TELEVISION REVIEW / Would you buy cigarettes from this woman?

Giles Smith
Monday 11 July 1994 23:02

STARK news from World in Action (ITV), back for a new series last night. Margaret Thatcher, a brisk report claimed, has been found flogging cigarettes in the Far East. Could it be that, at the foot of a tragic career spiral, our former prime minister has been forced to take a job in a Hong Kong cinema? Actually, the story was rather less colourful but still disquieting if true.

The point was, the woman who devoted energy when in office to convincing teenagers that 'smoking kills' now does a bit of paid advising for the Philip Morris organisation, makers of Marlboro cigarettes. Philip Morris is currently trying to open up lucrative Eastern markets largely by interesting teenagers in the magical Marlboro brand, and World in Action's notion was that Lady Thatcher is smoothing the way, mostly by going to dinner parties.

You go to a lot of dinner parties, as an ex-prime minister. In fact, on the basis of what we saw here, being an ex-prime minister is infinitely more desirable than being a current one. Evidently the small matter of being deprived of office doesn't really change your lifestyle at all, and Lady Thatcher seems to spend just as much time disembarking from the First Class flight and jumping into the specially provided Jaguar. A quick lecture on the virtues of buying British / American / Marlboro cigarettes, and it's back to the biggest hotel suite in town (from which, apparently, our former prime minister insists on having the ashtrays and matches entirely removed).

As the frank title ('The Fag Lady') assured you, World in Action was after one of those traditional fairy stories along the lines of 'Maggie the Evil Child-Poisoner'. These always go down well, though in the end the involvement or otherwise of Lady Thatcher is a side- issue here. It is Philip Morris's behaviour more generally which concerns the anti-tobacco campaigner Dr Judith McKay, who is, said World in Action, 'energetically committed to saving vulnerable teenagers from the international barons of tobacco.' After a build-up like that, you were surprised when she didn't appear in a cape. Dr McKay's is indeed a superhuman task. A Philip Morris representative declared, with a straight face, that cigarettes were not addictive. Clearly these Morris people outdo even Lady Thatcher when it comes to holding bravely evidence-defying points of view. It's widely believed that some of them think England should have qualified for the World Cup. And don't get them started on the whereabouts of Elvis.

All Night Long (BBC 1) is a new sitcom set in an all-night bakery and starring poor Keith Barron, who deserves better. The first episode featured a punch-line about 'baking and entering' so tortuously arrived at, you could see it coming as early as the Six O'Clock News.

You would have thought there were enough doughnut-and-French stick gags to keep a sitcom in business for at least a handful of run-throughs, but in a move which suggests a strange lack of faith in the location, the writers have arranged for a hoarde of only tangentially related characters to enter at approximately seven-second intervals. This is a bakery in which a crime novelist spends her nights composing at a portable computer; in which a stripper pops in for cups of tea and walks around in her plastic underwear; and through which a pyjama-clad sleep-walker wanders at random. Spot the link here and win a year's supply of granary rolls. The script-writing meetings must have postively thrummed with desperation: 'What about farm animals? They normally get a laugh,' etc. (Actually, my money's on the involvement of a horse, or at least a hen, by episode three.)

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