TV: The smart money always said that docu-soap fever would end in the gutter and here's the proof: a six-part series for which the bottom line is yellow and six inches from a kerb

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Indy Lifestyle Online
There are some heroic acts of prejudice engagement on screen this week - tomorrow night Channel Four offers the potentially lethal combination of Chris Evans and golf in Tee Time and on Wednesday Omnibus will attempt to persuade its audience that Jeffrey Archer is a suitable subject for an arts flagship. But these are matters of taste; in both cases there must be millions of people out there who will look at the billings for these programmes without a quiver of nausea - indeed who will feel a glow of anticipation rise within. The Clampers (BBC1), on the other hand, has taken on a real challenge - it hopes to humanise parking attendants, people for whom job satisfaction is inextricably connected with the ruination of someone's day. The smart money always said that docusoap fever would end in the gutter and here's the proof: a six-part series for which the bottom line is yellow and six inches from a kerb.

Clampers is obedient to most of the genre rules: it involves interaction with members of the public, it gives you a first name introduction to its principal actors in the credits and it is heavily dependent on the notion of the "real character" - someone who behaves as though they are on stage 24 hours a day. In this case the post is filled by Ray Brown, who was first revealed to us as he conducted a Hill Street Blues-style pep talk for his Southwark clamping team. "You going up Peckham today?" he shouted to a departing unit. "Loads of clamps today, yeah?" Presumably his colleagues need to top up on friendly banter before they hit the streets because from then on they have to survive on a diet of almost continual abuse - "they want strangling", shouted a passing motorist furiously, as Ray's colleagues descended like fluorescent wasps on an illegally parked vehicle. You could have run a spread-bet book on how long it would be until the first reference to gas chambers would turn up, but you would have lost heavily if you backed anything over five minutes.

The comparison between genocide and a morning's inconvenience struck me as a little distasteful, even if there is something unnerving about the implacable out-of-my-hands manner which is the clamper's only protection against moral blackmail. Ray has to take a lot in his job, which may explain the undisguised glee with which he spots a vulnerable car or rejoices at the unappealable click of a padlock hasp. It may account, too, for the faintly ludicrous air of combat which he gives to his activities: "The vehicle has illegally declamped ... the vehicle has illegally declamped. Over," he gabbled urgently into his radio at one point, as if calling in fire support on the way in to a heavily defended landing zone. But neither of these traits was particularly appealing - even for Ray's colleague Miguel, who finally lost patience with his supervisor's camp sarkiness after a brief bicker over the A-Z. You have to wonder, too, at a system which bears down so heavily on those who can least afford it - the unemployed man who thought he couldn't scrape together pounds 20 discovered that a kind of loan-shark arithmetic operates on parking penalties, with the result that his van was eventually impounded and sold at auction; it went for less than his accumulated debt which left him with nothing but the meagre consolation that he no longer had a parking problem.

Reputations' documentary (BBC2) about Billie Jean King was relatively unusual for the strand in that it left its subject's standing enhanced, not diminished. Clare Beavan's enjoyable film reminded you that King was far more than just a terrific tennis player; she began her career when sportswomen were invariably referred to as "the girls" and ended it when her own resolution had made millionaires of her successors. Ironically, a sublimely patronising advertising campaign was one of the agents of change - Virginia Slims deciding that an independent woman's tournament was the perfect vehicle to promote their "feminist" brand. "You've got your own cigarette now, baby," ran the jingle. "You've come a long, long way." Whoever wrote that hadn't even set out, but it did the business nonetheless.

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