Fallen Idols. August 2011.

Dear Rowley,

In haste, television is terribly bad for one’s morale. I happened to be watching University Challenge recently (that dates me) and a picture round came-up with classic portraits of the great Hollywood screen goddesses. The cream of our intellectual crop failed dismally to identify Bette Davis, Marlene Dietrich and Joan Crawford. Now I was born a good thirty years after these ladies were in their heyday but thanks to Saturday morning television and a natural bent for ‘weepies’, golden age Hollywood was part of my cultural landscape. Forget the divas at your peril kids.

I know Rowley, why should the old idols not fall? Primarily because the new ones are such a tawdry bunch who are neither admirable nor built to last. Will anyone in decades to come go into rhapsodies about the jewels Cheryl Cole collected, Britney’s exquisite taste in interiors or Christina Aguilera’s Garboesque mystique? Not bloody likely. The way these girls dress, we know them more intimately than their gynaecologists. Would you rather worship a goddess such as Marlene with whose discarded stockings Maharajas would hang themselves or a trashy blonde who performs with a beef carpaccio covering her twot such as Lady Gaga? I’d rather remember Bette Davis’s eyes than Sharon Stone’s thighs.

To add insult to injury, another University Challenge music round came up asking the infants to name the following song: La Isla Bonita. Not one of them knew Madonna’s definitive glitz and disco tits Balearic anthem. I  felt not dissimilar to Ursula Andress in the last reel of She when she stepped out of the flame of eternal youth and her face aged two thousand years in two seconds. Funny thing is, if I was asked to identify Justin Bieber or guess whether a rap was by Tiny Tempah or Justin Timberlake I’d give it a red hot steaming go as my friend Scott would have it. You don’t have to like it to broaden your cultural landscape.

Actually, the past is enjoying something of a comeback right now on the telly. I have just had the misfortune to tune in to the Great British Heritage live show on BBC1 fronted by Dan Snow and Sian Lloyd. I have always been a great fan of Sian and do dote on Mr Snow Jr’s dimples when he’s Naval gazing on the odd historical doc. But whose idea was it to turn Britain’s rich and deep seam of history into The One Show? I’ve seen more depth in a Ladybird book.

The Beeb has decided to surround poor Sian and Dan with the great unwashed who are invited to share their historic magic moments (a wartime ration recipe book here, a scrap of old crewel work there) live on air. This jollity is interspersed with pre-recorded shorts hosted by underemployed BBC presenters who are to history what Liberace is to Rachmaninov. The tone is Play School. The mood is faux-jolly.

‘Don’t forget we want to read your texts, emails and tweets’ is, I think, the kiss of death where serious subjects on  TV are concerned. Whatever happened to ‘don’t forget to visit your local library’? All this crapola about audience participation actively discourages education and promotes the thought that all opinions count however bland, divisive or rambling. Let’s face it, most mass communication is white noise.

Rather like political bias, dumbing down is now what one expects of the BBC. The news purports to be impartial and yet I think we all know Auntie is a red with a left wing agenda and a carefully edited  number of pundits who can be trotted out to tow the party line. My evidence? Call David Starkey who quite rightly identified the root cause of the recent riots as a generation who have accepted black gnagsta culture and ape it like a tribal chant. Anyone who lives in London has seen white boys do the pimp roll and call each other ‘bro’ and ‘nigger’ as if they were born to speak street patois.

Didn’t take long for all the right on brothers such as Piers Morgan and Robert Peston to ‘diss’ Dr Starkey by tweet (natch).  Dr Starkey made the error of invoking Enoch Powell. This is tantamount to a historian demonstrating the perils of  Nazism by doing a comedy Hitler goose step around the class room ending with a fascist salute. Any mention of Mr Powell lights the blue touch paper. But the principle of Dr Starkey’s argument is correct.

We Brits are a tolerant society and few of us would carp about multiculturalism. But it would have been nice to be asked, Mr Blair. Isn’t it depressing that the foetuses on University Challenge would probably be able to answer three questions about bad ass Hip Hop lyrics but don’t know Bette Davis from Bela Lugosi. Of course, too much television and not enough bar stool time at Sheekey’s, Cecconi’s or Kettner’s does turn me into the Grinch.

Don’t you get exasperated with people who prefix everything they tell you with ‘of course’ or ‘obviously’? ‘Obviously, we’re in Norfolk this weekend’ or ‘Of course Nicky Haslam won’t be there’. Unless you are psychic, have been reading somebody’s mail or live next door how does one know what is obvious or not? It’s like me telling a perfect stranger at a dinner party ‘obviously, I’m at the Savoy tomorrow to discuss Jaguar Week’ or ‘of course, I’ll be wearing my new puppy tooth Huntsman three-piece’. Just had to get that off my chest.

So obviously I won’t be spending another evening at home in Bloomsbury Towers. Of course I’ll lift a few with a bit of near and dear action in some louche bar come Thursday night. Evidently I can’t watch the BBC any more without being under heavy sedation. And quite clearly I need a beach in Corfu like a hydrangea needs a hosepipe. Until next time…