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
Corporate affair: The sitcom has become a satire of corporate culture in general

TV review

Broadcasting House was preparing for a visit from Prince Charles spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: There are some impressive performances by Claire Skinner and Lorraine Ashbourne in Inside No. 9, Nana's Party spoiler alert
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Glastonbury's pyramid stage

Glastonbury Michael Eavis reveals final headline act 'most likely' British pair

Arts and Entertainment
Ewan McGregor looks set to play Lumiere in the Beauty and the Beast live action remake

Film Ewan McGregor joins star-studded Beauty and the Beast cast as Lumiere

Arts and Entertainment
Charlie feels the lack of food on The Island with Bear Grylls

TV

The Island with Bear Grylls under fire after male contestants kill and eat rare crocodile
Arts and Entertainment
Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Quicksilver and Elizabeth Olsen as Scarlet Witch, in a scene from Avengers: Age Of Ultron
filmReview: A great cast with truly spectacular special effects - but is Ultron a worthy adversaries for our superheroes? spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Ince performing in 2006
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Beth (played by Jo Joyner) in BBC1's Ordinary Lies
tvReview: There’s bound to be a second series, but it needs to be braver spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry, the presenters of The Great Comic Relief Bake Off 2015

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A still from Harold Ramis' original Groundhog Day film, released in 1993

Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Christopher Eccleston (centre) plays an ex-policeman in this cliché-riddled thriller

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey looks very serious as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

TV This TV review contains spoilers
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Wiz Khalifa performs on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park in Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment
Festival-goers soak up the atmosphere at Glastonbury

music

Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars creator George Lucas

film

Arts and Entertainment

music

Arts and Entertainment
A shot from the forthcoming Fast and Furious 7

film

Arts and Entertainment
The new-look Top of the Pops could see Fearne Cotton returns as a host alongside Dermot O'Leary

TV

Arts and Entertainment
The leader of the Church of Scientology David Miscavige

TV

Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
  • Get to the point
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.

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

    Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
    Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

    Aviation history is littered with grand failures

    But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

    Fortress Europe?

    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
    Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

    Never mind what you're wearing

    It's what you're reclining on that matters
    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence