TELEVISION / Strong words, hard lives

'SO, let's see what the first word is.' Ding. 'Bugger.' A pinkly twinkling Auberon Waugh was having a lovely time chairing (Not) Call My Bluff: 'A bugger is a Bulgarian heretic.' Ding. The game was part of Expletive Deleted (C4), an entertaining if inconclusive inquiry into taboo words. It also featured a swearing league-table, which showed crap was more offensive than git but nobody gave a damn about bloody anymore. A lexicographer told us about Robert Browning, who read a medieval poem and deduced that twat meant a nun's habit. Browning lost no time in putting his new word to paper, the poor Bulgarian heretic.

Elsewhere, one small obscenity had the tabloids in an almighty lather. In Facing the Music: The Return of Torvill and Dean (BBC1), Chris reduced Jayne to tears and said he didn't give a XXXX for her misery. Whoa - trouble in Paradice] In truth, Edward Mirzoeff's beautifully poised documentary will have shocked only those fans who believed that T&D reached perfection by going twice round the rink then home for EastEnders. Common sense had told the rest of us that if the pair were that silky underfoot, the friction must have gone somewhere else. It crackled in the cold air between them. 'Like a dead weight, Jayne. Go round, turn your body sideways. Lay on my knees. Come on] Lift your legs so you're lying with your feet in the air]' The long, fumbled rehearsals made extraordinary viewing. They reminded you of the violinist who said: 'I practice 14 hours a day for 37 years, and now they call me a genius.'

Mirzoeff was originally making a film about triumph against the odds. Life did not oblige, and he ended up with a sorer, more interesting work. The same thing happened to Peter Gordon with After the Bomb (BBC2, 40 Minutes). There he was recording the plucky progress of Bronwen Vickers, injured in Warrington, in time for a joy-through-tears first anniversary programme.

Sitting in a hospital bed with her milky skin and long black plait, Bronwen had the slighly spooky purity of Victoria Gillick. Then she spoke. After the blast, she had checked husband Paul and their daughters (Harriet was just 13 days old), and then peered under her skirt: 'I thought, 'Oh God, what a bloody mess'. Then I thought, 'Oh, well it's only a leg.' ' The Vickers don't have self-pity in their DNA. Paul took care of the girls while Bronwen got on with learning to walk and cheering everyone up. She confessed that she had a few black moments, wondering if the shock might trigger the melanoma that had struck at university. Hearing her talk about the cancer, it sounded remarkably like the men who had hurt her: insidious, deadly, the skunks beneath the skin.

Gordon didn't falter when Bronwen got the bad news about the lumps: he kept filming, plain and compassionate. It must have been agony to stay, but impossible to walk away and admit that she'd spoiled the story. Hard to watch towards the end: the baby was finding her powers as Bronwen's faded. I flicked over to The Oscars, but Tom Cruise's smile has never looked so synthetic. I turned back. In the last frame, Gordon froze on Harriet as she crawled gleefully across the room: absurd how much hope you placed on the fact that she would grow up to have her mother's dainty face.

With the sky over the BBC light entertainment department still dark with turkeys coming home to roost, Outside Edge (ITV) felt like the coming of spring. Adapted by Richard Harris from his stage play, it tells the gripping story of a cricket captain and his wife who can't get to a match because their car won't start, so they have to get a lift with another player and his wife. Nothing was happening, but everything was being revealed. There was officious Roger (Robert Daws) and compliant Miriam (Brenda Blethyn) talking in the blocks of verbal Lego that keep a marriage stuck together long after actual communication has ceased ('Mim, love you. OK, fair enough? 'Love you too, darling.' 'Soopah'). And there was the sour-squire look on Roger's face when Kevin (Timothy Spall) introduced Maggie (Josie Lawrence), all fun-fur and animal passion: 'Ooh, 'is litt-al body's gone all rigid. Let me give it a cudd-al.' Mozart was on the soundtrack, sounding just right beneath the arias of delusion (Mim is a legend in her own teatime, but a shadow in her own life) and sublime comic ensembles.

From the opening shot of a suburban crescent - pink 1930s brickwork set off with gleaming white trim like a pristine set of dentures - we were clearly in Mike Leigh land. All human banality was here, down to the cricketer gnomes in the back garden. Many sitcoms use film for exterior shots and video for indoors, giving a tinny, uneven quality. Here, director Nick Hurran used film for both, achieving a wonderfully deep, burnished look. There was real depth, too, in the jokes, which came over as authentic spasms of character rather than tacked- on ornaments. The actors enjoy themselves hugely without ever resorting to caricature. Blethyn, in particular, is superb. A much-underated actress - the hang-dog housewife incarnate in The Buddha of Suburbia - she registers every twitch of Mim's doomed docility. She instinctively leans over to fasten Roger's seatbelt for him as he continues to talk at her: a slave to his rhythms, she has no other way of making him belt up.

This column closed too early to report on Do The Right Thing (BBC1), the live morality show in which Terry Wogan and a celebrity panel watch a drama and then debate the correct course of action for the characters. Among the Solomons sitting in judgement last night was David Mellor MP, that pillock of the community. Next week, Pol Pot and Bienvenida 'Fast' Buck join Terry to give their views on the behaviour of The Rector's Wife (C4).

With great good fortune and a spot of plot manipulation from novelist Joanna Trollope, Anna's bossy, glum husband, Peter, was killed in a crash, freeing her from a desiccated marriage to enjoy life with her yummy Byronic lover, Jonathan. Simply super for that messy broken heart to be swept away so neatly, but should Anna really have gone and sat on the rector's freshly dug grave and told him how thrilled she was that things had worked out so well? 'Peter, I have to talk to you. We needn't pretend now that we'd come to the end of our happy times together . . . I get the feeling that in some way we were rescued. It's lovely now, I can love you in peace.' Now he's 6ft under, that is.

Anyone who has ever been the hypotenuse in an eternal triangle will have dreamed of the opposite side meeting a premature end, but only a moral myopic would present it in this fuzzy, feelgood way. Not surprisingly, Lindsay Duncan's Anna spent much of the time in a dream - it would have been shocking to stay awake with lines like this. At the graveside, Anna tells her dead husband that if he thinks she should feel guilty he hasn't been in Paradise long enough. For real chafing under pressure, you had to turn to Marjorie, Prunella Scales's cracked-glass colonel's wife, anaesthetising her disappointment in yet another chinking gin. Interviewers always ask Joanna Trollope if she minds being associated with the Aga: time someone asked that excellent, warm-hearted cooker how it feels being linked to a mediocre, chilly novelist.

Painful to watch for quite different reasons, Timewatch (BBC2) followed Henryk Grynberg as he returned to his Polish village to discover what had happened to his father and brother after he and his mother fled 50 years ago. A handsome man with chocolate-drop eyes and melancholy moustache, he showed little emotion as elderly Poles disclaimed responsibility: it was always someone else who had done the deed. Instead they embroidered memories of helping their Jewish neighbours who had hidden in the forest. Henryk could still remember the pine needles falling into his soup, and the big bottle his father carried to steal some milk from a cow. When the villagers finally disclosed the location of the grave, Henryk clawed at the clay. Soon, he found something the size of a pot: he was holding his father's head in his hands. Looking out across the iron landscape, Henryk reminded you of Hamlet cradling Yorick's skull - 'He hath borne me on his back a thousand times'. Here, in this godforsaken place, was a horror born of love.

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