TELEVISION REVIEW / A ceasefire, but no peace from the opposite sex

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The Independent Culture
FLICKING to ITV for news of the IRA's ceasefire, I was greeted by Kenneth Williams, all racehorse nostrils, making a six-course meal out of the word 'Terrorism]'. It soon became clear that Carlton didn't take the view that the story was good enough to warrant pulling Carry on Teacher. In fact, they took the view that it wasn't even good enough to warrant pulling Porky's Poultry Plant, the Merry Melody cartoon which followed the film. You had to wait until 12.20pm before the regional news finally asked, 'What will it mean for security in the capital?'.

The BBC, broadcasting a bulletin when the news came, were luckier in their timing, but at least had the grace to hold Quincy for a day less fraught with speculation. After four or five days of foreplay there wasn't much they could add immediately, to be honest - various men in suits delivering a thesaurus entry on 'let's wait and see' and engaging in a bit of amateur lexicography over the word 'complete' - but sometimes all you can do is honour the occasion.

It would have been nice too if the BBC had seized the opportunity to quietly shelve The Opposite Sex (BBC 1), one of those pilots at which you yearn to scream 'Crash, you swine, crash]'. Produced and fronted by Chris Tarrant, it provides a partial answer to the question of what happened to the stream of coy stupidity that used to burble through That's Life. It's been backing up for months now, a dangerous reservoir of inane vox-pops and audience shrieking which has finally found another route to the screen.

The programme is a rag-bag of meaningless 'research' (a Top 10 list of things women hate about men), celebrity interviews and the odd spot of ambush television (a candidate for The Most Useless Man in Britain competition surprised in his living room and ordered to construct a piece of flat-pack furniture). If the word 'drawers' doubles you up and you find smug fools delivering saloon-bar prejudices amusing then this is for you.

Honesty compels me to admit that I sniggered once, when Tarrant engineered a reunion between an audience member and her old boyfriend, now adorned with dreadlocks. 'He had a neat little Afro', said the woman reminiscing. 'Well, I'm sure he did', replied Tarrant in an end-of-pier sort of way. I'm not proud of myself, I don't want you to think that, but it was at least a flash of what Tarrant really can do well, a little glimmer in the overarching gloom.

'Splash', Dominique Walker's film for the Short Stories series (Channel 4), got into a bit of confusion with its tenses, setting a reminiscent voice-over (past tense) against the implied present of over-the-shoulder filming. This naturally provoked some confusion about what you were seeing. The young girl excitedly opening an invitation to be interviewed for the post of Miss Regatta 1993 seemed to be an obvious set up, which made you wonder about some other things too. Was her mum really swimming the channel later on or just 're-enacting' it?

But it was only a minor distraction from a Godberesque story, of an ordinary person pursuing a redemptive achievement. 'I was always told I would never achieve anything', Stephanie Willson recalled, 'and my mum and dad used to always say that I was useless because I was a girl.' She was determined to refute this charmless model of parenthood and to prove them wrong. Having discovered the delights of long-distance swimming, she set out to cross the Channel.

In a John Godber play she would have made it, of course. In life she didn't, clambering out three miles short of France. 'I'm freezing' she complained, but she wasn't really. She was warm and rather admirable.