Television review

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"He is ... uncrushable," said John Major about Jeffrey Archer, the subject of last night's quite delicious Omnibus (BBC1). There was something faintly ambiguous about this epithet, even though Mr Major tendered it without a hint of mischief (I think). It's too easy to imagine it said in tones of exasperated despair, as you might refer to a particularly virulent pest. Whatever you do to the damn thing, it keeps coming back - a quality that can excite the admiration of the most unlikely people. Fay Weldon, who once unwisely used the word "genius" about Archer and has appeared on his book jackets ever since, had this quality in mind when she chose the term. Even Paul Foot, one of the more assiduous chroniclers of Archer's long, unfaithful relationship with factual accuracy, smiled as he recounted some of the more flagrant whoppers - as if describing an incorrigible but charming schoolboy.

Omnibus didn't detail all the scandals in Archer's life - they only had 50 minutes, after all, and presumably felt they should address, at least briefly, the books - but they included all the best-sellers, those regrettable "misunderstandings" which have done so much for newspaper circulation figures. Despite having no gene for self-consciousness, even Archer has become cautious about committing himself to any fixed account of his past. He threw a minor paddy at one point in James Erskine's film because he'd been asked what he did when he left school - although he began to answer, he did not finish, perhaps conscious that this period in his life is a kind of Bermuda Triangle of verity, into which more than one biographer has disappeared. It must seem unjust to him that he gets paid millions for making things up in one sphere of his life and nothing but criticism for doing the same in another.

There wasn't a huge amount of new information in Erskine's film - Michael Crick, that hero of fact-checking, had nailed down most of the discrepancies in his biography and appeared here to repeat his diagnosis of Archer as a man who has no idea where fiction stops and fact begins. Nor was it particularly novel to use extracts from the books to describe the life of the author. But the film was put together with a sly wit. One of the funniest scenes showed Archer researching a passage for his new novel in the Redskins stadium in America, in which the author did an ostentatious pantomime of meticulous horse's-mouth inquiry. "All that information will be in the media pack," said a slightly baffled press flack after another pointless statistical question. "Much better to hear it from you," snapped Archer, with the no-nonsense abruptness which is one of his favourite conversational disguises (if Alan Partridge ever writes a book, the work- in-progress film will look exactly like this).

But this passage wasn't just for fun. When you eventually reached the Monica Coughlan scandal and heard a passage from one of the books in which the hero employs a prostitute, you couldn't help but speculate whether Archer's research had been as thorough on that occasion. Erskine had supplied a nice final flourish too, with another half-completed response from Archer suggesting a thin thread of doubt in that impervious fabric of self-belief: "If I regret anything ... er ... no, I don't regret the past at all. What's the point of regretting. No! It's me sitting in this house with pounds 50m in the bank, not you. And that's not for going out on your bloody screen either." I assume that the song playing over the final credits - "What goes up, must come down" - was wishful in spirit.

On the face of it Made in Manchester (BBC2) is yet another bleeding soap- doc - the look just a cut above home video, the structure dependent on familiar narrative cliff-hangers (Will she get a man? Will he be famous?). On the other hand the setting is fresh, and every episode has delivered a detail that gleams. Tuesday night's was particularly good, including this exchange between two man-hunting hairdressers: "I know when you're having an orgasm." "How?" "I've been shopping for shoes with you." Coronation Street should watch out.

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