11 JANUARY 1992, Page 33


Home truths

John Diamond

The most unspeakably nasty man on TV this week was an architect called Henry Harrison who had wanted 'to produce something that wouldn't stand out from the other buildings' in his Victorian terrace. The sore thumb he designed is a glass box as sere and humourless as Hemy himself. Helen Harrison, the television week's most long-suffering woman, described how, com- ing back from a family wedding in a 'nor- mal' house, she had broken down and cried. What she missed most about living in her husband's box was that there were no curtains: Harrison disapproves of curtains because 'arbitrary clutter would take away from the simplicity of the message'. In their last house, said Helen, she had often gone into the children's room — the only room with curtains in it — atid stood and looked at them for solace. In this house, not even the children have curtains: 'We have achieved as close to perfection as we could, and it is only the humans here who are imperfect.' Well, one of them is, at least.

The Harrisons were one of the half- dozen couples who sat in front of the cam- era and despised each other's had taste on the first episode of Signs of the Times, Nicholas Barker's gripping series on BBC 2 (8.10 p.m., Sunday). Marie-Louise smiled balefully as Matt sneered at her penchant for reproduction maps in pine frames ('We both like maps, but not maps like those') and animals carved from knotty pine; Gary movingly described the pain he felt on coming down to breakfast one morning and ,r.. ,...

'I see the Joneses didn't lip the dustmen.' finding that Sue had unilaterally replaced his old mug-tree ('He'd always had a red washing-up bowl and a red drainer and a red mug-tree. Now, it's a brown and cream kitchen so why on earth you need some- thing red in it I really don't known; and Alec complained that Liz's palette extend- ed to just three colours: 'Light beige, medi- um beige and dark beige'.

It was the war of the sexes fought on the floor of B & Q and Habitat with no quarter given or hostages taken. All the men talked about 'making statements' (i.e. hiding the books away in cupboards) and 'masculine decor' (i.e. pewter tankards and model rac- ing cars on the television set) and scorned the women for wanting cushions on the sofas and pine lavatory-roll holders.. We laughed, as of course we were meant to laugh, at Binkie the stuffed bunny-rabbit and the kitsch painting of the damp-eyed horse, and with a less sure directorial hand laugh is all we would have done. But Signs of the Times managed to avoid the BBC's Shepherds-Bushy tendency to sneer at those less wise in matters of taste than our- selves and to give them a chance to explain their teakette and brass-finish lifestyles while happily also giving the stylish Har- risons of this world more than enough rope to hang themselves.

Signs of the Times has been produced for what the middle-market press now routine- ly refers to as the thirtysomething genera- tion. thirtysomething itself is back for its final series (Channel 4, 10 p.m., Monday) and, as always happens with sharp-edged, well-observed American series (M*A*S*H, _Lou Grant, Hill Street Blues), the men from the Acme Schmaltz Company have been brought in to give the series a make-over. The sharp dialogue and the clever direction now does no more than decorate Love Story in weekly parts. That the pony-tailed Gary was killed off in the first episode of

the new series is less a testament to the producers' willingness to face life in the raw than, I guess, a case of the actor having seen which way the wind was blowing and having himself written out.