Magazine article The Spectator

Missing the Point

Magazine article The Spectator

Missing the Point

Article excerpt

Television

Here are three programmes which almost work, but don't quite. The Trench (BBC 2) was one of those ideas which must have looked great on paper. The Beeb would send 24 volunteers from Hull to live in the conditions experienced by members of the 10th Battalion of the East Yorkshire regiment in the trenches 85 years ago. They would face long forced marches, eat dreadful food, catch ghastly diseases, sleep in mud, and generally undergo the horrors their forebears suffered. Except, of course, being shot at. Thus it was a bit like recreating the maiden voyage of the Titanic on dry land; it rather missed the point. Or, if you like, it was as realistic as a Sealed Knot enactment of a Civil War battle - pleasantly gruelling rather than hideously terrifying.

The makers were adamant that this wasn't going to be a first world war version of Big Brother, yet it might be more interesting if it were. In the first episode, the highlight came when 'Private' Nolan was sent back to Hull, amid what appeared to be genuine outrage, for malingering behind the lines. This, I suppose, was the equivalent of being shot for desertion, an idea which would also have pepped up the show no end.

All About Me (BBC 1) is the one thing a sitcom can't afford to be - worthy. Gosh it tries hard. Jasper Carrott, whom I like a lot, stars with Meera Syal, whom I also like a lot. (We once had her on The News Quiz on Radio Four. She was excellent. Now we call, mention the fee, and her agent laughs at us.) They are a mixed-race couple in Birmingham, raising their children by earlier marriages. One of these is a disabled wheelchair-user whose character has caused offence to disabled wheelchair users, or at least to their spokespersons, which is not always the same thing, because he doesn't say anything except to voiceover dry ironic asides about his extended family, as if disabled wheelchair-users were completely incapable of doing anything useful but might possess eldritch secret powers of insight. It's all rather odd.

For one thing Carrott and Syal aren't a mixed-race couple at all. They have the same ethnic origin in Sitkhomland, a country where people communicate entirely through wry jokes, wild exaggeration and snappy if unamusing one-liners. (`Does he like football?' `Nah, he supports Manchester United.') The big problems they face are not social acceptance or the merging of two cultures in one household, but wacky Sitkhom situations, such as Carrott's son wanting to confess to his father, a builder, that he wants to become an architect, but of course Dad thinks he wants to say that he's gay . …

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