BBCZ, starts Fri 12 May, 9.30pm. Clunk. Clunk. Clunk. What's that noise, dear? It sounds like Long John Silver after a night on the ale. Don't worry, darling. It's just the familiar tenor of yet another wretchedly unfunny sitcom limping dejectedly from our TV screen. The once great British situation comedy has fallen on hard times with no shortage of costly, heavily hyped failures to rejuvenate the flagging institution.

Granted, there’s always been a fair number of damp squibs among the fireworks, even during the genre's zenith. Many of these were uninspired graduates of the Carry On academy of bawdy humour (On The Buses, ’Allo, ’Allo). Others combined feeble jokes with good old-fashioned British snobbery, xenophobia and ageism (Love Thy Neighbour, George And Mildred).

Call me nostalgic but at least back then, for every Brian Murphy and Yootha Joyce, there was a Richard Briers and Felicity Kendal. And there were always plenty of comedic gems sparkling out from the puddles of dross (The Likely Lads, The Good Life, Rising Damp, Only Fools And Horses; ah, the memories of misspent youth).

With one or two notable exceptions (The League Of Gentlemen and Father Ted) recent British efforts have been unimaginative and unintelligent, eclipsed in quality and popularity by those stylish, gag factories from across the pond. Evidently acknowledging this fact, the BBC’s Coupling arrives, billed as ’the British Friends’. Sadly the six wise-cracking amigos here will not radically improve the fortunes of the Britcom as Coupling is about as fresh as a six-week-old cooked kipper's dirty underpants.

The programme is one of a glut of twentysomething


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As fresh as a six-week-old cooked kipper's dirty underpants

ensembles currently clogging the schedules, complete with kindergarten sexual politics and residing in a glossy London of wine bars, posh flats, and disposable incomes. All concerned are shiny-faced, silky-haired and trendy of garments, but characters have been abducted and replaced with unpleasant, tired stereotypes.

The male trio are barely articulate, overgrown children, inexplicably irresistible to their female counterparts. Protagonist Steve (Jack Davenport) frowns a lot, causing Susan (Sarah Alexander) to giggle and run to the ladies for a confab with her spiky best mate. Ex-girlfriend Gina Bellman takes her clothes off (old habits die hard) and Steve’s sidekick is (quelle surprise) a Welsh half-wit.

Much has been made of Coupling's frank sexual content, but exclaiming 'breasts' and ’wank’ ad repetitum is hardly risque or indeed side-splitting stuff. Writer Steven Press Gang Moffat should have stuck to children's drama though, doubtless, a second series of Coupling has already been commissioned. (Allan Radcliffe)

small screen on numerous occasions, but this series lS the first to blend equal measures of drama and education. Hosted by Davrd Starkey (looking every inch the dull historian but fuelled With enthusiasm), the programme mixes interViews With direct descendants of history’s main players, With dramatisation and location shots at major venues around Britain. A 45-year reign is bound to have its highs and lows, and so too does the SGFIE’S.

The fascinating opening, which saw the unwanted daughter of King Henry VIII struggle through the deaths of her mother, father, brother and sister to finally take the throne and on to her battle against CatholiCism, Mary Queen of Scots and rebellious northern lords, leaves much to live up to.

A blazrng trail always burns brighter than a fading star, and Elizabeth’s triumphant Victory over the Spanish Armada only briefly illuminates the latter stages. An unpopular love affair

Elizabeth Channel 4,Thu II, 18, 25 May, 9pm.

Long before Maggie was a tWinkIe in the grocer's eye, the original iron lady was Sinking ships, intimidating her

male cabinet and proclaiming to have ’the body of a weak and feeble woman but the heart and stomach of a king'.

England’s most famous monarch has found her way onto the large and

With a man half her age gives a true insight into the woman behind the crown when she sadly conveys that 'if you could see a picture of my heart, you WOuld see a body Without a soul’. (Kelly Apter)

' TV times

We put TV celebs on the couch. This issue: Nick Berry

Born I6 May 1963.

Educated Nick didn't have much time for schoolbooks, but always had his little heart set on the acting profession. He appeared in a number of school variety plays from the age of eight onwards, before pining the SyIVia Young acting troupe as a youth.

Big break Havmg done a handful of theatre shows and made minor appearances in one or two teIeVision dramas Box Of Delights for the Beeb and Dramarama for ITV Nick leapt into the spotlight when he was cast as Simon 'Wicksy' Wicks in everyone’s favourite misery-laden soap, EastEnders.

Finest hour Considering her subsequent bad behaViour to Ian Beale and many others, getting away from Cindy and managing to carve out a career post-Albert Square is probably the smartest thing he has ever done. And after that? As we’re sure yOu’re aware, he went on to play PC Nick Rowan in sleepy rural cop drama, Heartbeat. After six series, he qUit to start up his own company, Valentine Productions which, quite c0inCidentally, is responsible for the soporific seaside drama, Harbour Lights. The boy Berry stars as harbourmaster Mike Nicholls. Little known fact Nick is an aVid fan of West Ham United, a passion he shares With fellow ex-EastEnder Leslie ’it wasn't me guv, honest' Grantham. Not so little known fact Nick has, of cOurse, occasionally embarked on the odd unfortunate foray into the heady world of 'popular' mUSIC. In I986 he even managed to stay at number one in the charts for three weeks With the execrable 'Every Loser Wins', only to be knocked off the top spot by Berlin’s 'Take My Breath Away'. The 805 were, indeed, dark times.

Not to be mistaken for Chuck Berry, Nick Cotton, Captain Bird's Eye.

(Doug Johnstone)

Harb0ur Lights, BBC 7, Sun, 8pm.


* a. a it * Unmissable

* a a * Very good

* i * Worth a shot

it a Below average

it You've been warned

‘iI—ZS May 2000 THELIST 115