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.

Arts and Entertainment
The Rolling Stones at the Roundhouse in London in 1971: from the left, Keys, Charlie Watts, Mick Taylor and Mick Jagger

Music ...featuring Eric Clapton no less
Arts and Entertainment
In the dock: Dot Branning (June Brown); Union boss claims EastEnders writers are paid less than minimum wage

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Roger Christian wrote and directed the 1980 Black Angel original, which was lost until 2011

film
Arts and Entertainment
Professor Green (Hand out press photograph provided by Camilla Gould)

TV
Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones reviewWarning: Spoilers aplenty
Arts and Entertainment
Matthew Healy of The 1975 performing on the Pyramid Stage at the Glastonbury Festival, at Worthy Farm in Somerset

music
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe Withnail and I creator, has a new theory about killer's identity
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
tvDick Clement and Ian La Frenais are back for the first time in a decade
Arts and Entertainment
The Clangers: 1969-1974
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Rocky road: Dwayne Johnson and Carla Gugino play an estranged husband and wife in 'San Andreas'
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Nicole Kidman plays Grace Kelly in the film, which was criticised by Monaco’s royal family

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emilia Clarke could have been Anastasia Steele in Fifty Shades of Grey but passed it up because of the nude scenes

film
Arts and Entertainment
A$AP Rocky and Rita Ora pictured together in 2012

music
Arts and Entertainment
A case for Mulder and Scully? David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson in ‘The X-Files’

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Impressions of the Creative Community Courtyard within d3. The development is designed to 'inspire emerging designers and artists, and attract visitors'

architecture
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010

GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May on stage

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
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.

    Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

    Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

    Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
    Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

    The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

    Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
    Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

    The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

    Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
    The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

    The future of songwriting

    How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
    William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

    Recognition at long last

    Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
    Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

    Beating obesity

    The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
    9 best women's festival waterproofs

    Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

    These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
    Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

    Wiggins worried

    Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
    On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

    On your feet!

    Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
    With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

    The big NHS question

    Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
    Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Big knickers are back
    Thurston Moore interview

    Thurston Moore interview

    On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
    In full bloom

    In full bloom

    Floral print womenswear
    From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

    From leading man to Elephant Man

    Bradley Cooper is terrific