Monday, 22 August 2011

BBC's prime turkey

You know a BBC TV show is in trouble when they start running plugs for it on R4. So it has been with the biggest broadcasting turkey for many years - the dreadful 'The Hour'. Yes, I watched almost an entire episode and that's 35 minutes I'll never get back. This isn't a TV review blog, but there's a more general point here. 

The Indie gets the scriptwriter to admit that 'some lines haven't worked' but it's far worse than that. Neither the writer, the director or the cast seem to have any notion at all of what the 1950s were like. It's not just spoken language that's rubbish, it's body language, deference, social behaviour and crap casting. It's not even as if there isn't evidence about of how people inter-related in the '50s; there's a wealth of British films that portray exactly how women sat, how they stood, how they held themselves during social intercourse. It's uniquely the sheer arrogance and culture of waste at the BBC that could dismiss all this and have a 1950s female character do the equivalent of putting her feet up on the train seats and tuning her Walkman.  

I have to put it down to historical ignorance on the part of writer, director and actors rather than wilful stupidity. But how can they have so comprehensively lost any notion of what Britain was like just 50 or 60 years ago? Women didn't fling themselves about because replacement knicker elastic was still scarce. There weren't any deodorants or dry cleaners. Unmarried journalists lived in lodgings, not apartments. The pill hadn't been invented and condoms were washable and reusable. Men had just survived fighting a war and buried sights and memories of unimaginable horror beneath a veneer of formal and correct behaviour. It was cold. Wine was unobtainable and Lard and Spam formed a major part of the diet. Dental care and hygiene were primitive. People sat in front of a one bar electric fire or 'Aladdin' paraffin heater in their overcoats in the evening and read while they listened to the wireless. They wrote letters. If they needed to make a phone call they had to walk down the street and join the queue at the phone box. All of this is missing from a production that's essentially set in the 1990s but played in period costume. 

The general point is that we have spawned a generation that simply has no idea whatsover of what living in a time of real austerity is like. By God, they've got a shock coming. 


Edward Spalton said...

I watched a few minutes of this programme, felt it didn't ring true and switched off. I didn't analyse my reasons but, on reflection, they were just the same as yours.

Yet, in some series, you feel the programmers hit it right. Watching Cranford and some of Jane Austen, I frequently thought "just right". I recalled a household of three Victorian maiden ladies in modest circumstances, my great aunts, who behaved very much like similar characters in these stories - very polite, considerate and extremely careful in keeping up standards on the basis of diligent thrift. So, it can be done, if programme makers have any brains.

Blue Eyes said...

Would BBC journalists working at a supposedly-ground-breaking show as poor as most people? I would think that the Beeb media elite in 1956 would have been rather more able to enjoy telephones than the hoi polloi.

You don't watch Dallas or Dynasty and say to yourself "this isn't real, nobody in the 1980s had two cars". Or do you?

Standards ave slipped said...

Blue Eyes: "Would BBC journalists working at a supposedly-ground-breaking show as poor as most people?"

May we have translated into coherent English please?

Anonymous said...

My personal objection to the show (having been born in 1970) was that it's yet another case of those in the media thinking the most fascinating and important stories are about those in the media.

Manganese said...

I've watched 2 episodes and what I saw was what I expected. The problem goes beyond unconvincing dialogue.

Were there really powerful, predatory young women in control in any large organisation, let alone the BBC, in the 50's? I rather doubt it. That, for me, is the weakest part of the entire production. The feminist construct fits in well with current BBC ideology but that, surely, is more anachronistic than the dialogue.

Anonymous said...

I've never watched 'it', the trailers are bad enough - one is immediately struck upon viewing [the trailer], just how tackily ersatz [and out of kilter - 90's in the 50's sort of thing] the production appears to be.
People, in those days kept [a very proper] stiff upper lip - good God! How we could do with a bit more of that - nowadays.
Emotional incontinence, is the 'in' thing, it didn't happen then.

"Were there really powerful, predatory young women in control in any large organisation, let alone the BBC, in the 50's?"

My interpretation? - Utter bollocks.
Mind you, Matrons on hospital wards put the fear of God into young Housemen in the 50's, my father told me: it was so:-)

Ancient mariner said...

Matrons, headmistresses and post mistresses and (to my then young eyes) my 4 Victorian aunts, the sisters of my maternal grandmother.

All of whom could keep order with the lift of an eyebrow!

Richard said...


