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  • The List
  • 3 July 2007

Brian Donaldson discovers that documentary makers are giving viewers a touch of déjà vu

You often get the feeling TV executives must have decided within themselves that there really are no fresh ideas left and all that can be done is endless recycling, rehashing and resurrection. Yet just when you think nothing new can ever come out of the box, something crops up that you know you haven’t seen before. The Castration Cure (Channel 4, Thu 5 Jul, 10.35pm, 4 STARS) is one such programme. Actually, I say that I hadn’t seen it before, but I wasn’t actually able to fully watch the moment when a notorious paedophile was being put under the knife (or some other such surgical blade) and having their genitalia cut away. It lasted about 20 seconds and if you are still requiring the safety net of a sofa when David Tennant is being chased by a Cyberman, then this riveting and disturbing programme is definitely not for you.

It is borne from the long-held cliché that whatever is going on in America will eventually reach these shores. Which is bad, or rather good news for British sex offenders, who may soon have their boabies lopped off (or an implant inserted into their arms), removing the urges which have ruined their own lives and those of their many victims. Although surely the last people who would want this innovation brought into the UK are the grubbier tabloids (which just about covers all of them) who make a mint out of having us waking up every day in a panic, convinced that our streets are quite literally crawling with smelly old men lusting after our kids.

In The War on Britain’s Jews? (Channel 4, Mon 9 Jul, 8pm, 3 STARS) it would appear that certain streets in the UK have become no-go areas for the Jewish community. The rise of anti-Semitism has led some to conclude that they cannot truly consider Britain their home and, if this programme is accurate, some of the younger ones are planning a route out of here. When you hear that the rabble rouser of the tabloid right, Richard Littlejohn, is the man behind and in front of this documentary, your hackles might be raised: surely this is akin to digging up Bernard Manning and letting his chubby corpse host a positive debate about Somali refugees. Yet Littlejohn comes across as a sensitive and able host, suitably outraged at the continued desecration of graves, and the fact that he could wander into a newsagent’s on the Edgware Road and come out with a copy of Mein Kampf which had been translated into Arabic. Though he could have done with editing out the 14th or 15th time that the question ‘when does justified criticism of Israel spill over into anti-Semitism?’ was posed.

Having witnessed something on the telly which felt fresh, new and horrible, I was initially certain that Fight for Life (BBC1, Mon 9 Jul, 10.35pm, 3 STARS) and My Brilliant Brain (Five, Mon 9 Jul, 9pm, 3 STARS) were repeats. But no, the former’s stories of children having just been born and immediately rushed into intensive care and the latter’s tale of a prodigious nipper bashing away at the keys like a piano virtuoso were brand spanking new. Of course, you are still allowed to feel incredible sympathy for the parents of those tiny shells in peril and a sense of amazement can still ooze out that a mere titch of a boy can book a seat at his piano for a date at Carnegie Hall. I just don’t want to see this kind of programme again until I’ve forgotten these two.

Nigel Kennedy was a child prodigy who crops up on the final episode of Classic Britannia (BBC4, Fri 6 Jul, 8pm, 3 STARS), though thankfully we mainly just hear his frenetic fiddle playing rather than listening to him talk. One of the first classical musicians to be the object of a vast reinvention from a dweeby posh kid with vast talent into a proto-punk Vivaldi freak for the modern age, his story was a part of the bigger picture of British classical music trying to drag itself out of the 16th century. On one hand this meant the birth of Classic FM and on the other it meant the rise of the New Complexity and folk booing in the cheap seats at the Proms. Now that we’ve had Folk, Soul and Classic Britannia, I’m very much looking forward to Skiffle UK.

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