Last Night's TV: Harley Street, ITV1<br />The Unseen Alistair Cooke BBC4

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The Independent Culture

The arrival on our screens of Harley Street, a drama set in the world of private medicine, seems like some sort of watershed. But what sort? Is it evidence of the growing acceptability of private medicine, that popular faith in publicly funded medicine is no longer a given? Or is it simply that TV has been so saturated with NHS-based medical dramas that private is the only route left?

Probably the second of those, since the whole programme is desperate to hedge its bets, on the one hand trying to sex things up with gloss, glamour and greed, on the other reassuring us every few minutes that it's all about helping people. The series opened with our hero, Dr Robert Fielding (Paul Nicholls), bustling through a night shift in a London NHS hospital, striding briskly down the wards, demanding test results, flirting with stray nurses, breaking off to deal with a teenager who'd just come in with a bullet in his gut. But soon he was into his shiny car and whizzing off through implausibly empty streets to meet a prospective corporate client at his private practice. He's a go-getter, we're given to understand, but a go-getter with a conscience. It rapidly emerged that he's also a maverick and a "loose cannon" – don't you ever feel a yen for a television drama about a clock-punching, greasy-pole-climbing jobsworth? – a role that entails lots of strenuously sexual banter with any woman who wanders across his sightlines, and regular pep talks from his partner, Dr Martha Elliot (Suranne Jones), about shaping up if they're going to build the business. But even those bouts of entrepreneurialism are sugared with softer, caring lines about making medicine more approachable, helping the customer, oops, patient feel at home.

The result is a drama that feels oddly confused. It wants to give you moral dilemmas, but isn't sure what counts. One storyline in the first episode had the third partner in the practice, Dr Ekkow Obiang (Shaun Parkes), off to a "Botox party", organised by a sleazy model agent, where he took cash to pump Botox into the faces of young, apparently wrinkle-free women. But it turned out the agent was grooming one girl for the top, and for her it was not just Botox but the works: tucks, lifts, implants. Discovering that the girl was miserable to the point of carving up her arms, Dr Ekkow set about solving her problems, first finding her a new agent, then getting the old agent over and taunting him about his penis size, while the model stood in the background looking all happy and empowered. Exactly what any competent psychiatrist would recommend as therapy for young women with low self-esteem and self-harming tendencies, I'm sure, but if Dr Ekkow is so darned responsible and concerned, how come he was wandering around with an attaché case full of Botox in the first place?

Meanwhile, Drs Robert and Martha were getting all worked up about a severely bipolar author and his adulterous, heavily pregnant wife, who had a potentially fatal heart condition. This plot was resolved with her death and his decision to bring the child up regardless of the possibility that it might not be his. Personally, I wasn't sure that dead mum, medication-avoiding manic- depressive dad and strong doubts about parentage counted as a good start in life. Elsewhere, Dr Robert got grief from his old leftie dad, who doesn't hold with private medicine, while Dr Martha schmoozed a retiring medical grandee (James Fox) in the hope of netting his business. Grandee turned out to be the father of the upper-class nympho who kept turning up and randomly pulling Dr Robert's clothes off. This one is apparently set to run and run. Me, too, in the opposite direction.

Since his death four years ago, Alistair Cooke has taken about all the tributes one man's reputation can stand. All the same, The Unseen Alistair Cooke had some enticing novelties, in the shape of Cooke's home movies: landscapes, townscapes, holiday frolics, celebrity friends from the 1930s on. The most intriguing part, for me at any rate, was film of an unbuttoned, debonair Charlie Chaplin just messing around. Cooke had blagged an interview with him, and the pair had hit it off inexplicably, becoming for some time best friends. Chaplin was even supposed to be best man at Cooke's first wedding. He didn't turn up, apparently put off by Cooke's bride, who disapproved of his then-girlfriend, Paulette Goddard.

Around the films, recollections of Cooke from friends and family assembled a picture of a sharp-witted opportunist with a knack for pulling a pretty girl or making an influential connection. Having said which, his only confirmed political passion was for Adlai Stevenson – "Madly for Adlai", as the badges said – the resoundingly unsuccessful Democratic presidential candidate in 1952 and 1956. Stevenson was, by the way, a liberal intellectual with a flare for oratory, beloved of the élite but beaten soundly by a Republican with a war record. I'm just saying.

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