Elby the Beserk said...

Raddled old chap, the BBC is beyond repair. We chucked out our TV a few years back - 1. We found we weren't watching it & 2. We were fed up with funding the Propaganda Arm of New Labour.

So I am not surprised by what you write. It is extraordinary given the wealth of post war social history that is now available. In recent years both David Kynaston and Peter Hennessy have written fantastic histories of the post-war years, with both using quotes form the time, and from the marvellous Mass Observation project.

It would seem to me from afar that BBC1 is now another ITV, and I gather that 8 or more hours a day of BBC2 is given over to repeats.

During the war, Orwell worked at the BBC for a while. He described it as "half whorehouse, half lunatic asylum". Has anything changed?

lilith said...

Haha, I watched some of the first episode on the iplayer and had to switch off. I kept wondering why nobody was having the young genius journalist sectioned...

meltemian said...

Oh Come On.....It's a TV serial not an exact re-creation of 1956. I'm enjoying it anyway.
By the way my first memory of wine with Sunday lunch was in 1956 when I was 11, I was allowed a sip and hated it! We must have been posh as we definitely had a TV before 1953 as we watched the Queen's coronation on it, I do remember the paraffin heater, we used to put one in the bathroom in the winter to stop the pipes freezing and it was luxury to have my Sunday bath there and be allowed downstairs to watch 'What's My Line' before bed.

FrankS said...

Who are all those long-haired men? There were plenty of barbers in the 1950s!

Anonymous said...

I have been concerned for several years at the progressive "dumbing down" of BBC output, be it comedy or serious scientific output, such as 'Horizon'.

It was my understanding, that this "dumbing down" was a consequence of the BBC trying to be popular in the face of increasing competition. At least that has been the story put out. However, viewing the BBC and its many reporters, in their prepared as well as of-the-cuff comments, it appears that the BBC is not really "dumbing down" at all, but in fact doing its very best to maintain standards.

We may thus be seeing the consequence of decades long fall in standards in schools and universities.

Blue Eyes said...

"May we have translated into coherent English please?"

You are correct that, having changed it around several times, my comment is not especially coherent. However, as an intelligent person, I expect you are able to understand the point I was trying to make.

I wonder if Baltimore is nearly as bad as The Wire said it is?

Raedwald said...

Blue - I understood what you meant. No, I think the BBC was operating under Reithian parsimony in those days and paid very low wages; like working in a publisher's today, you probably needed an additional private income to survive in London. Regional journalists are still paid a pittance - perhaps £20k. Women's wages were always low as it was assumed they were only waiting to get married, whereas a man could expect a substantial wage increase on marrying.

Folk only bought their own places when they married. Men were incapable of domestic economy - a day a week doing the laundry, several hours a day cooking and cleaning, as well as working. If they couldn't afford a housekeeper they lived in lodgings where laundry and meals were included.

Demetrius said...

You lastest longer than I did, preferring to pick up the adverts on another channel. As a teen, soldier, student who worked in various manual jobs as well in the 1950's in London and the Provinces and abroad it was not at all as this series. But there were some formidable women around, Ninette de Valois, the General's wife, Bessie Braddock, my Aunt who terrified the local clergy and others, but alas not enough in business or politics.

Chloe said...

Yes-- most people I knew in the 1950s had phones. And not a few TVs were around for the Coronation. Lots of people had cars, too. And the Britannia turbo-props were safe, though the Comet was going through its problems.
Other public transport was civilized, affordable, and efficient; but then, so was most everything else.

And ladies wore hats and gloves; and yes, they ruled their roosts with very strong eyebrows! We still had girls' grammar schools, too - and so we learnt how very much there is to know. And we had prayers and sang beautiful hymns at morning assembly.

And yes, we had deodorants (Odo-r-ono for one; can't remember the spelling, though). Even a glance at some old magazines and newspapers would help them get the details right - just analyzing the ads would help.

However, negative propaganda about Home, Commonwealth, and Empire is designed to shame this deprived generation into the clutches of the euSSR. Its all a part of the Marxist Deconstruction technique: and we need to find ways to let these kids know it.

So thank you, Raedwald -- for posting this step in the right direction!

Budgie said...

Elby the Beserk said: "Raddled old chap, the BBC is beyond repair."

Too right.

Like you we don't have a tv. But if everyone who complained about the BBC actually did something - that is, by not buying a tv "licence" - then the BBC would have to be sold off.