TELEVISION (Review): Starting a new term with the interminable

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LAST NIGHT'S Telly Addicts (BBC 1) was, the accompanying publicity proudly asserted, the start of the programme's 10th series. So that's 10 years of lame-brains failing to answer insulting questions about the world's most ephemeral subject: popular television. Ten years of Noel Edmonds convulsing with forced good cheer. Ten years of families prepared to humiliate themselves for the prospect of half-an-hour's national exposure. Ten years? Is that all? Like the poor, this ailment seems to have been with us for ever.

The 10th series began as all the others had, Edmonds shamelessly glorying in his unique wardrobe: this time a shirt apparently tailored from the offcuts of a kindergarten art class. As usual, he was conducting a spat between two groups of contestants whose lives had now, it seemed by their FA Cup winners' demeanour, been completed by their appearance on his show. And, as always, there were questions requiring levels of cathode dependency far beyond the grasp of ordinary telly addicts: 'Name the actor who played Dr Lidgate in Middlemarch' or 'In London's Burning, name Colin's uncle.' What kind of nerd, you wondered as these very ordinary contestants admirably showed their ignorance, was likely to know these things?

Although the programme largely depends for its chortles on the archives (Blake's Seven, tee hee), there were one or two new initiatives for this series. A quiz for us at home, for instance, which involved ringing an 0891 number (something's got to pay for that set). And Edmonds introducing a piece of terminology completely new to this critic at least, when he described Have I Got News For You as a 'headline' show. If Angus Deayton's diverting quiz is a headline, then Telly Addicts is the six-point type used to set the Court Circular column at the bottom of page 27.

More diverting fare (a photo caption show, perhaps) came from Quarrels (C 4). This was, according to its presenter Hameed Haroon, an attempt to bring about dialogue between two hostile parties long after communication has broken down. Now peace has broken out in Northern Ireland and Palestine, Haroon bravely concentrated his diplomatic effort on a really tricky part of the world: Leicester. He was to act as intermediary between Shamsuddin, a Muslim from the Highfield area of the city, and Caroline, a prostitute who conducted her business outside the man's garden gate.

Although the show dressed itself up as a social service, it was clear its intention was to be entertainment. Haroon built the tension in the first half, interviewing both participants with exemplary even-handedness, and then promising that the head-to-head confrontation would take place after the commercial break.

When it came, it was a diverting culture clash. In the red corner was Shamsuddin talking about values and decency and explaining how he felt obliged to conduct his pre-mosque ablutions twice if he spotted Caroline in action outside his gate. In the blue was Caroline - 'Just because we stand there doesn't mean we ain't got no morals' - who defended her right to walk the streets on the grounds of historical precedent: 'We prostitutes were here long before you Muslims.' An interesting view of her trade, that - part of the social fabric: a heritage hooker.

Haroon began the show wondering if dialogue might help resolve the differences. Caroline's parting words to her rival - 'If you want to start a full-scale war, then you can have one' - answered his ruminations without equivocation. Next week: Haroon takes on the crowd at a Nigel Benn fight.