Television

Big Read: BBC

My mother recently confessed she looked forward to getting old so she could have more time to read. After bringing up nine children and a lifetime of underpaid care work (she still volunteers, looking after "old people" often younger than herself), that may seem scant reward. But it brought home to me just how imaginative literature can immeasurably increase the pleasure and quality of even materially impoverished life.

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The Deal

Channel 4 film, shown on 28 September

With Hollywood director Stephen Frears (Dangerous Liaisons) in charge we might have expected a portrayal of the interplay between sex and power and the "dark side" of the relationship between Gordon Brown and Tony Blair. What we got was more like a Mills and Boon story of rivalry between brothers for the hand of a good woman, (or in this case the Labour Party and, goddam it, the country), who had been let down badly by previous lovers (the Tories, the unions, militancy).

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All things to men

Pornography: The Musical, Channel 4

Stealing and gratifying other people's sexual desires in return for money have only ever appealed to me, and then not much, when I've been really broke. Both strike me as being dangerous, uncomfortable and one of them - stealing - possibly immoral. To judge from Pornography: The Musical the "money factor" is the biggest reason people work in porn.

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Globalisation is Good

Channel 4's documentary Globalisation is Good (20 September 2003) certainly lived up to its billing as "controversial" . In fact it could easily have been called "Sweatshops are Good".

For instance, the film showed a Nike factory in Vietnam where the boss and some carefully chosen workers said that they thought Nike was a brilliant employer (loans, sports facilities, clean factory, high wages, etc.).

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Hitler: the Rise of Evil

In Hitler: the Rise of Evil (Channel 4 TV) Robert Carlyle gives a brilliant portrayal of the maniac himself. Carlyle condenses what he was politically and socially into a personality. We see his manner, body language, servile and half-fawning, like a dog with his tail down, towards his social "betters". We see the connection between his floundering attempts to find his own place in the world and his cranky nationalism, his need to find scapegoats and "conspirators" to explain the terrible things that happen to himself and to Germany.

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TV: Sweatshops are good for you?

Tim Cooper

Channel 4's documentary Globalisation is Good (20 September) certainly lived up to its billing as "controversial" . In fact it could easily have been called "Sweatshops are Good".

For instance, the film showed a Nike factory in Vietnam where the boss and some carefully chosen workers said that they thought Nike was a brilliant employer (loans, sports facilities, clean factory, high wages, etc.).

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Early Doors

TV: BBC2

There has been a renaissance in British situation comedy in the last decade.

Okay, I suppose you might not think that an accurate statement if you take into consideration some current situation comedies such as My Family - a neurotic dentist (yes, dentist) and his equally neurotic but ultimately completely uninteresting middle-class family. Or that one Adam Faith was in before he snuffed it. Or Harry Enfield's latest … I forget what it was called. Obviously, there is a lot of complete rubbish getting commissioned.

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I'm a bore: get me off the telly

I'm A Celebrity... Get Me Out Of Here! (ITV) and 100 Worst Britons (Channel 4)

It's that time of year again when reality TV hits the screens. Big Brother is back next week, but in the meantime we've had the delights of I'm A Celebrity... Get Me Out Of Here! The small advantage of these shows is that, unlike Fame Academy or Pop Idol, the participants don't sing. Well, not much, anyway.

Two and a half million votes were counted in the final of I'm A Celebrity. I reckon that must be about the same as the number of votes for the Scottish Parliament. It cost 25p a go to choose whether an ex-cricketer, an ex-footballer or a DIY design guru should be King (or Queen) of the Jungle. The bookies were set to lose thousands if the favourite, Phil Tufnell, failed to win (he won). But why did anyone care?

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Indicting the Drugs Companies

Channel Four

Campaigning investigative TV journalism is not often seen on our small screen these days. Dying for Drugs did very well what good TV documentary can do - tell a simple story and communicate the huge implications, as no amount of tables and statistics could do. It brought home the human impact of the big drugs companies' search for profits.

Dying for Drugs told four stories, each more terrible than the last.

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The war on TV

By Vicki Morris

Alongside the ground war, and the war for hearts and minds, we have the propaganda war (and the TV channels have a ratings war).


Nowadays, the credit to the UK/US side appears to consist not so much in the lies they are allowed to peddle as in the gratitude they earn from the TV companies for meeting televisual demand. (And, hey, why isn't the army sponsored yet?)

The US decided to allow 500 journalists to travel with the troops.

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The West Wing

Duncan Morrison reviews The West Wing, Channel 4, Saturdays at 8pm

Let’s get the disclaimer out of the way. It is fiction, it requires what I believe they call willing suspension of disbelief. Real bourgeois politicians aren’t this good, they do not fight for the under-dogs, they do not hold honesty, education, freedom and truth in such high-esteem. But, wouldn’t it be nice if they did?

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Buried

Clive Bradley reviews Buried, Channel 4

Tony Garnett has an extraordinary track record, going back to his early work as producer with Ken Loach — Cathy Come Home, Days of Hope. More recently, he was responsible for some of the most innovative television series — This Life and The Cops (we can perhaps avert our eyes from the mess of Attachments).

The Cops, for example, took the most popular current television genre and turned it inside out, showing you the real police. It started with a young woman in a club taking drugs, then cut to the same young woman putting on her police uniform… And so it went on. The cop show meets gritty realism.

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The contestants bite back

Gerry Byrne reviews The Great Reality TV Swindle, Channel Four, 2 December

It had to happen. It's like when you're a child and you have this boy-mouse and a girl-mouse. Oh dear. Big Brother mates with Survivor, with some additional genetic material from Enron and the Cook Report…

Take a bunch of young hopeful TV-presenter wannabes, blag a classy audition suite, a private island in the Thames on the basis of free advertising, take on some eager camera crew who'll work for the kudos, tell your hopefuls to divest themselves of all ties - flats, lovers, commitments - for a year, ask them to turn up penniless but passports at the ready. What do you get?

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The Project, BBC1

The power junkies

Watching The Project I was reminded of an episode in George Orwell’s Animal Farm. Napoleon-Stalin takes away a gang of young pups to raise and train them privately for his own purposes.

The pups grow into brute beasts, ignorant of all that the animals’ revolution had stood for. To consummate his coup, Napoleon unleashes them on those who oppose him. The savage dogs rip their throats out.

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Jamaica at Forty

TV: the BBC’s collection of programmes marking the 40th anniversary of Jamaican independence

As well as the 1970 film The Harder They Come and the film of Bob Marley at the Rainbow, BBC2 has so far carried three specially commissioned programmes: I Love Jamaica, Blood and Fire and Reggae: the Story of Jamaican Music Part 1 (of three) — a superb study of the period from the appearance of sound systems in the late 1950s to that of Rocksteady about ten years later. As well as these, BBC4 has shown a documentary called Life and Debt.

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Lenin traduced

The Russian Revolution is often presented as an attempt to impose socialism by the coercive means of dictatorship and terror. In order to do this, historical facts are used very selectively, and the actions of the Bolsheviks are described with little or no reference to their historical context. BBC2 TV’s “Lenin’s Secret Files”, broadcast last December in the “Timewatch” series, was a good example of the method. It described the Red Terror with only a cursory mention of the desperate circumstances of civil war and foreign intervention.

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