17th October 2005 - Whatever Happened to Raymond?

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Whatever happened to Raymond? It is a question I frequently ask myself when I think back to my schooldays at Durham Road Junior School in Newport.

   Raymond was my best friend and, I discovered quite recently, he got into a lot of trouble in his adult life. Raymond was the only black child in the school, and what he probably won't remember is that he spent the greater part of 1968 in a desk our teacher placed in the corner of the classroom with a massive paper 'D', for Dunce, stuck on it.

   When I moved house, all the class wrote me very boring letters, informing me of Raymond's misdemeanours. His, on the other hand, though full of mistakes, were far more interesting and included one tale of his uncle in Jamaica, who had just "had his eye out".

   Raymond is one of thousands of children whom the education system fails. In 1968, he was the victim of racism and the system's ignorance of learning difficulties, and the problems he later encountered can surely in some great part be attributed to that.

   The Unteachables has introduced us to a whole new generation of children who, like Raymond, get into trouble at school and seemingly learn nothing. But the title of the programme is a joke; what it should be called is The Untaught.

   Never have I seen so crass a handling of young people as that dished out in the study camp for difficult teenagers. The two week project aimed to engage them in ways their teachers in school had so far failed to do, and week three saw nine of them "graduate", having learned, as far as I could see, precious little other than the fact that adults talk b******s.

   Take 13 year old Grace, who was this week thrown out for her disruptive behaviour. She sat before headteacher William Atkinson, who threatened her with expulsion. So, what had she done? Well, for a start, she wasn't sitting up straight in his office. She had also threatened to pull her trousers down in front of a class member (Good grief; we'd all be locked up if threatening to take our kit off was a crime - not to mention actually following the threat through).

   Grace spoke more sense than anyone. "You can't teach to save your f*****g life," she told Atkinson. I have to say, I agreed. She reckoned that he was sending kids home merely because it was the only plan he had. Right again. "You're not my dad," she added, for good measure. Right again.

   Some patronising, blonde bird claimed that Grace was "in denial" and that she really did not want to "own" any of these behaviours, whatever that means. No, Grace had seen through a pointless exercise which had spectacularly failed to recognise any skills she had. My brother is a teacher, Grace, and you know what he said? His school would have you like a shot. You're a smart kid. Don't let the b******s get you down.

   If you think that teenagers are difficult, spare a thought for adults with babies. The first episode of Ben Elton's comedy, Blessed, introduced us to Gary (Ardal O'Hanlon) and Sue (Mel Giedroyc), whose newborn baby, Monica, doesn't stop crying. Er, that's it, really.

   Gary moaned that he wasn't getting any sleep; then Sue moaned that she wasn't getting any sleep. Then Gary moaned again. Then Sue . . . You get the picture.

   I've never been an O'Hanlon fan, and here his overacting just made you wish that anything, anyone, drugs if need be, would just hurry up and put him to sleep.

   As friend Vicky said, when Gary was moaning once more about sleep deprivation: "You've forgotten again, haven't you? We don't care."

   O'Hanlon's terminal unfunniness is, fortunately, countered to some extent, by Gary's mates Ronnie (Michael McKell) and Styx (Roland Rivron), who sit in the pub talking about everything and nothing. There is also a very funny, beautifully timed, understated performance from Ray Panthaki (almost unrecognisable from his Ferreira days in EastEnders) as Vicky's insensitive boyfriend, Lance.

   First episodes of comedies are notoriously difficult to get right, and, like Blessed, Supernova is not quite there. But it scores heavily on originality and its ever faultless star, Rob Brydon who, as hapless scientist Dr Paul Hamilton, leaves his London life to pursue a career in an observatory in the Australian outback.

   He is surrounded by a strange group of misfits who are trying to keep secret from him the fact that his predecessor was eaten by a crocodile. It was one of the more predictable and unfunny jokes in a series that has yet fully to find its feet, but still leaves a smile on your face throughout.

   Weeds is, apparently, hilarious. It stars Mary-Louise Parker as Nancy, a widowed mother of two boys who makes ends meet by selling marijuana to the locals in her suburban America.

   Any storyline involving drugs bores me senseless, and I'm rather tiring of the scratch-below-the-seemingly-pretty suburbia settings with which American TV is currently obsessed, too. It is also all too predictable - the health-conscious, moralistic, obsessive mother; the teenagers who want to have sex; the hidden secrets. At the moment, all Weeds does is tick boxes.

   The last episode of Swinging was, like the first, hit and miss in its humour, but the series has been an enjoyable romp through aspects of sex and relationships that are all too recognisable.

   Some of the sketches are way too long, but there are some good characters here whom we can surely look forward to seeing another series.

   It hasn't been a good week for drama, and the much heralded Vincent was a disaster of epic proportions.

   Suranne Jones, who played Karen in Coronation Street, almost entered a state of rigor mortis after the excitement of her life on the cobbles; and even the genius of Ray Winstone as the private detective of the title failed to ignite a dull, uneventful plot, tediously told.

   Man kills wife over her affair. We know it's him from the start. Vincent knows it's him. Man is caught and taken away. Story over.

   The ever reliable Midsomer Murders introduced us to Barnaby's latest sidekick, DC Ben Jones (the fabulous Jason Hughes). As with Vincent, we knew who the baddie was from the start, but here, only because George Baker was starring as the killer, Charlie, and you don't get George unless he is going to be the key player. So much so, that he also played the good twin brother, Jack.

   Charlie, we discovered "got all the bad bits." Personally, I blame his teachers.