Element of class

Comedy-drama about class differences? Not again, you cry. But Andrew Pulver finds BBCl‘s The Rifi'Ral’f Element well above average.

Not a single episode has been broadcast yet. but Debbie Horslield's new six-parter The Rillllx’al'l‘ Element has already started production on a second series. The BBC are that confident of success. It‘s got a large cast (twelve in all. headed by the veteran Ronald Pickup). and an ambitious sweep of narrative across the extremes of linglish social life. and of course the unerring ear for dialogue you'd expect of the writer of Making Out.

The BBC‘s faith isn‘t tnisplaced. although The Riff Ra/fElement treads rather riskier turf than Making ()ut's factory girls. Primarily it's about something that's not supposed to exist any tnore the class system. Two families at oppposite ends of the scale the Tundisth and the Belchers -- are matched together with great wit to point up both their similarities and differences. Both inhabit crumbling estates. the posh Tundishes lugging a 20ft spruce into their Gothic pile at Christmas. while the Belchers make do with a silver tinsel tree in their Manchester housing scheme.

If you‘re beginning to think it sounds a bit familiar. you‘re not wrong. There are times when it drifts towards that similarly-titled Ken Loach film. It‘s that satne funny. searching look at how Britain is coming out of the 80s and into a new decade. What‘s different is its intricate narrative and mid-recession atmosphere. Both sets of families are struggling for

survival in the face of failed finances the Tundish sons can’t keep a grip on escalating maintenance costs. while the Belcher siblings conduct break-ins in BI‘()()/(.\'i(1(’-SI}"IC developments to keep off the loan

sharks. In that sense. it's one of TV's first analyses of

Major’s Britain. and tells it like it is.

But The Rifl-Rafl'lfilement is no sour treatise —‘ it's a fast-moving and often hilarious piece of ensemble acting. Lead Ronald Pickup. who plays the Tundish patriarch. is enthusiastic about the input the actors have given. ‘lt's a wonderful mix.‘ he says. ‘a superb group of twelve actors. all of great ability. It’s also wonderful to be in the company of people where responsibility is shared that‘s the whole joy of it. lntermixing.‘

l‘rom incompetent weirdo Boyd Tundish (Nicholas Farrell) to snarling punkette Petula Belcher (Mossie Smith) the whole cast produce a lively mix of eccentric caricature. The joker in the pack though is kindly Jo Tundish ((‘elia ltnrie) who invites the

Families at wan Belcher clan to live in an empty Tundish wing after they are driven out of their own home.

‘What‘s so clever about Debbie's writing.‘ adds Pickup, ‘is that the story doesn’t just happen. it's more a case of people having to change their lives. because ofcircumstances. That's something very true about life today.‘

The RiffRajf Element also marks the birth of a new BBC babe. Jayne Ashbourne. in her first major TV role. Playing football in pixie boots and a spangly mini-dress in constant view means she‘ll be parrying questions from tabloid hacks for some time. The same applies to Edinburgh University alumnus (ireg Wise. whose grizzled bimbo Alistair Tundish will keep him in photo-shoots for the forseeable future. But they‘re only the icing on the cake. Rifl‘thfl‘has everything you could ask for.

The Riff Raff Element begins an 81% ' I on Friday 2 at 9. 30pm.

:- Picture this

Art on TV has usually been the province of over-reverential documentary profiles oi contemporary tigures, perpetuating the idea oi the artist as an individualist auteur. 3302’s recent series of unscheduled live-minute appraisals oi individual paintings was a witty step in a more accessible direction, and a new series on the same channel takes the idea further.

Every Picture Tells A Story selects six contrasting paintings and investigates the stories attached to

them. ‘Each tilm is about one painting,’ explains series editor Keith Alexander. ‘The idea initially was to select paintings that did have a rich

story, or more than one story behind them. They weren’t going to be purely about the art historical context of that picture, but as much about the political, emotional or social context that the pictures had.’ Stories covered include the controversies surrounding restoration, the imperialist power struggle represented by the travels oi Tltian’s ‘llape Oi Europa’ and the truth behind the Bayeux Tapestry explored by Clive Anderson.

‘We are deiinitely trying to appeal to a much broader audience,’ says Alexander, ‘so that the stories have to be good stories in themselves, very human. It’s as much the people in the tilms that animate your interest in the picture. The picture is the starting


point for a much wider story.’

Few paintings could have inspired as much obsessive interest as Gericault’s ‘llatt ill The Medusa’, the subject of the third programme in the series. Andrew Graham-Dixon investigates the story behind its creation and its continued attraction for art lovers. ‘That picture does have an amazing hold on a lot oi people,’ says Alexander. ‘There are all these obsessives in France, including one woman, Denise Azam, who reckons she married Gericault when she was 20. Someone had to point out to her that she was born 70 years after he died.’ (Tom Lappln)

Every Picture Tells A Story begins on 8802 on Sunday March 28.

The List 26 March—8 April—IOU} 61