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Don't keep this drama Hidden

IT'S actually quite hard to imagine a television world without Philip Glenister, who for years was a jobbing, vaguely recognisable character actor. Hidden (BBC1) Animal Clinic (RTE 1)

A glance through his CV from the last 20 or so years reveals parts in the kind of stuff just about every craggily good-looking British actor does (Minder, Heartbeat, Silent Witness -- you know the drill). But then along came Life on Mars.

Glenister's role as tough, unreconstructed 1970s -- and in the sequel, Ashes to Ashes, 1980s -- cop DCI Gene Hunt was a case of actor and character being thrown together in a match made in heaven.

Literally, since Hunt turned out to be a celestial guardian guiding other dead coppers to the next life.

Hunt became a television icon and Glenister, after nearly two decades toiling away at the coalface of indifference, became an overnight star.

The trouble is, when something like that happens, how do you follow it?

Answer: sniff out another great part in another great script and grab it with both hands -- in this case, Harry Venn, a getaway driver-turned-small-time lawyer who finds his past, and some of the people he imagined were dead, coming back to haunt him in Ronan Bennett's thriller Hidden.

Hidden isn't the first big BBC thriller this year. There was The Shadow Line, which was good but hampered by self-importance. There was The Hour, which was great to look at and tremendously well-acted but couldn't seem to decide what genre it was.

Hidden is far more enjoyable than either of them.

I was as baffled as everyone else after the first episode. After the third, penultimate episode, I'm still baffled, albeit not quite as much as before.

Last week we left Harry and Gina, the cool French lawyer hired by one of Harry's old criminal associates to hire Harry to find another associate long thought dead, looking down the barrel of a gun in a Parisian warehouse.

The first gunman was shot by another gunman (who may or may not be Harry's supposedly dead brother), leaving Harry and Gina to fight another day. The plot thickened like soup this week.

Back in London, Harry and Gina discover they're hunting the same man: Jason Styles, who was behind the murders of Harry's brother and Gina's parents on the same day 20 years before.

Worse, Gina's kindly guardian, the QC Nigel Fountain (David Suchet) is part of the shadowy "helpdesk", which has been despatching assassins to bump people off all over the place.

Last night's instalment climaxed with Harry looking down another gun barrel, but this time his shady but likeable Irish client/friend/fixer Frank took the bullet for him.

I've no idea how all this ties in with the rumbling background plot, led by Anna Chancellor's terrifying media boss, to destroy the Prime Minister and replace him with a smooth stooge, but I'm sure as hell going to be hanging on with white knuckles to find out next week.

Hidden moves at breakneck speed and, if you stop too long to think about it, is probably improbable and slightly silly.

But it does something too few thrillers these days do: it actually thrills.

From the complex to the simple and Animal Clinic. I've always been a sucker for fwuffy widdle animals, as well as fwuffy big ones. Judging by the viewing figures for the first series of Animal Clinic and two series of the excellent The Zoo, I'm not the only one.

The opener followed the inspectors and vets of the DSPCA as they dealt with dying swans (maliciously poisoned, presumably) at the canal in Harold's Cross, a confused crow trapped in a cavernous pet shop, and a dog that had inadvertently ingested rat poison. It didn't survive, sadly.

RTE routinely churns out early-evening filler that points a camera at the activities of traffic cops, customs officers or rescue teams, and most of it is tedious and repetitive. But the combination of animals in distress and compassionate people doing their best to rescue them is an irresistible one. A lovely little series.

Hidden 5/5 Animal Clinic 3/5