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Billy drives us away

BILLY Connolly has come a long way since his first appearance on the Parkinson show all those years ago, where he famously told that joke about a man who buries wife in the garden and leaves her bum sticking out of the ground, so he'll have somewhere to park his bicycle.

In Billy Connolly's Route 66, here he is cruising down America's most famous highway, not on a bicycle, but on his trademark gleaming chopper, which looks a bit like an armchair on wheels. Fittingly, the series is sponsored by a sofa shop.

You're usually guaranteed more than a few laughs when Connolly is on the telly and this series is no exception. It's packed to bursting with giggles, guffaws and chortles. Unfortunately for us, most of them emanate from the mouth of Connolly himself. He seems so continually amused by his own stream-of-consciousness jokes -- which aren't, strictly speaking, jokes at all, just little passing remarks he finds hilarious -- that he can't stop laughing long enough to say anything remotely memorable.

Scooting along Route 66 (which by now must have celebrity tyre marks imprinted upon it after all the TV travelogues it's witnessed whizzing by) from St Louis to Missouri, Connolly took in, among other things, the Gateway Arch, a wolf sanctuary and a Civil War re-enactment.

Despite the host being in perpetual motion, the whole thing was curiously inert; like looking at someone's particularly well-taken holiday snaps. Connolly has done this kind of thing before, across Scotland, Ireland, Wales and Australia, in a number of series for the BBC.

Each programme, which ran to a compact 40 minutes, was broken up with clips from Connolly's riotous, F-word laden stand-up act. But this being primetime ITV, profanities are off the table and the whole thing runs to a rambling hour.

There's not an awful lot of point to the thing, other than to us how much fun Connolly is having and how comparatively cool he still looks in a biker's jacket -- albeit a brown one, which is a pretty unforgivably sin for a road warrior.

At one point he was perched, like a Glasgow Tom Thumb, on the world's biggest rocking chair, a 42-ft tall monster, laughing his head off at the fact that the thing doesn't actually rock. That's okay; neither does this series.

I'm not sure what TV3 was up to with Inside a Car Crash, in which the ubiquitous Gay Byrne, wearing his TV star and RSA chairman hats simultaneously, presented us with a close-up, often gruesome account of what happens . . . well, inside a car crash.

Years of road safety adverts, more notable for their striking photography and bone-crunching special effects than anything else, have so far failed to dissuade a significant number of young idiots in pimped-up cars from wrapping themselves around trees, so why should an extended version of the same thing make any difference?

If the intention was to shock, it certainly did that. Many of the images here were horrible. But just as shocking was the fact that anyone should think an hour of well-intentioned finger-wagging passes muster as a legitimate documentary.

Thanks to the toxic effect of The Only Way is Essex, any programme with Essex in its title is bound to set the alarm bells ringing. So on paper, the first part of Educating Essex, about day to day life in a comprehensive school, didn't promise much.

What it delivered, however, was an engrossing contribution to the much-abused observational documentary genre.

The hero of the hour was the school's hard-working deputy head, Mr Drew, who, despite the presence of some 60-odd fixed cameras around his workplace, seemed almost oblivious to the fact that his every move and word were being recorded.

Luckily for him, so did one of his so-called "difficult" pupils: an obnoxious thing called Carmelita, who accused him of assault when he tried to take away her banned hoodie.

billy connolly's route 66 HHIII inside a car crash HIIII educating essex HHHII