Television (Review): The Britain of Sir Henry and Victoria Wood

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The Independent Culture
MIDWAY through The Last Night of the Proms (BBC 1, Saturday), about the point when a bearded computer analyst draped a laurel wreath over the bronze bust of Sir Henry Wood, Richard Baker announced that the event was being broadcast for the first time live in Japan.

'I wonder what they'll make of this,' he said, as the camera panned over the hi-jinking promenaders with their Union Jacks, their teddy bears and their bad complexions. Pretty obvious really. It was part of the exchange deal which brought us Clive James smirking over the Japanese game show Endurance.

If you thought, as the last bars of 'Jerusalem' faded into the Albert Hall rafters, you had seen enough of sanctimonious creeps waving their arms about for one Saturday night, you had thought wrong. Over on BBC 2, there was The Moral Maze. The latest offering from the if-it-works-on-radio-it-must- work-on-telly school of programming, the format followed the radio blue print exactly: the same ghastly panel confronting an array of expert witnesses, haranguing them mercilessly for half an hour and remaining rigid in the opinion they brought with them into the studio. This week's moral dilemma was over- population, which meant much talk about the Pope's position. As usual the principle pleasure in the programme was the unconscious self-analysis the panelists achieve: Janet Daley calling every witness arrogant, for instance, or Edward Pierce, perhaps the most terrifying visage ever to come out of a cathode ray tube, asking, apropos Brazilian street children, 'What is the point of something like that coming down from the uterus?'

Although their opinions came in the same pre-cast black and white of radio, at least the panel made the effort to look colourful for their television debut. When Michael Buerk turned to the aggressive Dr David Starkey and said: 'David do shut up for a minute', he was clearly referring to the volume control on his jacket.

You didn't need a map to know where you were from the opening scene of Pat and Margaret (BBC 1, Sunday) set in a motorway service-station forecourt. 'What's up?' a plump woman in a Rudi Voller memorial perm asks a man carrying a wide variety of cleaning apparatus.

'Level Two urinals, southbound, flooded,' replies the man.

'You're in demand with that mop,' says the woman.

Yes, we were up to the neck in Victoria Wood country. Just south west of Alan Bennett land, this is a place of lavish verbal juxtapositions, Burnley accents that could curdle cheese at 40 paces and gags about rinsing through your tights. And on a miserable autumnal Sunday evening, there are few more cheery places to be.

Pat and Margaret was a masterful piece of work: Victoria Wood has her critics (cloth-eared cloth-heads who take no pleasure in words) but even they would admit that few comedy writers could have sustained a two-hour assault on the rib-cage as systematic as this. True, as the Hollywood superstar Pat Bedford (the wonderful Julie Walters) was conducted through a journey of self-discovery by her long-lost sister, Wood laid on the pathos with a JCB. But you can forgive a cement mixer-load of sentimentality for lines like this, uttered by Thora Hird: 'A phone number? In the paper? For Pat Bradford? She'd be inundated with trouser fumblers. Remember what happened to Mrs Anglesey in the Post Office window? And she was only trying to sell a divan.' Shameless. And if the Japanese really wanted to know what Britain was like, this was the programme to buy.