TELEVISION REVIEW / The nips and tucks of outrageous fortune

I MOANED aloud quite a lot during 'The Body Shop' (BBC 1), an Inside Story film about plastic surgery. I moaned when a steel chisel was pushed up a young man's nostril and hit with a mallet; I moaned when the surgeon waggled a liposuction cannula underneath his patient's skin, like someone hoovering underneath a pink rug; I moaned piteously when they did the tummy tuck, stitching the skin over what looked like a badly set trifle. But the loudest groan came when they played 'Stay Young and Beautiful' on the soundtrack.

For 20 minutes or so Catharine Seddon had put up a heroic resistance against trite cliche, and then cliche had won.

The moan was the louder because she had managed, against all odds, to win you over. Perhaps the very last thing television needs is another documentary about plastic surgery. There is a large warehouse on the outskirts of Strasbourg where they keep the plastic-surgery film mountain; the EEC is even considering a set-aside scheme, paying directors to film ponies or Alpine scenery rather than add to the glut. It will be difficult to change old habits, though - as a subject, plastic surgery offers a cheap dividend of moral superiority and gore. It's queasy money.

But, from its opening frames, Seddon's film suggested she might give a face-lift to this sagging theme. Her method was an odd mix of the mischievous and the tactful, the resulting film both slyly comic and genuinely melancholy. She seized upon the fact that the clinic was having an extension built. 'For lipoplasty, known also as body-contouring, dial 423' said a genteel voice from the clinic's answering machine, as you looked at a labourer with the contours of the Quantock Hills. There was a point to this, as to many other glancing details - a point about male attitudes to their bodies which was there for you to pick up but which you weren't obliged to shoulder. There was a similar wry wit to the way she presented those who profit from the business.

But when it came to the patients, Seddon advanced with considerate caution, tiptoeing towards their real desires with such tact that they occasionally put into words what she couldn't. 'Some people think I'm a half-crazed anorexic, but I'm not,' said the woman who had gone in for a tummy tuck, and you understood why Seddon had included an earlier scene in which she adamantly refused to eat an evening meal. Seddon let the denial stand but then asked whether she had ever wanted children. 'No,' she said too quickly.

'Fifteen years ago I thought I might have. I would have liked a daughter but it would have been for the wrong reasons. Selfish. . . like a toy I suppose, that I could go and buy her beautiful things.' She laughed as if she was being silly, but the truth was movingly explicit here, a reminder that when people with perfect bodies go to plastic surgeons the scar is often under the skin.

The profession was given a better showing in Children's Hospital (BBC 1), in which a plastic surgeon sewed up the ragged scar on a young child's face. I know all the arguments about such programmes - that they inform the public and ease our fears - but there's no getting round the fact that this is popular programming and that it simply wouldn't be as popular without the visible distress of children, without the bloody 'before' which the 'after' resolves. In this case the 'before' was a young girl having a fit and a baby with its face ripped open. How on earth would you go about explaining this to a traveller from another time? 'In this century we divert ourselves in the evening by watching scenes of children in pain. But, tell me, why do you think that strange?'

Arts and Entertainment

Great British Bake Off
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

    The addictive nature of Diplomacy

    Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
    Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

    Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

    Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones