The Guardian 15 June, 2005

TV programs worth watching
Sun June 19 — Sat June 25

The week begins well, with a repeat of the documentary about the great American singer, actor and activist for civil rights and peace, Paul Robeson (ABC 2.50pm Sunday).

This was first screened as part of the ABC’s Living Famously series, an umbrella the ABC uses to cover mainly show business biographies from US cable TV producers. You rarely see any famous scientists on that series.

The program on Robeson was a cut above the usual publicity-driven dross that makes up most of the Living Famously programs. Politician Jesse Jackson, actor Ossie Davis, actress Dame Peggy Ashcroft and biographer Martin Duberman are among the interviewees who, in the rather curious phraseology of the ABC, "tell of the rise and fall" of Paul Robeson, "once the most famous man in America … who today has been almost completely forgotten".

Perhaps by the ABC, but not by this writer nor this paper and not by progressive people around the world!

From peace to war. I was looking at a DVD stand at Morriset market last week.

Amongst all the usual forgettable third-rate films and boxed sets of Petticoat Junction was an entire section given over to war. Not war films, but video footage of war planes, or tanks, or major battles, divided up by specialist subject.

Now, war-gaming aficionados would account for some of these. But the rest must just be primarily bought by "war groupies", for there is no point of view or art evident in this kind of video ("another popular plane in the German arsenal was the ME109 seen here in desert colours").

And yet it is possible to make genuinely valuable, interesting and moving documentaries about war, for modern war, with its colossal consumption of resources, its magnitude and its carnage and heroism is surely a suitable subject for documentary filmmakers.

For anyone with an interest in the history of the arms race between the powers leading up to the First World War and beyond, the series The Battleships (ABC 5.00pm Sundays) is a sobering yet enthralling account.

What might have been achieved to improve people’s lives if the material, intellectual and financial resources that were poured into developing and building bigger and better battleships had instead been applied to health and education, or even the arts?

Everybody has heard of the the McLibel trial, which started being heard in Britain in 1994. McDonald’s, the world’s biggest fast food chain, spent an estimated ten million pounds on fighting a case against single father David Morris and part-time bar worker Helen Steel.

The fast food giant claimed a leaflet the pair had produced, "What’s Wrong With McDonald’s?", had libelled the company. But if everybody’s heard of the trial, few of them can tell you who won the case.

For those of you who want to know, Mclibel in the Cutting Edge timeslot (SBS 8.30pm Tuesday) details Morris and Steel’s victory earlier this year in the European Court of Human Rights.

Morris and Steel’s leaflet covered such issues as nutrition and health, cruelty to animals, destruction of the environment, poor working conditions and marketing which exploits children. The original trial lasted a record 314 days, ending in 1997.

Sad to say, Steel and Morris did not prove several of their allegations and were found to have libeled McDonald’s. Damages of £60,000 were awarded to McDonald’s, reduced to £40 000 on appeal, but the company — by now aware that it was in the midst of a PR disaster — wisely never pursued the pair for payment.

For their part, Steel and Morris were, however, eventually found to have proved some of the allegations — that McDonald’s exploited children with their advertising, risked the health of very regular, long-term clients, was culpably responsible for cruelty to animals, strongly antipathetic to unions and paid their workers low wages.

Last year Morris and Steel mounted a case in the European Court of Human Rights that their rights to a fair trial and freedom of expression had been violated when they were denied legal aid. Judgement was delivered in their favour and damages of £24,000 pounds awarded.

So, on balance, Morris and Steel won. Certainly it cost McDonald’s a bundle; they have had to introduce all sorts of new foods and spend a fortune advertising them to overcome the adverse publicity they gained through the trial.

Black Books (ABC 9.00pm Wednesdays) returns to form this week, after last week’s poor opener for this third series.

Fran’s awful hens’ party and Bernard’s response to the sweet little boy who hasn’t got enough money to buy the book he really, really wants are highlights.

Bernard is played by Dylan Moran who is also one of the three writers for the award-winning series. Personally, I like Tamsin Greig’s portrayal of Fran best.

Episode three of Space Odyssey: Voyage To The Planets on Catalyst (ABC 8.00pm Thursdays) this week is in big trouble on Jupiter. It’s a great pity this is a cut-down version because one is frequently conscious of missing footage on each of the planets or moons they visit.

This is a scientifically based conjecture as to what such a trip might be like, but it is still a little disconcerting to have what is really science fiction treated as a factual documentary. But what there is of it is definitely well done.

My only quibble is that, although amongst the data we are given for each of the planets or moons they visit is the "communication delay" between there and Earth, communication between the space ship and ground control does not seem to suffer from this delay. Why is that?

Last week in Midsomer Murders (ABC 8.30pm Fridays) we went to the regatta. This week, were off to the flower show.

But bodies pile up just as fast wherever you are on this series. It cannot be a good sign for a police series when the chief interest is looking at the scenery, no matter how "colourful" or otherwise interesting it might be.

The episode Doctor Who fans have been hanging out for, Dalek, screens this week (ABC 7.30pm Saturday). The deadly pepper-pots with their mutant drivers and their battlecry of "Exterminate!" return in the form of the last of their kind.

But, once again, the worst monster in the universe proves to be, not a Dalek, but a capitalist entrepreneur.

Back to index page