LAST NIGHT

Stout but elegant, playful but earnest at the same time," said Germaine Greer, patting an oak upright affectionately in Travels with Pevsner (Sat BBC2). She was talking about a church screen, but it struck you that you could do worse than that for a description of the presenter herself (provided, that is, that you interpret "playful" to include the occasional sharp nip). The screen, a solid unpretentious bit of timberwork, was, she explained, "her favourite thing in Warwickshire". Ms Greer is one of my favourite things in television - not there very often, but always a dependable guarantee of ideas with some resistance and bite to them.

Travels with Pevsner takes as its starting point that monument to Germanic efficiency, The Buildings of England, an immense catalogue of architecturally notable buildings, originally published county by county. It is a starting point that the best programmes in this series have departed from as quickly as possible, the truth of it being that, whatever their merit as a work of scholarship and a goad to preservation, The Buildings of England make a very dull read. The mercifully brief quotations which adorn these programmes represent the style well - an arid accountancy of mullions, architraves and porticos which is rarely more opinionated than a list of train numbers. The chief task of the presenter, then, is to restore a bit of life to Pevsner's depopulated world.

Greer is more than up to that task, partly because she is a fine writer (her description of one stately home in its heydey was a kind of verbal establishing shot, just the sort of crowded scene which now introduces most costume dramas), but also because there is virtually nothing about which she doesn't have a firm opinion, whether it is paint colours, bedding plants, the placement of altars or the proper way to treat oak floors. The sternest dressing down was reserved for the inhabitants of Number 15 (the culprits will know who they are), who got it in the neck for rendering their Bourneville worker's cottage and putting in double-glazing, but there were smacks on the wrist too for Birmingham council, Cadbury's and the National Trust. As she passed from building to building, you had the permanent sense that she was about to tick the edifice off for not having its shirt tucked in or turning up in non-regulation plimsolls.

The structure of the programme is nothing more than a list, with little more in the way of connective tissue than long-shots of the presenter tootling along in a red Sunbeam Alpine. Which made it all the nicer that this particular programme didn't just stop, but had a proper ending. Returning to a sylvan hunting lodge near Warwick castle, once the site for bacchanalian parties with her students, Greer found it beautifully restored, every detail meeting her approval. Her own youthful dream of making good had been realised by a stranger, a fact which made her get a bit misty eyed as she looked at the peerless view, over ancient woodland to the turrets of the castle. It was such an exceptionally beautiful place, and such a good demonstration of how buildings truly can be loved, that, I confess, I did too.

The infantilisation of ITV prime-time continued with The Chest (Sat ITV), a modern-day tale of treasure maps and pirates' gold which provided Neil Morrissey with another occasion to do his 10-year-old boy act - alternately puppyish and sulky and displaying a scatterbrained vacancy about the realities of adult life. Perhaps this was appropriate for such a juvenile story, but even a real 10-year-old would have had thought this lacklustre farce a bit too young for him. By the end, there was not a branch of human knowledge that had not been vandalised; psychology, physics, biology, probability, even comedy - you name it, its laws had been flagrantly disregarded. Generally, this sort of thing is passed off as harmless entertainment, too lighthearted to get steamed up about. But, when you think of the waste of likeable performers, the money spent and the opportunity denied to others, it makes you want to run someone through with a cutlass.

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