22 JUNE 2002, Page 60


Hypnotic attraction

Simon Hoggart

Now and again, when a special effects film is coming out, the tabloids run a feature about the stars' make-up. 'It takes four hours to turn gorgeous Helena Bonham Carter into the Queen of the Apes for her role in the sci-fi thriller Planet of the Apes. As well as major prosthetic work, she has to have every hair glued into place ... ' My theory is that Ricky Tomlinson (The Royle Family, now the eponymous hero of Nice Guy Eddie on BBC 1) is actually played by Nigel Havers, but has to spend four hours in make-up every morning before they're ready to do the first take. I don't see how else it could be done. That nose, which looks as if it been under attack from leprous termites; the pop-eyes, the hanging garden of chins, the dreadful chili sauce-strainer moustache! Tomlinson is ugly on a massive, heroic scale. It's one of the reasons why Nice Guy Eddie works. Our eyes are drawn hypnotically to Tomlinson's face, just as we gaze at a car smash on the other side of the motorway. The whole nation becomes like the child on a bus spotting someone with an unfortunate affliction, piping up, 'Mummy, why has that man got a funny face?'

Another reason is that the show doesn't overdo the lovable Scousers. Liverpudlians tend to be convinced that the rest of us find them delightful, amusing and irresistible. They're wrong. Their public image is selfindulgent and irritating. Any drama series which relies on nothing more than those wacky scallies is going to fail. Luckily the writers, Johanne McAndrew and Elliot Hope, Liverpudlians themselves, have realised this and created plenty of characters who would still be interesting if they were set in a Hampshire pony club. Eddie is surrounded by powerful women, all of whom boss the poor sod around, and if his job as a private detective is boring, repetitive and sometimes dangerous, at least it gets him away from his womenfolk. The plot of the first was the merest whisper, a gentle little tale with a plot twist which would have worked for 0. Henry or Roald Dahl on a thin day, but which stood out on modern TV. A delicate balancing act, kept aloft for the whole hour. I think it will work. but then I thought Auf Wiedersehn, Pet would fail, and it has been one of the BBC triumphs this year.

Bitter Hamest (BBC 2) was a welcome, cool analysis of the GM food controversy. It carefully didn't appear to take sides, and yet at the same time it did covertly — the opponents of biotechnology came over as strident, too self-assured, just slightly bonkers. I'm often struck by the way that technological progress only offends the middle classes when it begins to benefit the poor. GM foods could save billions from hunger, in the way that the hated dams can bring clean fuel and water to people who are desperate for both. So many ecological crusaders remind me of Christian Scientists: you can't doubt the sincerity of their faith, but an awful lot of people die as a result of it.

Secrets Of The Honours System (Channel 4) was fascinating, in spite of its contrived opening — Jon Snow apparently bending down to pick up a letter from the doormat, which offers him the something-BE, as if he had invited the cameras round just on the off chance that it might arrive. He had turned down his gong, though he happily listed less fastidious hacks, including Trevor McDonald, David Frost, John Simpson, Kate Adie and even Fergal Keane, a man who probably sounds on the brink of tears while he's buying a pint of milk. Of course Snow found out almost nothing about how the system works; like the team that decides who goes into Who's Who, they're all having too much fun. One Sir Humphrey remarked, 'I don't see how you could do it in public, really,' Actually it would be very easy. You could even have votes. But that would make the people who run the system now redundant.

Ground Force In The South Atlantic unleashed the usual set of terrible jokes on the people of the Falkland Islands. I suppose part of the charm is that the team are so dreary, with the possible exception of Alan Titchmarsh. (Tommy' humorously muddled up 'geysers' with 'diamond geezers!') Charlie Dimmock (hard at work): `Mmng, uggg, yuh, fantastic!'

Titchmarsh: 'I finished the stripping at quarter to one, and now I'm engaged to Miss Joan Hunter Dunne!'

Dimmock (puzzled): 'Oh, it's a poem, that well-known poem!'

Titchmarsh: 'It is well known — to anyone who reads!'

Anyone who reads! You don't get many of them watching Ground Force, or so that piece of squirm-making banter implies. I don't mind the BBC dumbing-down so much, but I loathe the way that anyone who reveals an interest outside television has to go into a convoluted spasm of embarrassment. If you read poetry, then you must be punished.

The garden, as ever, was awful, having changed a perfectly nice piece of lawn into a kitsch, rock-strewn wasteland.