Oh, for a handsome, well-adjusted screen hero

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The Independent Online
THE MOST astonishing thing about this autumn's new television dramas - all made especially for a British audience, as we are constantly reminded - is how ghastly the male characters are. It makes me wonder whether ITV and BBC executives, who devote millions of pounds to these attempts to entertain us, want to drive away viewers, especially women, and to infuriate men with out-of-date stereotypes.

Don't drama-makers and scriptwriters ever watch American TV soaps or Hollywood movies? If they pondered past successes, they would realise that women appreciate the odd good-looking, romantic heartthrob to relax with after a hard day, as opposed to these mixed-up, greasy-haired, overweight blokes who are forever dipping into the world of crime.

I'm not asking for Mills & Boon escapism at every turn, just a variety of male characters, including, occasionally, someone with a genuinely attractive personality, even a bit of a card.

Anyone who thinks I am being unfair ought to try watching Harry, BBC 1's prestige Saturday night series. This stars Michael Elphick

as a rumpled, crude-mouthed journalist frequently to be found in the pub. I could almost smell the stale booze from my sofa. A sample philosophical offering of his goes: 'The problem with sitting on the fence is that you split your arse.'

When Harry went to the gents in the last episode a middle-aged thug stuck a razor under his nose to persuade him and a photographer to get in a van to go to a bleak breaker's yard. There they had to photograph a vicious pit bull fight - not my idea of a Saturday night thrill.

This drama makes me long for ITV's now-discontinued Inspector Morse, one of the most brilliant inventions of Eighties television. At least the star, played by John Thaw, had a morose charm and played out his investigations against scenic Oxford colleges to the sound of opera. How can Harry be considered to be remotely enjoyable? No wonder the programme is trailing in the ratings.

ITV is offering us on Monday nights the hugely talented and portly Robbie Coltrane in Cracker, in which he plays a straight role as a police psychologist hunting down murderous delinquents. This series has pace and thrills, but the character Fitz has a private life which is a complete mess. In a recent episode he visited a restaurant with his girlfriend while his estranged wife was sitting at a neighbouring table. Fitz and his wife had a fierce exchange. Then his girlfriend poured a jug of iced water over his head. He might benefit from a spell on the couch himself.

I don't think I am arbitrarily alighting on odd pieces of drama here. Another powerful example of a mixed-up character comes in the form of Tony Clark (Neil Pearson), the police officer who investigates misdemeanors by other policemen in BBC 1's Between the Lines. Clarke is also separated from his wife, and while his bed-hopping has calmed down a bit in recent episodes, he is clearly not all that fond of women: investigating a recent case - the murder by a police officer of his wife - Clarke murmured that he could understand how it had happened.

You could say that art is imitating life, and that men who are stressed out in difficult occupations do not have much chance of developed emotional lives. But many of us are tired of social disintegration and its endless replaying on the screen. Would it not be possible to devise a male character who is trying to work his life out, and who is aware that he has to go to the children's sports days and, heaven forbid, Sainsbury's?

I don't think TV producers have quite caught up with the public's revulsion against crime and brutish behaviour.

Since I'm watching these dramas, you might argue, they can't be all that bad. My response is that so far I've given them the benefit of the doubt, but they are fundamentally turn-offs. All I can find to say in their defence is that at least they are not quite so unremittingly violent as last autumn's Civvies, dealing with a maladjusted bunch of former Northern Ireland paratroopers. But if this is the best that British television can provide us with, then heaven help us.

Sometimes as I search the screen for a smiling, handsome, wholesome male face, I find myself murmuring: bring back Dr Kildare - please.