Last night's viewing - The Syndicate, BBC1; What Do Artists Do All Day? BBC4; Edwardian Insects on Film, BBC4
Double lottery wins aren't completely unheard of, even though they do occasionally crop up. But the writers of television series quite regularly get the five-number payoff of a repeat commission. It happened to Kay Mellors, whose drama The Syndicate, about a group of Bradford supermarket workers scooping a big prize on the lottery, went down well enough to get another booking.
Generally speaking, when this happens the original cast get to share in the good fortune. Commissioning editors don't much care to mess with the ingredients of a winning recipe. But obviously, double lottery wins being rare enough to stretch credulity, in this case they didn't have much choice. Apart from one survivor from the previous series (Denise, implausibly hired as an adviser by the lottery company), Mellors has gone for a new set of numbers – a fresh syndicate of hospital colleagues to discover just how corrosive and troubling good fortune can be.
The drama began with a frantic search, air-headed Becky having lost the ticket she'd been sent off to buy just the day before. The syndicate know they've won something big, because they always use the same numbers (Helen's, in fact, who dropped out of the syndicate, but appears breezily confident that no one will object if she back-dates her membership). But without the ticket they can't be sure. And without the ticket, it's likely to be academic anyway. The problem is that Becky is a little vague about the previous night, having ended it with one too many Bacardi Breezers. So we realise before she does – courtesy of a flashback – that the telephone number she pressed on the nice lad she met at the uni bar was written on the back of a very special kind of receipt.
Mellors' first episode was largely concerned with getting the ticket back – a narrative mostly played for comedy. But at the same time, she's sketching in the dilemmas and desires that the big windfall will exacerbate. "First thing I'd do is buy myself a new pair of knees," said Rose (Alison Steadman) when the win was still unconfirmed. But will Rose go private? And what will her NHS colleagues think of that? Another couple are trying for adoption, there's a recovering alcoholic who's already raised eyebrows by tucking in to the celebratory champagne, and there's Mandy, Becky's mum, who has been keeping her abusive and controlling husband quiet of an evening by furtively medicating his beer. Intriguingly, there's a suggestion that while Mandy is inured to the idea of sharing a miserable life with horrible Steve, the prospect of having to share a happy one may just tip her over the edge. And Helen, one hardly needs to add, has a face on her like a slapped arse.
Last night, BBC4 offered two delightful films about men rich in passion, for whom, one suspects, money is and was a by-product, never a goal. What Do Artists Do All Day? was about the print-maker Norman Ackroyd while Edwardian Insects on Film was about a pioneering natural-history film-maker called Percy Smith. Both offered the deep pleasure of patient process and uncertain end result, with Ackroyd's anticipation as he peeled back a print very similar to Charlie Hamilton James's nervous excitement as he waited to see whether he'd successfully replicated Smith's first big hit – a short film called The Acrobatic Fly, which featured a juggling specimen of Calliphora vomitoria.
What Do Artists Do All Day? wasn't quite as instructive about the technology of print-making as Edwardian Insects was about Smith's early attempts at time-lapse photography and microscopic close-up, but it shared the lovely sense of men completely consumed in perfecting their art. Smith was so taken with the moulds and fungus he filmed that he let them consume his house, buying another one nearby when the original became a bit too dank even for him. For a lucky few, work is the lottery win.
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