It's prim up North


ARE THE characters in Hollyoaks (C4) trying to imitate their counterparts in Australian soaps, and is that why they pretend to live in a perpetual summer? Or do all British teenagers wear very little clothing? It's more worrying because Hollyoaks kids are constantly outdoors. As they all live with their parents, home is where nothing interesting can happen, so they're forever roaring away from various substantial front doors on their motorbikes.

The writer, Phil Redmond, relied on teen mags for much of his research, and it shows. All the characters are good-looking and shallow, and aspire to a meaningless conventionality. Nothing terrible will ever happen. It's not like being a real teenager at all. No sex, no drugs, no patricide. Only a progression of tiny slights, on that bedrock of blandness familiar to soap-watchers. For Hollyoaks's main aim, like that of any micro-organism, is merely to continue.

The alpha male, Kurt (Jeremy Edwards), is a clean-cut guitarist with a quiff of dark hair and jeans that are unpleasantly loose, bagged together by a tight belt. He's chased by a panda car wherever he goes, though it's not clear what he's done wrong, and he in turn chases Natasha, a snooty blonde usually to be found at the bus-stop looking petulant (this is in fact her only look). She's unattainably posh, though she has pointed out to her one remaining parent (Alvin Stardust): "Fatha, Ay'm ova the age of consent." In the second episode she threw a glass of water over Kurt. Water. The age of consent is wasted on these people.

The girls' role is highly suspect. They're given little to say, and spend their time worrying needlessly about each other. At one stage, Natasha thought a friend who'd Given Herself to a two-timing louse (on the grounds that their star signs were compatible) was about to commit suicide. When she turned out to be alive, concern switched to the possibility that she might be pregnant. The boys entertain themselves with music and motorbikes, the girls with bodings of disaster.

"What would the world be without male red-blood cells?" Kurt asked his friend, Tony. "Tidier, prettier, smell nicer?" was all Tony could suggest. Women are there to perfume, tidy and present their cleavages to the world. Men are there to model unfortunate trousers. I see no hope for this arrangement.

Should one tire of the teeny torments of Hollyoaks, there's still agony to be found watching that sex-and-shopping romp, Pride and Prejudice (BBC1), all wet T-shirt contests and weddings of the century. The assumption is that we'll settle for anything as long as its vulgar and apolitical. None of the liberties they've taken would have mattered if they'd only kept the wit.

Omnibus turned its attention away from Andrew Davies's excesses to the original author, in Presumption: the Life of Jane Austen (BBC1). It was a survey of the present state of the Austen industry (the fan clubs, the biographers, the teahouses and souvenir shops, even an old water pump she once lived beside), as well as of her own short life. But Claire Tomalin, who's apparently writing the next biography, declared: "We cannot say what this particular young woman drew from her genes, her parents, from her reading, from her family life, why it is that she was able to make these great works."

Others seemed more sure that they understood her. Wendy Cope, in a dress that kept slipping off her shoulders - now this one, now that one - said it must have been mortifying for Jane Austen to live in a society in which women were only admired for marrying - not writing - well. Austen's life was clearly plagued by financial difficulties, and her spinsterhood left her totally defenceless against the caprices of her parents, who suddenly decided to up sticks and move to Bath. Austen hated Bath with an intensity best enjoyed in her letters, where she wrote: "I cannot continue to find people agreeable. Miss Langley is like any other short girl with a broad nose and a wide mouth, fashionable dress and exposed bosom. Admiral Stanhope is a gentlemanlike man, but then his legs are too short and his tail too long ..." One can't help suspecting that the bitterness Bath engendered was the making of her as a satirist.

People practically lined up on the programme, like the conga line of teeny-boppers that followed Prince William at his first disco, to speculate about Jane Austen's love-life. Even Terry Castle's recent suggestion that something homoerotic lay between Jane and Cassandra on their big brass bed was raised. The aged, genteel, but sprightly Elizabeth Jenkins (another biographer) dismissed it with contempt, justly dubbing it ignorant. Jane Austen shared a bed with Cassandra not in order to indulge in hanky- panky but because there was no room for her elsewhere.

Despite evidence that Austen did fall in love with a man who managed to die before he could propose, Emma Tennant thinks she was too clever to have been much of a wife (this seemed a little harsh - must all brides be dull-witted and docile?). To the last she was eloquent. When Cassandra asked her as she lay dying if there was anything she needed, Jane replied: "Nothing but death." Some people should never die.

And "Child B" may be one of them. When Jaymee Bowen's identity was released this week, it turned out Panorama (BBC1) had been following her case ever since January, when Cambridge Health Commission refused her the treatment she needed for leukaemia. There was a brief history of the progress of the illness which began when she was five but returned in a more dangerous form when she was eight. Last January, doctors suspected she had weeks to live and essentially gave up on her. Her valiant father found a possible treatment at a private clinic, and the NHS refused to pay.

Stephen Thornton, who was involved in making this decision, defended it on the grounds that the experimental treatment on offer was "valueless" and not "in the interests" of the child (we have now not only the arrogance of doctors to contend with, but that of the administrators they've been forced to gather round them). Jaymee turned out to be an intelligent, forthright girl who knew perfectly well what was in her interest: to live. When asked if she felt other children would be willing to go through the painful and distressing procedures she'd had to endure in the last year, she said, "There are some children who wouldn't ... but I'm not one of them."

Instead of living for a few weeks, she has survived several months, and the disease is now in remission (her chances of a complete cure, once put at zero, are now 20-30 per cent). Is that so "valueless"? Either life is something worth fighting for, or there's no point in having doctors at all. They claim the decision to withhold NHS funds was not made for financial reasons, yet at every turn of the argument they seek to remind us that resources are finite and must be "rationalised". In fact they refused treatment because they didn't value Child B's life. There's nothing rational about that.

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