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No mid-life crisis in brilliant Up

As chance would have it, I'm seven years younger than the participants in 56 Up, the latest in director Michael Apted's brilliant series of documentaries which have been chronicling, at seven-year intervals, the lives of a group of people for half a century.

They were first encountered, aged seven and full of bright-eyed hope, ambition and expectations, in Apted's 1964 World in Action film 7 Up. None of them has probably lived the dream life they wanted, but some have been less disappointed than others. In the first of three programmes, we were reunited with four of them.

Sue was a bubbly, opinionated little girl in footage from '64 and is still full of energy today. At 14 she said she'd never marry young, then did so at 24. By 35 she was divorced, with two children. At 42 she'd met Glen. At 49, things were tense with the children but that's dissipated (kids will grow up).

She and Glen have been "happily engaged for 14 years" and she loves her job as a university administrator -- although she never went to uni herself. She's a lovely woman, bright, confident and charming.

Paul was in a care home at seven and never exuded confidence, even after he'd moved to Australia before 14 Up was filmed. "I find it hard to express emotion," we heard him say at 21. Minus some hair and with the addition of a thick moustache, he's still rather introverted. But he's quietly contented. Married to Susan, with whom he works in a retirement village, he's a father of two children and a doting grandfather to five.

But Paul is positively gregarious compared to Neil, the member of the Up crowd you've always cared and worried about most, because he's never seemed able to get the hang of life.

He was homeless at 28 and imagined he'd be so forever. Even though he's been a Liberal Democrat councillor for some years, as well as a lay minister well-liked in his Cumbrian community, it hasn't grown any easier. He's still a solitary, melancholy soul.

"No formal education could ever prepare anyone for life," he said. "I've been completely unsuccessful in finding a paid career of any kind." Relationships with women have never lasted.

Peter, who was in the same care home as Paul, withdrew from the series after 28 Up. A teacher at the time, his outspoken criticism of both the education system and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher led to his vilification in the right-wing press.

He's back for 56 Up but only, it seems, to promote his band, The Good Intentions.

Michael Apted will be 78 when it's time for 63 Up. You can never guess what life will bring -- as this series proves -- but I hope he and I are still around, because this is epic television the likes of which will never be made again. Superb.

Given the budget and turnaround time for the average TV3 documentary, Banned, a two-parter about Ireland's censorship history, was probably never going to be superb, but at least half of it was excellent.

The best segment was on the evolution of film censorship, which featured lively contributions from, among others, film historian and scholar Kevin Rockett; my journalistic fellows Ian O'Doherty, John Meagher, Philip Molloy and Ciaran Carty (the latter two film critics), and, crucially, former censors Sheamus Smith and John Kelleher, who each did fine work in liberalising a repressive regime that once saw films such as Gone with the Wind, Brief Encounter, The Quiet Man and On the Waterfront being either banned or cut to ribbons -- although I'd still have a major quibble with Smith for banning such worthwhile movies as Bad Lieutenant and Natural Born Killers.

The items on video games and pop videos felt perfunctory, but the segment on censorship of books benefited from the insights of author Lee Dunne who, disgracefully, had seven of his novels outlawed, apparently out of simple spite.

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