THE CRITICS : Good Morning with Anne and Liz ... and Di, Chas and Eddie

Click to follow
Indy Lifestyle Online
They're not well-educated - the best of them can barely string a sentence together - but it's becoming clear that the Royals were born for TV. The Queen had two shows on this week, Princess Anne turned up at The Bafta Awards (ITV), and Edward presented the first part of his mild documentary Edward on Edward (ITV). Of course It's a Royal Knockout proved some time ago that there is a lot they can do on telly besides all the skiing and getting married. They bring a guaranteed audience (we may not like them but we do seem to want to stare at them). Maybe they could each have a show: Edward up in the attic among old letters from his forebears, Di conducting exercise sessions on morning TV, Anne at the races, the Queen dog-training, Charles with tips on growing a wildflower meadow, Prince Philip hosting his own chat show, and Camilla advertising Tampax. The coffers would soon be full again.

In Edward on Edward, the prince depicted his abdicating great-uncle as a helpless pawn, pushed this way and that by nasty people with Nazi sympathies, including Hitler himself. The Duke apparently (and in this he resembles today's Royals) thought only of LOVE - World War II played havoc with his honeymoon. Prince Edward is a simple soul, with a rather sweet face. Behind his apologia for the previous Edward lurked his firm belief that the Royals are all as simple and suburban as himself, just ordinary folk burdened with extraordinary status, well-filled wallets, cold parents, baffling public demands and heavy furniture. No wonder they need their toes sucked every so often.

"Common sense tells you that before you remove a breast, you first make sure that the patient has cancer ... Common courtesy requires that when you call a patient on the phone and tell her she has cancer, you call her back when you find tht the test appears to have been in error ... " You guessed it: a catalogue of carelessness leading to a completely unnecessary mastectomy. Elizabeth England made bad choices of doctor, but selected her lawyer well. He looked like a younger, pleasanter Paul McCartney, argued her malpractice case as if he believed in it, and won her three times the compensation offered by the four bungling doctors.

Court TV (BBC2), a series covering recent American trials, gave us the satisfying sight of an underdog (the mutilated Ms England) triumphing against that most formidable of foes, a brotherhood of doctors (though each came with his own lawyer, and each lawyer claimed his client was less to blame than the other three). Meanwhile, on ER (C4), the formerly heroic, now somewhat tarnished (and decreasingly handsome) Dr Doug Ross tried to conceal his fatal errors of judgement from a powerless patient. Despite all the time ER wastes showing how tender these docs are, only their callousness rings true.

The Zairean doctors dealing with last year's Ebola virus outbreak, which killed over 200 people and for which there was no known cure, are made of different stuff. In Encounters: Plague Doctors (C4), they battled on despite poor facilities and the imminent danger of death, beside Western doctors who were nobly spending two weeks in the place and whose priority was to contain the disease within Zaire. The conflict of interests became more apparent when a Zairean nurse came down with it. Her desperate colleagues decided to try a blood transfusion from a patient who had overcome the disease: "a life or death experiment". She survived, as did seven other patients given the same treatment. A stunning breakthrough, you would think. But the Western doctors, who'd been opposed to the idea all along, were still grumbling. Professional jealousy? No, they claimed the patients had been saved under improper conditions and that therefore the cure could not be scientifically proven.

And the next night, Panorama (BBC1) dealt with the over-reliance upon radiology in Western medicine. Before they could even think up a name for them, doctors assumed X-rays were good for us. There is no safe level, but the cancers caused can't be easily traced back to a specific X-ray, so that leaves doctors in the clear. Curiously, Panorama claimed that "our knowledge of radiation risk began on 6 August 1945". Surely Marie Curie's excruciating death in 1934 could have given a hint (her notebooks are still radioactive).

The swathe of dark hair across his forehead is not aesthetically pleasing, but it suits a country which, according to Andrew Graham-Dixon, treats visual pleasures with disdain. A History of British Art (BBC2) was an upsetting tale, a loutish business of beheading statues and smashing up churches in which the glories of medieval art succumbed to the second Commandment (banning graven images), read here by the deafening Ian Paisley. Graham-Dixon, art critic of the Independent, examined the few remaining artefacts excused from the Protestant purge, including a galumphing wooden figure of Jesse which he considers "one of the greatest sculptures of the world". I wasn't convinced.

What worked best was when he related such things to art today, finding the ancient gargoyle tradition revived in Francis Bacon's portraits, or "the whiteness of idealism, democratic, rational whiteness" from church interiors of the Reformation, still visible in Barnett Newman's blank monochrome canvases. But the programme seemed stretched beyond its natural length, with Graham-Dixon repeating points in different ways, to cover the void in British art where all those vandalised paintings and sculptures should be.

It was the "whiteness of scientific enquiry" that probably pushed the Unabomber over the edge. A shy young man, he buried himself in pure mathematics, and was assured a respectable academic career, but gave it all up to live in the wilderness of Montana, fighting with rabbits over the vegetables in his garden, and making parcel-bombs. Witness's Unabomber (C4) provided a thoughtful victim-led review of Ted Kaczynski's alleged crimes, designed to nip in the bud any sneaking sympathy one might have for this skinny recluse with neo-Luddite aims. A criminologist kept popping up to tell us what he thinks: he's probably right to suspect that the Unabomber's urge to kill obscure targets loosely connected with computers and technology is less political than personal. Terrorists are always unpredictable, but the Unabomber's campaign was spasmodic and inexplicable, except as a drastic form of communication from a lonely man. He didn't like women, and considered all lefties losers, but he was right that the Industrial Revolution has been a disaster. Gar Smith, an eco-activist keenly interested in the Unabomber, sat on his bed in a suburban bungalow thinking about Kaczynski's cabin in the woods: "[It's] like the national Unabomber museum - everything is there ... the hood, dark aviator glasses, manifestos, bomb parts, a working bomb". The last item pleased him least, since the Unabomber promised to give up killing if his turgid manifesto was published. No one would want to think him a liar - we want to believe he's a sincere Unabomber. (If his lawyer doesn't plead insanity, he needs a new lawyer.)