TV review

n This Bloke Walks Into A Bar (C4, Tuesday) Agas And Their Owners (BBC2, Tuesday) n Frenchman's Creek (ITV, Sunday)

HAVE you heard the one about Jo Brand knocking a guy out with one punch? Or the one about Arthur Smith making a pass at Princess Margaret? Or John Thomson getting run over and remembering nothing about it? Or Johnny Vegas vomiting into a potters' wheel on stage? Or Malcolm Hardee urinating on a sleeping member of his audience? Or Owen O'Neil breaking into Hammersmith police station? Or Bob Mortimer drinking so many pints that when he bent over the beer simply fell out again? This Bloke Walks Into a Bar (C4, Tuesday) was not for the squeamish. A simple enough idea - let's ask stand-up comedians why they get pished? - but the answers made for a complex and intriguing documentary.

''Performers are sensitive people,'' bleated John Thomson without detectable irony. The comedy agent reckoned it was better than seeing a shrink (better for the breweries' profit margins, perhaps). ''They've got so much sh*t going round their heads. You've got to be a bit of a sad f*** to be a comic. You've got to be a bit disturbed. They're quite weird people.'' Rhona Cameron thought it had less to do with the tears of a clown than with boys refusing to grow up, safe in the knowledge that they had a woman waiting at home to sponge them down and keep the rest of their lives ticking over.

In form, this was a forgiving

documentary, conning the viewer into a collusive stagger as the camera swung blurrily across famous faces at the notoriously bacchanalian Edinburgh Festival. But gradually, as the performers recounted their own and others' moments of shame, the appalled mirth gave way to a Boschian vision of hell. There was Mark Lamarr (a violent drunk, by his own admission) describing the urination episode and trying to claim that, when the victim awoke (soaked to the skin), he laughed heartily. I'll bet. There was Hardee himself, a shell of a man, listening unblushingly as Arthur Smith recalled an even more disgusting event. There was Roland Rivron, a 16-pints-a-night man, who set his bedroom carpet on fire while his baby was sitting on the bed. There was Owen O'Neill with the classic alkie's story of waking up in a strange town, minus various articles of clothing, having lost three days . . .

The prepublicity made much of the fact that Glasgow's own Phil Kay would be interviewed drunk, but this was hardly a novelty. It turned out that every comic taking part - with the exception of the reformed alcoholic O'Neill - used to drink to lubricate their act. Reeves and Mortimer have never gone on stage sober. The excuse was that booze released flights of comic fancy not available to them otherwise. But by the end of this hour it was clear that alcoholic excess and its attendant degradations were not unfortunate side-effects, but the whole point. Howard Jacobson would claim that this is the very essence of comedy, that the sickness is restorative and ultimately life-giving. Me, I think a drunk is a drunk.

If we had not already seen 999 documentaries saying all there is to be said about the class system, Agas and their Owners (BBC2, Tuesday) would have been a brilliantly illuminating little film. Here were London yuppies and country spinsters and castle-dwelling aristos and aesthetes and parvenus and a copper and his wife into falconry and policemen's helmets and barristers' wigs and all things Traditionally English. (The thumbscrew and rack, perchance?) My personal favourite was the fruity-voiced Sally who confirmed all my prejudices about the upper classes being, well, not very clean.

The service engineer was appalled by the state of her hotplates, and plainly terrified by her increasingly frisky manner.

The great joke about Agas is that you can cook almost nothing on them. The hotplates and ovens offer two temperatures: incinerating and lukewarm. But, since the English are not particularly interested in food, the Aga's culinary shortcomings are an irrelevance to most owners. Likewise the furnace heat it lends a house in summer, and the amount of fuel needed to keep it on all the time, and the Herculean task of relighting it if, heaven forbid, it should ever go out. None of this matters because the Aga is a metaphor, a cast-iron metaphor in a selection of ritzy colours, but a metaphor nevertheless. Agas cook just three things well, the food writer Digby Anderson explains: ''Stews, which are always called 'nourishing', 'hearty' soups, or other range dishes just called 'wholesome'.''

The researchers had assembled an entertaining gallery of eccentrics: the old lady who invented the Aga ''hair dryer'' (no patent pending), the woman in mourning since converting her Aga from solid fuel because her ''very loving animal'' had ''lost its soul'', the ageing hippy who decorated her hotplates with cod-Aboriginal art. But the real point of this programme was the light cast on the core myths of Englishness. Agas pander to the fantasy of a yeoman people united by simple values, gathering in the kitchen as their ancestors did to worship household gods through the sharing of food and warmth. There are just a couple of problems with this touching and egalitarian vision: the Aga was invented by a Swede and buying one will leave you between #4000 and #5000 poorer.

It was the opening helicopter shot of a seventeenth-century ship in full sail that tipped us the wink about Frenchman's Creek (ITV, Sunday). Shortly afterwards, we caught our saucy aristocratic heroine puffing on a Panatella. Then there was the English countryside littered with corpses (my historical correspondent informs me that the Glorious Revolution was famously bloodless), and that Vertigo-style sequence where the prone figure of Lady Dona St Columb spun like a Catherine wheel. Need I continue? History took a back seat as swashes were buckled and bodices ripped, and Alain Delon's hirsute offspring Anthony made lubricous play with his tongue and a long-stemmed pipe.

With this kitschy historical drama there was something to suit all tastes. Monsieur Delon cashing in on the Sasha Distel effect. Tim Dutton as the rakish Rock (ingham), for those who like their baddies cruelly masterful. And the spirit of Christmas costume drama herself, Tara Fitzgerald, mooching along the shore in her petticoats and drinking in low taverns and threatening to have her servants flogged, and generally veering wildly between femme and butch. After all the sword-play and intrigue and heaving passion on the high seas, we got a sentimental Casablanca-ish ending in which honour and family values won the day. Absolute mince.