Saturday, 3 March 2012

Big Issue | Opium of the People | What is happening in British TV drama?

Have you seen this week's Big Issue?

It's a striking cover: a bold red with a vintage TV pumping out a vintage sort of a drama.

My article inside asks what has happened with British drama. Why has it lost its edge? Why are we spending so much time and money dwelling on twee period pieces set in big houses, about aristocrats with staff.

Here's an extract. But to read the full article, you need to find a vendor on a British High Street. For more information go to The Big Issue website.

In first episode of the BBC’s Upstairs Downstairs, Keeley Hawes’ character, Lady Lovely, commiserates with her husband, Lord Handsome, about his tough day at the Foreign Office negotiating with Evil Nazis.
It is 1938, World War Two may or may not be about to happen but Handsome, real name Lord Hallam Holland, is pretty confident it will. Keeley tells him: “Come upstairs and kiss the children, Hallam. They are the future.”
Future targets for German bombs, presumably, I heard myself scream at the TV.
I’ve been screaming at the box a lot lately. If it is true that we get the television we really desire, what are we to make for the popularity of such shows as Upstairs Downstairs, Call The Midwife –the BBC’s most successful drama for a decade with an 8.9 million average audience – and ITV’s very own uppercrust ratings monster Downton Abbey?
We’re in the midst of a recession, with huge swathes of the country facing the hardest times since an urchin called Oliver had the temerity to ask for more. And yet a glance at the small screen suggests that everything is... just so, with clean cuffs.
The message, if there is one: don’t worry, there’s a Duke in charge.
As our hi-tech LCD screens have got thinner, the content they carry has become just as slender. Television is no longer the cutting edge, it has been co-opted by the National Trust.
It shouldn’t be like this. Back in the 1980s – the last time we had a Tory government, recession and a Falklands crisis – the television squatted in the corner of the living room, threatening our peace like an IRA car bomb.
At regular intervals it would go off: Yosser Hughes demanding gizza job in Alan Bleasdale’s Boys From The Blackstuff; the agonised shrieks of Dennis Potter’s The Singing Detective; the madcap thrashing of The Young Ones.
The 1980s was a decade of anger and frustration. Even its period drama was infused with a political edge: Brideshead Revisited, The Monocled Mutineer.

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