Television review

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Betty was changing her newspaper order in last night's Coronation Street (ITV): "After seeing all that rubbish about Deirdre I don't want it in my house again," she explained and for a brief moment you wondered whether the strange loop of fiction and fact had taken another strangulated twist. Was she expressing her disgust at the recent interpenetration of news and fantasy? Well no, of course she wasn't, because the one bit of Deirdre news that hasn't reached Weatherfield is the fact that she's now at the centre of a nationwide campaign, complete with questions in the House and hastily-written placards in pub windows. Alma, far from bursting with pride at the fact that Mike Baldwin is paying for Deirdre's defence, is climbing the walls at this evidence of his divided affections. She doesn't seem to understand that supporting Dee's bid for liberty isn't a personal thing, it's virtually a form of national service and likely to lead to laudatory articles in the tabloids.

I'm not in a position to throw stones here, I should confess. Having not been paying much attention to Coronation Street in recent weeks, I took the first "Free Deirdre" headlines to be a peculiarly misguided sales promotion, involving the collection of numbered tokens. Not many takers for that one, I thought. And now that I've caught up a little I can't help wondering if the Labour party may have been unwise to jump on this particular bandwagon. If the storyline goes on much longer people are surely going to turn against its snobbish, self-pitying epicentre. Do we really want this woman back on the streets again or will sympathies shift to Margi Clarke, whose incarceration with the Weatherfield One unquestionably qualifies as cruel and unusual punishment? By the end of last night's episode, after harsh psychological torments from Warden Veitch (a Cell Block H graduate with added hair conditioner) Deirdre was just a hump in a prison hospital bed, paralysed by undigested injustice. You know things are serious because they've taken to including close-ups of her hands - a relatively unusual piece of television grammar for Coronation Street, which is only resorted to at moments of crisis. When Mike was visiting her the scene included a repeated insert of her rubbing at a non-existent spot on the plastic tabletop. This is an alarming symptom: Deirdre is lowering enough when she's cheerful - one hardly dares think what a prolonged bout of clinical depression would do.

One can't imagine either that such ailments are likely to figure conspicuously in The General (BBC1), a new programme which takes a daytime magazine show inside a busy hospital. The very first frame showed a small boy with a broken leg, who will doubtless appear again in future instalments (there are 54 to come), being praised for his powers of bone-formation and general pluck. The bright, sunshiney studio is set in a hospital reception area and the mood is strenuously upbeat. "Fantastic", "Great", "Wonderful", say the presenters as they pat patients on the back or reunite emergency cases with their doctors, in a potentially queasy borrowing from the prime- time surprise shows. "And here he is - living proof," announced Yvette Fielding, introducing stroke victim Cyril to the registrar who had admitted him. Living proof of what? That even someone as visibly fragile as Cyril could be recruited to the cause of optimism?

But there is useful information as well, conveyed partly in little tricks- of-the-trade mini-films and in cosy chats with the hospital workers. These included the tale of a woman admitted with mysterious abdominal pains who gave birth to an unexpected baby an hour later. Chris Serle finally brought himself to mention that "women have periods", decorously keeping the matter as general as possible. Then, after her explanation that hers had continued unabated, he signed off in house style - "Gorgeous, smashing!" I should think it will do very well, but you can't help but worry about the impact on the hospital itself. "What are the most common reasons for people coming in to A&E?" a nurse was asked. In another four weeks the answer will presumably be "To get their faces on the telly".

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