28 DECEMBER 2002, Page 44

Not an ideal Holmes

Simon Hoggart

Heavens, Hound of the Baskervilles (BBC 1) made for a gory Boxing Day. We watched the prison warders being sucked slowly and lethally into the mire, and saw Sir Charles's face, with great chunks eaten out of it, as if someone had tried carving a turkey without a knife. Just as Andrew Davies famously puts in the sex that authors of the past might have included if the conventions of the time had permitted, so Allan Cubitt, who adapted this, inserted the violence that old milksop Conan Doyle had squeamishly left out. Doyle even had a happy ending, with Sir Henry Baskerville about to marry the villain's beautiful wife, played here by Neve McIntosh. In the novel she is found trussed up and muffled. In the film, she was distinctly and gruesomely dead. Next, Cubitt's Just William, in which the Outlaws wipe out the Hubert Lanites with drive-by shootings.

My other carp concerned Holmes, played by Richard Roxburgh. In any Holmes dramatisation, he has to dominate every scene in which he appears. This can be done by brilliant acting, or else by mannerisms. Jeremy Brett, in the first-rate Granada series, was one great heaving mass of mannerisms. He could arch his eyebrows, purse his lips, and flare his nostrils as wide as the Channel tunnel. But you never took your eyes off him. This Holmes was a presence, but even when shooting up — as graphically as the yobs in Trainspotting — he was only one of the characters on screen, and it didn't quite work.

Of course, few detective adventures ever come to court. I watched the latest Poirot, Evil Under the Sun (ITV), while in the middle of jury service. I doubt that any of these cases would end in convictions. 'Are you seriously telling the jury, M. Poirot, that my client's wife just happened, while on a small and isolated island, to possess clothing of the exact type worn by the murdered women, that she ran to the cove while dressed as her victim, put on a wig and pretended to be the body of that victim, who was in fact, as she well knew, hiding no more than a few feet away, and that my client pretended to recognise the victim, even though he was accompanied by a companion who, if she had troubled to look at the alleged corpse. would have immediately discovered this ludicrous plan. Meanwhile my client's wife had raced up a 100-foot cliff and run back to the hotel leaving the guests under the impression that she had not even left the tennis court . . The juries I've sat on would have taken five minutes to reach a not guilty' verdict, and wiped that smug smile right off Poirot's silly face.

A return special of Absolutely Fabulous (BBC I) was about twice as long as it should have been, but I suppose when you've got the team together again and recruited Whoopi Goldberg too, you need to fill lots of time for the money. Patsy and Edina went to New York to find Eddie's son Serge, and a stern notice on the sleeve of my preview tape said: 'Serge's sexuality strictly embargoed until after transmission', a warning I might have taken more seriously if the programme's subtitle in the Radio Times hadn't been: `Gay'.

Channel 4 like an alternative Christmas, and this year they gave us Offensive: The Real Derek and Clive. This celebrated the records Peter Cook and Dudley Moore made in their personae as a pair of foulmouthed losers. The Yuletide welkin rang to cries of So this f*"ing c*** comes up to me and says, "You f""ing c**'!" Who you calling a f"*ing c***? . . . ' and so on. Various comedians were shown reduced to fits of insane laughter by these drolleries. Alarmingly, David Baddiel was accompanied by his brother, Ivor, As someone cried in distress when spotting either Mike, or possibly Bernie Winters, 'My God, there's two of them!'

The programme was made unintentionally hilarious by the commentary, spoken by Juliet Stevenson in a tone so reverential it would have made Jennie Bond blush. When a hushed and sonorous voice is trying to persuade you that you are in the presence of the defining comic geniuses of the age. then you next hear someone say: 'The worst job I ever had was retrieving lobsters from Jayne Mansfield's bum' — accompanied by shots of Jayne Mansfield, followed by a tankful of lobsters, a demented piece of literal-minded editing — you might find this, if I may say so without sounding prudish and repressed, even funnier than the `so this f***ing c***' routine.

P. G. Wodehouse — Lost Overseas (BBC 2) was an evenly balanced programme, though the short supply of library footage brought us an awful lot of ancient typewriters picking out the titles of novels, and empty swings swinging by swimming pools, and other screen-savers. The argument still continues about whether Wodehouse was a willing stooge of the Nazis, or just a naïf, bewildered by what was going on around him. The programme didn't take sides, though I thought his holiday trip to Berlin in 1941, staying in the Adler hotel while British bombs fell on the city, implied that, as naifs go, he was a very naive naïf.