Last Night's Television: The Last Days of Lehman Brothers, BBC2; Nigel Slater's Simple Suppers, BBC1

Disasters of the universe
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The Independent Culture

"If you talk to a hundred people, a hundred and two will tell you they hate bankers, but most people won't be able to tell you why," said a character at the very beginning of The Last Days of Lehman Brothers. Really? I reckon a pretty healthy percentage of the haters would be able to give you some fairly explicit reasons. Because they stole our money? Because they paid themselves like geniuses when they were too dumb to see that they were sawing at the branch on which they sat? Because they had the ethical restraint of wolverines on crack? I'm sure you can add some abusive lines of your own.

It's true, of course, that a lot of people wouldn't be able to tell you exactly what bankers did, or why the house collapsed, though we've all had a painfully literal crash course in the mysteries of collateralised-debt obligations and are more amenable to education in this field than we ever were previously. And a lot of us also have a powerful incentive for watching bankers in pain, which is how The Last Days effectively sugared the pill of a drama that consisted mostly of men in suits sitting around a boardroom table. Craig Warner's drama covered the weekend that immediately preceded the collapse of Lehman Brothers, and it focused its schadenfreude on Dick Fuld, Lehman's CEO.

Fuld was nicknamed the Gorilla, proudly notorious for his aggression and self-belief and a perfect vessel for the punishment of financial hubris. Fuld had spent years building Lehman into a bank so big it couldn't be allowed to fail, and he, along with the rest of Wall Street, found it impossible to believe that Hank Paulson was going to allow just that to happen, when the then Treasury Secretary called a crisis meeting on Friday 12 September. As one man put it, letting Lehman fail would be like, "Rome selling the Vatican to the Japanese to convert it to a hotel, and hiring the Pope as a bellboy". But Paulson did mean it, and over one very long weekend they discovered their institutions were built of paper, not granite.

Craig Warner relished the journalistic details of the story - the fact, almost incredible in hindsight, that Lehman had attempted to segregate its toxic debts into a new company called Spinco; the marathon sessions attempting to value assets that were dwindling by the hour; the panic and bad faith as Fuld's Wall Street rivals realised that they were the next to go over the cliff. But he also strained a little too hard for a metaphysical dimension, most notably in a discussion between two bankers about the meaning of the film Fight Club, an implausibly knowing conversation that ended with the gnomic utterance: "You see the nothing is the something." The choral music and spirituals that played over Fuld's final humiliation - slumped and in tears on his office floor after all efforts have failed - also seemed to hint that this was a tragedy rather than a criminal farce. In that, it inadvertently fed into the self-regard and self-mythologising that helped fuel the disaster in the first place.

One unintended consequence of that fraught September weekend last year was a tilt towards economy in cooking programmes. Economy Gastronomy, in which Allegra McEvedy and Paul Merrett tutor us in penny-pinching techniques has now been joined by Nigel Slater's Simple Suppers, which enjoins us to relax a bit and make sure we use up our leftovers. "Open your fridge and go to the salad crisper and veg rack and just see what's there," he suggested last night. He got an adaptable bean soup but I fear his technique won't work quite so well if what's in the salad crisper is some Mr Men yoghurts and a can of Irn-Bru.

t.sutcliffe@independent.co.uk



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