MAY’S MINIATURES – S.01 E.10: J.G. Ballard – ‘The Largest Theme Park in the World’ (1989)

Photo (c) Fay Goodwin, The British Library Board

Welcome to the last episode of series 1 of May’s Miniatures. If you’ve enjoyed this series at all, please get in touch and suggest other stories or writers you’d like featured in a possible, if not probable, future series! Feel free to add comments on the posts that are on the May’s Britain blog.

Now, this final selection is a short story from one of my favourite writers. You don’t have to be Will to self-diagnose as a Ballardian. I love his work as it is sardonic, strange and taps into undercurrents of our human consciousness that most writers shy away from. Ballard’s work is like a literary equivalent to Max Ernst’s surrealist paintings but with an utterly matter of fact tone to its weirdness. You can’t help but hear his words resounding inside your head as if delivered by a BBC announcer from the Sixties, but who has unknowingly ingested some weird substance – and we’re not talking bleach!

He is not alarmed or moralistic about modernism, about the modern life of cars, motorways and consumerism, but nor is he Panglossian about it. He perceives troubling currents and subtly under plays them. This story is from later era Ballard. He was in his fourth decade as a writer, and wrote this soon after Margaret Thatcher’s pivotal Bruges Speech of 19 September 1988 which was critical in how the UK Conservative Party changed from being a pragmatically pro-European capitalist party to one torn between this and proto-Brexiting euroscepticism. This was published on 7 July 1989 in the Guardian newspaper, accompanied by a Steve Bell cartoon. This was four months before the restrictions between East Germany and West Germany were lifted, and the Berlin Wall took on new historical meaning. This story is incredibly prescient not just of events since 2016, but seems to parallel… In some ways… the, yes, cliché-alert…! strange times we are living in RIGHT NOW…!

Broadcast here on YouTube on Tuesday 11 August 2020:

This story brilliantly depicts cross-European middle class rebellion of leisure with a distinctive English iteration with seemingly divergent tendencies – green, feminist, sporty, Thatcherite. It observes the undercurrent beneath our cultural observance of the Protestant Work Ethic, which could apply on a much wider cross-class basis, given how beloved our holidays in Spain, Italy and Greece are to us.

More detailed thoughts to follow subsequently.

Defend the BBC and democratise the BBC

I have just had a piece published here that makes the case for the BBC as a honest broker and guardian of pluralism, able to cut across binary divides of left/right, Leave/Remain, Labour/Tory and provide a public sphere for all. A subscription model – which is currently unfeasible, as it even its supporters admit – would destroy opportunities for intra-cultural communication and understanding in the UK.

Within the constraints of that piece, there was no space to include crucial additional arguments about the regions and nations of the UK and the reforms that the BBC is crying out for in terms of how it is governed. So, here they are, among other no doubt Utopian ramblings!

BBC PURPOSES #1: a political honest broker?

Firstly, what is the licence fee? Author of a Dictionary of Journalism, Tony Harcup (2014) defines it as the means ‘to fund the BBC as an independent entity’ and as a ‘mechanism to provide public funding for the main public service broadcaster without drawing on direct taxation or coming under the direct control of the government of the day.’

Much of the political left feels, erroneously, that it the BBC is directly controlled by the government of the day. However, its present animus is at least partly well-grounded: the BBC did little to challenge lies spread by the right-wing press, uncritically relaying untruths in how it reported the events of 9 December 2019 when Matt Hancock was reported as being “punched” by punched by a Labour protester who did not such thing. Tweets were deleted, but the memory remains, to paraphrase Metallica featuring Patti Smith… The BBC remains shackled by its own dependence on the government to renew the licence fee every ten years.

While it seems true that BBC may have not fully understood Brexit (1) and has displayed unconscious ‘Remain’ bias, claims that the BBC is biased towards the “liberal-left” do not bear close examination. For every Adam Curtis or Jonathan Meades documentary, there have been several David Starkey documentaries or cantankerous guest-spots and more than several hundred hours of John Humphrys… (2) The Moral Maze and Question Time panel composition repeatedly overemphasises right-wing commentators.

It takes chutzpah for the Cummingsite Tories to vandalise a BBC which has granted Brexit spokespeople significantly more airtime than the Green Party; a recent count gives Farage a total of nine more Question Time appearances than Greens’ Caroline Lucas MP, who has been repeatedly elected to the House of Commons since 2010. The BBC has done immeasurably more to popularise science than Cummings’s rambling blog missives. His boss Johnson should be grateful to the Corporation for how it popularised his performed “loveable buffoon” persona via no fewer than seven Have I Got News for You (BBC1) appearances. 

