11 OCTOBER 2003, Page 66

We want more RSHRWTDs

James Delingpole

What I'd really meant to say the other week about Ray Mears's Real Heroes of Telemark was that it's the first in an inspired new TV hybrid genre — the reality survivalist historical re-enactment war travel documentary. So, you don't merely follow in your heroes' footsteps; you do so using the same equipment, living on the same mouldy starvation rations and so on, with a military theme and interviews with the survivors who did it first-time round. Now how cool is that? None more cool, I'd say, and if I were in charge at the BBC I'd be ordering lots, lots more. They could recreate, maybe, the journey over the Cretan mountains with the German general made by Paddy Leigh Fermor and Billy Stanley Moss; or — well I don't know, why don't you suggest a few? Problem is, if they were going to be done I'd want them done properly: no Goretex or any modern contraptions; real bullets. And I've a suspicion that the health-and-safety nazis wouldn't allow it.

This week was going to be another war week, naturally, but I'm afraid the programmes weren't up to it. P.O.W. (ITV, Friday) didn't seem to me to have the right feel for a second world war stalag — not the accents nor the men's interpersonal relations nor the perpetual red bloodstains on the hero's shirt — and the fact that it came with a press information sheet highlighting the factual basis for various incidents in the drama somehow made me even less convinced. Surely, if they'd really got it right, reviewers would be able to sense it without being told.

Hitler: The Rise of Evil (Channel 4, Saturday) was even worse. At every turn it seemed so determined to refute the potential allegation that it was glamorising a monster that all we ever got were vignettes of Hitler being horrible: junior Hitler burning his uncle's beloved beehives and looking mysteriously complicitous when uncle dropped dead; corporal Hitler only getting his Iron Cross through a mix of cowardice and blackmail; Hitler being shrill and anti-Semitic at every opportunity. Yet surely the interesting thing about

Hitler is how attractive he was to so many people, not how rebarbative. An intense performance from Robert Carlyle and an umpteen-million-dollar production budget completely wasted, then.

Luckily, I stopped watching the Hitler video in time to realise that Derren Brown Plays Russian Roulette Live (Channel 4, Sunday) was on. What I'd hoped was that he'd do just that — put a round in the chamber of a revolver, spin it round, point it at his head, pull the trigger and then see if he died or not; or, better still, do it in a rat-infested cage with Christopher Walken, Robert De Niro and David Blaine — now I'd pay money to watch that, wouldn't you?

Unfortunately, he turned it into another of his mind-reading exercises, so that his survival depended on guessing which numbered chamber an Ordinary Member of the Public had chosen to put the bullet into. Derren Brown's good at this sort of thing. And we've often seen him planting ideas into people's heads — numbers, say using hand gestures, vocal emphasis and such like. So, really, there was never much likelihood that he was going to die. Which rather took the fun out of it. I thought.

After that, there was another magic programme —Magick (Channel 4, Sunday) — which was supposed to be very underground, dark and daring, though it was all so edgily staged and chiaroscuro that half the time I couldn't work out what was going on. The most novel stunt was where another Ordinary Member of the Public had to watch five sexy girls dance for his delectation and then name which one he fancied. At the end, they hoisted up their skirts and his favourite turned out to have a big dangly willy. (Mind you, I'm not sure it was ever proved to us that the other ones were female. Maybe they were all ladyboys, with a special pull-up device which they had only to let go of if their name was chosen.) But Peep Show (Channel 4, Friday) was very good. Superficially it's another of those semi-surreal sitcoms about twentysomething flatmates — one a total waster, one quite buttoned-up and ambitious — and their sundry adventures in the modern world of sex, drugs, work and hip cultural references. Like Father Ted, almost, only without the priests and the Irish setting, and with the unique selling point that you can hear what the two main characters are thinking.

The leads Robert Webb and David Mitchell are charming and unassuming; the script by Jesse Armstrong and Sam Bain is shrewd and funny without seeming to try too hard. This week's had a particularly splendid pay-off which, if you don't want to know, you'd better look away now. OK, not looking? Right. Remembering, through a terrible hangover, that in the peaks of yesterday evening's drunkenness you allowed your mate to give you a blow job. Then remembering afterwards, him asking you to return the favour . . .