David Hayman: copping the lot in Trial And Retribution

rv REVIEW Channel hopping

There are some things in life that are simply not to be laughed at. One is the death of a child and another, though some comedic leeway may be allowed here, lS neurological disorders.

More of them in a bit. The literary world, on the other hand, may exist solely for global mockery. The Booker Prize Live (Channel 4) earned most of its chuckles courtesy of Carmen Callil, one of Melvyn Bragg’s 'alternative’ panellists. Her systematic trashing of four of the six books nominated was laced with barbs such as 'the most self-absorbed book I've ever read,’ ’how did this get on to the shortlist?’ and ’the writing is execrable.’

Lavish praise indeed when she announced one entry to be ‘a jolly good read’. Her finest achievements, however, were getting a wrist-slap from Mel for daring to suggest that one nominee had been chosen purely to antagonise the women judges and also for upstaging the clearly bored Will Self perhaps he would have preferred to be gargling the bubbly with those literary greats among the throng Bryan Ferry, Diana Rigg and,

The least hilarious telly experience of the fortnight was probably Lynda La Plante's latest hard-hitting drama,

Trial And Retribution.

heaven forfend, Mariella Frostrup the undisputed queen of ligger central.

The winner, Arundhati Roy whose book was hated by our experts - naturally ran off with the big prize, managing to utter ‘gosh!’ before crumpling into a morass of tears and giggles.

Not once did you feel like raising a laugh during Horizon: The Man Who Lost His Body (BBCZ). Ian Waterman has been attempting to overcome an acute sensory malfunction which prevents messages concerning his body and its position in space and time, getting to the brain. Essentially, he has to look at the part of his body concerned to make it move. Not something you can conceive of too readily. Unless you’re an astronaut.

Apparently, it's a bit like the readjustment to gravity which space- invaders have to go through when returning to earth, so Ian gets to meet an astronaut to swap hilarious anecdotes.

Actually, there were a few amusing moments the neurologist with the rubber mallet and pin-pricks testing reflexes, the US quack with the vampiric pallor and a keen eye for the soundbite ’no brain, no pain' and the moment when lan describes how handling eggs can be tricky. You longed to see a rapid-fire sequence of him taking egg after egg from the fridge with each one cracking under the strain, followed by a Homer 'doh!’ and the yoke dribbling down his fingers. Didn’t happen, of course.

The least hilarious telly experience of the fortnight was probably Lynda La Plante's latest hard-hitting drama with lots to say and four hours of airtime to say it in. Trial And Retribution (Scottish) breached the thorny territory of child abduction, murder and the subsequent traumas suffered by all those connected family, friends, police, justice and Western civilisation as currently recognised.

In the absence of a Helen Mirren or Janet McTeer, La Plante’s central character was a grim despair. The broken lift, empty playground, home helps and Zimmer frames enhanced the feeling of unremitting gloom, lifted only by a curious split-screen technique showing a scene from three angles or visualising a character's memory. An allusion to children's building blocks and innocence being rent asunder in the most brutal way imaginable? A ’there are different sides to every story’ motif? Or simply a way of detracting the viewer from the familiarity of the form with technical McGuffinery?

Competent, if not compelling. Light relief? We had the most sensitive cop on TV since weeping Andy in Twin Peaks, a man whose ability to do no right stretched from overlooking vital clues and potential witnesses to handing out the wrong sandwiches. Which isn't that funny really.

(Brian Donaldson)

Get Well Soon BBCl, Sun 26 Oct, 6.45pm.

Chance encounters are the making of many a relationship, and none more so than the creative coupling of Ray Galton and Alan Simpson. When writers meet nowadays for collaborative purposes, they do it down the Groucho Club or an oft- frequented gambling hall or some other house of sin. Ray and Alan got together somewhat differently - in a TB sanatorium in the late 40$ - and the times are recalled in Get Well Soon, a new BBC comedy dramatisation by Galton and John Antrobus. starring Matthew Cottle, Eddie Marsan and Anita Dobson.

'We were both in there for a long time - minimum sentence was about two years,‘ recalls Galton. 'We met after about a year after moving nearer and nearer to each other. We were in a four-bed cubicle and found we had the same sense of humour. A guy up the block was a mad engineer and they had turned his cubicle into a mini Ford of Dagenham - it was covered in engineering equipment and he had a big RAF 1155 radio and we’d listen to all the American comedies. He made a radio room in a linen cupboard with a few microphones and a turntable.’

While Galton, both with and without his penning partner, has continued to write throughout the

TB or not TB: Steptoe And Son creators Galton and Simpson immortalised in Get Well Soon

years, a revival of interest has been sparked with continued repeats of Steptoe And Son and Paul Merton's recent run of the duo's updated scripts.

Yet had that early meeting never occurred, the likelihood is that we'd never have witnessed the televisual comic glories of Tony Hancock and the father and son second-hand goods team.

'If I hadn't met Alan I wouldn't have even thought about writing - that was something middle-class people did,’ laughs Galton. 'You go to Oxford and Cambridge if you want to write, don't you? There was as much chance of me being a heart surgeon or a brain surgeon or rocket scientist.’ (Brian Donaldson)


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Northern landing: on location with BBC

Scotland's sci-fi movie Invasion: Earth It is a terrifying prospect, and they face horrendous odds. Before this is over, many bright futures could be cut short by unfathomable forces.

We’re not talking about the soldiers facing up to alien threat in BBC Scotland's six-part serial Invasion: Earth we’re talking, of course, about the cast and crew. For this is British television sci-fi, and we all know what that means.

An infamous tradition of cult awfulness has been founded on embarrassing acting and dodgy scripts (think Bugs), rubber-clad monsters and flimsy sets (Doctor Who anyone?)

But, in the peaceful Perthshire village of Dunning, all on the set are remarkably calm and optimistic. Invasion: Earth couid break the mould.

For a start, writer Jed Mercurio was responsible for the brutally black comedy of Cardiac Arrest, which reworked the soapy hospital drama to produce something altogether more subversive.

It also boasts a strong cast, including Vincent Regan (Ca/I Red), Fred Ward (Short Cuts, The Right Stuff) and Maggie O'Neill (Ki/ling Me Softly and The Fix).

Most importantly, it has a budget. BBC Scotland has backing from America’s Sci~Fi Channel for its first foray into the genre. However, the money isn’t all being blown on flashy effects and costumes. Mercurio’s drama tends to be character-driven and Invasion: Earth will be no exception.

Dunning, renamed Kirkhaven in the script, becomes the focus of extra- terrestrial threat when the RAF engages an unknown craft over the North Sea.

When The List visited Dunning, local residents roped in as extras were roaming the streets, apparently disfigured by a horrible disease.

Special effects will play a part, but the aliens are rarely seen. 'You tend to get people in dodgy make-up and flowing gowns, speaking perfect English,’ says Mercurio of the usual sci-fl pitfalls. 'They are meant to be alien, but it isn’t believable.’

Mercurio promises Invasion: Earth is primarily an adult drama. It is one man against the odds. He might just restore some credibility to a tarnished genre, saving his team from a gruesome fate. (Stephen Naysmith)

I Invasion: Earth is due to be broadcast on BBC Scot/and next spring.

23 Oct 6 Nov 1997 THE U3T81