07 August 1998 12:02 AM
Which would you imagine to be less stressful - a war zone or a house full of difficult teenagers? For a seasoned war reporter I don't think this would need much thinking about - in a war zone their decisions are relatively simple and the hazards are, within reason, calculable. But at least reason has some purchase on the situation, which can't always be guaranteed with teenagers. And if you add to the predictable ordeals of puberty a traumatising past as orphans in Afghanistan, linguistic and educational difficulties and a crippling disability, you get some idea of the task the journalist Nick Danziger took on when he rescued three children from Kabul and adopted them as his own. Even then you haven't taken full measure of his quixotic enterprise, though, because while Danziger appears to have some amazing contacts (he hitched by air from Pakistan to Dubai), he also needs to earn a living and his profession isn't exactly consistent with a stable domestic life.
05 August 1998 12:02 AM
THE LAW IS a blunt knife and when it is used to cut between criminal and innocent love you can virtually guarantee that there will be cases which will resist the blade, messily crushed beneath it rather than giving way to the edge's insistence on either/or. The story of Mary Kay Letourneau, a teacher jailed for the "rape" of a 13-year-old boy, is an obvious case in point. Why is the word rape in quotation marks? Well, partly because its use seems provisional here, a holding position until some better description can be arrived at for a consensual sexual affair between an older woman and a male child - an event so rare that society hasn't had to think of a proper name for it. And yet one hardly needs to ask what we would think of this case if the sexes were reversed - or if a film about a male teacher's affair with a 13-year-old girl proved so indulgent to the feelings of the older party: "People are putting me down, accusing me of being unfit because I allowed him to love me," said Letourneau at the beginning of Inside Story (BBC1), an intriguing documentary about the case, and the film which followed never entirely overruled that plea to be treated as a victim rather than a villain.
04 August 1998 12:02 AM
If the script was anything to go by, then Trial by Jury (BBC2) has an edge of authenticity over more conventional courtroom dramas. Purple prose, cliched hyperbole, ponderous sarcasm and hammy thespian upstaging - yes, this is how real barristers act all right. Except they aren't acting, or, at least, no more than they do when conducting the elaborate theatre of the law - since the whole point of feeding a fictional case through a real machine is to allow us to see how the gears operate. In this three-part story, a detective inspector is up on charges of blackmailing a prostitute, having graduated from fornicatory freebies to extorting a cut of her monthly earnings. The prostitute has sold her story to a tabloid paper, whose covert recordings and video footage now form an important part of the prosecution's case. Only the witnesses and the accused are played by actors, but even they must be performing from a detailed briefing rather than a line-by-line script, since the barristers must be allowed to pursue whatever line of questioning they wish to, otherwise the exercise would be entirely pointless.
03 August 1998 12:02 AM
There are pick up lines and there are pick up lines. Cruising with his friend Mary Anne Singleton, Mouse's approach is simple. He is gay and she isn't - so potential conflicts of interest are to be resolved with a straightforward offer: "Which of us do you want?" The use of the word cruising, incidentally, is not metaphorical, because Mary Ann has been left $5000 in Mr Halcyon's will and has blown the lot on a week's cruise to Mexico, a trip which occupied a fair amount of the first episode of Armistead Maupin's More Tales of the City (C4). Drama series have their tasks of seduction too, of course, persuading indifferent audiences that this is the kind of narrative they might want to spend some time with, and the second installment of Maupin's alternative soap appeared to be pursuing the hard-to-get strategy. It wasn't that it was stand-offish or haughty exactly, but it wasn't going to bend over backwards for new arrivals.
