Last Night's Viewing: The Town That Never Retired, BBC1
Super Tiny Animals, ITV1

 

At 68, Nick Hewer could be watching Countdown with his feet up as his pension rolls in. Instead, he's presenting the show. He also found time this week to rescue the agriculture industry in the The Farm Fixer and was last night reunited with Margaret Mountford, his Apprentice co-sidekick, in The Town That Never Retired.

Part of the BBC's When I'm 65 season, the programme set out to discover if older people could hack it in the modern workplace, as if its senior presenter (Mountford is a youthful 60) weren't evidence enough that they absolutely could. The difference: the 15 subjects had already subscribed to "Pipe'*'Slippers Weekly", and would be dragged out of retirement to work as builders, estate agents, nurses, factory workers and waiters.

It was ostensibly a worthwhile experiment. A third of the babies born today will live to 100, we were told, and would have to keep working until they were 77 lest the whole system crumble. If old people had to work for longer, a prospect Hewer finds "not daunting but in fact horrifying" (not long to go, Nick), how would they fare? I'll eat my words if tonight's concluding episode surprises but the results never seemed to be in much doubt. Some pensioners would do well, and defy the expectations of sceptical employers, while others would find their joints wanting, and their skills rusty.

The successes were uplifting (Ruth, 76, charmed staff and diners as a waitress) but the failures felt cruel at times. "I didn't come here to be trialled," said a humiliated Alan, 72, as the retired electrician struggled with a giant drill he had never been trained to use. Sheila, 73, who had been a nurse and midwife for 55 years, floundered in a contemporary GP's surgery because, as she said, "literally everything is computer", and she didn't know how to make a mouse click. Perhaps somebody could have shown her how.

Similarly, when Marie, 75, elected to use her own car rather than the satnav-equipped estate agent's car (she wasn't happy with the manual gearbox), we watched as she got horribly lost on her way to a house viewing. Couldn't they have given her a map? It felt like the pensioner equivalent of making teenagers sit O-levels and declaring them irretrievably thick when, surprise surprise, they flunk because the syllabus has changed a bit in 20 years. The real revelation was Nick and Margaret. Brought out from the wings of The Apprentice, they were a joyous double act, making a virtue of their age with affectionate banter. "Can you do it?" Nick asked as the pair tried to put on blue shoe covers at a chocolate factory. "Of course I can!" Margaret replied. "I'm younger than you, you know."

Here starts a campaign against aggravating alliteration of the sort that litters the narration of derivative documentaries. One can only imagine Jane Horrocks needed glugs of mouthwash between takes as the actress lent her voice to Super Tiny Animals, which inexplicably returned to primetime for a second series. We were invited to "marvel at miniature marsupials" and coo at "compact critters" who were among the most "pampered pets on the planet". While writers devised hilarious wordplay, researchers had evidently taken their quest for subjects all the way to Google, finding old news agency stories and filming their subjects.

Half the animals featured weren't even tiny, with a whole section devoted to giants. An average-sized guinea pig did the long jump, while a poodle-shih-tzu cross was presumably only included because it's known as a shih-poo (pronounced, shitz-poo, I understand). It was a poor man's Animals Do the Funniest Things, which is a poor man's YouTube, where animal clips are at least free from contemptible commentary.

http://www.twitter.com/susborne; http://www.simonusborne.com

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