Plus: the BBC’s adaptation of War of the Worlds is deeply sad. Will we ever again see a faithful, honest, politics-free adaptation on the BBC?
George (Rafe Spall), Amy (Eleanor Tomlinson) in War of the Worlds
Edwardian England deserved everything it got from those killer Martian invaders. Or so I learned from the BBC’s latest adaptation of The War of the Worlds (Sundays). Everything about that era, apparently, was hateful, backward and ripe for destruction: regressive attitudes to women and homosexuality; exultant white supremacy (cue, a speech from a government minister on the superiority of the Anglo-Saxon race); a general prevailing bone-headedness and stuck-upness; stiff, stuffy, relentlessly brown clothing with superfluous belts; and as for those ridiculous bristling moustaches…
Still, I don’t think H.G. Wells would have been totally appalled by this travesty of his 1898 potboiler. Wells was, after all, a man of the left who would later write of Stalin: ‘I have never met a man more fair, candid and honest’, and who flirted with most of the politically correct causes of his day, from Fabianism to anti-imperalism. Early in the book, he rails against the ‘extermination’ of Tasmanian Aborigines by ‘European immigrants’, asking: ‘Are we such apostles of mercy as to complain if the Martians warred in the same spirit?’
Speed is in my blood. My father, grandfather and great-grandfather all used to race cars in their youth. We even have a hill-climb specialist car part-named after us, the Dellow. Just after I’d passed my test, my dad let me share the driving in his V12 Jag en route to our holiday home in Devon. I vividly remember him rebuking me whenever I let the speedometer dial creep below 100mph.
So I suppose it was inevitable that naughty habits would catch up with me in the end and that I’d find myself doing one of those compulsory speed awareness courses.
The highlight of my country calendar is when I’m lucky enough to be invited to what even the host describes as ‘the world’s best worst shoot’. It’s the worst shoot because the bag is often truly atrocious. This year, for example, in the course of six or possibly seven drives — the details are hazy — we managed a total of nine birds between us. That works out at an average of one and one eighth of a bird per gun over an entire day. But still, disappointingly, we were well short of the all-time record low of three.
I’d love to be able to blame this shaming tally on poor gamekeeping: ‘Of course, I’d have bagged loads more if a single bloody pheasant had flown anywhere near my peg the entire day.’ But in all honesty it wasn’t the birds that were the problem so much as the useless gits standing under their flight path. Some of us kept missing because we were too coldy or decrepit; some of us because we were too laidback even to bother raising our guns; some because we don’t really like killing things that much; some because we’re simply lousy shots.
The initials BBC no longer serve as a badge of quality but as a warning flag.
‘Here’s your new Sunday night obsession…’ the BBC announcer purred, overintoned and mini-orgasmed, like she was doing an audition for a Cadbury’s Flake commercial, ‘… a dazzling drama with a stellar cast.’
My hackles rose. Did no one ever mention to her the rule about ‘show not tell’? And my hackles were right. His Dark Materials has indeed become my Sunday night obsession: how can the BBC’s most-expensive-ever drama series possibly look, sound and feel so clunkingly, God-awfully, disappointingly flat?
A decade on, the scam I exposed is stronger than ever
Every journalist dreams of the scoop that will make his name. Ten years ago this month I finally got mine – but I’m still not altogether sure it was worth it. On the upside, my story went viral, got me a much bigger audience – from the the United States to Oz – and established my spiky, edgy reputation for in-your-face contrarianism. On the downside, though, for every ardent fan it made me it probably lost me a couple more: ‘But he used to be so funny and clever. Now he’s just one of those anti-science, climate change denier cranks…’.
You can search a whole lifetime for a scoop but when it comes, it often comes unbidden. Mine dropped into my lap when I was sitting at my desk one morning, wondering what to write next for my Telegraph blog, when I noticed an interesting story starting to break on the Watts Up With That? website. All I did was top, tail, adapt it and popularise it by giving it a bit of snark, context and spin. Then I nicked the title from a commenter called ‘Bulldust’ (an Aussie, as it happens). Et voilà! Climategate was born.
How sorry I felt for the poor man who died this week stuck up a 290ft chimney in Carlisle despite desperate attempts — helicopter; cherry-picker — by the emergency services to rescue him. We’re so used to the idea that no matter how precarious or remote our plight — be it stranded kids deep inside a flooded cave in Thailand or tourists who’ve had their feet bitten off while snorkelling in Australia’s Whitsundays — those amazing emergency services will get us to safety in the end. It comes as quite a shock to be reminded that survival isn’t always inevitable.
Plus: why BBC1’s Dublin Murders is a much better bet than BBC2’s The Name of the Rose
Not an awful lot in my view. Some people cite David Attenborough’s nature documentaries but I certainly wouldn’t now that they have become so obtrusively propagandistic. The problem with the BBC isn’t — and never has been — lack of talented filmmakers, wildlife camera crews, presenters, actors, writers or production teams. It’s that, from news to drama, the BBC’s woke politics now subsume and corrupt its entire output.
It’s a reimagining of a British imperial atrocity which took place in Natal in 1879 and was subsequently made into a disgracefully jingoistic 1964 movie, and despite its problematic subject matter — the bad guys won — I reckon it will be a shoo-in for an award at the new-look, diversity–compliant Bafta.
Idris Elba will play the Michael Caine role, obviously; I’m thinking Lenny Henry as Lieutenant Chard, and the cast of Top Boy as the various VC-winning NCOs and men of the 24th of Foot. The Zulus will all be played by actual Zulus because anything else would be cultural appropriation, but one Impi will be in a wheelchair and another will be entirely transgender to emphasise their stunning bravery.
How could TV about boardroom skullduggery possible be quite this involving and exciting?
Which wasn’t what I expected when my friend Toby recommended it to me a few weeks ago. ‘It’s about this media dynasty, a bit like the Murdochs. And the kids spend their whole time scheming and competing as to which one is eventually going to take over the company from the bullying patriarch Logan Roy,’ he said. This all sounded a bit grown-up, earnest and worthy to me.
‘Hands up which other university parents are bloody glad to have got rid of their lumpen, food-gobbling, space-invading kids…’
When I tweeted this the other day having just dumped my offspring at Durham I got accused of being a bad father. But I don’t think I am. A bad father wouldn’t have been labouring in the dark at 12.30 a.m. getting the car packed for the long trek north. A bad father wouldn’t have forked out so liberally and uncomplainingly for all those things they spring on you when you arrive — 30-odd quid for the week’s JCR induction entertainments; 25 quid (50 if you’d been naive enough to buy new) for a gown they’ll probably only wear about twice…