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.
From 1972-74, my parents, two older brothers, Sammy the cat and I lived above the Candy Shop on Belgrave Road in Torquay. It was a shop that you only find in seaside towns; we sold sweets, fags and grockle tat (for those of you that are not Devonian, ‘grockles’ are holiday-makers). I was only little but this time and place has always stayed vividly in my mind and became the setting for my debut novel, The Generation Game.
The Candy Shop is now a security shop. But I still drive past every now and then, just so I can remember…
There are far more famous connections to Belgrave Road. Agatha Christie was baptised in All Saints Church which was just over the road from us. And further down, towards the seafront, is the Grosvenor, made notorious recently from the hilarious Channel 4 documentary, The Hotel.
A few months ago I visited my old school in Teignmouth and talked to some English students about the book. They asked me who would play Philippa if the novel was ever made into a television drama. I turned the question back on them, and one lad suggested Miranda Hart. Genius. But I only discovered today that Miranda was born in Torquay in 1972… How cool is that?
Had my first school Q and A today as a visiting writer. It was at Trinity School in Teignmouth (the old Convent of Notre Dame) which was highly appropriate as that was where I learnt to write. It was so weird to go back as an old girl, to chat in the library (chat!) where I used to borrow books, and to talk with such awesome young people who were so enthusiastic about writing. Made me want to go back in time to be that age again, with the whole world out there, waiting to be discovered.