Last Night's TV: Britain's Trillion Pound Horror Story/Channel 4
Kara Tointon: Don't Call Me Stupid/BBC3
Friday 12 November 2010
Oh, all right. I wouldn't have got it either. Sad but true: if you had asked me what the national debt was, I wouldn't have been able to give you a figure. If you asked me the difference between that and the budget deficit, I probably wouldn't get it either. Thank goodness it's not part of my job.
Rather more worryingly, most of our politicians don't seem to know. At least, they don't judging by the pop-quiz Martin Durkin sprung on them midway through Britain's Trillion Pound Horror Story. It was all bit hammy and random, but you couldn't help but think: "Isn't it their job to know this stuff?" Especially you, Alan Johnson. Fingers crossed things have changed since then.
Durkin comes with an agenda. He always has: this is the man behind 2007's controversial The Great Global Warming Swindle and 2000's The Rise and Fall of GM, both of which attracted widespread controversy and censure from Ofcom. This time he was trying to prove, not that the earth is getting cooler, nor that genetically modified food is the way forward, but that Britain needs to cut its public spending in half.
His stock-in-trade is sensationalism. It's all a little schlocky, a little too convenient, but it is entertaining. Talking heads arguing for flat taxes (a motley crew of right wingers: Kelvin MacKenzie, Nigel Lawson, faces from City AM and the Taxpayers' Alliance) were interspersed with Durkin acting out a variety of sketches to illustrate his point. The Government's cuts were compared to a man bailing out an overflowing bath with a tiny cup. The size of the debt was illustrated with a graphic showing what it would look like were it piled up in £50 notes – £4.8 trillion, as it turns out, goes a very long way, past the top of London's Gherkin, past any hovering aeroplanes, past, even, the circling satellites, right up into space. The stack, says Durkin, would reach a height of 6,561 miles. If you were to chuck it out of the window, one note at a time, you would be there for 3,000 years.
Like a good teacher, Durkin draws you in. He makes the economics interesting and he convinces you – often against your better judgement, frequently only momentarily – of his point of view. His is the self-styled "common sense" of the tabloid knee-jerk, peppered with easy equations and convenient catchphrases. Public sector workers are tax consumers, he says, service workers secondary tax consumers. Entrepreneurship creates tax revenue, but taxes dampen entrepreneurship. Even the NHS should be dismantled, he reasons, in favour of a competitive system with insurance for the poorest. It's a nice argument to make when you've got enough to get by, but not one that's likely to win him many friends. After all, as he all too frequently reminds us, the public sector is rapidly dwarfing the private.
Series two of Misfits, and the E4 comedy about a bunch of asbo-toting teens with superpowers looks unlikely to disappoint. The grubbier, funnier cousin of America's Heroes began with Nathan awaking in his coffin to discover that, contrary to all appearances, last season's gory impalement was not enough to finish him off. "I'm immortal," he declared. And indeed he was: he has a superpower after all.
It wasn't Nathan's only excuse to rise from the grave. Like buses, impalements tend to come all at once, and so it was that he found himself skewered once again. The group were being pursued by a shape-shifter, first encountered by Simon in a psychiatric ward. She wanted revenge on his friends for taking him away from her, though, on the verge of turning them in for the murder of their latest probation officer, backed down. Still, our heroes aren't in the clear just yet: someone else knows about them, too. A masked intruder has begun popping up in unexpected places, and looks bound to dominate the next few weeks' viewing.
Kara Tointon is something of a revelation. I've not seen her in EastEnders, nor in Strictly Come Dancing; she's simply a rather pretty face that I've seen in the papers sometimes. Anyway, as it turns out, she's very engaging indeed. She's also dyslexic.
School, she said, was always a struggle. She would be reprimanded for not paying enough attention, even when she was trying her hardest. By the time she was diagnosed with dyslexia, she was some 26 books behind her classmates. Odd, then, that she chose a career in acting, where script-reading, line-learning and memory are crucial skills. Rather sweetly, this paradox didn't appear to have occurred to her. It was only when she sat down with her former East Enders co-star Ricky Groves for a spot of competitive scene-memorising that the penny dropped. A sequence that would, he said, usually take him 10 minutes to learn represents several hours' work for her.
Tointon went for brain scans at a clinic in London. They revealed far higher levels of activity when she's reading than when others do. She was, said the doctor, doing the amount of work that a foreign-language speaker would have to in order to decode an English passage. Five months down the line, she has incorporated a host of new learning methods into her life, memorising lines by bouncing round the room from one coloured Post-it to another.
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