making lots of money in the city, then things might be different..." reflected his mother. Poor Ben. His parents, he complained, don't trust him to "be able to wipe my bottom". Looking at their behaviour, that might be generous. They don't trust him to change a (garden) light bulb.

Not that Ruth Watson was too concerned. She was, as ever, more than happy to play shrink to the Phillipses and was full of practical suggestions for their home: holiday lets, wedding bookings, and so on. Phillips Snr's feeble suggestion of "treehouses, somewhere" was given little tolerance. "This is all nebulous silly business," snapped Ruth. "It's time to stop just sitting on the pot and start pissing." (So there). Inevitably, all ended well. Ben's parents finally gave way to Ruth's pressure and allowed him the chance to run their estate. If he makes it work, they'll keep the house. If not, well, then it's time for CHR visit number two.

Perhaps Toyota could do with Ruth's help? In fact, it certainly could do with something, having gone from $203bn in sales in 2007 (not to mention a worldwide reputation for quality) to being held responsible for several dozen passenger deaths. Total Recall: the Toyota Story tried to explain the unfortunate transformation, though not with much luck. At least not on my copy of the DVD, which halted 15 minutes into the programme. Apparently, the final 45 are just as top-secret as the final five of MasterChef.

Admittedly, the tiny bit I did get to see looked promising. The footage of the CEO of Toyota, appearing before Congress was sufficiently electric, and the interviews sufficiently snipey. "He was very much a pampered prince," snapped one critic. "If his last name hadn't been Toyota, he wouldn't have been made president," exclaimed another. Suffice to say the first quarter was gripping enough to get a numerically dyslexic non-driver interested. The rest? Probably rubbish.

a.jarvis@independent.co.uk

Comments