This torhrlgbt’s dispatch trom soap- land comes trom Down Under, where the weather is sunny even it the personalities aren’t.

It‘s January. it‘s cold and miserable, so how about a nice escapist wallow in the uncomplicated world of the Aussie soaps? People who don't watch them tend to assume that they are a cheering alternative to the depressing realism of British dramas. but if you tune in on a semi-regular basis you’ll know the mostly young and toothsome characters are always undergoing spiritual crises, persecution and frequent deaths.

The youngsters of Australia’s most dysfunctional town, Summer Bay, in Home And Away (Scottish), have some excuse, with barely any of the characters living with their real families. Instead, they move around a supportive network of adults with seemingly unlimited money and energy to spend on the sulky adolescents they take in offthc streets.

Yet H&A is always banging on about parenthood and responsibility. At the moment, troubled teen Casey is behaving badly because her father, who recently turned up claiming he wanted to make up for years of neglect, has been carrying on with her only slightly older teacher. In a neat parallel, daddy’s girlfriend Rebecca is the long-lost daughter of grumpy headmaster Fisher. who left his family and then had two other estranged children who've since died in bizarre watersport accidents.

Rebecca’s bitchiness and relationship- hopping, the programme seems to be saying, have their foundation in his abandonment. Her other problem is a deranged religious fanatic of a mother who jumps out from behind bushes to exorcise her demons. Religious discussions come up quite a lot in H&A; a while back tragic teen Selina joined a cult after the deaths of her baby, several friends and a near-death experience. in rapid succession.

Despite only seeming to have about twenty pupils, the school takes these things seriously and has appointed a psychotherapist. He’s eminently well- qualified for the job. for only a few months ago actor Bruce Samazan was having a religious nutter phase of his own as Mark. the twinkly chef in Neighbours (BBC I ). Aussie soaps are so environmentally friendly when it comes to recycling their stars.

Meanwhile in Neighbours, anorexia survivor Debbie returns after taking a year off from the series. Having presumably failed to establish a career elswhere. she has taken a job as a psychic phone counsellor, under the unlikely-sounding moniker of Destiny Deborah.

Though her predictions are complete piffle. half of Ramsay Street believes she has true psychic powers. Still. perhaps she can offer good advice - if you can survive adolescence in an Australian soap. you can survive anything.

‘People in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. but there’s been so many thrown around here it‘s like a shot- putters’ convention.’ Marilyn in Home And Away. (Andrea Mullaney)

Growing old disgracefully

Ant and Dec have occupied the pop charts and become the princes of after-school telly, but they’re trying to age with their audience. Will it work, wonders Fiona Shepherd.

Adolescent television stars - from kids shows to where? From Grange Hill to Eaernders perhaps. Or. if you’re fairly lucky, from Grange Hill to pop stardom. via Eaernders. (See Sean Maguire and Michelle Gayle, who copied each others‘ career trajectory) Then maybe a slot on Esther a decade later on How I Messed Up My Teen Career.

But not so for Ant and Dec (nee PJ And Duncan - RIP) whose canny bags of Geordie humour made them Byker Grove favourites before they left to pursue the higher calling of being girly pop fantasy figures with a number of splendidly dumb singles like ‘Let’s Get Ready To Rumble’ and the godlike ‘Our Radio Rocks’.

In the interim they survived the tricky name change, leaving behind their character names and going for the real

Ant and Dec Unzipped: ‘Monkees-style lmmaturlty’

deal. and a series of The Ant And Dec Show for Children’s BBC which saw them coping with the potentially embarrassing task of performing in cheesy sketches, not even sophisticated enough for Hale and Pace. The lads pulled it off with aplornb, but then they were TV faces turned pop stars. not the other way round.

They even managed a bit of controversy with out-of-touch adults appearing on Right To Reply to criticise a stunt where a young girl’s hair was shaved off. The newly bald one and her parents had given prior consent so Ant and Dec were off the hook. but it was evidence of a desire to upset the cosy world of teen television.

Now they’re popping up early evenings on Channel 4 with An! And Dec Unzipped which promises guests. daft chat. features and characters like

collecting fiend Mr Swaps and tabloid sensationalist Brian Lying from the pens of An! And Dee Show writers Simon Heath and Dean Wilkinson. but also of Eddie Braben who wrote gags for Morecambe and Wise. Could this be the perennial 'trying for an older audience‘ bid?

It looks like it. though their cheeky monkey features are quite happily associated with Monkees-style zany immaturity (and they covered ‘Stepping Stone' to prove it). Whatever the intentions behind Ant and Dec’s move. the Geordie duo can probably look forward to further goodwill. given their past good fortune after a one-off pop single took off in a big way. It’ll be a while before they'll have to get ready to tumble.

