The Weekend's Television: When you're better off red

The Lost World of Communism, Sat, BBC2
The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, Sun, BBC1


The Lost World of Communism, the first of a three-part series about everyday life behind the Iron Curtain, began with some clips from The Sandman, a dreary-looking children's cartoon that was designed to "transmit class consciousness and feelings of solidarity".

Happy, smiling children were taken for rides in the Sandman's flying machine, soaring over a socialist paradise full of happy, smiling people and an awful lot of East German flags. And then, just when you were getting lulled by this peculiarly sugary form of propaganda, they let you know what happened to children who didn't toe the party line. Returning to school on the first day after the war, 14-year-old Erika Riemann found that Hitler's picture had gone and had been replaced by one of Stalin. Thinking that he looked a little glum, she added lipstick to it. "That wasn't a good move," said Erika, in something of an understatement. "I never wanted to be an artist again in my life." She was sentenced to 10 years in prison, several of which were spent in former Nazi concentration camps, where she was repeatedly raped by the guards.

Not everyone regretted the arrival of socialism. Frank Schöbel, East Germany's Cliff Richard (there's a thought to generate an involuntary shudder), did reasonably well out of the regime, as did his one-time wife Chris Doerk, a Dawn French lookalike who made some distinctly sour comments about the vapidity of modern Western entertainment. "Art and culture had a much higher value on them then," she said, though judging from the clips of the grim East German musical she'd starred in, what she really meant by this was "I was in steady employment and had a nice flat". But ostalgie, a Proustian wistfulness about the good old days when the waiting list for a Trabant was longer than a teenager's jail sentence, wasn't only expressed by the regime's beneficiaries. Throughout this compressed history of the GDR, it flickered away in some of its victims too, sad that a spirit of social cohesion had gone with the Berlin Wall. Since this intimacy frequently concealed betrayal, as in the case of a punk musician who discovered that his best friend and lead guitarist had been selling him out to the Stasi, you couldn't help but feel they were grieving for something that was better off dead.

There were no shortages of victims either. Ursula Rumin, who had body-swerved from a career as a cabaret dancer into scripting uplifting films about women in boiler suits, was sentenced to 15 years' hard labour in Siberia, after being kidnapped off the street and accused of espionage. Ursula's tale of suffering was mildly undercut by her confession that she had actually been a low-level British spy, but if your sense of the state's arbitrary cruelty was a little diminished by that revelation, your impression of its stupidity only increased. Ursula was a born honeytrap when she was younger, and far too useful, one would have thought, to be wasted on Siberian mosquitoes. It wasn't that the Stasi was prudish, either. Its production of amateur pornography, most of it filmed without the consent of participants, was considerable, and The Lost World of Communism revealed that the GDR's bureaucracy even found room for a stripper licensing department, this particular form of entertainment being popular at party plenary sessions. They had a tape of Heidi Wittwer performing her successful audition for a licence, which gained her access to the much-improved form of state socialism enjoyed by party bigwigs. "There were some great things about East Germany," she said. The only problem being that only a handful of the population got access to them. The programme was terrific, incidentally, a useful reminder of just how appalling compulsory utopias can be.

I found myself much less sure about The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, now back for a series after last year's pilot. There's undoubtedly room in the schedules for a gently meandering detective series, in which the drama centres on missing dogs and fraudulent dentists, rather than pathological serial killers and autopsy tables piled high with intestines. And Jill Scott and Anika Noni Rose are fun as the heroine and her stiff-backed assistant. And, yes, it's heartening to see an African location as the site of something other than war or humanitarian disaster. But I just can't feel easy about the whiff of condescension in the comedy, the way in which lack of sophistication underwrites so many of the laughs. It isn't that the drama can't do nuance, because it cuts into the major-chord brightness of the thing with several blue-note touches. But it never quite allows its characters to be knowing or self-mocking, all those attributes we associate with adulthood. It is utterly well-meaning, but I predict we'll look back at it in 30 years' time and mutter, "What could they have been thinking!"

Arts and Entertainment
Novelist Martin Amis at The Times Cheltenham Literature Festival

books
Arts and Entertainment
Alfred Molina, left, and John Lithgow in a scene from 'Love Is Strange'

After giving gay film R-rating despite no sex or violence

film
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Williams will be given a 'meaningful remembrance' at the Emmy Awards

film
Arts and Entertainment

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Arctic Monkeys headline this year's Reading and Leeds festivals, but there's a whole host of other bands to check out too
music
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Cliff Richard performs at the Ziggo Dome in Amsterdam on 17 May 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Educating the East End returns to Channel 4 this autumn

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch will voice Shere Khan in Andy Serkis' movie take on The Jungle Book

film
Arts and Entertainment
DJ Calvin Harris performs at the iHeartRadio Music Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush

music
Arts and Entertainment
From left to right: Mark Crown, DJ Locksmith and Amir Amor of Rudimental performing on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park, Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

Edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Capaldi and Chris Addison star in political comedy The Thick of IT

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judy Murray said she

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.

Edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Seoul singer G-Dragon could lead the invasion as South Korea has its sights set on Western markets
music
Arts and Entertainment
Gary Lineker at the UK Premiere of 'The Hunger Games: Catching Fire'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Bale as Batman in a scene from
film
Arts and Entertainment
Johhny Cash in 1969
musicDyess Colony, where singer grew up in Depression-era Arkansas, opens to the public
Arts and Entertainment
Army dreamers: Randy Couture, Sylvester Stallone, Dolph Lundgren and Jason Statham
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Great British Bake Off 2014 contestants
tvReview: It's not going to set the comedy world alight but it's a gentle evening watch
Arts and Entertainment
Umar Ahmed and Kiran Sonia Sawar in ‘My Name Is...’
Theatre
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

    Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

    The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
    Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

    Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

    A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
    Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

    Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

    Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
    Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

    Nick Clegg the movie

    Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
    Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

    Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

    Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
    Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

    Waxing lyrical

    Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
    Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

    Revealed (to the minute)

    The precise time when impressionism was born
    10 best men's skincare products

    Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

    Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
    Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
    Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

    Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

    Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
    Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
    Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

    Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

    Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
    eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

    eBay's enduring appeal

    The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
    Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

    'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

    Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
    Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

    Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

    Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention