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Jack's moving and fitting farewell

Everyone knew last night was the night when Coronation Street's Jack Duckworth, played for 31 years by Bill Tarmey, who requested his character be written out during the soap's 50th anniversary year, would follow battleaxe wife Vera to that great two-up, two-down in the sky.

Everyone, that is, except most of the other characters, Jack having confided only to Tyrone and Molly that he was dying of cancer.

As Jack's party in the Rovers got into full swing, older denizens like Audrey and Ken carped about how it was an awfully big fuss for a mere 74th birthday.

Meanwhile, Jack, who has gradually transformed from work-shy philanderer (one of his early bits on the side was Rovers barmaid Bet Lynch) to sage in old age, spent his final hours dispensing wisdom.

He revealed to Molly that he knew Kevin Webster, and not Tyrone, a character two evolutionary steps above a memory-foam pillow, was the father of her baby and advised her to get out of town before the truth came out. He counselled a drunken Ashley to patch things up with Claire, who's done something much worse than having another man's baby: she's told Ashley she wants to move to France.

Coronation Street has a history of doing death scenes better than EastEnders (more of which presently), where a fatality usually involves a speeding car, a heavy implement or Janine, and this one was no exception.

"I'm tired, Vera," muttered Jack, as he dozed in the armchair listening to a Nat 'King' Cole record. Suddenly, in an uncharacteristic bout of magic realism, Vera (Liz Dawn, coming out of retirement for the scene) was with him in the living room.

"Well, put your paper down and come with me. There's a bus leaving at 12." Then they kissed and joined in one last earthly waltz.

What could have been a deeply silly moment turned out to be extremely touching, chiefly because this was as much an emotional farewell to Bill Tarmey as it was to Jack Duckworth. It's something you can't fake.

Give me a death scene any day over the bizarre opening to last night's EastEnders, which featured too-close-for-comfort-close-ups of Alfie and Kat Moon's mouths as they engaged in some flirtatious banter.

It seemed to be a kind of homage to the chess-playing scene in The Thomas Crown Affair -- except Shane Richie and Jessie Wallace are no Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway.

In fact, they're not even Leslie Grantham and Anita Dobson.

I was never a huge fan of crime journalist Paul Williams' series for TV3, where the presenter/writer engaged in a little too much moody, Chandleresque posing against night-time cityscapes.

But the excellent second episode of Bad Fellas (I was out of the country for the first instalment) was restrained and engrossing.

It traced the rise and fall of various gangland figures, from Larry Dunne to John Gilligan and, via the loathsome Westies, the paranoid, gun-toting thugs at the centre of the country's drug-gang turf wars today.

For me, the most potent part of the programme was its evocation of the heroin epidemic that swept through my home patch, The Liberties, in the 1980s, destroying lives and tearing proud, working-class communities apart.

The period was skilfully, if harrowingly, recalled through solid research, archive footage and illuminating contributions from decent people like community activist Eddie Naughton, who's daughter survived an eight-year heroin addiction.

Williams made no bones about where the blame for the mess we're in today lies: with the inept politicians who couldn't care less about working-class people and who were so obsessed with the security situation in the North, they couldn't see the poison seeping through the veins of Dublin City.

STACEY'S STARS

Coronation Street ****

Eastenders *

Bad fellas ****


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