TELEVISION REVIEW / War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, Bob is funny

I DON'T know what George Orwell would have made of it: in Nineteen Eighty-Four, Room 101 was the epitome of a tyranny's ability to break down all moral resistance, a site for the abject surrender of the human will. Faced with a rodent face-pack - the thing he most fears in the world - Winston Smith gibbers out his final betrayal: 'Do it to Julia.' In 1994, Room 101 (BBC 2) is a parlour game, in which celebrity guests nominate their particular pet hates. Last night Bob Monkhouse started the series off by saying, 'Do it to Cilla.'

My own nomination for Room 101 would be the attack culture that gives rise to the series in the first place - that increasingly tedious fashion for intellectual aggression which means that whenever two or three journalists are gathered together and stuck for an idea, some dumb cluck will say, 'I know, let's invite some celebrities to list the things they really hate.' At a more elevated level (well, slightly anyway) it leads to J'Accuse, Channel 4's factory for synthetic controversies; in terms of entertainment it produces that overworked seam of stand-up, the 'The thing I can't stand is . . .' monologue, a mode which can so easily turn into rancid superiority.

The Eltonesque style of comedy is mostly associated with a new wave of comics, rather than old troupers like Monkhouse, which made for some interesting little quivers of tone in last night's opener. He had already proved, in a sharp and funny appearance on Have I Got News for You, that he is a comic amphibian, able to haul himself out of the syrup and on to dry land. Very dry, in that case. Here too he was moving between environments. 'Labour pains set to music' was how he described Cilla's admittedly gruesome rendering of 'Step Inside Love', a joke that wore jeans. But he continued with a gag that had come into town for the day from summer stock on Worthing Pier: 'She's been delighting audiences for 20 years,' he said. 'Been in the business 30.'

He was funny, though, despite the slightly uncanny sense that he is being worked by remote control - his eyebrows rise and fall with a mechanical smoothness, and between jokes his face goes dead, as if all the little motors animating that leatherette mask have been thrown into neutral. And the series itself is enjoyable enough too, providing a framework for some ghastly clips and sour-sweet nostalgia.

Hate got a far less engaging outing on Channel 4, which is dedicating itself to a season of programmes on the conflict in Northern Ireland. It's a brave venture, partly because for many British viewers the whole subject would be a prime candidate for Room 101, partly because it is an area with no neutral ground.

Watching the first programmes, you found yourself preternaturally alert to the ways in which language might give a clue to a speaker's allegiances. In Beyond the Troubles, Brian Keenan (a polished, arresting performer on television) described how 'British troops entered the province in an attempt to stifle an impending explosion of sectarian fire', and you had to wait to the end of the sentence before that explosive 'stifle' was safely defused.

Most striking of all, on this first night, was Loved Ones - tiny memorial programmes in which relatives recalled some of those who had been killed, restoring some grief to the numb statistics. They were brief lives in all senses, two minute vignettes in which treasured snapshots aged the subjects towards their early deaths. If all 3,379 of those killed since the Troubles began received the same brisk remembrance, the film would run for four days and 16 hours unbroken.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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.

    Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

    Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

    Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
    Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

    Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

    When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
    5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

    In grandfather's footsteps

    5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
    Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

    Martha Stewart has flying robot

    The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
    Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

    Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

    Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
    A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

    A tale of two presidents

    George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

    The dining car makes a comeback

    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
    Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

    Gallery rage

    How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

    Eye on the prize

    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
    Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

    Women's rugby

    Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
    Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
    Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

    How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

    As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
    We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

    We will remember them

    Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
    Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
    Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

    Acting in video games gets a makeover

    David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices