Rogues & Vagabonds

theatre, film & tv past and present 2001-2008 & 2013…

Look Back in Languor • Lynne Harvey • 6 January 2002

Cover of "Shackleton - The Greatest Survi...

Cover via Amazon

It’s behind you! 2001 that is. Was it a Space Odyssey? Nah, just another year of the arts falling even deeper into the pan. There were few exceptions but single drama Strumpet, transmitted on BBC2 last Autumn, was near the top of the list. Stand up and take your O.B.E. Mr Danny Boyle – oh my mistake, you never got one, nor did Harold Pinter, but strangely Sade did. How very, strange. Not that I have much interest in the gongs, but when they get dished out to some questionable recipients, I do wonder about the dishing out process.

I’ve also been wondering just who chooses the Christmas holiday TV selection box, as we seemed to get the shop’s own cheap stuff and hardly any treats to savour. We can joke about The Great Escape being on every Christmas, but we don’t actually want to see it. Similarly, Annie and Oliver. All great films, but haven’t we seen them ad infinitum, and are they really that special enough to be shown on Christmas day? Again?

Toy Story fell into the special category, and the Only Fools and Horses special should have – but it didn’t. From the first moments of seeing Nicholas Lyndhurst and David Jason (so rarely seen…) in the car, looking that much older and tired in their characters, you could tell the magic had faded. When the old joke about the boy peeing off the top of the diving board was used, that was enough for me. Choice was then a documentary about Charlie Drake, Stars in their Eyes, repeat of a documentary about polar bears or a so-so film with Nicole Kidman. Get the Cluedo out.

Boxing Day TV was shameful, nothing that remotely suggested Christmas, unless you count the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures; now there’s something to watch while you crack a few nuts – and I’m thinking TV schedulers here.

The saving grace was a fantastic documentary about Dirk Bogarde which was so well made as to make you think it was produced a few years ago. This was a painfully nostalgic programme from the Arena strand, authored by Nicholas Shakespeare and directed by Adam Low. Well-researched, bringing an insight into Bogarde, his upbringing, his life and his films that has never been done before. A special programme about a very special person. A true character? Of course. A brave actor? One of the best.

Another special was Shackleton, shown over two nights on Channel 4. This was good – THIS WAS GOOD. I have to shout it since a good drama on TV is now something to shout about as it’s so rare – and guess what? David Jason wasn’t in it. Now, there’s something to write to your MP about: a drama being made without Pauline Quirke or David Jason. Sounds impossible, but believe me it happened. I have no note of the casting director but I hope he/she had a good Christmas and a happy new year, I’m a fan. Listen to this: the cast weren’t even soap ‘stars’ (and I use that word advisedly) beforehand. Incredible isn’t it?

Bigger surprise was that they could all act – how spoiled was Shackleton’s audience? The story of Shackleton is the story of a man we rarely see now. It’s really the story of a man’s spirit. A true leader of men, an inspirer, someone who people look up to, and someone you want to be around. Name any in your vicinity? Me neither. A magical programme. Extremely well written and directed by Charles Sturridge. My guess is he was driven to write it and is fascinated by the story of Shackleton, or was he just in the right place at the right time? Was a family member writing it and said they were too busy to continue and would he like to have a go at writing a prime time TV drama? Of course that could never happen.

It just has. To Kay Mellor and daughter Gaynor Faye. Kay Mellor, writer of Fat Friends and Playing the Field, among other TV credits, was apparently a “workaholic” and suffering “extreme mental fatigue”, obviously due to all the TV series she’s driven to writing – and no doubt the TV producers are driven to accepting them.

So tired and fatigued was Ms Mellor that she gave the task of writing the first two episodes of Playing the Field to daughter Gaynor Faye, who just happens to be in the series, as indeed she was in Fat Friends. This is nepotism at its most sick-making and blatant. I find it almost obscene. This is a kick in the face to all the writers out there trying their damndest to interest TV producers, writing something of worth, trying every means possible to get a foot in the door to what is fast becoming a closed party.

It’s also a kick in the teeth to all the actors and actresses out there who have learned their craft but have no mummy or daddy in the biz to put them, not in front of the right people, but to physically give them the job available. Nepotism has and always will go on, although up until now it was frowned upon and hidden to a certain extent; now it has become acceptable, which is another nail in the coffin for all the talent out there.

I don’t want to write a TV series. I’m afraid the formulaic blandness and having to accommodate the same old faces is, to me, the equivalent of building the same old wall over and over, and certainly not art. Who’s fooling who that it is? And who’s fooling who that the very best writer for the job was Kay Mellor’s daughter? The very best actress for the role is Kay Mellor’s daughter? My advice is don’t bother turning up for a casting unless you share the same name as someone on the production team.

Time better spent is watching the magic and illusion shows on freeze frame and slowmo. I once again spent far too much time with a remote control, freeze framing and slowmo-ing like a maniac trying to find out how they do it. Even in slowmo and freeze frame it’s impossible. Just about.

I think I discovered how one was done. The trick is to watch where the magicians’ eyes are looking while he puts the illusion together and while the blanket is put over the box etc. His eyes will always look where the girl is really disappearing to or where the secret catch/bolt or whatever is. Deftly done without you having an inkling what’s happening, just like slipping your relatives into your TV series/band/play. See how easily your eyes are deceived? All performers and artists ARE equal. It’s just an illusion. Some illusions are and should always be, unexplainable, as we do need a little bit of magic at Christmas.

Quiz question of the week: How many dramas do you see David Jason being in this year? Answers to the casting directors, please.

Lynne Harvey © 2002

Originally published on Rogues & Vagabonds 6 January 2002

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