Friday, December 19, 2008

The lesson of history

"The occupational disease of ministers long in office is to intervene in the private and communal lives of citizens..."

Simon Jenkins, Accountable to None: the Tory nationalization of Britain, Hamish Hamilton, London, 1995 (Penguin paperback 1996: 95)

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Who commissions this stuff?

Who commissions what passes for drama on BBC1? So many turkeys it's like December in Norfolk. Bonekickers, Survivors - even a bad choice of Little Dorritt as the compulsory Dickens. And oh-dear-god, Apparitions; how drunk do you have to be to think Apparitions is a good idea?

All these shows shed viewers at an alarming rate. There's something to be said for risking something new but endless revivals of past failures (Survivors, Blake's 7) is pure madness, especially when the same tiny band of actors is in all of them. Lots of people liked Julie Graham in William and Mary. That was a significant time ago and she's been in nothing worthwhile since.

Dylan Thomas premiere

The Art of Conversation, R4 December 3 2008.

This was billed and produced as an undiscovered play but was actually a dramatic feature. The clue was the in-joke when a sailor at the palais de danse was telling his girl how popular the radio is aboard ship. "Except when there's a feature programme. No one listens to them."

Artistically it could not be a play because there was no dramatic conflict, merely dramatic interludes designed to illustrate the propaganda theme that "careless talk costs lives."

The device was an illustrated lecture about the decline of English conversation. The flashbacks to the conversational giants Wilde and Dr Johnson fell wide of the mark, illustrating the fact that they were monologuists not conversationalists, or more exactly pompous windbags.

The second half, however, came alive when the lecturer illustrated how pointless mundane chatter inadvertently passes useful info to the enemy. The key facts were cleverly 'bleeped' out with a choral chord. Unfortunately the producer, Alison Hindell - the Head of Drama, no less - considered it witty to incorporate the same device into the end credits. This is the same legendary humour that inspired her to use her trademark device of incorporating Richard Burton's half-pissed performance as First Voice in Under Milk Wood. It shows how little broadsheet critics know about the form when several thought this was actually part of Thomas's script.

Nevertheless - a considerable archival discovery by Andrew Lycett and well worth production.