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to school on the first day after the war, 14-year-old Erika Riemann found that Hitler's picture had gone and had been replaced by one of Stalin.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
Legendary blues and rock singer Joe Cocker has died of lung cancer, his management team as confirmed. He was 70
music The singer has died aged 70
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams looks concerned as Arya Stark
tv
Arts and Entertainment
photography Incredible images show London's skyline from its highest points
Arts and Entertainment
'Silent Night' last topped Classic FM's favourite Christmas carol poll in 2002
classical
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tv 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Latest stories from i100
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.

    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there