TELEVISION / It's a dirty job, but somebody's got to film it
Meet Harpic, the hygiene-mad driver; laugh at Bogsy, the new-boy on the cart, as he struggles to learn the traditional craft of attaching grubby teddies to the radiator grille; sympathise with Kath, Barnley's first female refuse operative. In Episode 1: Harpic has to decide whether to leave the streets behind and take promotion to Head Officer, Amenity Standards, while the crew discover that the man at Number 52 has been smuggling grass cuttings out in nappy-sacks, and plan an ingenious revenge.
Well, not quite yet. But it can't be long, given the rate at which television writers are working their way through on-the-job dramas. We've had policemen, doctors, nurses, brickies, tarmac spreaders, soldiers, lifeboatmen, firemen, antiques-dealers, customs officers and, most recently, removal men. Nobody's done a dental practice yet (Rinse]), and the psychological drama of the AA man has only been tapped by advertising. But the schedules are voracious and I can offer no guarantees.
Some of these programmes have actually been pretty decent (though only Alan Bleasedale's Boys from the Blackstuff could really be said to have transcended the genre). Even so, the spirit sinks a little bit at the prospect of yet another. Roughnecks, which is set on and off an oil rig, is rigidly orthodox in its procedure (you can virtually tick off the boxes on the Controller's check-list: 'Character variety? Yup. Nicknames? Yup. Technical detail? Yup. Anecdotal narrative? Yup. Gender tension? Yup.'). But it is all done with considerable style and wit, and looks as if it will give Jack Rosenthal's enjoyable Moving Story (on ITV at roughly the same time) a good run for
The titles put you on first name terms with everybody right from the start, including the production team. Keiran wrote it, that nice lad who used to be on That's Life] and Tomorrow's World, and he has delivered a sardonic script which makes the whole thing worthwhile. 'They don't call us Celebrity Airways for nothing,' says the girl at the heliport check-in, 'We fly all the stars - Buddy Holly, Jim Reeves, Glenn Miller.'
Inevitably there are bits that look slightly like a Yorkie ad - hard-hat heroics to a skirling sound-track - but the rough world of the oil rigs appears to have been toned down no more than was necessary to make it broadcastable - there are jokes about sexual deprivation and bestiality, about masturbation and porn movies - plenty of off-shore crude, in short, which backs up the journalistic detail of life as a roughneck.
The cast is excellent, from the bumptious Welsh beginner with fantasies of the new frontier (Hywel Simons) to the rig cook, Cinders (Ricky Tomlinson), and the programme is also refreshingly elliptical at times, allowing you to piece together details for yourself or work out the circumstances that would make a particular joke funny - which puts you far enough outside the world depicted to be convinced that you're getting an
As we're off Aberdeen, this is perhaps the place to correct the impression given in my review of Love on a Branch Line that women married to Scottish men need consolation. What I actually wrote was 'sottish'. The sub-editor responsible is awaiting his summons from the Commission for Racial Equality.
To mark Tolstoy's 186th birthdaybooks
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