Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Early Doors sticks two fingers up to Britain's Smoking Ban Nazis

It’s something to cheer, I suppose, that one of the precious few good shows commissioned by the BBC in recent years is back for a series of reruns.
Early Doors was always a brilliant, poetic, philosophical, character-driven sitcom.
I came home from work the other night, feeling knackered, and slightly down-hearted because, as everyone knows, there is never anything worth watching on telly on Tuesdays.
(EastEnders? I'd rather stick needles in my eyes. It is condescending twaddle about the working classes - clunkingly written in politically correct jargon beloved of middle class luvvies at the BBC.)
But Early Doors is quality. It's a gentle and slow-paced show set in a back street Northern English pub. It doesn't strain for laughs; it often makes you think profoundly about the absurdity of modern life and the lazy and corrupt characters you come across (such as greedy, bent police officers).
Old Tommy, who sits on his own, is my favourite character. His grimace perfectly sums up what I feel about contemporary British society ... utter weariness at the sheer stupidity of it all, occasional disgust, and a sure knowledge that life used to be better. Much better.
Meanwhile, Winnie the cleaner shows a sly wit, and Ken the landlord has much human warmth, masked by a gruff exterior. Though many of the characters are defective in many ways, collectively, you can't help but love 'em.
It is a show that benefits from perfect casting and writing .. .and you can't say that about many.
And watching it again as a repeat on BBC4 I was also seduced by the lovely smoky character of the Grapes pub.
Wreaths of curling ciggie smoke are part of the elegant beauty and the comforting atmosphere of the traditional British pub. When these programmes were made, the hated smoking ban in workplaces had not been introduced.
It made think again how very unfair that blanket ban was – and how much pleasure it has taken away from people.
The ban has also contributed in a big way to the huge wave of pub closures now under way in our country. That’s not good at all.
When a pub closes, you are not just losing a business but a focal point for the community.
Pubs are sacred to our memories. In each backstreet pub so many tender scenes have taken place down the decades: jokes have been told; tears shed; words of love spoken; baptisms, birthdays and weddings celebrated; and precious last cigarettes have been tenderly handed over to mates and loved ones.
To destroy all that with a total smoking ban on dubious health grounds was a hateful and sinister act by our tyrannical Labour Government.
To my mind, the smoking ban isn't even about health.
It's about freedom – which, actually, is much more important.
Because there is little point being healthy if you aren't allowed to be free.
Before the current "Ban It" madness infected our mainstream political culture, the only powerful people to be rabidly anti-smoking were the Nazis under Adolf Hitler.
They are the spiritual inspiration for the proscriptive anti-smoking martinets now infesting the UK Government and National Health Service.
It is strange that such a lovely and quintessentially British programme such as Early Doors should be such a powerful and eloquent reminder of just how beautiful and enjoyable smoking in pubs used to be.
Nearly all the show’s characters smoke. If a new series is to be made, then I suppose the Grapes will have to feature a wretched Smoke Hole in its yard, where the regulars will have to go and freeze their knackers off and get wet if they choose to spark up ... just like we have to do in real life.
A final thought ... three cheers to Coronation Street for not giving in the pressure from Britain's thin-lipped Smoke Ban Nazis to run "positive" stories showing the benefits of giving up the habit.

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Are YOU working class and beautiful like old ITV … or Liberal-Fascist like the modern BBC?

