What’s amazing about Jeremy Thorpe is that it genuinely didn’t occur to him that murdering someone might be illegal or immoral.
Every time a friend succeeds, I die a little, so you can imagine how sickened I was by the magisterial TV adaptation of John Preston’s A Very English Scandal (BBC1, Sundays).
I’ve known Preston for years. It’s him I have to thank for the compendious collection of CDs rotting in my attic, from the ten years or so I spent working under him (he was the arts editor) as the Sunday Telegraph’s rock critic. But though I’ve hugely enjoyed all his quirky, low-key, sardonically amused novels — loosely on the theme of ‘quiet desperation is the English way’ —I never imagined he’d luck out quite so spectacularly as he has with this truly splendid all-star production.
Plus: gritty, gripping Euro noir on BBC4 and a stylish new country-house whodunit on BBC One
Because I’m a miserable old reactionary determined to see a sinister Guardianista plot in every BBC programme I watch, I sat stony-faced through much of Cunk On Britain (BBC2, Tuesdays).
Philomena Cunk (played by Diane Morgan) is a spoof comedy character who used to appear on Charlie Brooker’sWeekly Wipe and has now been given a full series. Though the character is amiable enough — a heroically thick Northern woman in a smart jacket who goes around Britain making stupid observations and asking celebrity historians dumb questions — I can’t quite work out what the point of the joke is.
Is it a send-up of dumbed-down Britain? Is it designed to make TV history experts look pompous? Is it Molesworth reimagined for 21st-century viewers who’ve never read Down with Skool!? Is it Ali G without the awkward racial element, which would likely never get past the censors now?
In the U.S. – thanks largely to Donald Trump – the skeptics are winning the climate argument.
But in the rest of the Western world, skeptics are losing big time because, increasingly, their voices are being censored. Nowhere is this more painfully true than in the UK, where the BBC has now officially been reprimanded by a state watchdog for telling the truth about climate change.
No really. It sounds absurd to the point of lunacy. But this is what Ofcom – Britain’s state regulator of broadcast media – has done in its latest ruling.
The BBC had run a radio interview in August 2017 with a climate skeptic – Lord Lawson (formerly Chancellor of the Exchequer under Margaret Thatcher). Lord Lawson made several statements about climate change, all but one of them entirely accurate.
“We do have in this country, in England, one of the highest energy costs in the world”
[in response to interviewers’ “The point Al Gore makes is that we subsidise all energy, including fossil fuel energy”] “No we don’t. That’s not true. We tax fossil fuel energy. Anyway, we subsidise renewable energy”.
Complaints were made by a person or persons unknown and Ofcom investigated. It decided, grudgingly, that the above claims were defensible.
What make it are the tiny, beautifully observed details and its emotional heart.
Sometimes — really not often but sometimes — a programme that’s good and honest and true slips under the wire of the BBC’s jealously guarded PC agenda and makes a home run. The latest to do so is a deadpan comedy series called This Country (BBC3).
It’s so deadpan that it’s easy to see why an earlier pilot episode for ITV crashed and burned. If you were channel-hopping and lingered on it for five minutes, you might easily mistake it for an earnest, worthy, achingly tedious fly-on-the-wall documentary series about the poverty and despair of left-behind rural England. This impression is enhanced by screeds that occasionally appear on screen giving you, say, statistics illustrative of the funding crisis in healthcare outside the big cities.
But it is, in fact, a mockumentary. A rustic variant, if you will, on Ricky Gervais’s The Office. (Another of those rare BBC home runs. And, incidentally, do you know how long ago that was? 2001 it started. In fact, it predates 9/11.)
Politics aside, Simon Schama has the makings of a first-rate TV historian.
Most of the history I know and remember comes from my inspirational prep school teacher Mr Bradshaw. History was taught so much better in those days. It was all kings and queens, battles and dates, with no room for any of that nonsense like,‘Imagine you are a suffragette going to protest the oppressive male hegemony at the races. Describe how it feels to be crushed by the king’s horse.’
Nor was there any question that you were participating in some kind of collaborative learning experience. Your ‘master’ taught; you listened and learned — and occasionally made distracting jokes and got bits of chalk chucked at you. That was the deal and it worked very well. This was the tail end of the era defined by programmes like Kenneth Clark’s Civilisation: one still confident enough to imagine that there are such things as good and bad art, superior and inferior cultures, right and wrong judgments.