30 June 1998 12:02 AM
"HEALTH IS A lottery... How well or how badly do the wrinklies come out of it?" The tone was unmistakable - peremptory, impatient with mollifying conjunctions, happy to include a little jolting insult in the phrasing. Thought you might fall asleep, did you - this being a documentary about National Health Service policy? Not when Nanny Goldring is on your screens, at least not if you know what's good for you. In Goldring: The Age of Rationing (Sun C4), the first of two documentaries for Channel 4's "Cradle to Grave" season, the wrinkly with attitude began on a personal note - the story of her own treatment after a stroke had left her marooned on her kitchen floor for four days. Her experience of the NHS had been excellent: "If you gave my stroke team a three-legged horse, they would train it to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup," she said gratefully. But her point was that this was as much an accident of fortune as the original attack had been. In another area, she might have had very different treatment, indeed, she might have been deemed too old to merit the best care.
29 June 1998 12:02 AM
The combination of a country shoot and adultery is never wise. All those loaded guns, all that highly charged emotion - and sure enough last night's Berkeley Square (BBC1 ) concluded with a man in Norfolk tweeds lying face down in the bracken. Arnold St John was now the injured husband in at least two senses, the trigger having been pulled not by him, or his faithless wife, or even his cuckolder - but by his eight-year old son Tom, who had been subjected to the sort of persistent mental cruelty which would these days result in a care order and court action. Personally I would much have preferred Tom to have swung his weapon in the direction of the loathsome Louis, a coroneted brat who thinks that putting a bloody pheasant at the bottom of the bed is a character-building jape, but I suppose the producers felt that infanticide might be taking things a bit too far in a family show.
26 June 1998 12:02 AM
"AROUND 60 PEOPLE will die in the United Kingdom before the end of this programme," said Robert Winston at the beginning of The Human Body (BBC1). This wasn't a causal connection, you understand, he just needed some measure of the ubiquity of death and, for a few minutes at least, the device worked. As you watched, there seemed to be a muffled tick in the wainscoting, the sound of unseen citizens switching off - their consciousness dwindling to a final pin-point of light. There is a reason for this phenomenon, apparently, and it has nothing to do with the kind of celestial transit lounge described by those who have had near- death experiences - just the material miracles of misfiring neurons and natural opiates released by the oxygen-starved brain. Quite how this bodily charity could have evolved is a little opaque (it isn't easy to see how it would improve an organism's fitness to have it depart in bliss), but you can replicate the effects with healthy people by putting them in a centrifuge - so metaphysical explanations would seem to be unnecessary.
25 June 1998 12:02 AM
"COULD THE appliance of science create a better bra?" asked the narrator of Designs on Your Bra (C4), using that cliffhanger intonation so popular for narratives of investigation and research. Probably not, was my initial cynical response, but it will provide an unbeatable excuse for an hour of scantily clad women. Already, for instance, the director had taken the opportunity to film a phalanx of women jogging topless through a wood - a kind of Benny Hill fantasy sequence, though here run in slow-motion so that you could better appreciate the liquid heft and jostle of the unleashed female breast (a load of "up to 20 Newtons" apparently, though what are a few Newtons between friends?). Harnessing these dynamic energies was, we were told, "one of the most complex engineering problems known to man". Getting a bra off may be hard enough, in other words, but making it fit in the first place is even tougher.
24 June 1998 12:02 AM
IS SHE INNOCENT? It's hard to imagine that any viewer of Martin Bashir's interview with Louise Woodward didn't ask the question, and more than once at that. And, in one respect, the answer was unequivocally "no". Two years of press attention and criminal procedure, two years of being both wronged heroine and unfeeling villain, would be a powerful education in public performance for anyone, and, as Monday night's Panorama (BBC1) showed, Woodward has graduated with honours.
23 June 1998 12:02 AM
"I AM THE capitalists' nightmare - the educated intelligent person who just doesn't want a job," said Annie Byfield, introducing a new series called Beg to Differ (C4) last week. She was delivering this link, or something similarly smug, on the Dockland's Light Railway - a heaving illustration of the rat-race lifestyle she was denouncing. At which point one of the oppressed rodents told her to shut up because he was trying to read his newspaper. Byfield was outraged to have her diatribe interrupted, but I let out an involuntary cheer for this hero of bourgeois endurance. He could probably just about cope with the fact that his labour was paying for her indolence, but to be harangued for his dull conformity was more than flesh could bear.
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