Last Night's TV: It was just what he would have wanted
Eastenders, BBC1; One life, BBC1; Big, bigger, biggest, Five
Wednesday 02 April 2008
They don't buy all that stuff about nil nisi bonum in EastEnders. "He was a swine, a charlatan and a con man," said Peggy, offering the best she could come up with in the way of a eulogy for Frank Butcher. "And a cheat," added Pat, arriving late but not wanting to be left out. Never mind the fond memories, though. The horse-drawn hearse had been hired, the shelves of the Minute Mart had been cleared of white-sliced, ham and tuna, and there were balloons and banners to stick up in the Queen Vic, because eight months after the world at large discovered that Mike Reid definitely wouldn't be making any more cameo appearances in Albert Square, fiction had finally caught up with fact. From now on, it will be flashbacks only, the monochrome resurrection that even the most sinful soap character can rely on.
There's nothing like a funeral for bringing distant relatives back together, though, and last night's episode was full of teasing promises of more conventional kinds of return, old flames and old ghosts pitching up at the crematorium. The intermittent A Question of Sport shots with which EastEnders directors like to tantalise long-term fans, challenging them to identify the mystery guest by piecing together isolated body parts, turned out to reveal Janine not Bianca. The latter failed to make it to the ceremony, being otherwise engaged hurling a half-brick through her latest partner's window, which I think was her way of saying that the relationship was over. And now that she's homeless, it won't be long before she's back to create more havoc in Walford, trailing a Mother Hubbard straggle of children behind her.
Still, the departure was the main thing here, Frank's coffin entering the chapel to the sound of "When I Fall In Love, It Will Be Forever". If this struck either Pat or Peggy as a bit rich, given his record of serial infidelity, they didn't show it, though I thought Ricky's eyes watered a bit at the inappropriateness. Pat and Peggy were probably too worn-out anyway, having expended most of their emotional energies on a stress-induced row earlier, when they exchanged insults ("You bitch!" "You cow!") and slaps with a strangely ceremonial symmetry, as if it was a little ritual they had to get through before they could sit in mutually supportive grief on the front row at the chapel. Frank himself was present in the form of the occasional sepulchral chuckle and a posthumous gift to Pat, a box that Ricky handed over with the instruction that she should only open it when she was alone. I thought it might contain explosives, given the terms on which they'd parted, but it turned out to be Frank's revolving bow tie, an item that would have livened up the funeral service no end but that Pat selfishly kept to herself during the ceremony.
There were a lot of flashbacks in One Life, too, in Llinos Wynne's film about Josie Russell, who survived a murderous attack that left her mother and her sister dead. Indeed, it finished, rather ironically, with footage of its subject as a young girl, announcing her retirement from public life. "This is Josie speaking," she said, "...and I don't want to be filmed again... and I just want to be normal and I don't want no film people to come at all... so goodbye, everybody." Fat chance, Josie, because the tabloid avidity for your original story has been succeeded by a continuing media curiosity about your progress ever since. It was an appetite her father fed partly out of a desire to help stir up information for the police inquiry, and partly because he needed newspaper money to make a new life in Wales with a badly brain-damaged daughter. Now, both he and his daughter obviously have mixed feelings about becoming public property, but obviously not enough to prevent them cooperating here, in a film that marked Josie's coming of age and reunited her with the doctors and policemen who aided her in her recovery. It was touching to see how fully she's recovered, given how grim the prognosis originally was, but I couldn't help hoping that after this, she might be left alone to pursue normality like most normal people do, without attendant cameras.
Big, Bigger, Biggest, a new technology series on Five, is full of swooshing, clanging computer graphics and technical optimism, tracing the advance of human engineering as a series of ever-ascending steps. Literally ascending, in the case of this week's subject, which was skyscrapers: six historical high-rises paving the way to the Burj Dubai, currently the tallest building in the world. It's very crisply done, if you like that kind of thing, and paid fair tribute to two men who probably have a bigger claim to have transformed the face of urban life than any number of architects: Elisha Otis, inventor of the safety lift, and Willis Haviland Carrier, the father of air-conditioning.
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