It’s at least as well acted, suspenseful and sexy as The Night Manager.
My third most fervent New Year wish — just after Litecoin goes to £20,000 and Jacob Rees-Mogg becomes PM — is for the BBC to retire to its study with its service pistol and a bottle of whisky and finally do the decent thing.
After all, as lots of people are beginning to notice, when you spend 40 per cent of your viewing time watching your £79-a-year Amazon Prime, and another 40 per cent on £96-a-year Netflix, your compulsory £145.50 licence fee starts to look like a lot of money to pay for the remaining 20 per cent’s worth of diversity outreach, anti-Brexit whining and green propaganda.
That’s why I was so very disappointed by the BBC’s first big New Year offering. McMafia (Tuesdays) is so brilliant that it almost disproves my point. It’s at least as well acted, suspenseful and sexy to look at as The Night Manager was. So far, it doesn’t look remotely PC. And, unlike its similarly classy, high-budget predecessor, it has the massive bonus of not being burdened by John le Carré’s weird, cartoonish, out-of-date geopolitics.
Why the Detectorists is the most subversive sitcom on the BBC.
It’s a weird sensation getting your child back for an extended period when for the previous decade you’ve been packing him off every few weeks back to boarding school. Obviously, it’s quite pleasant, amusing and enlightening to study at close hand and at length this alien thing that you’ve bred. At the same time, though, they don’t half become a discombobulatingly overbearing presence.
For example, in the old days I would definitely have reviewed Howards End, even though I can’t stand E.M. Forster or the ghastly pinko Schlegel sisters. But now that the Fawn and I no longer have the house to ourselves, we have to fall in with Boy’s viewing schedule, which is largely comprised of quiz shows.
Any quiz show, pretty much. His tastes extend from the most intellectual of intellectual — the painfully abstruse Only Connect, with its horned vipers and twisted sheaves and Victoria Coren with her Sphinx-like smile — to the veritably brainless (but horribly addictive) Tipping Point, where the skill owes less to general knowledge than to judging when to release the disc that pushes all the other discs over the edge, as in that cascade game they have in penny arcades.
Paul McCartney has called out Donald Trump, claiming that the president’s refusal to believe in man-made climate change is “madness.”
Tofu-bothering, meat-shunner Macca – responsible for inflicting on the world such platitudinous dirges and twee excrescences as Ebony and Ivory, Wonderful Christmas Time and The Frogs’ Chorus – was promoting his new vegetarian propaganda video.
“[Vegetarianism] not the total solution, but it’s part of the solution,” McCartney said. “A lot of people have been saying this for a long time but there’s resistance.”
“Particularly when you’ve got someone like Trump who says that [climate change] is just a hoax. A lot of people like myself think that’s just madness so it’s maybe a good time now to try and focus people’s attention and say ‘look, forget about him we can do something.’”
In the video McCartney, two of his daughters, and the actor Woody Harrelson preach the virtues of going veggie just for one day a week.
What upset James Delingpole far more this week was the miscarriage of justice in Netflix’s The Confession Tapes.
The opening of Gunpowder (BBC1, Saturdays) was just about the most knuckle-gnawingly tense ten minutes I’ve ever seen on TV.
It’s 1603 and James I is on the throne. At the Warwickshire great house of Baddesley Clinton, a group of aristocratic Catholics, including Robert Catesby (Kit Harington) and Anne Vaux (Liv Tyler), are celebrating Mass illicitly when a party of armed men begins hammering at the door.
Quickly, the various guerrilla priests — a senior Jesuit Henry Garnet and two young acolytes — are bundled into hiding, two in a priest hole set behind some panelling, one in a chest. The search party enters, led by an implacable witchfinder-general type who pursues his task with sadistic relish and grim efficiency. As the priests cower, their terror palpable, the search party sets about measuring the house within and without to see if there is any discrepancy in the dimensions.
An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power, which follows the ex-VP’s continuing attempts to raise awareness of global warming, made $900,000 across 180 screens on the weekend of August 4-6, according to Box Office Mojo.
But the original made $1,356,387 across just 77 screens at the same point in its run in 2006, leaving Paramount’s confidence in the movie’s appeal looking misplaced.