TELEVISION / Beggars for human kindness can't be choosy

SEASONAL Affective Depression is a condition that begins to strike at about this time of year - brought on by the shorter daylight hours and the absence of sunshine. By the weekend we were all sufferers: the cloud of the Bulger trial hung so low over Thursday and Friday that you had to use a torch to get about. Whenever a ray of light appeared to be breaking through it was promptly blocked by politicians trying to capitalise on murder (as I recall, it wasn't the Archbishop of Canterbury who said 'There's no such thing as society').

So Children in Need (BBC 1), lit by a blaze of artificial light and artificial jollity, came as a life-saver. It placed this reviewer in a quandary though - the event itself is often ludicrous and consistently dull (despite the pretence that a nationwide link- up is the most exciting thing since the moon-landings). But it is driven at the grassroots by exactly the virtues that, at times last week, seemed to be fatally endangered - social involvement, care for others, the refusal to merely stand by.

I know people enjoy sitting in baths of baked beans anyway and there might be more productive ways of raising money than pursuing their vice in a shopping mall, but we are beggars for human kindness just now and can't be choosy. Even so, my nerve broke at the prospect of representing the evening as an unblemished festival of human love. I resolved instead to donate a sum of money for each unworthy thought. For once, you'll be glad to know, these aren't cheap gags, but moderately expensive ones. Let us begin with the presentation. You need a new word for Children in Need, a word that describes an apparently spontaneous moment which turns out to have been meticulously planned but then goes wrong. Celebrities were expressing fake astonishment all evening - there was poor old Terry Wogan doing his bit in the foyer of Broadcasting House when all of a sudden he's kidnapped by the entire cast of Casualty and taken off to drum money out of the audience for Sunset Boulevard. Why, he was so surprised you could have knocked him down with a giant cheque (events like these remain, for the immediate future at least, the only times that companies can buy advertising on the BBC).

The chief draw of the evening was 3D television - we were promised that a 3D Dr Who would be dropping into EastEnders and that later this week Take That would perform their new single in 3D. Personally I think they should tackle two dimensions first and see how that goes. But that said, the technology worked quite well, giving spectacled viewers an astonishingly realistic impression of a novelty postcard without inducing a migraine in everyone else.

The normal rules of television drama are reversed in 3D - the idea is to have inanimate objects - bushes, market stalls, railings, Mike Reid - intervening between the camera and the actors at all times. In the case of the Dr Who segment, this leads you to the discovery that the drama was most vividly three-dimensional when the cast was invisible; Tomorrow's World (BBC 1) promises to explain how the system works this Friday but I have formed my own theory already.

Various people opined that comedy 'is the new rock 'n' roll' in The South Bank Show's (ITV) entertaining mish-mash of clips and interviews. I'll believe that when Lenny Henry is mobbed on landing at Heathrow and people start writing 'Jim Davidson is God' on walls. The truth is that comedians aren't suddenly as big as rock stars - they're as big as big comedians used to be.

This A-Z of British comedy abandoned its bid for intellectual structure almost immediately (C for Cruelty was followed by O for Oxbridge) but was another moment of relief in a dark week, serving up an anthology of 'best bits' and broadly unpretentious theorising. Stephen Fry's observation that 'there are more momenti mori than there are momenti botti' probably puts the case for puerile lavatorial humour as cleanly as is possible.

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