TV UK, 13 December

Judge Deed's combination of personal empathy and state power is unnerving. After a brief heart-to-heart with his secretary, he'll pop on the old wig and pass sentence.

Dolan Cummings

Topics Politics

There used to be a comedy sketch show on Channel 4 called Absolutely, which was mostly rubbish, as sketch shows are. Occasionally, though, it hit the mark. One sketch that is embedded in my mind is set in a waiting room, during the World Cup in 1990, where one man is humming a little tune to himself.

After a few seconds, another man explodes with rage. ‘That is ‘Nessum Dorma’! It is an aria from Puccini’s opera Turandot!’ The first man shrugs. ‘It’s the World Cup theme song.’ The opera buff is furious. ‘Do you know anything about opera?’, he demands. ‘No, I just like the tune.’ There follows more shouting and some jumping up and down.

People like that hate Lesley Garrett. The Diva from Doncaster is an accomplished soprano (God’s gift to Mozart and Handel) who is dedicated to ‘bringing music to the people’. To that end, Garrett hosts a show on Saturday evenings (BBC2, 8.10pm) in which she and her guests sing bits and pieces of opera and other classical music. As if it weren’t bad enough to package the classics for mass consumption, Garrett seasons the mix with show-tunes, pop songs and God knows what.

It’s all good, clean fun, really. Those of us who’d like to see some harder stuff on TV (oh, please) should not complain just because the down-to-earth Yorkshire lass hasn’t joined the bienpensant boycott of Andrew Lloyd Webber. Lesley Garrett is light entertainment – it’s Saturday night, for Christ’s sake. I’m especially looking forward to the Christmas special (Saturday 22), in which Lesley takes some Christmas cheer to New York, meeting Tony Bennett, Billy Joel, and that other classical tearaway, celebrity violinist Joshua Bell.

Nobody could accuse the Turner Prize of pandering to popular taste. But last week’s award ceremony (Channel 4, Sunday 9) was a bundle of laughs anyway. Britain’s biggest and most glamorous prize for visual art is now synonymous with the kind of apparently artless art that has people jumping up and down all over the country. It is hard to resist the suspicion that this is what the judges had in mind when they went for Martin Creed’s ‘The Lights Going On and Off’.

Creed himself was suitably unenlightening when talking about his work (1), instead replicating the amused detachment of presenter Matthew Collings (2). The star of the show, of course, was Madonna, who jabbered on about how art should be for love and not money before making that daring ‘statement’. As Collings observed, that woman sure does live on the edge. Artists, eh? You wouldn’t catch Madonna on the boring old Lesley Garrett show.

John Deed isn’t a big opera fan either. Deed is the BBC’s maverick judge, who defies convention as he battles moral dilemmas from the bench (Judge John Deed, BBC1, Mondays at 8.30pm). Unlike the cultured Inspector Morse, for example, Deed listens to trendy dance music in the car, and prefers food from the local Chinese (‘Your takeway, M’lud’). His one concession to other-worldliness is fencing, but his sparring partner is a woman!

Deed is the creation of GF Newman, regarded as a thorn in the side of the establishment and of the police in particular, for his gritty portrayal of police corruption and brutality in Law and Order in the 1970s, and various TV plays since. In fact, Newman still has a dim view of the police, but is now able to bash them from above with his heroic and principled judge.

Deed’s combination of personal empathy and state power is unnerving. After a brief heart-to-heart with his secretary in chambers, he’ll pop on the old wig and pass sentence. Last week he gained a valuable insight into violence when somebody threatened his daughter, which he put to immediate use in a case involving a brain-damaged former boxer. This week his relationship with his invalid father comes in handy in a euthanasia case.

Judges can afford to be ethical supermen and listen to their feelings, because they are in a sense ‘above politics’. That seems to have a strong appeal at a time when politics is regarded as a dirty business. The flipside, of course, is that you can’t answer back to a judge when you don’t like his ethics. Or his taste in music.

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 this gloriously unedited transcript on the Channel 4 website

(2) For more on the Terry Wogan of the art world, see TV UK, 27 July

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

Topics Politics


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