Tuesday 9 November 2010

A barren life without Downton Abbey

I write this in the complete despair of one whose life became a meaningless wasteland when Downton Abbey ended on Sunday night.

By the time you read this they will also have killed off Jack Duckworth on Coronation Street. Cue tumbleweed blowing across the desert of my existence, and serious questioning of the point of going on.

Why is ITV persecuting me like this? Though perhaps the more interesting question is why I, as a would-be middle-class person, have started watching ITV at all?

I was brought up to regard it as common and second rate compared with the dear old BBC. As a child, it is true that I always used to try and catch the magnificent blast of “Blaydon Races” that Tyne Tees TV played at the start of each evening’s broadcasting, but then it was straight over to the other side for Blue Peter, Animal Magic and Look North with Frank Bough, or later Mike Neville and George House.

As well as adopting just the right tone on State occasions, the BBC could always be relied upon to appreciate the crucial importance of airing a good costume drama on Sunday evening. From the black-and-white Forsyte Saga at the start of BBC2 through an apparently endless series of Jane Austen bonnet-fests, they hit the spot time and again.

Yet now ITV has seized the crown with a series that began with one well-worn cliché (the sinking of the Titanic) and ended with another (the outbreak of the First World War) and in which frankly nothing much happened in between. While the press has been buzzing with suggestions that large elements of the plot, such as it was, were lifted straight from the likes of Little Women and Mrs Miniver, and pedants found that the meticulous period detail was slightly marred by the intrusion of TV aerials and double yellow lines.

Admittedly these trifles pale into insignificance compared with the scene in The Tudors where Henry VIII bedded one of his many ladies in a house with two red Calor gas bottles outside.

Still, we snobs can forgive such lapses because Downton Abbey writer Julian Fellowes is proper posh (married to the niece of Earl Kitchener, don’tchaknow). Quite how he follows up his addictive success in the promised second series is open to question, given that so much went to hell in a handcart for the aristocracy from 1914. Fast forward to the Bright Young Things of the 1930s (though Maggie Smith’s Dowager Countess would then be about 100) or try a prequel set in the Naughty Nineties? I can hardly wait.

Meanwhile the BBC has been on strike. When I turned on Radio 4 last Friday morning and they announced that they were airing a programme about birds of the Wash in place of Today, I naturally took this for further sabotage by the National Union of Journalists, or a homage to that running joke in the recent Harry and Paul comedy series about two blokes with a microphone making the dullest radio documentary in the world.

I switched channels immediately, and was later surprised to read that the public actually preferred the birdsong of the estuary to John Humphrys. Though perhaps I should have expected it, because Radio 3 also dropped its usual schedule (though why waffling a bit between CD tracks counts as “journalism” is beyond me) and played instead a long programme about my favourite composer, Handel, which made my usual morning car journey fly by.

Back to normal service yesterday, I listened to the usual self-righteous waffle about the Burmese general election (their chance to vote for the usual generals), then heard that the NUJ were threatening to strike again over Christmas. Oh no! Could this mean a schedule packed with repeats of classic costume dramas? Maybe life is not looking so bad after all.

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

1 comment:

Clippy Mat said...

Jack Duckworth? Oh well, I'll have to wait 6 months to see that episode here in Canada so I'll likely have forgotten it by then.
Haven't had the pleasure of Downton Abbey over here on our TV as yet but no doubt it will be here soon enough. Happy to say we get our fair share of good British programming (and some bad stuff too.)