`It's like the seven ages of man... childhood, adolescence, sofa, and I don't know what the rest are,' says Gary. But we do. Next comes `Absolutely Fabulous', then Hyacinth Bucket, and eventually `The Last of the Summer Wine'. Perhaps there's another series in it yet.

Some things never change. Or, at least, that's the message. Hence the Athena poster of the tennis player (scratching her bum and revealing she wears no knickers) gives way to one of a bare-bummed ballet dancer and then to an arty print of a naked woman on a bed. Welcome to the world of Men Behaving Badly (BBC1). The succession of posters is accompanied by bits of Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Chris de Burgh and Rick Astley. Yet, in this journey through the Eighties, though the music and the birds on the sofa may change, there is something primevally constant about our hero Gary's fumbled attempts at seduction.

But time does corrode. Men Behaving Badly is not what it was. Once its snotting, grotting, crotch-scratching transparent sexism seemed an atavistically jolly (or horribly pointed, depending on your gender) commentary on the laddist phase in the battle of the sexes. But it has gone rather cuddly. The My-God-that's-disgusting quotient last night, in the studio audience's response to the final episode in the sixth series, had fallen dramatically. Quality was affected as well as quantity. In the past, Gary did things like tricking a two-timing Tony into eating Dorothy's pickled appendix. Last night, all we had was a hangover cure involving eating liver salts and washing it down with beer, with the inevitably foamy explosion.

And yet, I have to say, I quite liked it. The plot centred round the women forcing Gary to get rid of his grotty decades-old settee, which gave plenty of scope for finding knickers among the debris down the back. But the grossest gags about gallons of bodily fluid staining the cushions were made by the females. The women took control, replacing the grimy sofa with a high-backed floral one. Enthroned upon it, they then took command of the booze, remote control and lurid fantasies about which three blokes to take to a desert island.

In this declining testosterone world, the women exchanged indulgent smiles when Tony entered, amiably drunk and tame as a latterday Likely Lad. And there was something terribly innocent about the men's subsequent discussion on how a woman puts a bra on: "It's a bit like parking".

"Have you noticed how people over the age of 48 aren't comfortable on a sofa, they want their own chair," says Gary. They're preparing for death, mate, responds Tony; they want their own vehicle. "It's like the seven ages of man... childhood, adolescence, sofa, and I don't know what the rest are," says Gary. But we do. Next comes Absolutely Fabulous, then Hyacinth Bucket, and eventually The Last of the Summer Wine. Perhaps there's another series in it yet.

Certainly men continue to behave badly into later life, as an admirable Dispatches showed on Channel 4. It revealed how political pressure was brought to bear on officials at the Central Veterinary Laboratory and that vital research about how BSE had made the crucial jump between bovines and carnivores when the first cat got BSE did not come to light.

Proof of a link was established in 1991 by the original discoverer of BSE, government scientist Gerard Wells. His report was censored. Next, eminent international experts in brain disease were blocked in their attempts to get infected tissues for their researches. Then suggestions that BSE might transfer to sheep (and make lamb dangerous, too) were dismissed; permission to start monitoring sheep was refused. Five years later, the government has approved that research and acted decisively on bone removal. But, in the meantime, the average Briton had eaten 180lbs more beef.

Information, not science, was at the heart of the Dispatches investigation. (Even as it was the key question in a thoughtful File on Four documentary on Radio 4 this week, which asked why the Department of Health was not taking seriously research which indicates that there may be - in a tiny number of cases - a link between the measles vaccine and autism and Crohn's Disease in children). One conclusion seems inescapable. The authorities would rather a few people died in ignorance, than that the whole population was scared. Such paternalism is now outdated. People now need to know, and, when well-informed, make their own decisions. Some things, without doubt, should change.

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