TELEVISION / Mining a rich seam of Lancastrian comedy

LINE of the week emerged from All Quiet on the Preston Front (BBC 1). I know that we haven't got very far in yet and Absolutely Fabulous is still to come, so no guarantees are offered, but I doubt it will be bettered. Susan Wooldridge uttered it, pleading for her little daughter to be left alone by the girl's biological father. She was getting confused, she explained, and it was all 'clattering round her head like a button in a Hoover'. I had a bit of trouble dislodging the line myself, it was such a lovely mixture of domestic bathos and accuracy, exactly catching that mental rattle that occurs when you can't quite pin down what's worrying you.

The father in the case is Hodgey, whose likely lads friendship with Eric provides one rich seam for the series to exploit; both are also in the Territorial Army, which isn't so much a seam as an opencast mine. For the last four weeks lorries with wheels the size of small houses have been carrying off the spoils - the social embarrassments of class and rank, the collision of the sharp-witted with intellects so blunt you could park cars on them. The comedy is school of Peter Tinniswood - the ordinary accidents of life occasionally tweaked into something more baroque, what you might call Northern Surreal. Last night, for instance, included a Chinese restaurant proprietor who had named his restaurant after Audrey Hepburn, because she was the most beautiful woman in the world. After her death he briefly contemplates changing it to Sharon's, in honour of Sharon Stone but then the Golden Dragon in Ormskirk closes down and he can get the menu covers on the cheap.

Sometimes the lines are a little too elaborately crafted as comic writing at the expense of character ('Have you ever thought how Morecambe Bay Prawns sounds like an American football team?' asks one of the dimmer members of the TA Platoon) but for the most part Tim Firth has that dry Lancashire point-scoring just right. 'If I stuck some feathers on an old slipper and told him it was a rare Shetland Slipper Kestrel, the wallet would be out - boomf]' notes a disgruntled farm-hand about his arriviste employer. Asked earlier how the sheep are, he replies with casual insolence: 'They say they're happy but they've asked for a vaulting horse.' 'Gentle comedy' is usually a coded way of saying 'amiable but unfunny' but it's right for All Quiet on the Preston Front, a series which manages to combine a tenderness about the little troubles of life with a fine and funny script.

Des Lynam leapt from a helicopter during How Do They Do That? and by the end of the first episode you could understand what made him jump. There's nothing wrong with the programme itself that switching off your set won't cure but it is mildly depressing to see a presenter of such talent at the centre of such an artificial business. Lynam is one of television's natural fibres, his genius being to bring a touch of laid-back intelligence to a field noted for its synthetic agitation. But this thing is polyester through and through, all fake perkiness and telly mannerisms ('You ask the questions and we'll try to supply the answers,' says Des. 'We certainly will,' adds his sidekick Jenny Hull, with Blue Peter-ish up-and-at-em.)

The items themselves were fine, including a grisly account of how a policeman's severed hand had been sewn back on and an explanation of how you can guarantee to win a state lottery (you need around dollars 7m stake money and an army of accountants, so don't get too excited). Best of all the little film about the retouching of cover photos for glossy magazines suggested the format might do something more useful than just make your mouth gape - Princess Diana looks a lot less ethereal before the computer paintbox gets to work on the nose job. But somehow we've got to save Des. Last night he was even guilty of one of those little autocue chuckles at a scripted line, a grim thing to see a hero commit. As he plummeted through the roof of TV centre, I wasn't thinking How Do They Do That? but How Are the Mighty Fallen.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
The Great British Bake Off contestants line-up behind Sue and Mel in the Bake Off tent

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Mitch Winehouse is releasing a new album

music
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Beast would strip to his underpants and take to the stage with a slogan scrawled on his bare chest whilst fans shouted “you fat bastard” at him

music
Arts and Entertainment
On set of the Secret Cinema's Back to the Future event

film
Arts and Entertainment
Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pedro Pascal gives a weird look at the camera in the blooper reel

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Public vote: Art Everywhere poster in a bus shelter featuring John Hoyland
art
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Griffin holds forth in The Simpsons Family Guy crossover episode

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judd Apatow’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is ideal for comedies about stoners and slackers slouching towards adulthood
filmWith comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Arts and Entertainment
booksForget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Arts and Entertainment
Off set: Bab El Hara
tvTV series are being filmed outside the country, but the influence of the regime is still being felt
Arts and Entertainment
Red Bastard: Where self-realisation is delivered through monstrous clowning and audience interaction
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rhino Doodle by Jim Carter (Downton Abbey)

TV
Arts and Entertainment
No Devotion's Geoff Rickly and Stuart Richardson
musicReview: No Devotion, O2 Academy Islington, London
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

film
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian 'Weird Al' Yankovic

Is the comedy album making a comeback?

comedy
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.

    Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
    Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

    How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

    As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
    We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

    We will remember them

    Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
    Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
    Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

    Acting in video games gets a makeover

    David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
    Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

    Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

    Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
    Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

    Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

    Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
    Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

    Spanx launches range of jeans

    The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
    10 best over-ear headphones

    Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

    Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
    Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

    Commonwealth Games

    David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
    UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

    UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

    Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
    Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

    Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
    Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star