Last Night's TV - Perfume, BBC4; Imagine, BBC1

There's no need to be so sniffy

Chandler Burr spends his life standing in his New York apartment, darting between the front door and his living room. The postman comes several times a day; packages are dropped off, the contents inspected and then sprayed, regularly and methodically, over different parts of Burr's anatomy. "Ooh!" he'll squeal occasionally. "Interesting." Or: "No! Juicy Fruit! Pot!"

Burr, we learned in last night's Perfume, is The New York Times's scent critic, a king-making role in a city where 1,200 new perfumes are launched each year (compared with 150 annually just a decade-and-a-half ago). Nearby, the fragrance hall of Macy's department store offers the most important industry trading ground in the Western world. It looks, to any rational person, like hell: gazillions of garishly lipsticked ladies bearing spritzers, all throwing themselves in the paths of passing customers. Still, the passing customers keep coming, and the industry keeps booming.

Burr thinks there are too many perfumes on the market now. It's an addiction, he said, a constant, unedifying quest for the new. Probably, Jean-Paul Guerlain would agree. He's the last in the great perfume-making family. A looming figurehead, he oversees the operations of heir apparent Thierry Wasser, clinging tightly to the traditions that distance his own perfume house from the big, bold operations flogging their wares at Macy's. Instead of marketing campaigns, he invites selections of "lady journalists" to his chateau for lunch, flying them in by helicopter, offering them champagne and fine food in the garden. Launching a new product is a rarity. When Wasser began work on a younger, fresher spin-off of Guerlain's Shalimar, it was seen as a definite risk.

A world away from Jean-Paul's picturesque model are the New York offices of Estée Lauder. When the company was tasked with creating a new mid-market perfume for Tommy Hilfiger, operations assumed gargantuan proportions. Various talking heads waffled on about "liquid rock'n'roll," and so the idea was born for Loud (currently available for £18.99 in Superdrug). Everything about it is at odds with Guerlain's refined offerings, from the music-themed bottle to the 3D effect of the logo. It looked, to my eye, utterly horrendous. But then what do I know? Last time I was their target market, it was Tommy Girl they were flogging. And anyway, Hilfiger liked it, as did the PR team in London, who set about pushing the thing with almost evangelical enthusiasm.

It was a neat little depiction of the old world versus the new. The linen-napkinned squeamishness of Europe versus the big, bold ambition of the US. It would be easy to romanticise the former, to sneer at the latter, were it not for a brief, but telling, bit of live television. On air to do that thing he so loathed, promote a new product, Jean-Paul made a passing racist comment about the work involved. Just like that, the rather less pleasant side of tradition was exposed; a PR bull in a perfume shop. No doubt Loud, on the other hand, with its endorsement from both Daisy Lowe and the Ting Tings will be a storming success. At least for a little while. Whether or not it'll be in the bargain bin later remains to be seen.

Last night's return of Imagine was utterly fascinating. Alan Yentob was talking to Oliver Sacks, who opened up for the first time about his "face blindness". He's had it since childhood, and it leaves him wholly unable to recognise even the most familiar of faces. To test him, Yentob held up pictures of famous figures to see who he'd get. Those he could name were all educated guesses: the Queen, because she looked "imperious and old", Barack Obama, giving a speech. It doesn't always work: Oprah, "young black and famous" is inferred to be Michelle Obama. A stab at Elvis is equally unsuccessful.

Thanks to Sacks's own neurological expertise, he can talk about his condition with remarkable authority. Amazingly, he can't even recognise himself, so mirrors and windows can be confusing. One incident saw him patting down his hair when faced with a similarly bearded man on the other side of the window. But his wasn't the only experience we heard about. Working on his book The Mind's Eye, Sacks had come across all sorts of cases – people who have come to him, he says, as a kind of "last resort". There was artist Chuck Close, also face-blind, who has made a career out of painting ultra-real, giant portraits. Not being able to recall images has left him looking at people not as fixed subjects but as "a continuum" – every time they move, they're a new sight. And there was Danny, a deaf former restaurateur, whose vision is slowly diminishing until, one day, he will become completely blind. And Sue, who lacked three-dimensional vision her entire life until a few simple visual exercises saw her slowly regain it. My favourite story, though, was that of Howard Engel, author of the Benny Cooperman crime novels. Awaking one day to find himself faced with a newspaper written in a foreign alphabet, he assumed he was the subject of a practical joke. Until, that is, he looked around and realised he couldn't read a thing. A stroke has left him able to write, but not to read, at least not conventionally. Since the incident, he's managed to devise a whole new kind of reading, imperceptibly tracing the shapes of the letters with his tongue on his teeth so he can understand them. His latest work, Memory Book, has been his most successful ever.

Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'

Arts and Entertainment
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book

Arts and Entertainment
Panic! In The Disco's Brendon Urie performs on stage

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Radio 4's Today programme host Evan Davis has been announced as the new face of Newsnight

Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams performing on the Main Stage at the Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, north London

Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Mathison returns to the field in the fourth season of Showtime's Homeland

Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

Arts and Entertainment
MusicFans were left disappointed after technical issues
Arts and Entertainment
'Girl with a Pearl Earring' by Johannes Vermeer, c. 1665
artWhat is it about the period that so enthrals novelists?
Arts and Entertainment
Into the woods: The Merry Wives of Windsor at Petersfield
theatreOpen-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

    Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

    The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

    Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

    Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
    German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

    Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

    Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
    BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

    BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

    The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
    Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

    Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

    Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
    How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

    Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

    Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
    Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

    Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

    Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
    10 best reed diffusers

    Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

    Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

    Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

    There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
    Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

    Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

    It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
    Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

    Screwing your way to the top?

    Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
    Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

    Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

    Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

    The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

    Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
    US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

    Meet the US Army's shooting star

    Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform