Page 8, 3rd May 2002

3rd May 2002
Page 8
Page 8, 3rd May 2002 — Reviving the subtle skill of satire

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Locations: Manchester


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Reviving the subtle skill of satire

Media Matter

Nick Thomas

Looking through my notes I find that this week's column is all about snobbery — intellectual, dramatic and regional — but at least it's all about television, at the neglect of which (great Churchillian syntax) I paraded my shame last week.

My viewing last Sunday began with Songs of Praise, which seems to have turned into an ad for tourist boards with an evangelical Christian slant, in this case for Manchester, many of whose principal juvenile musicians were showcased in settings of which the city is justly proud, none of them consecrated.

Then there was the news, in which the top story was that the Government plans to force amateur young criminals to turn professional by withdrawing their mothers' child benefit. Then we learnt that the National Lottery is to be renamed Lotto, with the slogan "Don't live a little, live a lotto", a reference to the music-hall parody of funny foreigners which rather undermines the Europeanisation of the phenomenon, designed to combine integration with the concommitant further descent into naff (yes, it's possible). Oh, how IDS must have laughed.

For the next two hours I had some fun spotting all the anachronisms in Born and Bred (BBC1) and The Forsyte Saga (ITV). Did anyone in 1950s Yorkshire address the local vicar as "Reverend" (still a bizarre American vocative in this country), or use the term "scenario" in casual conversation? I doubt it. And would Old Jolyon, born when Queen Victoria was still turning heads, have invited his guest to "freshen up" before dinner? Unlikely. Are these writers simply lazy, or ignorant, or working for the American market? Answer: all of the above.

There was also amusement to be had in The Forsyte Saga from that considerable actress Gina McKee mumbling through her part lest the Geordie accent she used to such great effect in Our Friends From The North surface and render her incomprehensible to the Stateside public. (I missed Auf Wiedersehen Pet, which trashed Forsyte in the ratings, in order to watch this, and McKee would have been much more comfortable acting alongside Jimmy Nail.) It was a bit like watching Paul McGann trying to do RP in Our Mutual Friend, or indeed Jack Davenport in This Life, for which, a$ he confessed recently in a Times mag interview, he mumbled in order to disguise his inability to act. Never mind. The costumes are lovely, darling.

Which brings us to 2DTV, the marriage of some of the impressionists from the Radio 4 hit Dead Ringers with cartoon animation. Now we all know what a massive hit Spitting Image was, and how that wonderful concept, with the unique skills of Fluck and Law, kept satire alive in an otherwise dead period for the genre. No doubt that was why 2DTV was thought worth commissioning for ITV. The trouble is that since Spitting Image went off the air (with plenty of people still baying for it, which is the right way to go) the impressionist/satirical torch has been picked up and carried magnificently first by Rory Bremner and now by Alistair McGowan, and the voices unaccompanied by live performance now seem less, not more impressive.

But 2DTV has another problem, apart from being only 10 minutes long, and therefore very easy to miss. Being such a modern, cuddly, inclusive, PC kind of guy, it took me ages to come up with the right word to describe the animation. Crude, broad-brush, simplistic ... No, the word is common. The colouring is too bright and too simple, the movements are too jerky, the whole thing looks like Beavis and Butthead with caricature (and the caricatures are pretty good), an old-fashioned ITV naffing-down of an inherently promising concept. And the funny thing is that the final sketch was itself snobbish in the extreme, being the fantasy of the Blairs going to John Prescott's house for dinner, and encountering the "reality" of New Labour engaging with Old. Oh, and the script was rubbish. I didn't laugh once.

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