IT’S rather a shame that ITV is crumbling to dust and can’t even come up with good new ideas any more. Demons?! How derivative is it possible to be?
In the glory days of British television (the mid 1960s to the mid 1980s) ITV was more than a telly channel … it was a badge of national cultural identity.
In those days, you were either an ITV person (lively, quick-witted, working class, and rather beautiful) or you were a BBC person (stuffy, bourgeois, Pooterish and humourless).
Nowadays, of course, television is much expanded and yet, paradoxically, it’s not nearly such a potent force culturally.
But suppose for a minute we Brits still identified ourselves by our choice of TV network; then I guess an ITV Person would now be nervous, short of money, insecure, bereft of ideas.
And a BBC Person would be a Liberal-Fascist, hideously corporatist and obsessed with racial issues and feminism.
So I guess ITV still represents the majority of British people … just about!
Meanwhile, one gem of quality writing and character-driven humour survives on ITV, thrives even … and that is Coronation Street.
Last night’s episode saw Becky within five minutes end her engagement to thick-as-a-plank Jason Grimshaw, get engaged and move in with Steve McDonald, and have a blazing row with Steve’s ex, Michelle.
We also saw Steve have a bust-up with both his mam and Eileen.
It was entertaining stuff and as ever there was a neat philosophical contrast between all the passion going on … and Roy and Hayley Cropper, just a few feet away in the Rovers, together the epitome of buttoned up propriety and pained humanity.
And that’s before you consider that Roy is a pathological misfit – and Hayley a transsexual.
The actor who plays Ken Barlow, original cast member William Roache, is now on leave as he grieves for the death of his wife.
I hope the weeks ahead go as well as can be expected for William, and that soon he is back at work to continue Ken’s exquisite illicit romance with the narrowboat-dwelling siren played by Stephanie Beacham.

Monday, 16 February 2009

Friendship at first sight

WELL, I hope you and yours had a good Valentine’s Day and evening.
And if you are single, then I hope all the slushiness, sentimentality and the cheesy concentration on couples shown by restaurants and shops didn’t annoy you too much.
It is good to talk of love, and to write about it too. The subject has, after all, enthralled poets and philosophers since the earliest days of humanity.
I wrote a poem for my beloved 'Posh Boots' for Valentine’s Day and placed it in a beautiful Art Deco repro frame as a present for her.
She loved it, of course. Who wouldn’t be delighted to have a poem written especially for you?
And she deserves to have such verses written for her. We love each other; it’s as simple and as complicated as that.
But don’t worry, I am not going to replicate my poem for Posh Boots here; it’s too personal.
Today, in any case, I don’t intend to linger on the subject of love because, for many people in these days of record numbers of single people, love is absent … or painful.
Hardly any of us finds an ideal partner we truly love for the full run of a life-long relationship.
Some of us go for years without a partner, without love, and then find it quite late in life.
Others find love, enjoy it for a few years, and then lose it.
Welcome to life in our fallen world; it was never meant to be easy.
But today, I want to focus on friendship rather more than what we normally understand as love.
Love of the emotional, sexual variety is intense and, at times, all-consuming. Friendship is cooler yet every bit as important and is, actually, itself a form of love.
Who amongst us hasn’t told our friends that we love them?
Never mind that we might be p***ed as farts at the time. In Vino Veritas – in wine there is truth.
There is a fascinating poem by Robert Graves called Friendship at First Sight. That title raises the possibility of friendships that are formed magically at the first meeting or sight of someone.
Here’s what Graves wrote ...
'Love at first sight,' some say, misnaming
Discovery of twinned helplessness
Against the huge tug of procreation.
But friendship at first sight? This also
Catches fiercely at the surprised heart
So that the cheek blanches and then blushes.
Now, I think it is great, absolutely thrilling, to think that love at first sight happens, as many people who have experienced it will attest.
But I think it equally stunning that friendship at first sight can occur.
I’ve not known the privilege of experiencing love at first sight. Love needs a chance to grow … in my heart anyway.
But I think I have, on several occasions throughout my life, experienced friendship at first sight.
And when I think of each of those instances, though they be many years apart from each other, I know bonds were made that will last a lifetime.
How comforting it is to know, when the world is undergoing massive change and considerable distress that something as brilliant and valuable as friendship at first sight can happen. It makes you feel good about being human.
And for all the singletons around in this post-Valentine’s Day period, don’t forget that love, while it rarely comes at first sight, is still in plentiful supply. It may well be just around the corner for you. I hope it is.

