My husband wasn’t allowed to watch ITV as a boy slash teenager in the 80s. And he’s not from the poshest of families (no offence). But I understand this. I watched Blue Peter not Magpie. And I watched Swap Shop not Tiswas. But occasionally I would have a peek on the Other Side. A guilty pleasure.
No one can forget the anguish when Morecambe and Wise were lured away from the Beeb….
However. There were actually some gems that only now I can see as I emerge from the arms of Auntie, arms that are not as innocent, secure or loving as any of us once believed.
I used to watch the sitcom Agony (1979-1981) on a Sunday evening (always the worst evening with the prospect of a long week of school ahead). I was only a young teenager but I was really drawn to the characters and this other world that was quite unlike mine in Devon. It was about an agony aunt (Maureen Lipman) and two of the main characters were her gay neighbours. It was witty, sophisticated and intelligent (three attributes I would love to be able to give to myself, in my dreams). Looking back it was quite a trailblazer. Only now do I see that maybe ITV had more going right than the BBC.
Everyone knows how I feel about M & W and Brucie. So this is saying something. Bear with me.
Comedy and drama. Are the BBC really doing their best? Where are the successors to Our Friends in the North, Blackadder, House of Cards, The Office? Other than programmes with bonnets or Miranda Hart (and I do love MH) and Twenty Twelve, the Hollow Crown and Last Tango in Halifax … but … other than those … I think the ones to watch may actually be on … ITV. Think Broadchurch. This is the only drama to ‘get’ me in a way I haven’t been ‘got’ in a one time. And it had Olivia Colman.
Scott and Bailey, Coronation Street, The Last Weekend, Mrs Biggs, Leaving, Bletchley Circle, and if you want bonnets, Downton. And the true successors to Morecambe and Wise, Ant and Dec. OK, OK, I’m not saying ITV has got it all right. But I have to say, I am no longer a snob. And I don’t think I have ever been. I am just ‘out’.
And talking of ‘out’ and going back to Agony, I have been so happy to watch the new sitcom Vicious. Sir Ian McKellen, Sir Derek Jacobi and the iconic ITV sitcommer Frances de la Tour. I love it. I love its campness. But most of all I love its nod to the fact that these men have been an item for almost 50 years. And ‘Mother’ still doesn’t know… They are horrible to each other but they love each other.
And The Job Lot. I love it too. I worked briefly in Greenwich dole office and so I really appreciated this. Reminded me a bit of The Office and the US sitcom mockumentary Parks and Recreation.
So I am impressed, ITV. I might not like a lot of what you do, I might be a bit fed up of BGT and the X Factor but I appreciate the striving for better comedy and drama on our televisions screens.
Come on, BBC. Clean up your act and up your game. You can do it.
It’s my birthday today. I’m more of a Christmas person than a birthday one but it does make you get a tad nostalgic as you see another year go by. As you get older you look back more – well, you have more to look back on. I was thinking about Bruce. I have thought about him a lot during the writing of my novel, partly inspired by him and Saturday night telly. Next month the Queen’s birthday honours list will be announced and maybe this time Brucie will get his knighthood. Seven decades in showbiz, in this country, what more does someone have to do?
But as the man himself has said, he’s in good company: Morecambe and Wise, the Two Ronnies, Tommy Cooper, Eric Sykes, Frankie Howard, Les Dawson, Bob Monkhouse. None of these entertainers were recognised with knighthoods. And it’s that word – ‘entertainer’ – that is perhaps the problem, or to be more specific, ‘comedy’. Is there a snobbery about comedy that means it is not recognised in this country?
And think of all those brilliant comic novels that have never won the big awards - Howard Jacobson’s ‘The Finkler Question’ possibly the start of bucking the trend. Why are ‘serious’ novels somehow considered more worthy (as if comedy isn’t deeply serious)?
And what about the women? We have many actresses (‘serious’) who are dames. But what about June Whitfield, Victoria Wood, Julie Walters et al?
Please, please take comedy seriously, powers-that-be. And please please give Brucie the knighthood he deserves.