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classy, high-budget predecessor, it has the massive bonus of not being burdened by John le Carré’s weird, cartoonish, out-of-date geopolitics.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.
Its documentary Daughters of Destiny, about a remarkable free school for India’s untouchables, doesn’t steer you to any conclusions but lets you think for yourself.
All this week I have been trying, with considerable success, to avoid being bludgeoned by TV programmes telling me in various sensitive and imaginative ways just how brilliant, heroic and historically maligned homosexual men are. I achieved this by sticking to Netflix.
One of the great things about Netflix (whose annual subscription costs just half the BBC licence fee, by the way) is that though it’s probably run by lefties it doesn’t try to ram its politics down your throat. Maybe this is one reason why its 100 million-plus subscribers are so much less resentful than BBC viewers: they’re being offered choice, variety, entertainment — not worthiness, race, gender quotas and compulsory indoctrination.
This week Netflix helped me catch up — under Girl’s instruction — with an addictively trashy series from 2012 about spoilt rich kids in New York called Gossip Girl; and also with a gripping documentary series — Captive — about how horrible it is being taken hostage. Best of all, though, was Daughters of Destiny — a four-part series telling the delightful true story of the Shanti Bhavan school in India’s Tamil Nadu province.
Here is what the Chancellor of Britain’s University of Kent thinks about Breitbart.
Völkischer Beobachter was, of course, the house newspaper in Germany in the 1930s and 1940s of the NSDAP – aka the Nazi party. So what Esler is doing here in his not-so-subtle way is accusing Breitbart of being a Nazi publication.
Yes, part of me thinks: so what? Angry leftists are forever accusing people who disagree with them of being Nazis; and of course in Breitbart’s case the charge is especially absurd given that Breitbart’s founder and CEO (together with several senior editors) is Jewish, that the site is pro-Israel, pro-freedom-of-speech, pro-property-rights, pro-free-markets, pro-civil-liberties, pro-democracy – none of which policies would have found much favor with the Nazis.
In order to protect the £2.25million salary of an irritating millionaire, squads of bullies are paid to hunt down those who don’t pay the unfair fee.
WOULD you rather go to prison than contribute to Chris Evans’ next vintage Ferrari?
Preposterously, this is a genuine choice.
Suppose last year you accidentally watched his brief, disastrous stint as Jeremy Clarkson’s replacement on Top Gear, and suppose in disgust you had refused to pay your £147 BBC licence fee.
First you’d have been given a fine of up to £1,000 — and if you still couldn’t, or wouldn’t, cough up then next you’d face a stint behind bars and a criminal record.
Is this fair? To anyone outside Britain, it’s not just unfair but sheer insanity.
The marvellous thing about our ancient justice system, we’re always told, is that it protects rich and poor without fear or favour.
Yet here we have a situation in which, in order to protect the £2.25million (approx) salary of an irritating millionaire, squads of bullies are paid to hunt down defaulters with such aggression and zeal you’d think they were hunting fugitive serial killers.
In BBC2’s The Box That Changed the World, Melvyn Bragg presented a Whiggish view of TV history so full of bien-pensant drivel that I had to switch over to ITV2
Melvyn Bragg on TV: The Box That Changed the World (BBC2, Saturday) was just what you would have expected of a critical appreciation of 75 years of TV, filmed at Bafta and presented by one of the BBC’s pre-eminent house luvvies. As an antidote I had to switch over to ITV2 to watch Love Island.
Yes, I hate Love Island too — every episode leaves me feeling soiled. It’s a mating game show, in which couples compete to shag one another in Majorca for a £50,000 prize, and, with ratings of around 1.7 million, it’s probably the most talked about programme on TV, which fashionable people are pretending to enjoy to show how down they are with popular culture. But I only watch it to keep Girl company and to reinforce my prejudice that we are fast approaching the end of western civilisation. Had reality TV existed in Rome in the late 4th century, I’m sure they would have made programmes exactly like this.
All the boy contestants are heavily worked-out lummocks who wouldn’t have a clue what to do with an aubergine unless it was something quite disgusting; all the girls wear revealing costumes, often with skimpy briefs that ride up their bottom cracks. But though there’s lots of talk of sex — rude charade games, naughty banter, plus some actual bonking (twice so far, though by previous series’ standards this is apparently quite abstemious) — it’s all weirdly unerotic.