Brits Go to Hollywood.

Channel 4, Saturday, 8.00pm

Louis and the Brothel

BBC2, Sunday, 9.00pm

Biopics of movie stars have as many pious conventions attached to them as the lives of saints. The truth is only as useful as the cliche it fits. Brits Go to Hollywood, embarking on a tour of thesps in La La Land with a portrait of David Niven, rose above these restraints eventually, but it was a struggle.

''Men wanted to be Niven and women wanted to be with him,'' the piece announced of ''the quintessential English gentleman'', the last of ''an absolutely vanished breed''. Your heart sank like a lead weight in a lift shaft.

Then, suddenly, the actor's complexity began to emerge. His voice, somehow both drawling and clipped, began to intrude. A jumble of anecdotes became a story.

It was a poignant tale, too. Niven was wedded to fun, it seems, because so much of his life was miserable. He was charming as a professional courtesy, yet desperate, beneath the polished veneer, to be loved. Fatherless at five, deserted and bullied

throughout his childhood, he still managed to maintain a sense of honour in the face of Hollywood's duplicity.

By the end, when he was dying with quiet dignity of motor neurone disease, you liked him a lot. That, of course, had always been his intention - as his memoirs showed, his life was his life's work - but it was hard to begrudge a man who returned to Britain on the instant war was declared when so many of his peers were cowering beneath satin sheets.

In 1939 the film Raffles had just given Niven his first important starring role. He could have contented himself with ''war work''.

He could have confined his heroics to the set and lied about cowardice and opportunism. Instead, defying Sam Goldwyn, Niven earned himself the guilt of a Normandy survivor. It was, he said with peerless dishonesty, ''the only unselfish thing I have ever done''. This was the gold standard of charm.

So how charmless is Louis Theroux? This charmless: he can make you feel sorry for Paul Daniels or sympathise with Jimmy Savile. So definitively charmless is Theroux that he can convey the creepiness of his subjects while reminding you, with every simpering utterance, that he is the biggest creep in view.

Some people enjoy this

sort of thing. It's a hoot,

apparently, to watch cunning Louis pretend to bumble his way into the lives of others and persuade them gently to humiliate themselves. The fact that Theroux is a dishonest reporter using underhanded methods and nerveless cruelty for our entertainment tends to be overlooked.

Louis and the Brothel was a documentary cliche. How many British film-makers have been titillated by the fact that prostitution is legal in Nevada? How many have pitied and patronised the women while exploiting them as thoroughly as any madam? ''Do you like women?'' one harlot demanded of Theroux. Only as victims, if this smug piece was anything to go by.