White-knuckle tribute

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 31 May, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 31 May, 1997, 12:00am

If you know the difference between 'steel' and 'woodies', this will be the best Saturday night viewing you'll have had in ages.

The terms refer to the two types of rollercoaster: woodies are the 'serious' rides (more romantic, more thrilling), the ultimate 'white-knuckle experience'; steel coasters are the modern versions disparaged by coaster nutters.

Coastermania (World, 10.25pm) pays tribute to rollercoasters around the world, taking the viewer on the ultimate theme park tour and, in between the howling rides, designers, enthusiasts and industry gurus share tales about the ever-increasing industry.

Though virtual reality may be the experience of the moment, it still seems to be a long way from matching the 30-second thrill a rollercoaster can give.

And, as the film shows, the rollercoaster is alive and thriving.

In 1995, an obscure Welsh fun park opened the first traditional wooden rollercoaster to be built in Britain for 60 years. The year before Britain had dedicated as the year of the rollercoaster.

Blackpool claims to have the biggest in the world with a 71 metre first drop.

It was Disney which fuelled the coaster boom in the late 1950s with Thundermountain, a coaster made on steel tracks with clamped cars and smooth urethane wheels.

Suddenly people loved coasters again and many of the manufacturers who had failed during the Depression came back into business.

In Britain there was little interest until John Broome turned his wife's family inheritance into Alton Towers and imported steel coasters.

On the opening day, 80,000 visitors turned up to ride the relatively tame Corkscrew and there was an outcry when they could not all get on.

Inevitably, the fascination with these steel snakes has led to the creation of a whole new genre of marketing and advertising.

'You've ridden the Big One, now wear the jacket, drink the drink, watch the video and buy the CD of the music played in the loading station.' Dolly is undoubtedly the world's most famous sheep.

Get to know her background better in All In The Genes (Pearl, 8.30pm), a documentary following the scientists who cloned her.

Though science is on the brink of medical discoveries that may see an end to some diseases, the price may be too great.

This British documentary ponders whether the genetic revolution promises a better world or one populated by strange life-forms where scientists have unleashed forces of such power that we can barely understand them - let alone control them.

There are a couple of movies today that are well worth staying in for.

Robert De Niro's fevered and blistering performance as Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver (Pearl, 9.30pm) is undoubtedly one of his best and the film a landmark in 70s' cinema.

Henry And June (World, 1.30am) caused a furore in 1990 and was the first film to be released in the United States with the NC-17 rating, which was created to replace the dreaded X rating, but we, sadly, shall see a much-censored version.

Sorry, Wrong Number (World, 3.30am) is a gripping film about a domineering invalid heiress (Barbara Stanwyck) who overhears two men plotting her murder.

Some rare good news for soccer fans. Stay up late and you can watch, live, the World Cup '98 (Jade, 2.25am) qualifying match between Poland and England.