I WAS greatly encouraged by the presenter’s failure. Factual TV is dominated by the have-a-go everyman (or woman) who, exploring this or that phenomenon, attempting this or that skill or trade, turns out to have natural skill and ability and is, more or less, successful.
Professor Danielle George, our guide to Avalanche: Making a deadly snowstorm (BBC2, Thursday of last week), in truly immersive spirit, allowed herself to be buried by snow, trying out a new respirator designed to save lives. She panicked, began hyperventilating and was frantically dug out by the team, scared out of her wits. In other words, she behaved exactly as I would have done, and I thank her for it.
Climate change is overturning years of meticulous calculation of when and where avalanches might occur, with lethal consequences, and it turns out that we know surprisingly little about exactly what causes them, and how they behave. Greater knowledge will save lives, and we witnessed a courageous experiment in the Canadian Rockies which created an avalanche so that it could, for the first time, be monitored and recorded with scientific precision.
Courageous, because the process was inherently unstable: a false step or movement could have triggered catastrophe for all concerned. It was, in the event, successful, finding it four times more powerful — and hence destructive — than any current model predicted, and producing data that revolutionises how to mitigate and survive avalanches in future.
From the sublime to the ridiculous, one might think, turning from so spectacular a theme to the quotidian How to Get a Good Night’s Sleep (Channel 5, Wednesday of last week). Eamonn Holmes and Ruth Langsford suffer from a problem that affects two-thirds of the population: they never get proper sleep. She is a constant loud snorer; he averages only three hours a night. This syndrome is, in fact, more serious than it sounds: sleep deprivation is linked to heart disease and diabetes, causes road accidents, and wrecks marriages.
In this two-parter, they explore every path that might lead to cures: practical, medical, psychological. It’s pretty dire. The jokes are embarrassing, and their interaction is cringeworthy; but, underneath, I sense concern that is genuine and serious — and I would love to sleep properly myself.
Seeking to overturn negative stereotyping, Nabhaan Rizwan is a bright, funny, attractive East End British Pakistani, who points out that the terrorist photographed handing out leaflets is, in fact, a mate of his advertising a takeaway. So far, so salutary: but the good intentions of Informer, BBC1’s latest thriller series (Tuesdays), are fatally undermined by revealing that he is in reality a drugs dealer, whose dodgy pills cause death in a nightclub, thus confirming latent anti-Muslim prejudice.
He is recruited into the twilight zone of counter-terrorism; so perhaps absolute moral compromise is supposed to engulf all that we see and hear.