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Ward winning

07 November 2014


ONE could not fail to be moved by the story of children suffering life-threatening conditions, and witnessing the care offered to them and, perhaps, even more to their parents - for once not just by the medical teams but those who recognise that spirit and body are integral to the whole person's well-being.

The first in the series of Children's Hospital: The chaplains (BBC2, Mondays) did what the title said: it followed the work of the multifaith team ministering at Birmingham Children's Hospital. It looked in detail at three children and their families: in two cases hoping for a cure and in the third the determination to ensure that the short span of life left to Wilf, suffering from a very rare growth disorder, would be as happy as possible.

His mother spoke of the value of the services in the hospital chapel in giving her strength and perspective; we saw the chaplains closely involved in the lives of the families as, in acute cases, the hospital becomes their home for as long as necessary.

Perhaps through tact or sensitivity we didn't see the really hard moments: the times when chaplains' support is rejected; when the enormity of suffering and loss can seem to be mocked by someone who claims to represent a loving and all-powerful God; when their proffered ministrations are ignored as irrelevant and valueless. Perhaps all this will come in future episodes.

What we were left with is how little Lydia, who has made a wonderful recovery from a potentially fatal reaction to penicillin, insisted on saying a prayer of thanks before leaving hospital.

A far bleaker attitude to the marvels of modern medicine (at least how they stood 200 years ago) featured in Frankenstein and the Vampyre - A Dark And Stormy Night (BBC2, Saturday), telling once more the tale of the Byron/Shelley/Polidori ménage in the Villa Deodate on the shores of Lake Geneva, and Byron's challenge on the night of 16 June 1816 that they must each write a ghost story.

Mary Shelley produced her fable of Victor Frankenstein's monster, brilliantly weaving together the wonders of contemporary experiments to see if corpses could be galvanised back to life, her own grief at the loss of her dear child, and theological speculation about what happens if we seek to usurp God's power to create living creatures.

Dr Polidori also came up with a sensation: The Vampyre for the first time turns Eastern European folk tales about blood-sucking monsters into something really frightening by recasting the protagonist as an aloof mesmeric English aristocrat, irresistible to women. The energy that fuels this creation is that the model is quite clearly Byron himself, whom Polidori longed to impress.

Like Frankenstein's monster, the programme felt stitched together: a narrator, talking heads, and dramatic reconstructions all aimed to reconstruct the fevered atmosphere, heavy with emotions of exile, sexual passion and loss, set in the storm-lashed summer.

Overall, being constantly told how astonishing and amazing were the interactions and results of that summer in Switzerland had the effect of not heightening but paradoxically diminishing my sense of amazement.

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