TV UK, 27 July

Hippies, hairdressers, 'Hello Culture'... and Richard and Judy.

Dolan Cummings

Topics Politics

Hello Culture is a startlingly unambitious name for a TV programme (Channel 4, Sundays at 10pm).

Accordingly, writer and presenter Matthew Collings does not try to explain or analyse culture. He just wants to walk up to it, shake its hand and say hello. Collings won a BAFTA for his last series, with the similarly uncomplicated title, This Is Modern Art.

I think my initial hostility to Matthew Collings was based on my mistaken belief that he used to be the hairdresser on This Morning. As a teenager I wasted many holiday mornings watching ITV’s flagship daytime magazine programme, vaguely anticipating an item about lingerie, but mainly wallowing in boredom.

My father always referred to programmes like This Morning as ‘women’s television’. ‘Why are you watching women’s television?’, he would demand. Shrug. Others were more flamboyant in their praise of the programme. The presenters Richard and Judy became cult figures with students (in that slightly fabricated way that things do become cults with students), and the show was a raging success throughout the 1990s.

The couple are now enough of a cultural phenomenon to have been poached from ITV by Channel 4, where they start a teatime show in September 2001, so that students won’t even have to get out of bed to watch.

Anyway, I looked it up and it turns out that the This Morning hairdresser was called Andrew Collinge, so Matthew Collings is off the hook, even if he does look like a hairdresser. His teenage years were more eventful than mine.

At the age of 14 Collings ran away to Canada in search of adventure. No doubt American readers will chortle at that one, but his opening episode (22 July) was all about ideas of wildness in culture, and the idea of the North was a case in point. Aside from Collings’ own reminiscences, the highlight was the bit about Glenn Gould, the crazy pianist who used to hum along with Bach.

Having spent years perfecting Bach in the recording studio, Gould made a radio programme using interweaving voices talking about the journey towards the Arctic. Collings himself seems to have been influenced by the idea of the voice as music. His narration swings up and down in pitch and volume in the oddest of places, as if he is reading a rather whimsical poem or telling a bad joke.

Collings’ tone is perfect for conveying casual disdain as he wanders around the Glastonbury festival. Superficially, the programme does not discriminate between high and low culture, but we are left in little doubt that today’s commercialised hippiedom is a step back from Wordsworth.

The second episode (29 July) looks at nihilism, bringing together Rimbaud and gangsta rap. Again, it’s all a bit arbitrary, but there are some good lines (God was Allah in Harar). We also meet Johnny Rotten, who rabbits on about how anger is good and hate is bad. Collings is unimpressed, and goes on to spend ages waiting for a wacky American artist to yawn for the camera.

After nihilism comes badness (5 August) with Lord Byron, Mick Jagger, Aleister Crowley and Marilyn Manson. Collings reckons the Marquis de Sade’s libertine thinking is pretty much mainstream today, with ‘liberal attitudes to sex and marriage, and nothing but mindless sex on TV’.

Absolutely. So where are Richard and Judy?

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)).

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Topics Politics


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