Monday, October 27

Review: Autumnwatch

Autumnwatch is so British it might as well be smashing up a Belgian piazza, says Mark Lewis

It’s a programme so parochial it makes you want to turn off your TV*, drink a pint of regional bitter in your local pub, and have a bit of a cry over a 1st class postage stamp.

It has that weirdly British combination of impossible ambition and a cosy lack of any at all. Making it live flies so far up the nose of every notion of good natural history programming procedure that it is almost laughably industrious. But then they front it with a man wearing a fleece.

And then make that man Bill Oddie.

Autumnwatch (Monday, BBC2, 8pm) is dripping in British peculiarity. Only in Britain could we imagine that we could somehow sex up the natural history format by inserting the interminably geriatric twittering of man who was incomprehensibly popular 40 years ago. Only in Britain would his meandering verbal links, which invariably wander into the next segment, be considered comforting. And only in Britain would a barn in Brownsea Island in Dorset truly be considered “glamorous”.

This is primetime telly. And yet in one segment, Oddie is allowed to take his camera down to Hampstead Heath to film ducklings frolicking on his local pond. Had it been in Italy, a man in a sparkling suite would have been hiding in the pond on Hampstead Heath filming Bill Oddie being fellated by a dancing girl.

But this is not a programme which will be sold overseas. The only thing likely to be cheered in the United States are the forcefully anthropomorphic reminders of how much tougher the North American grey squirrel is than the rather more effete British red.

The sense of British inferiority is so palpable that Oddie might as well stop stumbling through presenting a live nature programme and start comparing his love making skills with Giacomo Casanova.

Even the brief flicker of excitement at the hint of ‘good ol’ British’ bedroom deviance is quickly extinguished when we discover that “rutting stags” is something to do with fighting deer. Admittedly the rutting stags proved to be a fairly compelling, dramatic piece of television.

But only by British standards. Had it been in America, the stags would have been shooting one another with big fucking laser beams.

*Sentence could equally stop here

Monday, October 13

Review: Dispatches: The Trouble with British Airways; and Wired

Dispatches was lightweight. ITV's latest drama was surprisingly heavyweight, says Mark Lewis

Dispatches: The Trouble with British Airways (Monday, Channel 4, 8pm) highlighted what I have now discovered to be The Trouble with Consumer Documentaries.

Why is it, I wondered, that I almost invariably take the side of big business in the consumer disputes contained within them? Could it be that the neat corporate PR which bedevils me whenever the ad breaks are on, has blinded me to the ills of the companies’ crimes? Perhaps. But marriage-threateningly incessant channel hopping has almost eliminated their power. Is it some idealised vision that everyone – even big companies - means well, really? Maybe. But really, I’m not that nice.

Of course! the trouble with consumer documentaries is that the case studies they unearth are invariably so objectionable.

I know it’s not right that I take arms against the underdog. If I deconstruct my reasoning, I’m aware that it doesn’t quite stack up. I know that, if wronged, a person should not have to write 18 letters of complaint just to get fair compensation for his loss.

But really! What sort of person writes 18 letters of complaint?

British Airways loses more baggage than any other European airline, it cancels more flight than any European flag carrier save for Luxembourg, Croatia and Greece.

And it is impossible to feel fiscal sympathy for a company so big that it can swallow a £121m fine for colluding to fix prices with Virgin Atlantic.

Nevertheless, it is impossible not to take its side when your thoughts on the underdog range between indifference and contempt.

One woman, who had her bag lost, and was sent £250 for her trouble, wrote a letter to the chief executive accusing him of theft. And was utterly incredulous that the company should close the case of her missing bag after a mere 90 days of searching. How could they stop looking for her bag after a mere three months when they kept on looking for the Yorkshire Ripper until they found him?

Andrew Gilligan – as desperate to sex up this documentary as he was to accuse Alastair Campbell of sexing up that Iraq dossier – does his best. He even goes to the lengths of interviewing Scootch, Britain’s cabin-crew-themed novelty entrants to the 2006 Eurovision song contest, with Flying the Flag, for some reason.

But to no avail. The problem, really, is that the trifling inconveniences of ordinary people just don’t merit the hour long honour of as primetime Dispatches programme.

The same – and I find it hard to believe that I am writing this – cannot be said of the latest ITV drama, Wired (Monday, ITV1, 9pm). As strange as it is to report, ITV has produced a programme with pace, intrigue and passable performances from the whole cast.

The bad guy is suitably nasty. (He runs a club so exclusive that it has a French name and a long queue in the middle of the day). The main protagonist is attractive and engaging. And the set up is pleasantly smooth.

All of which risks damning with faint praise. But with two more instalments still to come, the channel which just keeps on bringing you X-Factor, has ample time to mess it up.