One of the more jaw-dropping moments in Neighbours from Hell II consisted of a man standing in front of two bird tables; the bird table nearest to him was a standard Barratt's Home model andabout waist height - the one in the background had a certain Tyrolean dash to its architecture and also boasted an extra three feet of pole. Between them ran a garden wall, a form of boundary more volatile than the Korean DMZ, if you were to believe the accumulated evidence of this film.

On this side of it an aggrieved Englishman was putting his case: "The one at the back is Mr Neumann's", he said, "Now... unless I've seen too many war films that looks like a conning tower to me... That's the way he has been all the time. He's got to be bigger, better... He actually laughed at my little bird table". Outraged by this Teutonic affront to English moderation Mr Thorpe had conducted a sustained campaign of harrassment and racial insult which put him in court several times and eventually led to him being forcibly rehoused by the council.

The BBC and ITV would naturally never stoop to such a petty jostle of egos. Which is why the simultaneous arrival of two identical series can be nothing more than an unhappy coincidence. How dismayed they must have been at Carlton when they found that their programme had been scheduled directly opposite Neighbours at War. As it turns out the object of this television rivalry is even less dignified than Mr Neumann and Mr Thorpe's bird tables.

At least they feed birds, whereas these depressing wallows in human ignorance and spite serve little purpose but to titillate, to tickle the back of your throat with extremes of wilful stupidity. You could gawp disconsolately at the man who had knowingly moved into a cottage 70 yards from a church tower and was now insisting that the bell ringing was a satanic plot to kill him - or you could moan at the sight of the artist who believed that painting giant sunflowers on her roof had been an act of self-sacrificing generosity towards the village in which she lived.

What you couldn't do was gain much from the knowledge that one of these monsters of self-indulgence might end up living next to you. Carlton's programme ended with a rhetorical question: "How many more of us are living in fear of neighbours from hell?" The answer to which was a good many more than had been half an hour previously. The BBC having sent me a tape with only a loud hissing on the soundtrack. I am glad to say I have been spared the demoralising task of adjudicating between bad and worse.

Compass sounds like one of those Seventies regional opt-outs - a round up of news from the Norfolk region or religious programming for Devon. In fact it is a new series dealing with social policy issues - a kind of Analysis Lite. It is presented by Dr Ngaire Woods, a telegenic Oxford don whose charms have not been thought quite sufficient in themselves to carry wary viewers through the denser passages of explication.

As a result there are several sprightly youth-programme tricks during her pieces to camera, such as an instant transition from background to foreground or even, on one occasion, a point where she turns to listen to an electronic doppelganger completing her sentence. I may be alone in this but the mental exclamation "Oh look, there's two of her!" did not tighten my somewhat flaccid grip on the niceties of fiscal demography. This opening episode was an audit on the future of state pensions, which in 2030 will amount to only 9 per cent of the average working wage. The programme's more extravagant prognostications - including a vision of well-defended enclaves of Saga-brochure oldies surrounded by a ragged army of indigent OAPs - were unsettling enough to make me resolve to abandon the ways of the grasshopper.