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26 August 2016

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IT WOULD be hard to review the past week’s television without re­­ferring to the Olympics. They have dominated the news, certainly at the BBC, which has the broad­casting rights for them.

A GB bronze medal for syn­chronised hop-scotch would pro­­b­­ably make the ten-o’clock news, and the winner — sorry, second runner-up — qualify for the interview. “How do you feel now?” asks the BBC person, stick­ing a microphone in the breathless victim’s face. “Amaz­­ing!” We learn that they never ex­­pected it, can’t believe it’s hap­pened, and, omg, it’s amazing!

Bicycles frequently made the Olym­­pic news and were the subject of Inside the Factory (BBC2, Tuesday of last week). This series takes us inside the gates of some of Britain’s leading factories. The Master­chef presenter Gregg Wallace was salivating over a folding bicycle. His fellow pre­senter, Cherry Healey, matched him for his wide-eyed enthusiasm.

Their subject was the Brompton, favourite bike of the commuting set: a light-weight bicycle that can be sneaked into a rush-hour train and yet opened up to get you from final station to office. Wallace followed the process of its manufacture. No robots, no production line: just skilled human beings with things like spanners in their hands. This was digital production, in the literal sense of the word.

Channel 5 has a deserved rep­utation for quality doc­umen­taries on social and domestic issues. On Benefits: Costa del Dole (Thursday of last week) was a good example: edited testimonies and a voiceover commentary. “Costa” refers to the setting: three British seasides, where sand, sea, and holidaymakers disguise serious housing problems and unemploy­ment.

The subjects were two men in their fifties, Gordon in Fife and Gary in Jaywick, Essex, and 46-year-old Caroline, a single mother with three children, living in Bridlington. Gordon had left his job to care for his mother, Gary had been made redundant; we don’t know how Caroline was homeless, and had been unem­ployed for ten years. The local council, however, was on her case, and a friend had temporarily taken her and the family into her flat.

Gary was desperate to get a job. His splendid Mercedes stood outside the bungalow that he shared with his partner, Jeff. He missed the comfort of a regular income (and decent wine). Eventu­ally, his persistence won and he got a job as a community-care worker.

Gordon was permanently op­­timistic. He assured us that there was light at the end of the tunnel, but it never seemed to be gainful employ­ment. He seemed happy enough looking out over the North Sea with his bag of chips.

Caroline and her family were finally offered a suitable house by the council. The last we saw of her, she was on the phone applying for a grant to cover the cost of new carpets.

The programme was full of hu­­manity, emotion, and even excite­­­ment, as Caroline had to dash to the council offices to collect the house keys before they closed, or have her furniture spend a night on the pavement. What was inevitably lacking were solutions. As people sometimes feel at the end of a sermon, “Yes, but what are we supposed to do about it?”

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