Something less boring instead

Last of the Summer Wine, Blind Date, David Kelly's suicide....why they are all TV turn-offs.

Patrick West

Patrick West

Topics Culture
  • Tyrannical TV

There are always types of TV programmes that prompt viewers to reach violently for the remote control. Readers of this week’s Radio Times have, for instance, nominated Last of the Summer Wine as the programme they’d like to see removed from the airwaves. Others might include Songs of Praise, the sight of politicians in general, or cricket. We all have our nominees.

When I was a child, my bête noir was suddenly being confronted on weekday afternoons with the fat trade unionists making long boring speeches on BBC1 – unexpectedly pushing the likes of Grange Hill and Dogtanian and the Three Muskehounds to BBC2. As a student, it was that bit on Blind Date when they used to try to pair two old dears, prompting myself and no doubt the entire nation to switch to Noel’s House Party. And when I look back at my late twenties I will probably nominate any coverage of the Hutton Inquiry.

When Dr David Kelly was found dead in the woods, everyone who vaguely follows goings-on in the world was shocked to some degree. Over time this shock turned to concern, feigned inquisitiveness, boredom and now just sheer rage at merely seeing or hearing the names Hutton, Hoon or Gilligan on screen or in print. I am sure I am not alone in this, or wondering why the issue of the missing WMDs or the chaos in Iraq does not command more time on the airwaves.

It is not difficult to see why media coverage of the affair is disproportionately big. Since it does regard its own conduct, the BBC is naturally giving it ample coverage. Consequently, ITN and Sky have a interest in knocking their rivals. Conservative newspapers in turn are giving large acreage because they want to give the BBC a good kicking, while to leftwing papers and their readers it is further proof that the government they had so many hopes for has sorely ‘let them down’.

Saturation media coverage is not going to help. It may even be counterproductive. The longer this state of affairs continues the more the public are going to plead ‘enough! enough!’. It will get to the stage that we won’t give a monkey’s who sexed-up what, just as long as we are subjected to not a minute more speculation about that bloody 45-minute warning.

If I were a conspiracy theorist, I’d say that’s exactly what the BBC and Blair are up to. Have they made a diabolic pact to bore the public into submission? ‘You set up an inquiry that never ends, we’ll do never-ending coverage of it – within three months the public will be screaming for mercy! They’ll be begging for repeats of One Man and His Dog or Highway with Harry Secombe.’

  • The party’s over

Smarting from their triumph in the Brent East by-election, the Liberal Democrats have been issuing all manner of backslapping prognostications, about how they will soon assume the mantle of Britain’s main opposition party. Pundits say that the Conservatives will consequently be banished to the status of third-place irrelevance.

I think such optimism is well-founded, but the second half of this equation is wrong. As outlandish as it seems, I predict that it is not the Conservatives, but Labour, that will eventually become Britain’s third party.

What we are witnessing is the Labour Party haemorrhaging its traditional left-wing support towards the Liberal Democrats. They have tolerated the oily Tony Blair and his laissez-faire economic politics for seven years now, but for no longer: the Iraq war was the straw that broke the camel’s back, from which the Lib Dems are capitalising.

Lib Dem policies are more left-wing and ‘progressive’, calling for the top rate of income tax to rise to 50 percent, sex-education lessons for seven-year-olds, the abolition of all grammar schools, and so on. Thus Brent East was a victory for one side in a war to capture the heart of the Left, and may be one of many victories to come.

Come the next election, the Lib Dems will not be taking Conservative seats, but Labour ones. The rich middle classes who voted Labour, now disillusioned by rising taxes, will return to their Conservative fold. (Naturally, this depends on the Tories getting a leader worthy of the name. But this is the only factor absent from this prophetical jigsaw.) Labour is already losing the electorate’s trust, its core supporters and – crucially – its identity. In seeking power, Tony Blair sold his party’s soul and in doing so laid the seeds of its destruction.

While I’m at it, I also predict that Tottenham Hotspur will get relegated.

  • Fogey observations: on cyclists

What with the return of the school year and the school run, it is time once again to start sermonising to drivers about what selfish polluters they are. True, but while we’re at it, let’s vilify cyclists too. They are not saintly people, as many of their numbers would have us believe. They are often far ruder and more aggressive than motorists, and less considerate of pedestrians. This is because many of them have got both superiority and victim complexes. (Of course, I don’t mean all of them. As football commentators like to parrot when there has been a riot: ‘We must remember that the vast majority of them are decent and law-abiding.’)

Cyclists feel aggrieved that they run the gauntlet of motorised traffic, which they also regard with haughty contempt. Why else do they wear those preposterous masks? Because of this they feel no reason to play by the same rules. Cyclists appear to think that traffic lights do not apply to them, and that cycling on pavements is perfectly acceptable. Try to tell an average cyclist this as he pedals his way along one and he will tell you literally to fuck off.

Motorists have road rage. Cyclists have the greater rage – that of the aggrieved, self-righteous victim.

Patrick West is the author of Conspicuous Compassion: Why Sometimes it Really is Cruel to be Kind, Civitas, 2004. Buy this book from Amazon (UK).

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Topics Culture


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