19 May 1998 12:02 AM
Whatever one thinks of people who do Monty Python sketches, with all the voices, John Cleese's involvement can't help but serve as a kind of comedy kitemark - an indication that the programme has been passed for quality
14 May 1998 12:02 AM
"He is ... uncrushable," said John Major about Jeffrey Archer, the subject of last night's quite delicious Omnibus (BBC1). There was something faintly ambiguous about this epithet, even though Mr Major tendered it without a hint of mischief (I think). It's too easy to imagine it said in tones of exasperated despair, as you might refer to a particularly virulent pest. Whatever you do to the damn thing, it keeps coming back - a quality that can excite the admiration of the most unlikely people. Fay Weldon, who once unwisely used the word "genius" about Archer and has appeared on his book jackets ever since, had this quality in mind when she chose the term. Even Paul Foot, one of the more assiduous chroniclers of Archer's long, unfaithful relationship with factual accuracy, smiled as he recounted some of the more flagrant whoppers - as if describing an incorrigible but charming schoolboy.
TV: The smart money always said that docu-soap fever would end in the gutter and here's the proof: a six-part series for which the bottom line is yellow and six inches from a kerb
12 May 1998 12:02 AM
There are some heroic acts of prejudice engagement on screen this week - tomorrow night Channel Four offers the potentially lethal combination of Chris Evans and golf in Tee Time and on Wednesday Omnibus will attempt to persuade its audience that Jeffrey Archer is a suitable subject for an arts flagship. But these are matters of taste; in both cases there must be millions of people out there who will look at the billings for these programmes without a quiver of nausea - indeed who will feel a glow of anticipation rise within. The Clampers (BBC1), on the other hand, has taken on a real challenge - it hopes to humanise parking attendants, people for whom job satisfaction is inextricably connected with the ruination of someone's day. The smart money always said that docusoap fever would end in the gutter and here's the proof: a six-part series for which the bottom line is yellow and six inches from a kerb.
07 May 1998 12:02 AM
MOST regular viewers will have suspected some time ago that British television has been corrupted by the narcotics trade. It tries to get along without the easy high of menace and machismo offered by drug documentaries, but it just can't kick the habit. Wait for long enough and you're sure to find more grainy footage of furtive deals or interviews with concerned policemen.
07 May 1998 12:02 AM
You earn a great deal of money if you're part of the cast of a hit American comedy like Friends. But there are drawbacks, because this money flows from syndicated sales to television stations all over the world. The more substantial of these have to be kept happy about their expensive purchase. They have to be made to feel like friends, in short. Which means that every now and then you will be required to emerge from your luxuriously appointed dressing room and pretend to have fun with the syndicating station's zany of the month. For Channel Four this currently means Johnny Vaughan, whose personal brand of inverted quotation mark broadcasting (everything that isn't a joke is a quote, or rather "a quote") has given The Big Breakfast a much needed ratings boost. In The One Where Johnny Makes Friends (C4) he talked to the stars while they filmed an episode in London, a series of interviews in which the pungent odour of contractual obligation kept breaking through the atmosphere of bantering equality. Talking to Lisa Kudrow, marooned in Los Angeles by pregnancy, Johnny asked for advice on how he could best break the ice with her co- stars: "You know the best thing to do with any of the cast", she said, "leave them alone!" It was the most explicit cry for help in this often excruciating programme.
06 May 1998 12:02 AM
Psychology student Scott gets involved with a leather-clad belle dame sans merci, whom he meets after a brief flirtation on the internet. He's fascinated and she's poisonous - a drug addict and sexual opportunist who seems destined to flesh out his university course work in a particularly horrible way
05 May 1998 12:02 AM
No sooner had Father Peter declared his intention to leave the church and make a new life with Assumpta than He sent down an avenging thunderbolt, travelling through the cruelly bathetic medium of a dodgy pub fuseboard
01 May 1998 12:02 AM
The interviews in Dispatches'(C4) film about child abuse in South Africa were being shown with "full and informed consent", explained a Channel Four release accompanying the tape. This was reassuring, but only up to a point - because precisely what "full and informed consent" means in relation to a frightened five-year-old isn't very clear. One of the more upsetting passages of Tom Roberts' film showed a deeply traumatised child being tutored in court procedures with the help of a wooden dollhouse and some poignantly guileless woollen dolls. Presumably a similar exercise wasn't carried out to explain the chain of inspection and broadcast involved in a television documentary - with clumsy figurines standing in for the commissioning editor or, for that matter, the newspaper reviewer. And presumably too, the three-year-old boy who had been sodomised by a worker at his local creche did not carefully weigh the consequences of being filmed while having his bath. Of course, I'm being deliberately obtuse here - what was meant, I take it, was that parents had consented on behalf of their children, further reassured by the fact that the film wouldn't be broadcast in South Africa.
09 April 1998 12:02 AM
"We've basically re-invented the marble" explained one of the Gingell brothers, "We've brought marbles into the 20th century." It isn't easy to imagine exactly what needs improvement in a marble - they've been spherical and hard for over two millennia now, a textbook example of technological stasis. But the Gingell's had an idea of how to strengthen their diminished value in the playground currency markets, by inserting a picture of a Premier League player. Quite a good idea, really, considering what slavish completists children are, and how persistently they can haggle to secure that one missing piece from their collection. Good enough, certainly, to persuade a manufacturer to take up the idea and put some hard figures to the Gingell's fantasies of overnight prosperity. "Like winning the lottery twice a year," said one of the boys near the beginning of the programme, "3.3 million pounds in the first year if it goes big." At this point the profits were still tantalisingly projected - but the confidence of those doing the projecting was very high: "I cannot see it failing... It will not fail... It's too good," said one of the inventors.
01 April 1998 12:02 AM
I knew I was getting old when I asked a colleague how to spell Yuri Gagarin and she replied "Who?" Then again Yuri's global fame always did rest on a rather slender pinnacle. He was the first man in space, it's true, but his first time was also his last and his death in a plane crash only a few years later meant that he was never able to buttress his celebrity with subsequent achievements. He long ago entered the low earth orbit of historical curiosity, held aloft by the nostalgia of those who survived him (and, it has to be conceded, a recent mobile phone advertisement).
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