LOUISA PEARSON, HORIZON, BBC TV
I don’t know about you, but most of my childhood fears came into being via the TV screen. It began with mildly disturbing characters – the mean witch Fenella in Chorlton and the Wheelies, Zelda in Terrahawks. Then as the years went by, it was disasters on a grand scale that kept me awake at night. I still can’t face the idea of getting on a cruise liner, having been traumatised by The Poseidon Adventure. But worst of all was an animated film about an old couple whose lives would have been unremarkable, had it not been for the fact a nuclear bomb had recently dropped in their vicinity. Raymond Briggs’s When the Wind Blows left me with a lifelong ambition to build a bunker in the garden and keep it well stocked with tinned goods, just in case a nuclear winter should descend upon us.
New nuclear power stations might be getting built south of the Border while we smugly admire our wind turbines, but isn’t the threat of death, destruction and radiation sickness as real as ever? According to Horizon, radiation might just be something we should embrace rather than run screaming from. I almost choked on my tinned mandarin segments when I heard this. Was this really Horizon, or some sort of wacky spoof? Before you could say “take a hedgehog from Chernobyl out of the deep freeze and hold a Geiger counter against it to prove how healthy it was while living in the exclusion zone”, we were being sold a very strange story indeed.
Horizon took us on a journey from the 1920s, when radium was celebrated for its illusory health-giving properties all the way to Chernobyl. The focus was on the connection between radiation exposure and ill health. Distinguished-looking scientists explained the basics, in particular a graph which has been used since the late 1950s to predict the risks from exposure. It transpired that one segment of this graph had been extrapolated rather than proven. The upshot is that low doses of radiation might not be as dangerous as scientists imagined. For instance, 9,000 people were expected die as a result of the Chernobyl disaster; recent figures apparently suggest there have only been 56 deaths.
The “facts” were presented in a clear manner, but it felt like we were being spoon-fed half the story at best. Maybe people living in areas with high natural radiation do paradoxically have a lower incidence of cancer, but surely the phenomenon warrants much more investigation before drawing conclusions? The idea that small amounts of radiation stimulate the cells that protect against cancer sounds feasible to those of us with zero knowledge of the subject, but on such a controversial issue, surely Horizon owed it to us to feature some scientists who didn’t agree with the neat theory?
Call me paranoid as I head back into the bunker for the night, but isn’t it possible that Tony Blair personally commissioned this programme? The message seemed to be “don’t panic if the nuclear power station down the road has a meltdown. The ensuing radiation will leave you looking and feeling better than ever.” Hmmmm. I’ll keep my nuclear fears in place just for the time being, thanks.
Back in the real world, Truly Madly Deeply had me feeling nervous. This documentary explored Stars in the Skies, a dating agency set up for adults with learning difficulties. I was nervous in case the film turned out to have a mean streak. After all, it sounded like we were about to meet some easy targets – Micky with ADHD who produced a condom just minutes into a speed dating session and Raymond who talked about feeling horny without any blushes. In fact, this was a funny and refreshing film, whose subjects were a little more open and honest than we’re used to seeing onscreen. From first-date nerves to lovers’ tiffs, Truly Madly Deeply captured a picture of modern romance in an engaging manner without ever being patronising. It was almost enough to make you forget about impending nuclear doom. Almost.