Daytime TV: Seeking Paradise

Gary Day on getting a good education, playing doctors and nurses, and the thirst for danger

July 16, 2009

Zara shows the camera how to put on a hijab. She wears one because she thinks it will help her enter Paradise. She is only seven, but the person who told her that is probably much older. In years, anyway. Zara is the only girl in her family to cover her hair. She has little time for her older sister, who is at sixth-form college, for her raven locks are an affront to Allah. "She's probably going to hell," Zara grins.

Twelve-year-old Aysha is not as learned about theology as Zara. She became a Muslim to please her new dad. Her real one is in Devon. He sent her some photographs of the last time they were together. They showed a smiling child with an abundance of red hair flashing in the sun. Aysha doesn't smile much now. Her new dad doesn't allow her to go out and play. She hopes to win his affection by learning the Koran.

Revelations: Muslim School (Channel 4, Sunday 5 July, 7pm) was the second programme in an eight-part series that looks at the impact of religion on Britain. A camera followed Zara and Aysha for a year. But why girls and not boys? It is young men who are most likely to kill in the name of the Prophet. A teacher at the Nottingham Islamia school wrote the word "diversity" on the board. None of the girls knew what it meant. And so it was explained to them. Allah is our father. He doesn't discriminate against any of us as long as we believe in him and keep his laws. It's so important to have a good education, don't you think?

From the damages inflicted on the young to the indignities awaiting us in age. In the opening shot of Getting On (BBC Four, Wednesday 8 July, 10pm), a camera travels up a patient's right hand and then moves over to the left hand, which is being held by a nurse. It's a deathbed scene. The camera pauses for a moment before coming to rest on the nurse's other hand. She is using it to text. And if you thought that was brilliant, there was plenty more to come.

Scripted by Jo Brand, Vicki Pepperdine and Joanna Scanlan, who also star, this black comedy of life on a geriatric ward could easily be an advert for Bupa. The doctor is more concerned about parking than her patients. She is also furious that Nurse has removed a pile of poo that was fossilising nicely on a ward chair. She wanted it as part of her research that would "expand the Bristol Stool chart from 7 to 31 types of patient faeces". Meanwhile, a frail Asian woman delivers an incessant and incomprehensible monologue. "Is she speaking Pakistan?" asks Sister. "Pakistan isn't a language," snaps the doctor. "Indian then?" hazards Sister. It's eventually translated, via a telephone held out in the direction of her bed, as: "I want to die, please kill me."

With its rough documentary feel and apparent lack of editing, Getting On owes a lot to The Thick of It. Peter Capaldi, one of the stars of that show, directs this one. But there is less swearing and the setting is more intimate, despite being filmed in a cold blue light. W.H. Auden's observation that suffering takes place while "someone else is eating or just walking dully along" was well illustrated here as Nurse stomps along the corridor munching a cake meant for the deceased while Sister comforts the relative who baked it.

The Great Omani spent his life playing tag with the Grim Reaper (Wonderland: The 92 Year Old Danger Junkie, BBC Four, Wednesday 8 July, 11.10pm). His stunts included setting himself on fire and standing on his head on a chair at the edge of a cliff. Ron Cunningham, to use his real name, was still performing in old age. A South Korean documentary team filmed him in a Brighton pub jumping on to broken glass.

And then he had a stroke. But he was out of hospital quicker than Houdini could wriggle out of a straitjacket. Liver failure and prostate cancer proved slightly more tricky, but Ron managed to dodge them too. He wanted to do one last stunt. "You can't even hold a glass," shouts his son and full-time carer, David. Harsh but true. The cancer returned. It was close, but Death had finally got his man.

There was one other thing that Ron hadn't been able to avoid, and that was his constant need to prove he could leap free of all forms of bondage. "Life's a mystery, isn't it?" he asked. Who knows where he is now. Could it be Cardiff? How else to explain the England cricket team's escape from what looked like certain defeat?

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