Monday, September 4

Fortunate to be annoying

Mark Lewis watches fate teach a peculiar lesson about the wisdom of whining

Last night Channel 4 taught us how a small group of people used up the combined luck of their families, their friends and every would-be lottery winner in New York when one woman’s whinging saved 14 lives.

"I was going to say: ‘God, if you get me out of here then I will never ask for anything ever again.’ But I thought no." Luckily Josephine Harris is not the sort of woman to ever give up the right to whinge, complain and ask God for anything she wanted.

In just the same way, Channel 4 will never give up the right to name its documentaries in the style of Catch Phrase, where Roy Walker sits a commissioning editor in front of a film and invites him to ‘say what you see.’

In this case it was 9/11: The Miracle of Stairway B (Channel 4, 9pm), where we learned the story of how Josephine’s endless complaining slowed the progress of 13 fire fighters as they fled the collapsing north tower on that day five years ago. She managed to get all the way down to the 4th floor before deciding she just couldn’t go any further.

Mostly this was pretty worn stuff. We saw the planes. We saw the jumpers. We saw the ordinary, brave, terrified firemen. We saw the gratuitous shots of burning towers and heard cod-portentious music. But this, at times was a touching story of how 14 people found the only place in the north tower which would protect them from the collapse of the 106 floors above.

The young people in Britain who attend the country's top universities might not be quite so lucky. But never has the educational gulf and snobbery of Britain’s higher education establishment been so cruelly exposed as it was on University Challenge last night (BBC2, 8.30pm). In the royal blue corner was fine old surgeon’s incubator, Imperial College of Medicine. In the dowdy, battered, brown corner was ex polytechnic and magnet for mature ne’er-do-wells, Brighton.

The bucks of Imperial whose youthful good looks smacked of many an hour spent in hilarious high jinks almost certainly involving traffic cones, would all grow up one day to become doctors. And , (oh cruelty of cruelties) two of the wizened old pub-quiz veterans of Brighton were studying to become nurses.

Chief wizened veteran was Thompson whose reluctant answers were eventually abutted by the classic Paxman refrain: ‘You always sound so miserable when you answer.’

Bright and knowledgeable, the Brighton team eventually won. You just hope they did not use up all their luck for te series.

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