for Sunday 26th October
[The Mail On Sunday, 2003]
CONCORDE: A LOVE STORY - TIMEWATCH
BBC 2, Sunday
CROOKED TARTS AND CORONETS
Channel 4, Thursday
PORNOGRAPHY: THE MUSICAL
Channel 4, Tuesday
THE SOUTH BANK SHOW
THERE ARE weeks when it seems that everything worthwhile on the box has come from America. Not this week. This week homegrown telly caught the eye. All of it was intriguing, if not always on purpose.
Take Indian Dream, a one-off drama which combined Ken Loach's cosy humour with the crusading zeal of Richard Curtis. Arriving in a picturesque Home Counties village, Surinder Gupta - a subcontinental tourist turned accidental refugee - experiences the same ravished sense of exotic wonder that an English visitor might feel in Tamil Nadu during the festival of Holi. Then the locals, including a British Asian doctor, turn against him, and things get nasty, after a quaint fashion.
The film raised some fair points - most notably, how many of those who hate and fear asylum seekers have actually met one? Still, assuming it's possible to mount a romantic comedy upon a soapbox, Indian Dream lacked the script to carry it off. The characters functioned, barely, as mindsets on legs. There may be folk who talk that way, but I've only encountered them in painfully contrived ghetto programming like this.
Somewhere, you suspect, a box has been ticked, a quota has been met, finer work has been overlooked. The threadbare play-within-a-play conceit and cloth-eared dialogue gave off a whiff of “That'll do for them”. Do for who? I can't imagine this programme appealing to anyone bar a particular breed of guilty worrywart which - outside of the BBC - may survive in far smaller numbers than is generally supposed.
For an insight into all things British, you were better off with Concorde: A Love Story. Here was a tale of gumption, ingenuity and resolve; of parochialism, pettiness and calamitous fiscal ineptitude. Giant sums were spent by the exchequer, to the direct benefit solely of Concorde's passengers, the last people in the world who needed a subsidy. Yet the taxpaying public adored the aeroplane, seeing it as both a symbol and a beautiful, communal work of art.
We heard, too, from the Biggleswade dissenters who led the campaign against Concorde in the 1970s - an entire family of EL Wistys, equipped with a mimeograph machine and badly printed T-shirts. “We each had one of these, in different colours,” droned a junior Wisty, for whom this was evidently a thrill that supersonic flight could not rival.
Cutting Edge: Crooked Tarts and Coronets recounted, hilariously, how a pair of extras from Prisoner Cell Block H posed as money-spinning businesswomen and conned the most unpleasant, snobbish and greedy elements of British society out of millions of quid. Of course, criminal fraud is a very serious matter, and must never be trivialised or condoned, but still - hahahaha! Hahahahaha!
Like Scarlett O'Hara, Aussie brothel madams Evelyn and Lyla had vowed never to be poor again. Evelyn (picture a moral vacuum in the shape of Charles Durning) explained that English class distinctions are a fraudster's boon, and you could see why. The cameo appearances by a ripe assortment of nobs, toadies and horse-botherers were so exquisitely comical that I double-checked the credits to make sure they hadn't been staged by spoof documentarist Rob Bryden.
Discounting those genuinely innocent victims, the hired help, this show provided as delicious a heaping of schadenfreude as you'll find on TV. Nowadays, that's saying something.
Any occupant of a grubby raincoat can tell you that art and porn don't mix. Pornography: The Musical - a title which for some reason calls to mind Mel Brooks' unstaged spectacular, Hitler On Ice - must have been a grave disappointment to any viewer plying the remote with his weaker hand.
This was yet another sex-industry documentary, with bells on. Five and Sky have been making them for years, without any pseudo-cultural pretexts. There are two basic types: the ebullient, titillating, laddish variety, and the furrowed-brow, finger-wagging sort beloved of the pro-censorship tendency. Trouble is, there's just one way to stop men looking at porn, and it's not by getting rid of the porn. It's by getting rid of the men - which remains, for the time being, impractical.
“Men will always want porn and women will always do porn but never understand why,” said skin flick veteran Kelly Cooke. This was far more succinct and enlightening than anything in the superfluous musical numbers.
The lyrics, from poet Simon Armitage, could only cast an interpretive veil of guesswork over what we'd heard moments ago from women who lived what they described. A pub stripper, whose nakedness stimulated in me nothing more than sympathetic gooseflesh, detailed her workload: “I do nasty videos, rough sex, corporal punishment, bondage, girl-girl, boy-girl, softcore, hardcore, lap-dancing, table-dancing, striptease shows, photo shoots. . .”. Perhaps recalling the counsel of WC Fields, she drew the line at “animals and children.”
By focusing on some unsavoury specialties, Pornography: The Musical ensured that it would be shocking, but it was in no way surprising. The porn world was shown to be sleazy and exploitative. Many of the women in it are suggestible, weak-willed and eager for cash. Well, aren't we all? The difference is most of us would be offered money to put our clothes back on.
There was more drooling over succulent young flesh on ITV1, but as the drooler was Germaine Greer - rather than, say, some lust-ridden old troglodyte - it was accorded a slot on The South Bank Show.
Greer was arguing, persuasively, for the primacy of the young male nude in Western art history. “Today most people think it's the undraped female form that is the principal source of visual pleasure in art.” How does Greer know this? Perhaps by “most people” she means “most people who've never been to a museum.” For Greer's premise to appear challenging, first a prejudice must be invented. Her film was useful and engaging enough without one.
Little Friends saw a clutch of evil tykes emulate the pranks of Ali G, Dom Joly and Dennis Pennis. It was very funny, principally because it was happening to someone else. I've never much enjoyed japes that prey upon the goodwill of passers-by, but public figures, celebrities and Darren Day are fair game.
“You once said your biggest crime was to have an eye for the girls,” a solemn, bespectacled child reminded Day. “Mine was burning an owl. Which would you say is worse?”
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