Euro-telly scores low in bloodlust and body-count test: Channel-hopping in Brussels, Andrew Marshall finds more to wince at in skating and skiing than films and plays

THEY fell like ninepins, their bodies thudding to the ground with brutal regularity. But this was not the televised violence so disparaged by John Major when he told television programmers last weekend to 'be careful what you show'. It was skiing and ice- skating, virtually the only organised assault on the human frame that you were likely to see on European television last Thursday night.

An evening of cable TV is far more likely to send you to sleep than to whip you into a frenzy of bloodlust. In search of violence, I settled down to an evening of European channel-switching with a multilingual friend at about 8pm.

There had been some implied nastiness earlier on, she said, in a Dutch version of the British police serial The Bill. But half the 20 channels - from all countries in the European Community - were still running news or magazine programmes, with talking heads predominating over live action. Madonna was on MTV with her latest video.

The only concentrated burst of mayhem came early, at 8.30. Some cowboys killed some Indians on BBC 2 in a film entitled Dragoon Wells Massacre. But there was not a chainsaw in sight. More promising was Nikita, a film on TF1, the French channel. This opened with a robbery gone wrong, and included pump-action shotguns, semi-automatic weapons, revolvers and an axe. The body count was six, and the action fairly graphic.

But it was well incorporated into the plot, included various arty cinematic references ('Je m'appelle Rico]' shouts one of the robbers as he is gunned down by the police) and did not set the scene for a notably violent film. Meanwhile, on BBC 1, little Vicky had gone missing in EastEnders; CNN was discussing a US defence plan; TVE, the Spanish channel, featured Sevillian dancing; and a Belgian channel was showing a translation of Schwarzwaldklinik, a dreadful German soap.

On another Belgian channel, Nicolle and Sybille were bursting balloons with spikes attached to their heads while riding scooters. On BBC 2 there was a documentary on bullying at work. As we reached 9pm, a Dutch programme on crawly things momentarily raised the blood pressure. Some voles were shown mugging, murdering and eating a grasshopper, its wings beating pathetically as it was dragged into the sand.

At 9.35, the sight of large amounts of blood and heaving tissue lured us to Channel 18. But this proved to be a programme about open-heart surgery.

Approaching 10pm, half the channels were still heavily into magazine programmes, talking heads and discussion, but there was more family entertainment and variety than earlier. The model Claudia Schiffer was talking about the price of fame on Rai Uno, the Italian channel. Madonna was on MTV, talking about her fan club. A programme called Matlock: The Arsonist raised hopes, but it proved to be a courtroom drama.

10.30: surely now, with even Continental children on their way to bed, we would find some violence. We found news, basketball and a travelogue on Spain. Canal Plus (which does broadcast some pretty hard-core sex after midnight) offered what looked like a courtroom drama. CNN had a dissection of Russian politics. Rai Uno had a group of scantily clad women singing while wearing plastic cakes on their heads.

We found Madonna again, three talk shows, an analysis of German unification, hymns, alternative energy, a man singing with a parrot on his head, a US police drama, another analysis of German unification, Yugoslav refugees, a French police drama, and adverts for German chat lines. There was not a gun in sight, nor a knife, not even fisticuffs. We gave up and headed for a karaoke bar around the corner.

(Photograph omitted)

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