As the likes of Steven Barnett and Andrew Curry (1994) and Tom Mills (2016) have documented, the Director-Generals Michael Checkland and John Birt remodelled the previous pluralistic, ‘One Nation’ paternalism of the BBC into a more market-driven, business-fixated neoliberal institution. It had a populist obsession with programmes’ headline ratings in place of their impacts. However, it remains a public institution which contains within it the potential to be fairer to those of all political views in Britain, whether nationalist, internationalist, left-wing, right-wing or liberal. Or even green, heaven forbid we fail to listen to a global scientific consensus.

Should we see any merits in a putative subscription model? Well, to reconcile differing levels of public commitment to the BBC, we might consider a system of levy payments for ‘public media’ after the recent German model. To try to accommodate the pro-subscription perspectives, maybe an element of gradation in payment could be considered, in addition to some reductions and inceases depending on council tax banding. For instance, BBC “partisans” could pay £35 a month, to get all BBC output and access to more archival material, encompassing iPlayer, BritBox, BBC Sounds and the incredible Box of Broadcasts, only available currently to University card holders. Then, BBC “objectors” could opt to pay £3.50 a month to get the basic channels: BBC1 and BBC2. BBC “fence-sitters” could keep paying the current £12 monthly rate to maintain access to iPlayer, all radio and TV channels and the unwieldy BBC Sounds.

I will leave whether this would work out financially to the BBC’s (understandably many) accountants – but it seems to me that it might be the only model that could feasibly accommodate an element of ‘choice’ but which might financially enable the BBC to maintain its current level of services and role as the national broadcaster. Even this reform would be made impractical by the fact that most homes have Freeview, and this model would require the sort of consistent broadband access across the UK which does not exist and is unlikely to for a long time. Ironic, considering how Labour was planning free universal broadband!

Better, surely, to maintain a straightforward, universally accessible utility. While certain rabid BBC critics may often shout the loudest, they just expose themselves as aggressive, cultural wreckers. The more intelligent of them may call themselves “sovereign consumers” but in their cussed individuality they seem not to grasp the concept and reality of the ‘public’, and thus do not appreciate a national broadcaster which can cater to myriad audiences. The whole of the public should be the BBC’s masters, not Tony Hall or successor, and certainly not Boris Johnson.

BBC PURPOSES #2: Education and Programming

Furthermore, the BBC also has a vastly important role in the field of education. I propose wider public access to existing services like Learning on Screen. The BBC should have a greater role in the classroom from secondary level upwards; why not, when it has produced not just BBC Bitesize but programming as responsible and challenging as The Ascent of Man (BBC2, 1973), Muslims Like Us (BBC2, 2016), its Open University output since the early 1970s and BBC Bristol’s Natural History Unit’s programmes with David Attenborough?

The last decade has seen big-hitting dramas like Line of Duty (2012- ) and Call the Midwife (2012- ), comedies of the calibre of Peter Kay’s Car Share (2015-18), Detectorists (2014-17) and Mum (2016-19); as well as the masterly, currently under-publicised anthology series Inside No. 9 (2014- ). Outstanding documentaries have included Liza Williams’s probing, corrective-to-history The Yorkshire Ripper Files: A Very British Crime Story (2019), and one that Dominic Cummings might learn from: Eugenics: Science’s Greatest Scandal (2019).

But, it is critical to get away from my own preferences – to see things not just from in terms of “me”, but the wider “we“. Clearly, others deeply value programmes that aren’t my cup of tea like Mrs Brown’s Boys, The One Show or Countryfile. I don’t begrudge them their pleasures. I will however assert that it is time that EastEnders be replaced with a soap opera that tackles social issues like Julia Smith’s creation used to, but also inject some much-needed humour? What about basing it in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, a place more culturally aligned with Glasgow than London? The great Tyneside writer Tom Hadaway had a similar idea of a soap set around Newcastle’s Central Station in the 1990s, but his idea was regrettably not realized, as James Leggott (2016) has detailed.

Yes, it is vital to protect the BBC in Joan Bakewell and Nicholas Garnham (1970)’s characterisation of it as a pluralist church. So far, so Peter Hitchens. It is just as important that it be licensed to be in a composite of a Weimar cabaret venue and a national theatre: in which any ideas can be vigorously and sometimes irreverently contested. Still further, not quite so Peter Hitchens!

We need to learn from Jonathan Coe and Chris Morris’s wise comments on the licensed fool nature of satire these days: it currently serves the right in politics for politicians as a whole to be denigrated. Satire that does not take into account fundamental truths about power is toothless and banal. Of course, all Chris Morrises and Peter Cooks need their Ken Dodds or Les Dawsons and, unfortunately, neither the BBC nor ITV has not done enough to sustain these national traditions of dissident satire and music hall.

All of us benefit when in drama and comedy all different ideologies are rigorously scrutinised and dramatised – an example from my PhD study would be Robin Chapman’s Play for Today – ‘Come the Revolution’ (broadcast 1 week before ‘Abigail’s Party’ in late October 1977). Play for Today has been lazily stereotyped by Dominic Sandbrook as constituting ‘left-wing propaganda’. Yet, Chapman’s play is a complex dissection of a small, left-wing company akin to Portable Theatre being infiltrated and taken over by a doctrinaire Workers’ Revolution Party-like hard left sect. To me, the play signifies that left-wing people should develop the legacy of Theatre Workshop and be cautionary about an agitprop theatre that is a means of power accumulation for sects. It is brilliantly written and has magnificent performances from Vivian Pickles and Kenneth Colley as a pair of smooth, culturally influential sectarians. I sense it is not the only PFT that, in the wake of the IMF and Winter of Discontent “crises”, anatomised the left…

BBC PURPOSES #3: SERVING A DIVERSITY OF NEEDS?

Some on the political right want to destroy broadcasting for all minority interests other than their own. What would they have to say if the political left aimed to end The Last Night of the Proms, Antiques Roadshow, Songs of Praise, Royal family coverage and Test Match Special? I am only enamoured of the last of these, but can see that other people deeply value the others and they share the same country (, so I respect their traditional pleasures. More intelligent and emotionally sensitive Conservatives realise they should permit programmes and stations that younger or more left-wing people value. Football fans, regardless of their team allegiance, can surely agree that 5Live provides immeasurably richer coverage than Talk Sport?

Rather than the government – ironically led by an unelected bureaucrat – taking an axe to a century of accumulated wisdom, triumphs and failures, what about taking away the government’s power to renew or abolish the Royal Charter every ten years? What about placing the BBC on a permanent footing so that it is truly – and not quasi – autonomous from political interference? In addition, we should enact the Media Reform Coalition’s recent proposals that the BBC Board of Governors be comprised of 50% from those elected by staff and 50% from those elected by licence fee payers. It is surely better to democratise the BBC BOG rather than having most of them appointed directly by politicians in government or their appointees. It is about time that the Corporation’s Governors became a corpus reflective of the country at large, and not in the debt of government. It is encouraging that Rebecca Long-Bailey has endorsed these proposals: I await with interest what the other Labour leadership candidates have to say…

When the UK frays, the BBC gets caught in the crossfire; as with the Scottish Independence Referendum of 2014 when it came under heavy fire from the ‘Yes’ campaign for its perceived pro-Unionist coverage; a coverage inevitable given the ‘British’ third of the BBC’s name. The BBC is incredibly vulnerable now to claims that it just represents the two main national ‘capitals’: London and environs and the Unionist but ‘Remain’ voting stronghold of Edinburgh. It needs to show it cares just as much about the people of Belfast and Basingstoke, Glasgow and Liverpool.

OUR BBC’S FUTURE: SOME MODEST PROPOSALS

As Tom Hazeldine rightly argued in the New Left Review in 2017, much of the northern and midlands Brexit vote was down to resentment that investment and economic resources have been concentrated around London and the South East. Most northern and midlands towns and cities have proportionately lost out due to the Cameron-May governments’ economic policies of austerity. There is also much-documented English resentment at Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales having a degree of devolved autonomy and at the Barnett Formula. Now, the drive is rightly on for the BBC to broadcast more from and in the voices of the regions. We need to consign the sort of attacks that Steph McGovern received from those inside and outside the BBC who objected to her fine Teesside accent firmly in the past.

2027 is when the real battle over the Licence Fee will be won and lost; surely, democratic political parties must advocate a reformed, democratised BBC to consign Dominic Cummings’s elitist idea of a neutered, subscription-only BBC to the dustbin of history.

(1) Who has, though?! It could be argued that the government has a questionable grasp of the economic aspects of a No Deal Brexit, just as FBPE-rs have a doubtful grasp of the plurality of Brexiters’ positions: there are indeed thousands of personal private Brexits living in people’s minds across the country… The Yaxley-Lennon minority will be entirely unsavoury, but most will just be a quiet patriotism that does not necessarily want to Other minority groups. I want to hear from British Asian Leavers in Luton, Bradford or Slough, just like I’d want to hear from Remainers in the Brexit central of Lincolnshire… The media has had a role in creating prevalent visions of what ‘Leavers’ and ‘Remainers’ are like, based on partial readings of electoral geography; this is regrettable and yet another reason for improved public service broadcasting.

(2) In The Conversation blog piece, I link to John Humphrys without highlighting how he is now being paid to purvey his right-wing, traditionalist views within the pages of the Daily Mail.

(3) Some might say, like Guy Shrubsole, that they don’t share enough…

Brexit Britain: Day #1167: The masks slip to reveal Buller bullies and entitled pencils…

So, what has happened in the inexorable soap opera since last time? A newly “confident”, “proactive” government led by Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, has been installed, on the strength of 92,153 largely elderly and right-wing voters (that’s less of a mandate than IDS or even Ken Clarke achieved in 2001!). Supposed “evil mastermind” – who really just came up with an obvious populist slogan and used data harvesters like Cambridge Analytica – Dominic Cummings, a non-Tory Party member, is apparently holed up in a bunker, able to sack Chancellor Sajid Javid’s advisers with immunity and not consulting Saj. All was going swimmingly according to the majority of the British Press; a claim that later unravelled, as it became clear Johnson had planned to prorogue Parliament since 16 August, and that his “negotiations” with the EU were a “sham”. In addition, he’d won support from more moderate Tories by writing a letter to them that specifically ruled out prorogation.

You see, exactly a week ago, on 28 August, Johnson claimed he was going to “prorogue” Parliament, a legal but irregular and badly spirited move to exert executive power to stop MPs debating, shaping or having any sort of say over a potential “No Deal” exit on 31 October. This move induced outrage from liberals, the left and the shrinking band of Burkean One Nation Tories.

On Monday, a dog was moved into 10 Downing Street. As in the days of the General Strike in 1926, the BBC closes ranks for the establishment. If anything, here, less subtly than Reith managed! This “journalism” is the sort of puff pastry indispensable to those in power and long has been, as satirised by the great Terence Rattigan in his TV play for the cross-European The Largest Theatre in the World strand, ‘Heart to Heart’ (BBC, 1962). The play contains a cat which is utilised by the ironically named, newly appointed government minister Sir Stanley Johnson (Ralph Richardson) for the purposes of deflection, when he is in trouble over corruption allegations in a live TV interview. Johnson, like another of that name, is a self-portrayed “family man” whose heartrending pet story does fool a lot of the people, on this particular occasion.

And so, to Tuesday, and, remarkable scenes: Brexit literally tearing the Tories apart. A chancer of a Prime Minister, found out, completely out of his depth: refusing to do the sensible EEA compromise and actively articulating a desire to send this country off a cliff-edge by running down the clock. He is beneath contempt, as is his oily, smug lieutenant Jacob Rees-Mogg, who apparently knows better about risks to medicine in the event of a “No Deal” Brexit than consultant neurologist David Nicholl.

The 1960s-born posh politicians really are a “class apart”. Cameron, Osborne, Gove, Johnson, and Rees-Mogg were all privately educated and went to Oxbridge, similar to their key, right-wing journalist backers like Allison Pearson, Toby Young and James Delingpole (while Pearson and Young went to Comprehensives, they have done nothing for the cause of equality in education since). Such privilege does not on its own explain these people and their destructive and arrogant acts and words, but is clearly one factor.

This 2011 exam paper shows what Etonians are being trained in: anti-democratic rhetoric to “win” control over a putative 2040 dystopia. Seems the Cameron-Johnson era is planned as at least a forty years project:

Unnamed fictional protesters, with unnamed fictional families and loved ones, morally slaughtered

Our favourite haunted Victorian pencil also claimed the “Illuminati” were behind Tory rebels. Let that sink in: a UK government minister using conspiracist, coded anti-Semitic language of the Alt-Right in the House of Commons in response to Jewish MP Oliver Letwin’s points. They really are nasty pieces of work, many of these Brexiter Tories. Jacob Rees-Mogg is one of the very worst. Exceeding the irksome sight of IDS picking his nose, Rees-Mogg pompously wittered on for what seemed like millennia and had to be asked five times before admitting he didn’t know that Johnson had planned prorogation since 16 August. He also fell back on vapid Panglossian optimism about what WTO terms would mean, persistently evading the questions of several MPs including the Father of the House, Ken Clarke.

