TV &. RADIO
Turning World Channel 4, Sun 23 Feb, 9pm.
Hiring a Scot to direct a drama about a black boxer and an Asian psychiatric patient is a sign that Channel 4's multi-cultural department is taking its remit seriously. David Blair, whose previous credits include A Mug’s Game and Takin’ Over The Asylum, is slightly bem‘Xused that he was asked by writer/producer Mahmood Jamal to direct this three-parter, which has ambition way beyond its limited budget.
Mixing a basic of thriller structure with social commentary, Turning World poses the basic question about the dividing line between madness and sanity, but with a shift in cultural perspective. Part of the reason for choosing Blair was because, like Takin’ Over The Asylum, it is set in a psychiatric hospital. Once again, Blair has captured the claustrophobia of this kind of institution, which puts very different characters together under the same roof.
'Obviously it's got that multi- cultural thing, but the story is more important than the fact that it’s Asian,’ says Blair. ‘Malmood said that he specifically didn’t want an Asian director because there was a chance that it might ultimately have a wider appeal.’
Turning World is set in a crumb- ling Victorian asylum in the south of England which looks likely to close as part of the Government's care in the community policy. Dr Khan (Roshan Seth) is the ultra- Anglicised consultant psychiatrist
Shams and Dr Khan in Turning World
who is deeply conservative with a small ’c', and probably a large one too. He comes into conflict with the more junior Dr Sen (Paul Bhattacharjee), who embraces a more liberal approach to treating mental health.
Although the sub-plots are too complex to recount, Turning World is essentially about the experience of black and Asian Britons; stereotypes of athletic” black men are relayed through the boxer character, while Shams (Art Malik) represents the spiritual East. The psychiatric hospital setting is a dramatic device which exaggerates attitudes and provides plenty of opportunities for dramatic conflict between different races, classes and ages. It is, as Blair says, a microcosm of modern Britian. (Eddie Gibb)
A Perfect State BBCl, Thurs 27 Feb, 8.30pm.
A Perfect State: Euro-sceptic comedy
As we move towards the final stages of the general election campaign, the b0undaries splitting politics and comedy will no doubt become ever more blurred — the Commons spat between John Major and Dennis Skinner may be a sign of things to come. With the political sitcom, British teleViSion producers have recognised the comedic possibilities and gone on to develop a fine tradition.
There are those set within the corridors of power, such as Yes, Minister and its sequel, to The New
80 'l’llEllS'l’ 21 Feb—6 Mar 1997
Statesman With the self-seeking raVing right ultra-Thatcherite Alan B'stard, or Channel as recent excursion into the sub-genre With Crossing The House. And there are others, such as Drop The Dead Donkey, which are set outWith Parliament but are heaVily imbued With daily political life and death.
The BBC’s A Perfect State attempts to follow the tradition With its st0ry of coastal town Flatby's stand against Westminster and Brussels over fishing rights — essentially one man and his boat. When chief actiVist and local Joan Of Arc Laura Fitzgerald (Gwen Taylor) stumbles upon anCient legislation which protects the town from outside rule, she declares Flatby an independent state.
The comedy lies in Laura's constant battles with a feckless ciVil servant, an unscrupulous mayor, her soliCitor daughter, the Wide-boy estate agent and his jealous wife. The humour may not be as savage as The New Statesman Or as subtly plotted as Yes, Minister, but A Perfect State has its own charms With a catalogue of barmy characters.
While Gwen Taylor and Flatby may be less than a match for the Marx Brothers in Duck Soup or Peter Sellers in The Mouse That Roared, the timing of this sitcom is fortuitous. With manifestos set to be drawn up, the issue of devolution versus independence versus the status quo will be high on most politicians' agendas. (Brian Donaldson)
If anyone who is hooked up to cable in Edinburgh happened to be channel surfing last Monday afternoon — and I wouldn’t expect you to own up to this - you might just have caught a first in broadcasting history. Surely these words have never been spoken before on air, anywhere in the world: ’. . . and now, live by satellite from Portobello . . .' It was a real Dimbleby moment.
That report, which you'll be interested to learn featured an interview with a local butcher, was brought to you by Edinburgh Live (Channel 18, cable only), the local affiliate of Live TV which launched in January. For our friends in the west, a Glasgow version is due on air by the end of the year.
It is a glimpse of the future of technology that a satellite up-Iink is used to bounce a message, via deep space, to an audience of probably no more than a few thousand people. You might think it would be cheaper to bus them all to Portobello to meet the butcher in person.
But, no, this is narrow-cast television in which companies try to subsist on the tiny audiences who flick casually past their channel, stopping for only a few minutes at a time. When it first launched, the channel projected annual losses of £10 million for three years, according to a documentary about Live TV, screened as the last of the series of Trouble At The Top (BBCZ).
The owners of Live TV, who also own The Mirror newspaper, hired Janet Street-Porter to put together a programme schedule with an average hourly programme budget of £2000. Allowances should be made.
As you’d expect from the fairy godmother of fast-cut ’yoof’ television, JSP planned lots of running around to cover up for the cash shortage. Her vision was all about energy, not 'some bird in an
'A satellite bounces a message, via space, to an audience of a few thousand. It would be cheaper to bus them all to Portobello.’
expensive hairdo and a silk shirt' reading the news and weather.
But that, it seems, is exactly what the former tabloid newspaper editors who control Live TV had in mind, and JSP cleared her desk shortly after the channel launched.
The weather is now presented — in Norwegian, mark you - by a couple of carefully coiffed Scandinavian goddesses. In other parts of the schedule, the shirts have been dispensed with altogether.
The good news is that there is no topless darts — or bottomless shinty, for that matter - on Edinburgh Live. But unfortunately the on-screen style is utterly conventional. The tone is markedly more serious than the national station which fills the other half-hour, as TV tarot readings give way to straight news reports delivered mainly by a trio of remarkably similar looking female reporters. If they have expensive hairdos, the Edinburgh wind generally sorts that out.
Live TV has said that if cable subscribers watch for even ten minutes a day, it would be delighted. Not surprisingly, therefore, each news item is repeated on heavy rotation throughout the day, which rather undermines the live claim of the channel’s name.
In fact, very few of the reports are actually transmitted live, with a lot of pre-recorded material. This is demonstrated by the fact that our on - the - spot reporter in Portobello presented the weather two minutes later
. unless, of course, that satellite link is more sophisticated than we suspected.
In the studio, Edinburgh Live sticks firmly to the presenter-and- autocue format of the standard news bulletin. The potential of local television is that it reflects the city that people live in, so why pretend that relentlessly trivial items are of any real importance? The problem is not the lack of hard news, but the straight-to-camera pretence that it is. As a result, Edinburgh Live frequently ends up looking like a Chris Morris spoof. Liven up, please, or the bunny gets it. (Eddie Gibb)
Edinburgh live: so you think you're bunny?