TELEVISION / Driving a wedge between parent and child

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The Independent Culture
THE documentary-makers will inherit the earth. At least it looks that way when the Svengali asking the questions seems able to get the subjects to do and say anything for the camera. One of these days they'll even get politicians to give straight answers, and the last impediment to world domination will have been removed.

In the opening film of From A to B - Tales of Modern Motoring (BBC 2), parents sat on sofas and grumbled about their children, while the children sat outside in their first cars and grumbled about their parents - and all for the entertainment of an audience of millions, and with no promise of a return apart from domestic grief. Just how do they do that? It's so simple, and yet it requires two quite distinct skills: the attritional ability to truffle these people up, and the diplomat's ability to smooth over their inhibition.

Nicholas Barker, the maker of a series that promises to be so much more than a study of the place of the car in the British psyche, possesses both in abundance. In Part 1, nominally about that all-important first car that most teenagers write off within minutes of taking possession, his subjects provided as complete a cross-section of this island race as you can squeeze into 50 minutes - from Karl and his spot- cream in Pudsey to James in his bubble of privilege in Chelsea - and in a few random sentences they gabbled out their life story as if there was no tomorrow. And indeed, now that their dads have seen the show, tomorrow might be less comfortable than yesterday.

None of the contributors can have known - not Chris's parents in Bradford, still patiently waiting for their pounds 750 back for the floorless Beetle outside, nor reformed joyrider Craig in south London - that this was not really a film about cars but about all who flail in them. In six case studies about untying the apron strings, the car was just the, er, vehicle.

Vikki, from the North-east, loosened the knot by taking her Fiesta XR2 off to the Burger King car-park of an evening: 'Practically anybody who is anybody comes down here,' she advised. 'It's like you get a buzz, it's like a high, from just coming down here.' Like every other first-time owner in the film, she was alone at the wheel, but you got the impression that she was also alone in the journey called Life. 'I might get run over by a bus tomorrow,' she said (why's it always a bus?), 'so I want to live tonight.' Yes, but in the Burger King car-park? Chacun . . .

And talking of France, this definitely wasn't an advertisement for the British car industry. 'A Metro is definitely an embarrassing car for me to have to drive,' intimated Karl, who obviously has a high embarrassment threshold because he thought nothing of yacking on about his Jason Donovan hairdo. Both Chris and James ruled out driving a Maestro - wouldn't look right at the Glastonbury Festival or down the King's Road - and both were very rude about their dads. 'He thinks I'm a wastrel,' said James at the helm of the super-souped-up Clio, the purchase of which so enraged his father, 'and I think he's unnecessarily unpleasant,' which left you nodding at the wisdom of the adage that it takes one to know one.

When they had all said their piece, parents and child would sit together for a group portrait, staring silently, motionlessly into the camera, suggesting that contact between the generations hadn't broken down so irretrievably that they wouldn't appear in the same frame. There was no quarrel here that won't be cured by a bit of growing up.

While Craig the ex-joyrider claimed on one channel that 'since I've gone on the straight and narrow I've had a hard time from everybody because they say a leopard never changes its spots,' over on the other side Kenny Conway (played by Brian Conley) was getting the same grief. The premise of Time after Time (ITV), a new sitcom by Paul Minett and Brian Leveson, is that the reformation of a car-thief brings shame on his family. No punchline got within a mile of Craig's pay-off: 'I'm just one of those strange leopards.'