review:You can trust me, I'm an estate agent

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The Independent Culture
Rik Mayall is good at being bad. His Richie in Bottom - all bums and blow-torches - is one of the most unpleasant characters ever to have set foot in our living-rooms. And he brings to The New Statesman's Alan B'Stard a creepiness only exceeded by certain real-life Tory backbenchers. After this, there was only one depth lower the actor could plumb: an estate agent, a role whose stripey shirts Mayall filled with bravura in "The Big One", the first in a new series of Rik Mayall Presents (ITV).

Like insider trading or head-hunting, estate agency may seem a rather passe subject for a drama. But this was a broad comedy, and things have come to a pretty pass if we can't have a good laugh at estate agents.

Mayall played Lewis Fox, a compulsive liar. He put his hand on his boss's shoulder and said "trust me" with all the conviction of Eric Cantona addressing a meeting of the Crystal Palace Supporters' Club. When he pretended to be a jet-setting businessman and conned the phone number out of a beautiful complete stranger in a pub, he swivelled his eyes like Fester in The Addams Family. He even boasted the flowing Byronic locks which nowadays are used in all TV dramas as a shorthand for, "He's a baddie, don't trust a word he says."

"The Big One" at times appeared to be a blood relative of Quentin Tarantino's work. The climax triggered off a lot of jokey gunplay, and in an echo of the casual assassins in Pulp Fiction, Phil Daniels expounded his theory that the moon-landings were an elaborate put-up job as he drove to a hit.

The script also stretched our credibility at times - for instance, it portrayed people actually living in those luxury Docklands duplexes - but it was carried by Mayall's high-class mugging. This is the actor, after all, who once won the Boris Karloff Award for Most Outrageous Ham at a National Student Drama Festival.

Andrew Neil is another man who loves playing to the crowd. Like an eager Scottish terrier, he bounced jauntily into the Saturday night schedules with Is This Your Life? (C4). This is the sort of interview show that's just dying to be called "gladiatorial", "no-holds-barred" and "hard-hitting".

In the first programme, Neil was hamstrung by an athlete, Fatima Whitbread. He threw all the right journalistic javelins - the alleged role of her fiance Andy Norman in the suicide of Cliff Temple (she twisted her engagement ring nervously during this exchange), professionalism, drugs - but they rebounded off the impenetrable stone wall Whitbread had erected.

Coco Chanel was equally defensive as she built up her fashion house from a simple boutique in Deauville into a global business with a $500m annual turnover. According to a well-cut Reputations (BBC2), the sweet smell of success at Chanel was largely due to the founder's fragrant name. On closer examination, though, she did not seem quite so delightfully scented.

Chanel created a self-image as artfully as she designed clothes. She claimed her exotic first name was an affectionate term her father used for her. In fact, Coco was the name of the dog Chanel sang about during her career as a singer in seedy nightclubs.

In her Stalinesque desire to re-write her own history, she is said to have paid the orphanage where she was brought up to destroy her records. The programme also produced British Intelligence documents stating she had a liaison with an SS officer who masterminded a secret mission for her to meet Churchill. It has the ring of truth, if only because the codename - Operation Couture Hat - was so wincingly banal.

Her lawyer denied the mission took place, and there was certainly no mention of those horrible Nazi chappies in Coco - The Musical. In fashion, it seems, any nasty stain can be airbrushed away.

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