TV UK, 16 March

On the absence of a St Patrick's Day theme night: 'After Friday's extravaganza of charitable tat on BBC1, a whole night of emerald effluent would be too much even for people who like that sort of thing.'

Dolan Cummings

Topics Politics

What, no St Patrick’s theme night? There must be some mistake.

This is the sort of thing Saturday night schedulers live for – an opportunity to Pad out the evening with patronising crap in the guise of good fun. They’ve really dropped the ball this time.

There is a ‘Paddy’s night’ from 9.00pm on the enigmatically named BBC Choice (digital only). This comprises a couple of films, a couple of shorts and a Top of the Pops Special on U2. I think it’s in the right place. But what about the usual Saturday night suspects?

BBC2 starts off all highbrow at 7.15pm with an Omnibus on ‘Botticelli – visions of violence and beauty’. This follows Masters of the Universe (don’t get excited, art lovers: it’s a film about He-Man), but it’s nice to have a bit of Renaissance up against Blind Date and the National Lottery.

Next up is Walk on By: The Story of Popular Song, an engaging history of popular music beginning with Tin Pan Alley, before BBC2 finally succumbs to Saturday night fever with ‘I Love 1988’ (1).

Channel 4 also starts well with John Wayne at 7.45pm (Hondo: I don’t think I know it, but you can’t go wrong with the Duke), but then takes a spectacular dive with the Celebrity Big Brother Omnibus at 9.15pm. Perhaps this is why St Patrick has been neglected. Who needs to make fun of the Irish when we have celebrities queuing up to make fools of themselves for Comic Relief?

After Friday’s extravaganza of charitable tat on BBC1, a whole night of emerald effluent would be too much even for people who like that sort of thing.

The aforementioned will doubtless find time to relive Celebrity Big Brother (CBB) though. Now that Popstars has gone downhill (even the Bible fades towards the end), there is a gap in the market for cringe-making TV. CBB was like a combination of Hello! magazine and Sartre’s No Exit, forcing each participant to the conclusion that hell is other celebrities.

Some have complained that the participants weren’t real celebrities anyway – as if the inclusion of a Spice Girl or two would have made this a quality piece of TV. The programme’s makers know their audience better than that.

To be fair, Channel 4 doesn’t only excel in fluff. It also specialises in hip, new, ground-breaking drama. The latest effort in this mould does for teachers what Psychos did for psychiatrists and North Square did for lawyers. Teachers begins on Wednesday at 10pm, and as you’d expect, it features irreverent, young, good-looking types with overlapping home and work lives. There’s also plenty of industrial language and illicit smoking.

Superficially, it all seems a bit formulaic (especially as the star has been drafted in from This Life), but at least it doesn’t have the sanctimonious, Blairite aroma of the BBC’s superhead drama Hope and Glory, starring Lenny ‘Comic Relief’ Henry. In any case, these things take time to develop. If the protagonists seem a little cynical even for teachers, maybe it’s because they know that Psychos and North Square both got dumped after just one promising series.

I mean, if we aren’t prepared to make a serious long-term investment in our teachers, how can we expect them to produce a generation that doesn’t think Botticelli’s Venus sounds a bit rude?

Dolan Cummings is publications editor at the Institute of Ideas, and editor of Culture Wars. He is also the editor of Reality TV: How Real Is Real?, Hodder Murray, 2002 (buy this book from Amazon (UK) or Amazon (USA)).

Read on:

spiked-issue: TV

(1) See Why I don’t love the 1980s, by Brendan O’Neill

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Topics Politics


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