The Week on Television: Adopting an air of posteriority

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The Independent Online
In the middle of Sir David Frost's encounter with HRH the Prince of Wales (BBC1, Sun), a nonchalant Jack Russell sauntered into shot to get a good sniff of the interviewer's behind. Years ago, the Royal Family let the cameras in and lost its mystique. Only now are we learning less than pleasant truths about the royal pets. You were reminded of the 1960s sketch illustrating the class system that played on the height discrepancy between John Cleese, Ronnie Barker and Ronnie Corbett. Prince: "I am superior to both Knight and Dog because I lick neither's behind." Dog: "I am inferior to both Prince and Knight because I lick both their behinds." Knight: "I am superior to Dog because he licks my behind, but I am inferior to Prince because I lick his behind."

It's not the Prince's fault that no interviewer will give him the good going over which - you never know - might bring out the best in him. The practice is now established for distinguished broadcasters to motor down to Gloucestershire, carefully avoid pranging with dangerous female double- barrelled Volvo drivers common to the locality, deferentially lob up a few gentle inquiries then return home to await the K.

Rather like the thorny forest protecting Sleeping Beauty's castle from the wrong sort of intruder, the reputations of Alastair Burnett and Jonathan Dimblebly are impaled on the gates of Highgrove. To be fair, it's slightly different in the case of Frost, it being many years since he lost the knack for rigorous journalism (and many years since he first interviewed the Prince: QED). He unfurled his questions like one of those carpets Charles and his folks get to stroll along every time they step off a plane, leaving the Prince no option but to walk all over them. The occasion of the interview was the 21st birthday of the Prince's Trust. Charles was particularly proud that the Trust's courses teach young people "how to operate in an interview situation". If all interview situations were as benign as the ones he himself faces, the only advice they'd need is "say what you like: the job's yours for life anyway".

The reflex to genuflect can bend even the least flexible knees. Martin Bell, who'd be on the shortlist for president if ever Britain ditched the Windsors, came over all courteous in Correspondent Special (BBC2, Sat). The last assignment Bell took on before he was beatified by Tatton was to tail Kofi Annan, the Secretary General of the UN. Granted full access, his interview style was disturbingly close to the aggressive approach patented by Hello's gnarled band of leg-biting interrogators. He even followed Annan's Swedish wife round a tour of some sort of arts centre, precisely the type of place journalists file dull reports from after one of those visits by Prince Charles where he tries to samba, or crochet, or graffiti. Somewhere in the middle of Africa, Bell and Annan ran into President Mandela, and in an extraordinary scene - extraordinary for its renunciation of the journalistic punch-packing Bell has made his trademark - he invited Mandela to deliver an encomium on Annan. As Annan was standing right next door, Mandela was no more likely to slag him off than Frost was going to endanger his inevitable peerage by asking the prince if he had sex with Camilla after The Crash.

And yet any interview style is preferable to Gayle Tuesday's. Gayle's World (ITV, Wed) awards the Page Three Stunna her own entertainment, and her first guest was Boy George, who in three minutes and 59 seconds' sofa time was allowed to utter precisely 41 words. Having recently interviewed George for this paper, I can vouch for the fact that he's worth more than that. Michael Winner, meanwhile, was allowed to say as much as he liked, so long as he agreed to feed Gayle the lines as deferentially Frost fed the Prince.

The vehicles were the stars in Testing ... Testing ... (ITV, Fri). Showing in repetitive detail the efforts taken to test the safety of dangerous new technology, this is Meridian's idea of a science programme. Bring on Carol Vorderman to validate the show with her "hydraulic" this and her "carbon steel" that. But basically give the punters a lot of crashes: a plane atomising on impact with a wall, trains and trucks smashing to smithereens, fairground rides that make you vomit just to watch, even a couple of items relating to the human behind them. Which brings us full circle to the Prince of Wales's dog.