Phwoaar, look at the glass shelves on that!


Jenny Turner
Saturday 26 April 1997 23:02

Of all the naughtier emotions, justifiable Schadenfreude is surely the most delicious of all. There's an especially nice bit of it in Diner, Barry Levinson's 1982 film. Fenwick, the good-for-nothing malcontent, is watching University Challenge on TV. He answers every question correctly, long before the smart boys from Harvard. "Hur hur," he cackles delightedly. "Hur hur," the audience cackles delightedly too.

"Hur hur," I always start cackling, the minute Home Front (BBC2, Wednesday) comes on. We have a big housing crisis in this country - and how does television address it? With the softest-focus housing porn. And what a prize bunch of fetishists these happily homed folk really do seem to be. They potato-print their wallpaper. They hang their windows with saris. They build perfectly decent cupboards out of that nice smooth MDF stuff, then "distress" them to make them look antique. "Hur hur," I cackle, with a note of the Smash Martians rising in my throat.

Tessa Shaw, Home Front's main presenter, has one of those deep-throated upper-class voices which tries hard to project warmth and kindliness, but really just sounds posh. Her foil is a man called Kevin McCloud, who is a bit tougher-talking and wears a tartan shirt. Items are linked with little house-beautiful tableaux, the basic recipes one needs to master before cooking up that perfect home. Will Modom try the White Lounge With Stripped Flooring, Garnished With a Twist of Rusty Wire? Or will she plump for the Pea-Green Modern Bathroom With Tatty Retro Clutter on a Bed of Minimal Glass Shelves? Oh, and the linking music is unusually annoying. "Home Front," it goes, on a bilious trad-jazz piano. "Hur hur hur."

This week, Kevin was railing away about pendant light fittings, the scourge of every modern home. "Ghastly ... A dead object in dead space ... " He would prefer you to fit up your ceiling with a "late-20th-century version of the medieval chandelier". Which you can also conceptualise as "a sculptural object". Sculptural object? Hmm. Kevin suggested that you try painting a shop-bought light fitting all over in royal blue. Don't tell that to Sarah Lucas. She'll be calling it Dimwit and putting it in her next show. Next, he took three of those "unbearably fashionable" twisted-wire egg- baskets - not, alas, the ones shaped like chickens - and wrought them into one. If these were "sculptural objects", those coathanger mobiles they used to do on Blue Peter must have been classics of Seventies brutalism. Which means MDF is the new sticky-backed plastic ... Home Front. Hur hur hur.

We all have our fantasies about what will happen to our bodies when we die. The modern, supposedly rational, version involves carrying an organ-donor's card. This, you hope, will serve as your passport to immortality, with your body parts living a second useful life. But, as this week's Modern Times (BBC2, Wednesday) suggested, it's unlikely to be that way for most of us. Unless you really are knocked down by the proverbial bus or something, chances are your body will be too sick and worn to be of any use.

Helen Richards's film - entitled, dolorously, The End - was ostensibly about funerals. But it courageously missed out on all the obvious stuff it might have said and done, going for big, sweepingly poetic images instead. "With the end comes the heightening, the dignity and the pathos..." The film turned and turned again on the image of a poor dead body - yes! a real, live dead body! as my little brother once said - made to look like it was revolving as it lay there, waiting to be embalmed. It was a woman, I'm pretty sure, and she looked so weak and tired out. Her skinny throat was cut to let in the tubes which pumped the embalming fluid, and then the wound was pasted over with a little plastic bib.

Usually, when you see death on the television, it comes fitted with a little handle which turns, automatically, all the big, scary emotions into blame. It was the fault of American imperialism; it was, as we suspected, the butler all along. But here was death as it will come to most of us, by natural causes, when the body has had enough. It wasn't fun to look at, but it was solemn and respectful. Better not tell that Anthony-Noel Whatsit. He might not see the point.

Coincidentally, The Funeral was the very title of this week's Keeping Mum, (BBC1 Thursday), a perfectly adequate new sitcom which stars Stephanie Cole. Having somehow escaped from the old people's home Waiting for God scenario, Cole now has a West Country accent and a non-upsetting dementia problem. And so, she has moved in with her son. The son (Martin Ball) is a great doggy dish of a fellow - curly hair, cord jacket, waggy-tailed Irish setter smile. This always helps in shows of the second division (cf my personal favourite of the genre, The Upper Hand). You had to fancy at least one of them to watch it in the first place. But when you did, you laughed and laughed.

But if it's a really excellent sitcom you're after, you can do no better than Roy Clarke's Last of the Summer Wine (BBC1, Sunday) - currently the longest-running sitcom in the world. The fells are green, the birds are tweeting, and Compo's still bothering Nora Batty, so all's well. Last week, a pink, heart-shaped Lovemobile appeared, in a puff of elegantly- done bad temper, on the crest of the Sheffield-to-Oldham road. Ronnie Hazlehurst's classic score swelled with the sound of angelic oohing and aahing. Even Smiler - for a millisecond - smiled.

I suppose, if you wanted to get all Eng Lit about it, you might say it's a bit like Shakespeare. Green-world pastoral, rude mechanicals, dozy buttocks, exit pursued by a bike ... But one of the Wine-ette ladies put it more succinctly, while discussing the newer-fangled sort of folk. "I wouldn't mind," she said. "But they will come back from abroad with very inflated ideas about what they should put in a salad."

You can say what you like about general elections, but at least you don't have to buy presents for everyone before you get to join in. That, sort of, was the idea behind The Enormous Election With Dennis Pennis (BBC2, Saturday; repeated today, 12 noon), a Mock-the-Vote special for the anti- political young. "We won't be ignoring the Big Issues," promised Dennis, ignoring the Big Issue vendor behind him as he went. These turned out to be drugs, sexuality, unemployment, and Swampy. The expositions of each were admirably clear. Apart from Swampy's bit. I don't think teeny- voting drives are really Swampy's thing.

The Enormous Election - I didn't see the pun for ages - was a TV show done like a teen mag. On the face of it, it was just a heap of deeply silly gooning, stuffed with cartoon-colourful jokes about the promised sex and drugs. But really, it was a solidly worthy enterprise, made for BBC News/Education by Planet 24.

Ulrika Jonsson, Rhona Cameron and David Baddiel were sent, respectively, to interview Major, Ashdown and Blair. Major was rather conservative, Ashdown was pretty liberal, and Blair was ... I labour for the word. Blair is the only one of the three of them never to have been on the dole. Ashdown alone declined to deny if he'd ever done drugs. And Major had a lot of make-up on. So there, I hope that helps.

"Just stick your vote in it, innit," quipped the spike-haired specster, while beating a ballot-box, hard. Makes you glad to be British, dunnit. Cos if you weren't, you'd never understand a word.

David Aaronovitch returns on 11 May.

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