Last night's viewing: The Town Taking on China, BBC2; Silk, BBC1; Cardinal Burns, E4


Click to follow
The Independent Culture

He's a versatile actor, Bill Paterson, with a nice line in dry top-spin. But there are phrases that even he finds hard to rescue from bathos. Such as this one, for example, from The Town Taking on China: "Anyone who's anyone in the world of cushions, curtains and bedlinens is here."

The line was a reference to the Frankfurt textiles trade fair, a critical diary date for Tony Caldeira, whose attempt to restore a bit of the British manufacturing base was the subject of this two-part documentary. And I suppose you might reasonably point out that finding it funny illustrates part of the problem. Why shouldn't cushion manufacturers have their stardom and their A-lists? Isn't the assumption that manufacturing things is dull part of the problem?

The Town Taking on China didn't always successfully counter the prejudice. I'm sure there must be some viewers who find themselves utterly gripped by a discussion about how to turn the mezzanine level into a new machinists' floor, but it isn't likely to be the kind of demographic slice that would threaten Britain's Got Talent. And, unlike Mary's Bottom Line, The Town Taking on China couldn't boast an established television personality to wrangle the tantrums and the emotional cliffhangers that are a staple of more mainstream series. Instead, we had Tony, whose mum had started the business on a market stall, and a more straightforward account of what it would take to start importing jobs back from Hangzhou.

The good news is that it's getting easier with every passing month, as Chinese wages rise and the downsides of having a factory on the other side of the world become more salient in the calculation. Which doesn't mean that it's easy. Tony had taken on 18 new recruits in Kirkby to work on making a more upmarket line of cushions. Of those, seven had dropped out, either because they couldn't be bothered or couldn't be trained. And that meant that even if he could get a big order in Frankfurt (as he did) he couldn't be absolutely sure that he'd be able to fulfil it. There were some pleasing surprises, though. "People here are quicker than in China," said two visitors from Tony's Chinese factory. Which meant that Tony could justify expanding his English operation and leave us feeling a little more cheerful about the warning issued by another manufacturer: "This country cannot live long term by selling each other cappucinos over the internet."

I don't know what lawyers think of Silk. I assume that after a hard day lawyering they'd prefer to watch something else in the evening, but its account of courtroom strategy is deeply soothing for the non-professional, suggesting that it consists largely of arrogantly knowing smirks, downcast looks and dramatic reversals. Maxine Peake has a particularly nice line in rubbing her forehead anxiously during tricky moments, a gesture that is almost invariably a prelude to the witness blurting out something the opposition desperately don't want said. I was rather startled to see the judge in last night's case directly instruct the jury that they had to come back with a guilty verdict, not something I thought they were allowed to do. But it was fine anyway because the jury exercised their right to perversity, Martha Costello QC having touched their hearts in her closing. Oh, and Frances Barber is in this series, which is always a good reason to watch virtually anything.

I'm not really sure about Cardinal Burns, E4's new sketch show, but I think it's a good sign that it had turned me from bemusement to gentle chuckling in the course of a single episode. And, thinking about it further, bemusement isn't the worst state a comedy show can leave you in. Belly laughs are fine, but there's something about a sketch that leaves you wondering exactly why you're smiling, particularly when they're as well performed as this.