13 NOVEMBER 1999, Page 74


A right rave

James Delingpole

When you're cooped up at home seven nights a week with a broken ankle, you do tend to watch an awful lot of televi- sion. And 99 per cent of it is so dire that you end up wishing you'd gone to bed early instead and read something worthwhile and life-changing like B.S. Johnson's The Unfortunates.

But, just occasionally, you happen to see a programme so impossibly brilliant that you want to ring up your brother immedi- ately to make sure that what you've just seen really was quite as wonderful as you thought it was. Which is what 1 did after I'd seen the penultimate episode of Spaced (Channel 4, two Fridays ago). 'Yes,' my brother confirmed. 'It really was that good. And I'm bloody glad you saw it because if you hadn't, and I'd told you how good it was, you'd never have believed me.'

I know what he meant. Until this particu- lar episode, Spaced was one of those come- dy series you watched mainly because there was nothing much better on at that time. You quite liked the characters (a couple of twentysomething flat-sharers and their cast of weirdo chums), you laughed at the jokes, and you could see that sometimes it was teetering on the edge of sitcom genius. But frustratingly it never quite seemed to go all the way.

Then, quite without warning, it did. What triggered it was the arrival of a char- acter we'd never met before — a manky- looking individual with a strange habit of dancing wildly to any form of repetitive noise, be it the ticking of a clock or the ringing of a phone. To those viewers with- out much experience of dance music, club- bing or Ecstasy culture, this would have made no sense at all. But to those in the know, it sent a signal that this episode was going to be rather special. A cult classic, even.

And so it proved. Since rave music was invented in the late Eighties, there have been ,dozens and dozens of attempts to capture in film and TV drama the para- noia, euphoria and silliness which are the hallmarks of a night's clubbing. But I've

never seen it all evoked quite so convinc- ingly as it was by scriptwriters (and stars) Jessica Stevenson and Simon Pegg in this episode of Spaced.

Rather cleverly, they achieved it without once mentioning drugs. They simply showed what happens before, during and after: the initial nerviness and reluctance; that awkward stage when you arrive at the club and everyone seems 'up for it' apart from you, so you have to stand there jig- ging your arms waiting for something to happen; the bit where everyone loses it and starts bonding with total strangers; the bit where your posse reunite and greet each other like long-lost friends, even though you separated only half an hour ago; the chill-out session where you burble lovey

inanities at one another This was com- edy of recognition at its finest and I've no doubt it will be dissected and drooled over by aficionados for many months to come.

And while we're on the subject of good programmes that weren't actually on this week, let me just slip in a quick cheer for Horizon's (BBC 2, last Thursday) hilarious debunking of Graham Hancock. Hancock is the man who came up the lucrative theo- ry that many of the world's ancient sites the Pyramids, Angkor Wat etc. — were erected in homage to an earlier civilisation which mysteriously vanished in around 10500 sc. The main problem with this the- ory, as sundry archaeologists and scientists Patiently explained to Horizon, is that it's the most unutterable bollocks.

Delectable though it was to watch Han- cock growing sweatier and tetchier as he tried to defend his extravagant claims against the overwhelming evidence to the contrary, it was hard to be too cheerful. Hancock sold 5 million copies of the book which first expounded his theories, landed his own six-part series (shame on you, Channel 4!) early this year and has made his fortune. But the genuine experts in the fields in which he has dabbled have made next to nothing from their endeavours; and among the few chances they've had to defend their position are one measly pro- gramme on Channel 5 and one on BBC 2, neither of which will have drawn remotely as large an audience as the egregious Han- cock. How can he sleep, I wonder?

Oopsl Hardly any space now to mention a programme that actually was on this week: The Magician's House (BBC 1). This is one of those classic Sunday tea-time chil- dren's dramas that you thought they didn't make any more and, though it's extremely watchable, there are one or two flaws that grown-up viewers might find rather irk- some. Though Ian Richardson makes a brilliant 16th-century magician, I've got serious doubts about the casting of Neil Pearson as the lovable dad: he's so much

better as roguish philanderers. Also, though its supposedly set in an old house in Wales, it doesn't look at all convincing because it's all filmed in British Columbia. And the script's pretty lazy: everyone's con- stantly behaving out of character in order to serve the needs of the plot. And I do so hate the way they have to wheel on a tire- some eco-sub-plot (saving badgers etc.), just because today's kids are supposed to find that sort of thing interesting. But, then, I suppose it wasn't aimed at me.