With the censuring of Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross for the awful comments on BBC radio, perhaps the tide is turning on the often terrible things that pop up on prime time television. Producers of EastEnders and Corrie will have to think twice before running distasteful storylines and no doubt RTE will have to consider Tommy Tiernan’s Late Late Show promotional slots.
BBC4 got into the costume drama business, with a romantic tale about the most prolific of romantic novelists, Barbara Cartland – a vision in pink dresses, almost pink hair and definitely pink wigs. In Love With Barbara looked at the curious life behind the romantic novelist who seemed afraid of sex and harboured romantic notions for her own brother, a Tory MP who died in the war and Lord Dickie Mountbatten, who was killed by the IRA in Co Donegal.
She penned over five hundred books, at the rate of one a month, dictating to tape and the secretaries and her work was fluffy, posh Mills And Boon; in her later life she was a figure of fun on television. The tv drama showed her early life in gentile poverty and Sinead Matthews caught the mood so well. Anne Reid was splendid as the dottier Barbara. David Warner was excellent as the smarmy Mountbatton.
UTV got into the costume drama business with a romcom copy of High School Musical and Fame. Britannia High is set in a British Performing Arts School of the title but the performers look like the almost forgotten teenpop sensation, S. Club 7, with a touch of the contemporary dance clubs and a hot choice of tunes, mostly penned by pop comeback artiste Gary Barlow.
It has lots of pastiche, with girls worrying about being a little fat, black boys with dreadlocks, a basketball player, a bit of hip hop, a dash of graffiti. If this works it will go all the way and the cast are likeable and good looking in the clean dreamy Hannah Montana way. It lacks humour and a joke confusing Simon Callow with Simon Cowell falls flatter than pancake makeup. But what the frock is Mark Benton, the fat guy from the bank adverts doing talking teacher talk about Stanislawski. Most of the UK critics think it’s awful but in the words of one of the songs – this could be the start of something good. Now, where have we heard that line before?
Following on from the massive publicity that crash-test, celebrity Kerry Katona got from her live on air baby’s birth, she got MTV to show, in all its bloody sordid splendour, her breast reduction and nipple repositioning. Talk about making a tit of yourself. She went from saggy fun baggies to pert under your chin nipples and then took part in a photo shoot in the sun for Zoo Magazine; aptly named magazine in this leap off a publicity cliff show. Tele celebrity must be a drug – a visual high – and despite any moral clucking or tut-tutting, I watched it to the end.
They must have a sense of humour at BBC1, bringing the smoke and dagger, spies and lies, show Spooks back for Halloween. It’s slickly done, with rapid editing, most of the recent faces, car chases, gruesome killings, lots of tension and sharp edit of talking heads and hard faced women kicking the liathroidi out of terrorists. It out Bondages Bond with black leather, stiff-upper lips state-of-the-art tv screens, mobile phones and high tech tracking between kickings. But the good guys are nice and the bad wans heading for oblivion and Casualty in Cardiff with Doctor Who and Captain Jack.
BBC1 have launched another Dickens tale in the bonnets and bodices series, with Little Dorrit. A complex tale, not as well known as other Dickens’ stories but populated with a superb cast of eccentric and engaging characters. Lots of well-known faces and the central theme of poverty, debtors prison and broken promises has a never colder edge in the current climate of uncertainty. Tom Courtenay is superb as the resident debtor in Marshalsea and Andy Serkis as the French murderer is eerily over the top. Expect orphans looking for mothers, people falling in love with unsuitable people and lots of debts. A bank collapses and people’s fortunes are reversed. There is the bewildering Circumlocation office that is like the HSE gone crazy with rules, regulations and mean’s testing under a different name.
Imagine the BBC had all this planned before the recession began. This series will run into 2009 and will surprise people who stick with its stories.
RTE1 broadcast a great Liam Clancy concert from the New York venue, the Bitter End and despite its late night slot, you got legendary stuff with Odetta and Shane McGowan. Clancy seems to defy the years and his songs and stories gives him a new vigour and status. A legend several times over in his own lifetime.