Ant And Dec Unzipped begins on Tue

, [8 Feb a! 6.30pm on Channel 4


I Can’t Catch Me (Radio 4) Sat 8 Feb. 2.30pm. Sparky adaptation of the old Brer Rabbit stories set in the mythical land of Carifa and featuring Danny John Jules (Cat in Red Dwarf) as the bothersome bunny. Ram Jam Holder (Porkpie in Desmond 's) as Brer Bear and a radio debut from young Manchester poet Dike as the chattering Brer Cockerel.

I nocurnentary - The Frontllne (Radio I) Sun 9 Feb. 7pm. Life inner-city Bristol fashion, as seen through the eyes of black kid Tyrell rather than the usual worthy social commentators. Tyrell takes us through his day, from breakfast with baby brother right through to his favoured hangout The Basement Studios. where Tricky and DJ Roni Size launched their careers.

I Mary Ann llobbs (Radio I) Mon IO Feb. noon. Who would’ve thought it? Squeaky-clean Dave Gahan, lead singer of early-80s bland-merchants Depeche Mode in drugs rehab nightmare? Makes Noel and Liam look like choir boys. Sort of. Mary Ann Hobbs looks at a rock ’n’ roll dream turned sour as the Modes attempt an unholy resurrection with their new album and forthcoming single ‘Barrel Of A Gun’.

I In Concert (Radio 1) Mon 10 Feb. 9pm. Shhh, whisper. secret etc. Gangly Bn'tpoppers Blur play a (fanfare. fanfare) exclusive gig from an unknown location somewhere in Britain. MI6 are onto it but they’ll never find out because it’s a secret.

I Mae West - They Called Me Snow White Out I Gritted (Radio 2) Tue II Feb, 9.03pm. Whatta line. Whatta lady. They Called Me Snow White But I Drifter] celebrates the life and times of the

original ladette. silver screen actress and comedienne Mae West. Raquel Welch. Paramount producer A. C. Lyles. Ken Hughes and Mickey Hargitay all chip in. as does West's personal bodyguard from

her Diamond Lil UK tour of 40 years ago.

I Flashpoints (Radio 4) Wed l2 Feb. 9pm. The birth of the first test-tube baby. Louise Brown in I982. is the headline- grabbing story that kicks off this new series looking at milestones in modern science.

I The Essential Mix (Radio I) Sat 15 Feb. 2am. New York’s Masters At Work. one of the most powerful remix teams in the US take to the decks for two hours of solid mixing.

I Booked! (Radio 4) Tue l8 Feb. 12.25pm. New series of the irreverent literary writing game with regular

panelists Roger McGough. Mark Thomas.

Miles Kington and Dillie Kean. Quirky comedy poet John Hegleyjoins the team for selected rounds including Don’t Give Up The Day Job. where famous authors such as Ted Hughes and DH Lawrence end up writing for comflakes ads and the gardening pages of the Radio Times.

I The Vegetable Patch: The leek (Radio 4) Wed 19 Feb. 2.47pm. Curious about leeks? Where they come from. how they grow, how best to cook 'em? Well now‘s your chance to find out all you ever wanted to know about the tasty morsel that is Wales’ national symbol. in the first of six bite-sized programmes about vegetables. Also featured is the tough world of competitive leek growing. where brutalities such as 'leek slashing' are commonplace in the lead up to championship day. (Ellie Carr)

Doing time

Home secretary Michael Howard is the enemy ot prison drama: he’s all tor banging the inmates up for most ot the day, which may make the screws’ lives easier but doesn’t create much opportunity tor interaction between the characters. The new series irom top telly writer Lucy Gannon (Bramwell, Peak Practice; Soldier, Soldier) gets round this problem by locating the characters in an open prison where there is a greater freedom to move around the grounds.

It’s an ensemble piece which looks at the grain oi everyday lite in prison rather than the llashpoints. ‘Insiders deals with all the humour contusion and tragedy ot separation and punishment - tor inmates and for stait, tor parents, children, lovers and wives,’ says Gannon. ‘It’s not about macho stories, confrontation, tantrums, hard women and angry men. It’s a microcosm ot society - all human lite is here.’

In other words it is the opposite ot lynda La Plante’s prison drama trom 1995, The Governor, which centred on violence and unrest on a high-security wing. Gannon displays a liberal sensibility to crime - she is trying to understand more and condemn less. (Eddie Gibb)

Insiders starts in mid-Feb on 8801

The List 7-20 Feb I997 83