While politicians agonise over the size of the Government’s debt, one of the most expensive publicly funded projects in recent years is quietly getting under way.

Something of a comic relief

Blackadder (left) established the writer Richard Curtis (below) as a funny guy. Four Weddings and a Funeral (right), nominated for an Oscar last week, established him as a funny thing: a British boffo box- office success. Plenty to talk about, then, in his

Television : How Chris pulled 1.7m birds

WITH 1.7 million chorus girls dressed by Cecil Beaton and three gauche commentators dressed by Army surplus, Flamingowatch (BBC2) was compulsive stuff. A battalion of technicians pitched camp along a string of Kenyan lakes and broadcast live three times a day from "the greatest ornithological spectacle in the world". Up close, the birds didn't look much. Grubby and unevenly streaked with colour, they were more like swans that had survived the hot cycle in the wash with an Arsenal strip. "Vewy pwetty," said Chris, our chap on the shore. A recent graduate of the David Bellamy School of Gwooming and Pwonunciation, Chris knew everything there was to know about fwamingoes. "And yet, there is this awful mystwy suwwounding them."

I've been on the telly, so I know all about politics

BERNARD LEVIN once wrote in praise of Paul Eddington after the latter had refused to divulge how he voted. The gist of Levin's argument was that we showbiz types have done nothing in life except prance about on the boards, but we all think this g ives usthe right to ram our politics down everyone else's throats. This from a man who has done nothing with his own life except prance about on TW3 before settling down to a life of self-righteous pontificating. Well, Bernard Levin can shove off. I've had my own comedy series on telly and I know the truth about politics. So here's how we ought to run the world. First, we should spend a lot more money on the arts, especially small theatres that encourage new playwrights. Second, we should stop eating v eal and set all the little calves free to scamper over hill and dale. Third, um, that's it.

Pas de problem

DANCE Giselle Royal Ballet/Opera House Whatever you may think of Peter Wright's productions of the classics; or his hit-and-miss approach to revivals; or his inability to populate Birmingham Royal Ballet with the kind of real men who currently grace BRB's sister company at Covent Garden, there is much to be grateful for in his choice of John Macfarlane as the designer for two of his ballets.

COMEDY / I could have worked with Esther

THE KINGMAKERS OF COMEDY: In the last of our series, Jim White meets Jo hn Lloyd - the kingmaker of British comedy and Don of the television mafia

OUTSIDE EDGE / Duncan Steer on the shortest lead in the West End

A PUB quiz question: who plays the title role in the Hitchcock film Rebecca?

Attack of the bar mitzvah boy

Dave Schneider taunts his Jewish audiences: 'I'm a comedian. Just imagine how my parents feel.' He knows how his audiences feel. They love it.

All good things must come to an end . . . that's life: Rhys Williams recalls the mix of tabloid fun and campaigning that fuelled a TV hit

IF YOU want to stick the boot into That's Life, go no further than Rowan Atkinson's rant on Not the Nine O'Clock News in 1980:

Ealing's new comedies to laugh at everyone: Revived studio will not bow to political correctness in its films, reports David Lister

THE British sense of humour is to be given a multicultural tinge for the reopening of the bastion of British comedy, the Ealing Film Studios. Otherwise, it will be left much as it was in the 1940s.

SCHEDULING / Themes tuned: Who plans the television 'season'? Why do they want to do it? And who watches it? Jasper Rees reports

WHENEVER the World Cup is saturating the box, the perennial alarum from television's non-sports consumers is sounded. Why is nothing on but a lot of grown men in shorts hacking a piece of inflated leather around a field? But imagine how the football fan feels when the schedules are invaded by the television 'season', a set menu of programmes on a more determinedly intellectual level. Earlier this year the BBC mounted its huge 'One World' season of programmes on environmental issues to coincide with the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. Channel 4 came over all ecological too, and suddenly the nation's television screens, instead of being green, were Green.
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