Today's weather: very dull

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The Independent Online
"IT'S GOING to be a close night," said Bill Giles, as if summer was heading for extra time and penalties. And all week the weather forecasters looked determined to enjoy their day in the sun. The news was simple - hot today, and hot tomorrow. It was scary to watch them trying to console us. The BBC introduced a babyish "Comfort Index" - an orange map with words like "oppressive", "comfortable" and "not so hot" scattered about at random. Carlton dressed Britain in livid scarlet, with black thunderclouds that looked like Space Invaders twitching over Dorset. Even the weather, which used to be a strict matter of swirling isobars and prevailing fronts, has become a cheapskate cartoon, with Monty Python clouds and Nazi-style lightning flashes.

Both networks seemed to see their role as therapeutic. "One of the problems," confided one high-powered meteorologist, "is that you wake up just as tired as when you went to bed." Another warned: "Do use water wisely and of course take extra care in the sun." Bill Giles came on like a matron doing the rounds. "It looks as though we're going to get some relief," he promised. You have to ask: who do these people think they are? More to the point, how stupid do they think we are? This is what happens when an information service is corrupted by the tabloid urge to entertain. If Clive James were to show Japanese weathermen mouthing off these vacuous platitudes, we'd laugh like blocked drains. The only value the forecasts have is their own authority, but this they are casting aside with foolish haste. To summarise: the outlook for the forecast is grim, with widespread foggy patches over all parts, and a 75 per cent chance of heavy alliteration: "So if you're in the pub, patio or parks," chirped Carlton, "slap on the sunscreen." In the pub? Since when have "harmful rays" been able to penetrate those gloomy rooms?

It might have been 90F in Yeovil, Britain's "top hot spot". But in Hiroshima, 50 years ago this very morning (at 8.15 to be precise), it was, as Bill Giles might say, a very hot and sticky 50 million degrees. A good deal of this week's airtime was given over to commemorations of the world's first A-bomb raid, and quite right, too. Solemn remembrance - the mourning chorus - sometimes seems contrived, but so what? Why shouldn't television take the lead in satisfying our ceremonial rights?

The BBC news ran a series of reports by Gavin Esler in America about the "controversy" surrounding the bomb. It is a sad fashion these days to turn everything - even an event as cataclysmic as this - into an excuse for a cheap-and-cheerful moral debate. Should they or shouldn't they have dropped it? In a sense it doesn't really matter, because they did drop it - it's not a hypothetical question. But one of the dubious legacies of Hiroshima was that it opened the world's eyes to what these things could do. Indeed, in Lucky People (BBC2) the historian Christopher Andrew argued that only good fortune has prevented a full-blown nuclear exchange, and that our luck will surely run out soon. Even Dr Gatling, he reminded us, thought that the machine-gun he invented would make war too dreadful to think about. Humans do tend to find a use for the weapons they make. Geiger Sweet Geiger Sour (BBC2) was an admirable collage of tales from the radiation age: everything from risky chest X-rays to experiments on students and prisoners, and other atomic bon-bons. The film visited the test site in Nevada, and picked up a wild crackle of radioactive fallout. It looked bad - an ominous case of big government willing to deceive (and poison) its own population for the so-called greater good. But it was nothing compared to the brazen indifference of the Soviets, who long before Chernobyl had killed whole rivers and towns in the Urals. Their germs, as the saying goes, turned out to be a lot fiercer than our germs.

Return to Nagasaki (BBC2) was a decent but humdrum set of three sad stories - a 16-year-old postman thrown off his bike, a woman's search for her missing son, and the recollections of an American Marine. What made them moving was the knowledge that there were hundreds of thousands of similar stories going untold. Survivors' stories always miss the point somehow. The real story concerns the 180,000 people who died in that single instantaneous flash, and they are out of reach of even the noblest documentary. It takes art to bring the dead to life (witness tonight's film poem by Tony Harrison, The Shadow of Hiroshima, 9.40pm C4).

Return to Hiroshima (BBC2) was a brilliant concept. The American pilots who dropped the bomb went to Japan accompanied by a TV crew, and it was effective precisely because the pilots remained unabashed. You kept expecting them to apologise, but they re- mained convinced that their mission was an honourable one. In the museum they didn't seem embarrassed by the photographs of blistered backs and charred faces. "That was dropped from my plane," one of them said, with boyish glee. Every now and then the camera caught them looking strick- en with sorrow, but silence was much more eloquent than any amount of hand-wringing. The film did away with subtitles to reproduce in the viewer the incomprehension on the pilots' own faces when they met Japanese survivors. It would have been bogus for any of them - or us - to think that what happened could be made up for with a tearful handshake. Even a kiss-and- make- up culture like America refused to play that game. Still, the scene on the roof of the hospital in Hiroshima, when the pilots suddenly spilled the beans, was unbearable. In an irony that made you wince, the hospital chief, shaking with shock, stared at the ground. Then he remembered his manners and thanked them all for coming.

The attempt at a more celebratory occasion-marker, Victory (C4), seemed oddly unnecessary, Britain has already had its VE Day knees-up, and it was hard to see the point of another potted narration of the war's closing acts, even with that nice Ben Kingsley talking over Carl Davis's reliably sombre score. The film added little to a story better told in The World at War. There was one great anecdote, though, a classic Jewish joke. An Englishwoman shamed herself by inviting half a dozen Yanks for Sunday lunch - so long as they weren't Jews. When they turned up, they were black. The woman was appalled. There's been some mistake, she said. No, ma'am, she was told. Colonel Cohen never makes mistakes.

It was odd, in this context, to see the news footage (BBC1/C4) of the French General Paul Vericel taking his morning dip in the turquoise waters off Mururoa atoll. To many people (60 per cent of France, for instance) it seemed a tactless week to be letting off nuclear bombs, but the general was keen to prove that regular thermonuclear blasts are an essential part of a balanced work-out regime. Naturally, he also wanted to prove that the sea was safe - a relief (as the weather forecasters might have said) to any of you heading out to the South Pacific on holiday.

It reminded one of the time John Gummer made his daughter eat a hamburger, at the height of Mad Cow hysteria. So it was poignant to see pictures from Moscow showing the opening of Russia's first domestic fast-food joint. Years of secret underground testing have finally borne fruit. Satellite pictures conclusively proved that America was no longer the world's only fast-food superpower. It looks as though the new world order is a takeaway - with extra fries. But let's look on the bright side: maybe it will usher in the age of the McVodka.

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