TV UK, 27 June

People only invoke the 'Golden Age of television' sarcastically, to justify the rubbish that is broadcast today.

Dolan Cummings

Topics Politics

I don’t know whether it’s the intrinsic beauty of the music or the fact that it reminds me of my childhood, but somehow the theme from Blake’s 7 makes me want to cry.

The classic British science-fiction series is currently showing on the Sci-Fi Channel on Saturday and Sunday nights. I have only a vague memory of the programme, and that’s from after Blake himself left the story, so it is great to see these early episodes. Of course it’s easy to get nostalgic about the great TV you remember from childhood. In my case, I, Claudius, and The Chinese Detective would join the pantheon.

I wouldn’t argue that these programmes constituted a ‘Golden Age of television’, but then I’ve never heard anybody use that phrase in earnest. Instead, people invoke it sarcastically and insist that there never was such a thing, the point usually being to justify the rubbish that is broadcast today on the grounds that there has always been rubbish on TV. That might be true, but it is no reason to keep churning it out.

At any given time there is good and bad on TV, and we ought not to be afraid to judge it against what has gone before as well as what is on the other side. More than that, though, it is possible to identify trends in the development of TV. As I observed last week, documentaries increasingly focus on individual experience rather than objective analysis, and this too can be done well or badly (1). The latter often happens when filmmakers combine today’s subjective approach with the objective pretensions of documentary’s Golden Age (ha!).

Gunpoint Britain (BBC2, last Wednesday) is a good example, ostensibly a wake-up call about gun crime in Britain, but really a load of hysterical nonsense. Producer/director Richard Bee explained that ‘Our generation [insert your own sarcastic comment here] doesn’t want to hear from experts. We understand people’s emotions. That’s how we connect with people’ (2). Rather than any serious investigation into the extent of gun crime, then, we got a black man shrouded in shadow declaring that young kids today are all armed to the teeth, and a pubescent bullshit artist from Salford bragging about his form.

Earlier in the year, on MacIntyre Undercover (BBC1), Donal MacIntyre spent three nights in Brixton trying his hardest to get mugged. Despite the best efforts of the locals to look out for him (advising him that it wasn’t a good idea to parade around in an expensive suit brandishing a laptop after dark), he did eventually succeed in losing his mobile phone to a young tough who could reasonably have argued in court that the nice man had simply handed him the thing.

Getting shot in Britain is an even greater achievement. While Gunpoint Britain warned that we could get hit by stray bullets while innocently driving along the street, it is unlikely to convince anybody who isn’t already paranoid that guns are a serious threat to people who aren’t involved in organised crime. And despite the best efforts of the producer, it is unlikely to make anybody cry.

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 TV UK, 20 June

(2) Time Out (London), 26 June to 3 July 2002

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Topics Politics


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