TELEVISION / An audience driven by anxiety and guilt

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
'WELCOME to Good Health]' said Anthea Turner, 'the programme for HYPeractive HYPochondriacs]' Hyperactive presenters too, if her own performance was anything to go by. She had opted for a fleecy tracksuit and a presentation manner so bouncy and vigorous that it was probably aerobic in effect. Either that, or this was a vivid demonstration of the dangers of tartrazine.

The programme itself is a spin-off from The Clothes Show and comes at you like the dummy for a newstand magazine, complete with a snappy contents page and fashionably wonky graphics. The BBC has made lots of money out of magazines associated with its consumer strands, cookery programmes and gardening in particular, so a paper version of this may well be in mind already but you have to wonder whether the programme will really build an audience for itself in the same way. Where cookery and clothes programmes are driven by pleasure and indulgence, this can only be driven by anxiety and guilt. The target audience for a food programme is anybody with a mouth, but Good Health (BBC 1) must surely have a narrower constituency, and one with widely varying requirements. If you already have asthma the item they broadcast last night would have told you nothing new; if you don't you're that much less likely to give a toss. Who comparison- shops for the disease they might get?

There were useful preventative items - sensible advice on taking up exercise, guidance on what to do in the event of a domestic poisoning, a brief item on the difficulties of persuading teenagers not to smoke - exactly the sort of things you find on the posters in doctors' waiting- rooms, in other words. Clearly it's not a bad thing that these should be stuck up in our living rooms from time to time as well but I can't help thinking that people often opt for the 18-month old copy of Country Life in preference to the leaflet on cardio- vascular fitness.

There was a hint of edginess about the title of Wildlife on One - 'Malice in Wonderland' (BBC 1). Hmmm, tropical fish, they must have thought. Sounds just like a dentist's waiting-room. We'd better arrange for an undertow of ferocity, the promise of things eating other things. As a result, the food chain (surely a given of any wildlife film) was played for thrills, as though the coral reef was a colourful inner-city slum, an amoral haunt of muggers and thieves and gangsters. What we mean when we talk of big fish eating little fish, in short. But 'malice'? Does a grouper think, 'I really hate that glassfish. I'm going to eat him. Slowly.'

If I'd been them I think I would have gone the drugs route instead, selling the astonishing psychedelic visions on offer - 'Fish and Trips' perhaps. There were moments in this beautiful film when you thought they were playing tricks with computers, as fields of glittering light swirled and resolved across the screen, but the effect was simply programmed by one big fish chasing thousands of little ones. Other sights led you into the realms of hallucination. A fleet of lion fish drifted by, samurai pennants fluttering extravagantly in the current, as though God had asked Zandra Rhodes to customise a carp for him; a school of sleek barracuda circled slowly like a giant walnut whip made of glinting fish. You surfaced slightly breathless at the insane fecundity of nature's imagination.

Which brings to mind Ben Elton, at least the insane fecundity bit. Well, the breathless bit as well, come to think of it. The formula for much of The Man from Auntie (BBC 1) is dead simple - a microscopic and scornful examination of the details of contemporary life. Sometimes these are worked into sketches - as in a hilarious piece about the hair-tossing in shampoo commercials - sometimes all you get is a description with attitude, that screeching incredulity which he's made his trademark. It's often very funny and it's always prodigiously confident - the work of a comedian who knows exactly what he's doing.