There to save him from consuming the wrong kind of grub was grizzled SAS veteran Lofty, a man whose eating preferences marked him out as none other than Ray Mears's long-lost grandfather. He showed the plumpish comedian around the various comestibles (bits of tree, something wriggly), and pointed out sagely "Y'see, Lenny, anything edible, nature protects it!"
But Lenny was edible, and nature wasn't protecting him. Attacked by sweat flies and mosquitoes and confronted by the Dawn Frenches of the spider world, he lost weight in front of our eyes. He had been in show business since he was 16, he told us, and it had been poor preparation for this.
At night the crew retreated to a Fitzcarraldo paddle steamer moored in a deeper bit of the sluggish brown river, leaving Lofty and Lenny alone with a Hi-8 camera. And it was the timecode on the camera that allowed one to see just how awful the nights were. Every half-hour Lenny would tell us about large wiggly things that had dropped with a phlumph on his mosquito netting.
This being BBC1, bowel problems were not alluded to, apart from a quick shot of Lofty trudging off in search of a nice tarantula- and anaconda-free spot for a poo. Lenny, I judge, had o/d'd on Imodium.
Long before comedians were exiled to eat or be eaten by exotic fauna, a TV genre had begun (initiated by Thor Heyerdahl and the Kon-Tiki expedition), recreating old voyages aboard wooden ships. The film-makers and organisers filled the leaky vessels with boring, bearded outdoor types and then filmed the boat and crew swaying sickeningly for a month on the High Seas.
The Voyage of the Matthew (BBC1, Sun), is no exception. It is narrated by Newsnight veteran Peter Snow, who - wisely - has resisted the CD call to go on the voyage himself, but has settled for the Michael Buerk 999 role, that of standing on quaysides or describing helicopter rescues from a safe distance.
I was taken, however, by his piece to camera on the hardships endured by the original Cabot crew, and to be re-endured by the new lot. "This tiny space," said Snow, his head banging against the beams, "will be home to 18 crew members." But at a tad over 8'3" Peter Snow is not the best judge of whether a space is large enough for human beings.
The crew themselves are disappointing. The skipper may be "one of the most experienced sailors in the country", but he is also one of the least charismatic. And the Reverend Russell Owen, the film's principal character (seen in his church praying to be allowed to join the voyage), has the less -than-perfect combination of a magnificent nose and - extraordinarily for a Welsh preacher - a complete lack of eloquence.
Wales not only produces great (if inarticulate) sailors, but as Drovers' Gold (BBC1, Fri) proves, it can make cowboy movies too. This one is a Chapel western, set in the principality in the mid-19th century. And it possesses all the simple and familiar plot elements of a dozen cowboy movies slung together.
The central character is a young man who is grittily determined to drive a herd of cows from Rhayader to London. To help him he recruits (or picks up) a selection of misfits - including the obligatory Dean Martin-type drunk, the strong, silent man who can lift carts up when they fall over, and the wise but frail older man (Freddie Jones, destined, surely, to die). For love interest there is the snobby (though ultimately spunky) young woman thrown among them by misfortune.
On the other side are baddies sent by a man in a black hat to stop the cattle from ever arriving at Smithfield, Irish bandits (Mexicans would have been hard to explain) and, of course, there are the necessary brushes with the law. For good measure we get fighting in the saloons and easy women in the taverns. Regrettably no one gets to say "There just ain't room for the two of us in Llandrindod Wells."
Lest we feel this is all somewhat improbable, the plot is laced with some specifically olde Welshe features: at the barn dance someone plays the Welsh pipes (no wonder they died out); droving is forbidden on a sabbath and gets you a night in Builth nick (with a drunken gaoler and a stealable bunch of keys); and the hero's Mum deals with the villain by begging a potion from a warty crone and then walking three times round a crabapple tree. Next week the boys ford the Bridge Over the River Wye, and I will be there to see them do it.
If Gunfight at number 3, Kidwelly Avenue used all the cliches of the genre, and used them well, Debbie Horsfield - author of the new series Born to Run (BBC1, Sun) - takes cliches and subverts them. When the appalling patriarch of the classic-car family business collapses while doing a karaoke version of "Fame", Horsfield resists the temptation to kill him off there and then, but keeps the old bugger on a life- support system. Halfway through episode one the two-timing anti-hero Byron (Keith Allen in Jonas Chuzzlewit mode) finally summons up the courage to tell his wife that he is leaving her, but realises it has all been in vain, for she has fallen asleep. As he slopes off, an opening eye tells us she was only feigning sleep - a moment that says an enormous amount about this supposedly weak woman. And - lovely touch this - Byron's marathon-running girlfriend gets off on videos, not of porn, but of herself crossing the finishing line. I haven't the faintest idea where the plot is going, but (as with Horsfield's Riff-Raff Element) it'll be entertaining escorting the characters there.
A young man called Stuart Webb, who works for ITN's Channel 5 News (nightly), spent his week with as Horsfieldian a collection of folk as can be imagined. One of the cheap new breed of reporter- cameramen (you need long arms), Webb was with the anti-runway protestors near Manchester in Camp Cliff Richard. Being scruffy, young and unencumbered by lights, sound-men and researchers called Venetia, Webb got where no one else could; in trees, down tunnels and up the authorities' noses. I loved the rather solemn chap who told Webb (while worming his way through a subterranean space about 10 inches wide) that he didn't like being in the tunnel, because, "I'm more of a tree person myself." Then he clipped himself to a 10-ton barrel of concrete. Only in England.
For we are a strangely tolerant lot, as the following example shows. The BBC - one is often told - is a Stalinist bureaucracy that suppresses free speech among its downtrodden employees (who are thus reduced to telling newspaper journalists anonymously about how appalling life there really is).
So it must have seemed remarkable to many that this week a programme was transmitted in which a former Beeb reporter was allowed to lay into his erstwhile employers, aided and abetted by the very department that he was criticising.
The reporter was Martin Bell, and the show was Mr Bell Goes to Westminster (BBC2, Mon). Bell was seen in the early stages of his remarkable campaign to oust Neil Hamilton, railing on the telephone against his treatment on the Six O'Clock News, and complaining about the BBC's reluctance to describe him as an ex-BBC reporter, or to interview him. It was hilarious and uplifting at the same time, and made a total star out of the drop-dead gorgeous Melissa Bell. Not much Stalinism there.
With Peter Snow off charting pointless sea voyages, Newsnight (BBC2, Mon-Fri) thought it safe to reveal its brand-new set. As the viewer enters it he or she sees, on the left, a state-of-the-art coffee table, surrounded by a relaxed late- night clientele slumped in low, comfortable chairs. And on the viewer's right, standing behind a counter, is Jeremy Paxman, wearing a sceptical, welcoming smile and looking just like the barman at Groucho's. On Thursday night Jeremy told us that he is off for a few months to write a book. Good for you, Jerrers! Just before you go, that'll be a Spritzer for me, and a Kir Royale for my friend, Mr Yentob. Thanks.Reuse content