Sam Spade takes up economics for Britain

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Indy Lifestyle Online
We've had the book, we've seen the articles, now here's the television series. Yes, it's that unlikely hero, journalist Will Hutton, and he's in a state: "I mean, God damn, let's get serious about what's happening in our country." Note that "our" - he's surreptitiously stolen the country back from the Tories. It's ours again now.

The idea that treating workers decently makes them more loyal and productive is nothing new, but what's in Hutton's favour is that he's willing to "bang on about it", vehemently, at the drop of a hat (you don't want to share a seat with this guy on a long train journey). The odd ers and ums in his introduction to the first part of his series, False Economy (C4), imply spontaneity, but in fact the programme is carefully stage-managed to promote Hutton as much as his ideas. The camera follows him lovingly, like a small, devoted but easily distracted dog, looking up at him from many angles. We see him engaged in all the varied tasks of being a go- getting journalist (Sam Spade, Woodward and Bernstein all rolled into one): doodling, typing editorials, opening envelopes, etc. Intercut with this in a suspenseful fashion, interviews with hoi polloi (I particularly liked the self-proclaimed "miscellaneous dinner ladies") and a lot of shots of train tracks, and what you've got is a star - though I confess I expected him to look a bit more like Timothy Hutton.

His new deal would restore democratic principles to the free market and perhaps curb the powers of the yellow-jacketed brokers who crowd like locusts into the City to gamble on futures, our futures, and create an artificial instability. His estimate that only 40 per cent of the adult population have permanent jobs is scary. The solution, he says, is stakeholding and retraining opportunities. "This is not just something that a liberal journalist is advocating. It's absolutely central to the economic and social well-being of this country." The camera loves it when he says things like "central" so emphatically, and zooms in to lick his face. All we can see is Hutton's nose - a nose apparently central to the nation's survival.

Celebration, Florida, offers a simpler cure for what ails us (The Works: The Town Disney Built, BBC2). Tired of crime, drugs, urban unrest, smog and traffic jams? Just put up some picket fences. Somebody's been watching too many Jimmy Stewart movies. How can anyone possibly believe we need more small-town America? But that is what the vast and frightening Disney corporation is up to, creating a prefabricated small town for people who actually enjoy having neighbours. It's a great real-estate gimmick: pack a lot of new houses tightly together and claim it's all for the sake of conviviality. The buyers seem to have come straight off the set of The Stepford Wives, one woman declaring that "The name Disney has always meant quality and has an impeccable reputation." Yeah, for sadistic cartoons, crap movies and fun-fairs.

Like other Utopias, Celebration's aims have not been properly thought through. The hygienic safety of the place will kill teenagers in droves. The worst idea was the hospital devoted not to illness but to "wellness". "We have discovered that when people have a more optimistic attitude, their illnesses are decreasing ... all because they're activating their own healing systems." In other words, if you're ill it's your own fault. Our presenter, Benjamin Woolley, who had a slight limp, was probably lucky to have been allowed into town at all. Disney's final solution.

More daft women featured in Astronauts (C4), a three-part series on a team of American astronauts preparing for a shuttle mission. Covering much of the same territory as Apollo 13, we got glimpses of the astronauts in a flight simulator, or learning to abseil off the top of the shuttle in an emergency (yeah, sure), and some great astronaut wives. These don't seem to have changed much since the Sixties. One, with a very strange nasal Betty Boop voice, was adamant in her refusal to think about the possible dangers of space travel, another had a very specific concern, were her husband to be killed in a shuttle disaster: "If your husband is sick and goes into hospital and dies, it's a private matter. But here it becomes a public matter and that's what kind of bothers me." Touching, huh?

"The girlies have problems over eating some of the animals we catch. But the truth is you can't be picky in the jungle." Will, the "expedition leader", is a fresh-faced, groundlessly confident 21-year-old ex-Rugby schoolboy who has organised a nine-week trek through the Amazonian rainforest with a bunch of other young Brits, none of whom should be out in the midday sun (Seven Go Mad in Peru, C4). "It's incredibly satisfying to lead the group," says Will, "to think that they're here partly because of me ... succeeding in yet another stage of the trip gives me enormous pleasure." "Succeeding" is a matter of opinion. Mutiny is in the air. "I've never known so many insects to chase so many people," says one troubled woman, or "girlie". "I just found a tick. Ew, disgusting. Thank God I got it out before it put its head in me ..." she says, while one of the men observes laconically: "Will imagines the group is bonding."

"There's so much testosterone around at the moment ..." complains another woman. "I can't stand the way we're bludgeoning to death anything we come across. The guys don't care about anything but their stomachs. They'd eat their own grandmothers." Will, looking sage in a canoe, has something to report to the gang: "I went to a 21st and they had the most incredible array of puddings ever ... some with strawberries in, some with toffee ... from, like, that chocolatey flapjack to the sort of gooey creamy meringuey ... to the strawberry to the raspberry to the blancmange ..." This is what travel's really like - bad temper, discomfort and a craving for pudding.

His vocation as a born-again preacher is fired by unspeakable guilt about his Ulster Volunteer Force past, but Billy McVea (Kevin McNally) is great at his new job, so handsome and emotional. He was just as fanatical in the past about murdering people. The Precious Blood (BBC2) was the somewhat mawkish tale of his brief friendship with the widow of one of his victims. McNally perfectly played this man hesitating on the verge of a breakdown, longing poignantly for redemption.

The strange Floyd on Africa (BBC2) - the most notable moment of which was when cannibalistic ostriches ate his ostrich stew - finished this week with crayfish on a bed of generalisations about South Africa. "And so my journey to the big country is at an end. A country of great beauty, of startling contrasts, a country of passion and hope, a country once shattered by racial violence ..." What has this to do with crayfish?