TODAY'S TELEVISION : review

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Indy Lifestyle Online
What, you might wonder, was the oddest thing about serving as a soldier in pre-ceasefire Northern Ireland? Attempting to keep the peace in a place you're not wanted? Spending your time guarding the construction of a police station that is costing more to build than the budgets of some regional constabularies, in an area where there is virtually no crime? Spending 24 hours at a time in a trench training a loaded gun on a community where the greatest threat to life and limb appears to be from the prices in the local Spar?

No, according to Major Crispin Black of the Welsh Guards, star attraction of In the Company of Men (BBC2), it was "having to wear men's clothing all day and not being able to relax in a little black cocktail dress".

After HMS Brilliant, Paras, and the rest, you wondered if there could be any mileage in yet another in-depth documentary series about the armed forces. You've seen the usual form: chinless officers, drunk men, rude comments about the locals, followed after transmission by spokesmen from the Ministry of Defence fuming publicly about the duplicity of the BBC.

Fortunately, In the Company of Men is not of the usual run. This is because it is a Molly Dineen film. A Bafta- winner with her series about London Zoo, The Ark, Ms Dineen does not set out to subvert. Her purpose is to enjoy. And boy, did she enjoy the Prince of Wales's Company of the Welsh Guards. It helped that she had chosen her cast wisely. Crispin Black, the company commander, and his side-kick Matthew Rees were a double act in uniform, a constant source of gags only just remaining this side of camp: jokes about themselves, about their lack of success with the opposite sex, about their men ("How are you, Sticky?" Rees greeted a soldier on guard duty. "Have you missed me savagely?").

And their biggest gag of all? When Black drove through the bandit country of South Armagh wearing, in an attempt not to draw attention to himself in the way uniform would, bright red trousers, pinstriped shirt and blazer complete with flamboyant pocket handkerchief.

Crispin and Matthew, as we came to know them, were bloody good blokes, Harry Enfield's rugger buggers incarnate. In a reversal of Wellington's comment - about his own soldiers terrifying him, never mind the enemy - Crisp and Matt were so friendly with each other, so friendly with their men and so friendly with the locals, you could imagine them coming across an IRA active-service unit behind a hedge and swapping small-talk about the cut of their uniforms.

More particularly, and this was what made the film, they were on very friendly terms with Molly Dineen. Clearly slack-jawed in her presence, Major Black - a little pucker of the lips here, a raised eye-brow there - flirted constantly. Aware of the power of her lens, Ms Dineen exploited it ruthlessly: not to humiliate her subjects, but to make them all the more entertaining. You could hear her off-camera all the time, dropping coy little questions: "So how do you keep it all going, Crispin?"; or "Did you rig up the light switch yourself, Crispin?"; or "Why are we filming you in your bedroom, Crispin?". They fell for it every time.

Short Stories: Rockin' Back the Clock (C4) was equally concerned with uniform, although not of the military bent. It followed Red Peters and the Solid Senders, a bunch of Fifties revival enthusiasts with an astonishing eye for the minutest detail of their chosen period. They lived the Fifties life so assiduously - they had the haircuts, the crockery, the soft furnishings - that they appeared to be living proof of Stephen Hawking's contention that time travel is possible. But when they opened their closet - stuffed with obsessively researched items of historically accurate attire - to the camera, one thing appeared to be missing. Where were the anoraks?

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