Bad heir day

HRH's 60th birthday: what's to celebrate, asks Gary Day. Plus, old bones, tired comedy and undead spies

November 13, 2008

Prince Charles was 60 on 1 November. So were a lot of other men. What many of them have in common, according to The Prince Charles Generation (Channel 4, Thursday 9pm), is that they are divorced, bald and live in a house owned by their mother. Not much to show for a life, is it?

But let's not despair. As Trevor Howard said to Celia Johnson in Brief Encounter: "You are only middle-aged once." And this documentary showed that you can start over; although in Charles' case, he still has to get going.

John got going pretty early in life. A working-class boy who passed the 11-plus, he has built up a multimillion-pound engineering consultancy. Charles, though, would probably have more in common with Ivor, who survives on state benefits - but not such large ones as the Prince.

The programme glossed over differences of wealth, preferring instead to dwell on the disappointments we all must suffer, whether royals or commoners. Wasn't Charles at one time unhappy in love? So, too, was John. And then, one day, a new secretary walked through the door and "that was it".

Charles has also found happiness the second time around. But something still seems to be missing because apparently he wishes he had been Bob Geldof ...

Look, Your Highness, if you are really concerned about world poverty, there are some rather obvious steps you can take.

It seemed appropriate to go from a programme about monarchy to one about fossils. But why was Hermione Cockburn, presenter of Fossil Detectives (BBC Two, Friday 7pm), flying a kite the size of a parachute in a high wind? Some questions are never answered.

Hermione knelt by a footprint made 30,000 years ago. Imprints of this type can now be preserved using digital technology: Professor Matthew Bennett of Bournemouth University showed how. A hologram of a multicoloured foot appeared on screen.

Encountering that image thousands of years from now, a biologist will think we are descended from computers. By then, we probably will be.

Hermione was fascinated by the bones of a Tyrannosaurus rex. Its brain was apparently no bigger than one of its teeth. Which explains why it never developed the technology to destroy the asteroid that killed it.

"Look," whispered Hermione in wonder, holding up a crinoid. "This sea lily has been fossilised in silicon, which means it's preserved much better. It can survive contact with acid but a touch from the human finger and it may disintegrate." So fragile a thing is the past.

The microchip means there's no chance of Little Britain USA (BBC One, Friday 9pm) ever becoming extinct. But at least we have come to the end of the series. There are only so many times you can find a grown man demanding to be breast-fed funny.

When it was just known to us as Little Britain, the show had bite. Why shouldn't a person in a wheelchair be a scheming so-and-so? But now the cult comedy is almost as moribund as the House of Windsor. America may have given us The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, but it doesn't deserve to be given David Walliams in a dress.

The special relationship between the two countries is one of the themes of Spooks (BBC One, Monday 9pm). The reason it's called Spooks is not because it's about spies but because it's about people coming back from the dead.

This is a new series, right? Well, then, how come Ros is in it? She was killed in the last one. Injected, I think. But she definitely snuffed it. There was even a funeral. So what is going on? Has she been cloned? Why won't anyone tell me?

Someone is certainly telling the Russians something and Harry, who is head of counter-terrorism, needs to find out who. But he isn't making much progress because each week he has to stop al-Qaeda from blowing up "innocent people" - a phrase that his team, known as the Grid, are overfond of using.

Harry's main weapon in the fight against terror is to look serious. Very serious. It's a tactic adopted by his agents. If anyone on the Grid smiles, then I fear a lot of "innocent people" could die.

Al-Qaeda's number three wants to negotiate. He looks almost as serious as Harry. The terrorist group's agent tells Harry they are alike. Harry says he does not blow up "innocent people". No? The al-Qaeda agent tells him that 85,000 civilians have been killed since the invasion of Iraq.

Who says popular TV programmes can't tackle serious issues?

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