TELEVISION / The life and soul of the Communist Party

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THE MOST intriguing remark in The People's Dictator (BBC 2) was the one you didn't get to hear. Edward Heath was recalling an encounter with Deng Xiaoping, during which the Chinese leader expressed himself with characteristic Szechuan robustness about Mrs Thatcher. Mr Heath declined to repeat what he had said on the grounds that it was too 'cruel'. He said this with a corpulent deadpan that invited you to speculate freely about the sort of comment that even Mr Heath would feel went too far, an invitation I accepted. I came round from this enjoyable reverie a few minutes later, during a description of Deng's awful capacity for nursing a grudge.

It was that quality, suggested Julian O'Halloran in his profile of this supreme political survivor, which had led to the massacre in Tiananmen Square. Humiliated by the students, who had cast a shadow over a set-piece summit with Gorbachev, Deng didn't want a peaceful resolution; he wanted revenge and decisive action. The man who couldn't get a prawn from his bowl to his lips without dropping it had to show that he wouldn't fumble this confrontation. Several other contributors testified to his vindictive nature but the documentary itself, which filled in the history of his variable fortunes, suggested another possibility, too.

It was clear that Deng is little troubled by conscience. He displayed considerable zeal in the early purges against 'Rightists', arguing for the strictest measures when others wanted leniency. But he was also himself a victim of sudden changes in the political wind. Indeed his career - fluctuating personal fortunes followed by the determined imposition of massive economic reforms - follows the hokey-cokey model: In, Out, In, Out, Shake it all about. Deng learned his lessons of economic pragmatism in a bitter school, the Great Leap Forward, when between 20 and 43 million Chinese were sacrificed to ideology. In a hysterical bid to increase steel production, families even broke up their woks and fed them into neighbourhood furnaces, stripping the surroundings of trees for fuel.

Later still, Deng took a refresher course in the terrors of zealotry. During the Cultural Revolution he was denounced by Red Guards as a 'dwarf' and 'dog-head' and forced to do manual work. His son, subjected to ceaseless denunciations, tried to commit suicide and was paralysed for life. So it seems at least conceivable that what Deng saw in Tiananmen Square was not a peaceful request for dialogue but a terrifying flashback to ideological upheaval - young people gathered in mass, chanting slogans, open in their denunciations of existing authority.

This hardly counts as a mitigating circumstance for what followed, but it does suggest that the picture of inscrutable ruthlessness presented here isn't necessarily the whole of the picture. Those who have the power to cause fear are not necessarily exempt from that emotion themselves.

Keith Floyd was at it again last night. You didn't have to wait long before he got to 'Sicily on a plate' and you travelled by way of 'Heaven in a glass' (a zabaglione whipped up in Marsala itself). All the same, he deserves to have a memorial raised to him by public subscription for including a culinary disaster in the series. He's confessed once before to a curdled sauce, but this was on a grander scale. His attempt to bake fish in sea-salt fell apart before our eyes, and, more humiliatingly, before the eyes of the Sicilian cook who'd advised him to do it differently. Perhaps he just couldn't be bothered to do the retake but it looked like honesty and it will have raised the spirits of culinary amateurs everywhere.