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Age-old problem

13 July 2012

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WHEN I Get Older (BBC1, Wednesday and Thursday of last week) investigated the reality of ageing using the telegenic, but not exactly rigorous, method of sending four TV celebrities (note the self-referential circularity in the method), first, to live for four days with disadvantaged elderly people, and then to stay in a range of care homes for three days.

There is no doubt that this was a well-meaning exercise, and, for John Simpson, Lesley Joseph, Gloria Hunniford, and Tony Robinson - all over 60 themselves - an act of no little courage. They were not just moving beyond their comfort zone: they were confronting their fears about their own future: what will my life be like when I lose either my physical or my mental faculties? And indeed, will such a life be worth living? At least one of the celebrities owned up to thinking that he would rather do away with himself than lead a life of absolute dependence.

Of the two sections, the first was the more engaging. In the care homes, the investigators, however much they tried to muck in, remained outsiders, and spoke about the residents as "them". In the first exercise, they were far more engaged as they entered, briefly, into the lives of their elderly hosts.

Hunniford realised that even her skills were unable to provide nutritious and interesting meals on £3.24 a day; she managed to find Ivy new, cheaper accommodation, nearer her daughter, that would leave her a financial margin more able to sustain life. Robinson persuaded Philip to take up the singing that he had abandoned since his wife's death, 17 months before.

Joseph, most impressively, shared Pat's 24-hour care for her paralysed husband, and managed to persuade him to accept time in a home, to give Pat a respite break. Joseph took Pat to bingo for the first time in years, where - perhaps there really is a God - she won £1000; so she can go on the cruise for which she has always longed.

Were there any references to religion? None whatsoever. Surely, besides the social and economic revolutions required to care for the dependent elderly, faith may offer an essential resource, as we confront the disintegration of our ability to take charge of our lives.

Blackout, BBC1's new Monday-night three-part thriller, managed to hit a number of dramatic targets in its opening episode. A Liverpool councillor, Daniel Demoys - alcoholic, corrupt, and adulterous - wakes one morning with memory loss, a cut hand, and the news that his partner in crime has been savagely beaten.

He offers a prayer: "I'm sick of myself. Show me a way out," and promptly throws himself in the path of the bullets meant for an informer about to spill the beans on drug-dealing. He recovers (naturally) to find himself a hero, and agrees to stand for city mayor on a "clean up corruption" ticket. All the women are stunning-looking; all emotions run high; it is always raining. No cliché is overlooked. It's hokum.

For real drama, Henry IV Part 1, in BBC2's Hollow Crown series, on Saturday, was about as good as made-for-televison Shakespeare could be. It gave equal weight to the peril engulfing national security, the epic contrast between Hotspur and Hal, and the convincing low-life tavern scenes. Simon Russell Beale was a Falstaff of mesmeric stature.

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