TV: Yvonne and her husband administered a household of permissive anarchy, the daughter idly carving her name on the kitchen table with a Stanley knife

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"I like to think that one gives them a gentle childhood," explained Yvonne in Family Values in the Modern Times strand (BBC2), an excruciatingly watchable film about the daily Gehenna of bringing up children. This tender maxim was then usefully illustrated by two of her offspring: "Do you want a smack in the face you dumb bloody child!" shrieked the daughter as she retreated from the taunting presence of her younger brother. Despite her pacific ambitions Yvonne put a lot of store by smacking and even talked rather wistfully about "thrashing" at one point, perhaps realising that her regime of unpredictable acts of violence had not demonstrably worked with her son, a petulant 12-year-old whose chief delight appeared to be tormenting all around him. In fact, it's something of a wonder that the cameraman didn't lay him out cold, because whenever he remembered the presence of the lens he would exhale on it in an attempt to fog it up or simply bounce up and down two inches away uttering stupid noises. By the choicest irony of all Yvonne turned out to be a staunch Conservative (pictures with John Major on the mantelpiece), and was firmly of the opinion that "it was the Sixties when the rot actually started".

It was one of the subtler pleasures of Lynn Alleway's film (there were many coarse pleasures as well - not least a gleeful montage of a very untidy house) that she had found two families who offered a reciprocal paradox of childcare. Yvonne and her husband believed that they were old- fashioned in their philosophy - "We neither of us have any time at all for this modern thing of counselling," she said in the clipped tones of a One Fat Lady in the making - but they actually administered a household of permissive anarchy, in which the son was allowed to drive the family car if he sulked for long enough and the daughter idly carved her name on the kitchen table with a Stanley knife. Amalia and John, on the other hand, were the classic liberal parents, so anxious to get things right that they had signed up for parenting classes. These stressed the vital importance of "descriptive praise", challenging parents to say nice things to their children's faces at least 10 times a day (and if you think that's easy you probably don't have children). But at the same time it instituted a positively Victorian degree of regimentation - with vast lists of rules to which the children had to adhere. "Whatever your rules are, what we say is make them stick," explained Amalia, with a lavender-scented steeliness, a remark which Alleway accompanied with footage of Blu-tack failing to hold up one of the home-made promulgations with which every door in the house was decorated. If either family had simply been used as a stick to beat the other this would have been a much shallower film, but, as that editorial gesture confirmed, Alleway left some room for doubts on both sides. The contrast between a parent-skilled visit to the Science Museum (father and son sweetly hand in hand in front of the steam engine) and Yvonne's caravan holiday in France (an unmarked canvas awaiting her son's genius for aggravation) could hardly have been more pointed. But when you saw Amalia's daughter, mutely obedient under the benign interrogation of the parent-skill teacher, you couldn't help but wonder about the price of peace.

Thoughts of child discipline must have passed through Gerald Ratner's mind during the filming of Trouble at the Top (BBC2). He was explaining his plans to re-enter the world of business (luxury gym complex, not a hint of "crap") when his little girl chipped in: "It might turn out like his last jewellery shop," she said brightly. "But the gym might be successful because he's got partners." She later read him a very pertinent lecture about where the buck should get to before it comes to a stop ("But did you agree with the decision Daddy?"). She was a credit to him - but the film didn't entirely resolve the question of whether one could say the same for his business skills. It ended with the new enterprise breaking even but only after he had sacked the partner he'd chosen. He could do worse than hire his daughter as a replacement.

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