Tuesday 8 June 2010

The fine art of not giving offence

Last Wednesday, when I first heard about the dreadful events in what I still call Cumberland, I made two predictions: a knee-jerk reaction by the Government on gun ownership, and the cancellation of that evening’s climactic episode of Coronation Street.

I was delighted to be proved wrong on the first point. Tony Blair would surely have offered a moving soundbite followed by a variant on the last Prince of Wales’s hand-wringing declaration that “something must be done”. The polite version of David Cameron’s analysis seems to be the more realistic “bad things will always happen”. Though those Tory newspapers celebrating the move away from Labour’s nanny state should remember that the notorious Dangerous Dogs Act was a Conservative creation.

I did not really expect my other forecast to prove correct, and duly took my place on the sofa at 9p.m. only to find that Coronation Street had indeed been taken off the air. Though replaced not with solemn classical music but a repeat of Harry Hill’s TV Burp, which seemed a mildly eccentric way of showing respect.

I have pondered long and hard on the rights and wrongs of this, and read many of the comments on Coronation Street’s Facebook page following its non-appearance on Thursday and Friday as well as on the evening of the massacre. Most were written with the vituperative single-mindedness that seems to be the default setting of those moved to share their thoughts on the internet, and a clear majority were mightily hacked off to be deprived of their promised entertainment.

Sure, they conceded, it was bad luck that Corrie should have come up with a story line about a gun siege that reached its climax on the day of an actual shooting spree, but surely anyone could see that it was fiction, filmed months in advance, and bore no relation to reality?

Ranged against this view were those sensitive to the feelings of those directly affected by the Cumbrian tragedy, who clearly should be first in our thoughts. Oh yeah, came the heartless reply, won’t they actually have something better to do this evening than watching a TV soap?

The most telling comment I read was from an American, who simply observed that if the US networks started pulling shows every time there was a shooting, it was unlikely anyone would ever see a scheduled programme.

For once I do not have a strong view on any of this. My late mother took offence at most depictions of crime on TV, on the grounds that “it is just giving people ideas”, but if you follow that logic you would do better to ban the news than Midsomer Murders.

I do not for the life of me understand why TV and radio soaps have to be recorded so far in advance that it is all but impossible for them to reflect current events – though the dear old Archers occasionally tries, when a member of the Royal family drops off the perch or the nation is gripped by some natural disaster, and a brief conversation about it is clunkingly inserted.

I have no idea who is responsible for reading the national mood at our major broadcasters, and no understanding at all of the thought processes by which they deem some programmes to be unacceptable in the light of the news, while others that I find offensive at the best of times carry on regardless.

But if a gun siege at the Underworld knickers factory was too upsetting to be shown on Wednesday night, why was it OK for it be screened yesterday evening, presumably without being re-edited to show the gunmen realising the error of their ways? Those directly affected by last week’s events in the real world will never forget them. Do the memories of the rest of us really last just five days?

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

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