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Paris Hilton's cackfest / pouting on Sky News

I’M not remotely interested in anything Paris Hilton says or does. Not many people I know are.
And inane, televised chatter from young British people competing to be her best friend is my idea of utter hideousness and pointlessness combined.
Now, I know only too well just how shallow and thick young Britons can be – they have a demented addiction to trashy celebrity and they’ve suffered from p***poor education in our awful state schools.
So perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised that some young folk actually volunteered to take part in Paris Hilton’s British Best Friend (ITV2).
This takes reality TV to moronic new lows. Paris sets sad little tests for her wannabe buddies and they, being daft and therefore prone to manipulation and exploitation, are only too ready to jump through hoops.
The cynical TV executives who commissioned this pathetic cackfest of a show should hang their heads in shame.
One by one Paris’ putative pals are eliminated – or walk out, feeling weary and convinced they have made a Big Mistake (which they have, all of them).
I forced myself to watch a slice of it last night (Tuesday 10 February). Hilton – the blonde bubblehead of an heiress who recently had the brass neck to ask Paul McCartney if she could duet with him – sits on a sort of throne while the contestants emote incoherently and bitch about one another … “you’re not genuine!” seems to be the most common charge they put to each other.
Talking of blonde vacuity, I am amazed at the lip-glossed, excitable glamour that the female presenters on Sky News try, and usually fail, to project.
They’re all at it, pouting away like billy-ho, but Anna Botting is the worse offender – with her silly Kathy Kirby-style glittery lipgloss.
It's as if they've all attended the same puckering up classes as queen pouter Kay Burley.
And last night (Tuesday 10 February) there was a new (to me) face up there, a bird who looked like a blonde version of that pneumatic little strumpet Rosie Webster on Coronation Street. All this glamour seems inappropriate on a news channel with serious pretensions. Sky News would be better advised recruiting hefty, plain lasses to read the news, as the BBC News channel does in the main.
It doesn’t matter if the presenters don’t have much in the way of personality, eloquence or brains. We’ve come to accept that.
But as long as they can read the autocue without seeming to peer through fog, and they can ask some half-decent questions of weary politicians / confused foreigners etc, that’ll do us.

Monday, 2 February 2009

Welcome to the Cretin Land that is British TV

MAYBE I’m just a jaded old fart, but I find almost everything I see on telly in this supposedly fabulous, digital age, not just boring but profoundly, worryingly depressing.
The general output across the UK freeview channels (the only ones I can be arsed to receive) convinces me that both the content providers of TV, and the viewers, are just so very thick, and their behaviour juvenile and repetitive.
The only programmes I actually look forward to watching these days are Coronation Street, Scrubs, and Harry Hill’s TV Burp. Perhaps I should add that I thought the Rab C Nesbit Crimbo special was also a blast - as indeed was an old repeat of the subversively philosophical Scottish sitcom which I saw just the other night.
Everything else is… shite, frankly.
Let’s examine the evidence … endless cops and docs pap (YES, including Whitechapel) … hysterical karaoke contests such as the Eurovision confection currently under way … the campfest Dancing on Ice … a ridiculous Pimp My Ride show featuring that idiot maracas merchant, Bez, from the Happy Mondays … and the absolute moron-fodder that is Hollyoaks.
Then there was something I watched about a Scrapheap Challenge which featured middle-aged men behaving like excitable schoolboy nerds ... and the return of Jonathan Ross' chat show with him greasing up shamlelessly to Tom Cruise (wot, no questions about Scientology?!) before asking the actor whether he farted in bed with his wife.
Modern telly, eh? Garbage piled upon garbage.
I was going to say that at least through January we’ve had a rest from seeing those lip-glossed bimbos Girls Aloud prancing around like sex industry workers as they did all over the Christmas period, but then again I’m sure while channel-hopping the other day up they popped again … or maybe it was just a bad dream.
Can anyone remember a single Girls Aloud song? The Women’s Liberation Movement struggled in vain and punk rock was futile if these cheap, tacky, groin-thrusting airheads are considered good.
Contemporary TV lacks the following qualities: good writing; and a different take on life other than that defined by our ailing pop music industry, tired old sex jokes, and the dead hand of a reality TV that's packed with celebrity-lite no-marks.
In future postings I will, of course, continue to have my say on the monstrous mess that is the TV industry, but I shall also be focusing on other weak spots in the culture of our country (Britain) and that of the wider, crumbling, degenerate West.
Keep the faith,