In contrast, Letwin made the sensible point that it is no sort of viable “bargaining chip” to threaten No Deal to the EU across the canyon if it means you may actually have to jump into the canyon yourself. 21 Tory MPs voted against the pro-rogue government and will earn a decent footnote in the history books. Another, Dr Philip Lee, joined the Liberal Democrats midway through Johnson’s speech, a touch of absurd but effective theatre that notably derailed Johnson’s already rambling flow. To the surprise of the liberal and centrist intelligentsia, Corbyn was able to thoroughly outpoint Johnson in Parliament, countering his blustering, populist incoherence with a reasoned and impassioned case against prorogation and for a sensible way forward.

When the 328-301 Parliamentary defeat was announced, John Bercow seemed to delight in telling a red-faced, rattled and shouting Michael Gove to calm down and behave. You may recall I gave qualified praise to Gove earlier this year for voicing truths on the difficulties of No Deal; yet, he has now thoroughly tied himself to the Johnson project, which either genuinely wants No Deal or wants to get other Parties to “take the blame” for stopping it. I suppose we shouldn’t be too surprised that Murdoch’s man, a libertarian, warmongering Cameron-Blairite right-winger, would be fully behind a right-wing power-grab. An intelligent, but thoroughly misguided man, cannot now pretend he is any better than Nigel Farage. He is the elite, and he rages against constraints on his own power.

Ultimately, what will linger most from today’s scenes in the House of Commons are the images of Johnson’s angry, bully’s mug and, of course, Jacob Rees-Mogg lounging around the front bench as if he personally owns the place, not listening to his fellow parliamentarians – now, was he dreaming of nanny, the Illuminati or how his global investments are going to do after a “No Deal”? Perhaps this right-honourable member for the 18th century had forgotten that there have been cameras have been installed in and have televised the House of Commons since 21 November 1989. And, thus we can see him and what he is as clear as day.

Opposition parties certainly aren’t being given an election gift by this… 😉
They’re really not…!

There’s no better way to finish now than with two of Twitter’s best responses:

Last day of May’s Britain…

May’s Britain

Image result for grenfell charred
(c) The Independent

Schools are crowdfunding for pencils, glue and books.

Government departments are in stasis, allowing the illusory talisman of “Brexit” to dazzle them still, 37 months and numerous reality-checks later.

‘Austerity’ has been rhetorically ‘ended’ by the outgoing Prime Minister and the resigning Chancellor, when it simply continues: a near decade in which we’ve had the mass redistribution of services and resources from the poorer to the richer in society. The fact of this is backed up by the UN, but is barely raised as a concern within our press or on television.

Theresa May’s tears on 24 May seemed emitted more due to ambition thwarted and sadness that her beloved Party is stuffed than from contrition about the Windrush scandal or Grenfell. On that day, on my way home through the centre of Newcastle upon Tyne, I passed about seven beggars. That simply wouldn’t have been the case ten years ago.

The recently deceased Christopher Booker, the first editor of Private Eye who later became euro-sceptic and climate change-sceptic, once described Britain in the 1970s as a ‘Sad Little Island’ (1980: 101). Under May, we have become even more of what can only be described as a ‘Mean Little Island’. Better an island prey to wistful melancholy than to bitterness, bluster and avarice. A United Kingdom – however complex – is better than Little England. As is a UK working with Europe to address climate change.

So, I had, and have, no sympathy. My namesake has been the joint-worst PM of my adult life; a remarkable achievement considering her predecessor was Carlton’s finest, David Cameron! The Daily Mail‘s choice is to be replaced by the Daily Telegraph‘s: such is life in Tory Britain.

Brexit Britain: Day #1080 – For a Left-pluralism and Against 51st-State “sovereignty”

On the BBC News on 4 June, a bearded British man, publicly defending Donald Trump, sported a baseball cap bearing the inscription: “MAKE AMERICAN GREAT AGAIN”. A few weeks earlier, you can see two further British subjects sporting the self-same sartorial delight in this video report on the Brexit Party. Maybe “MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN” should have been emblazoned on the famous Brexiter battle bus…?

This last week, we’ve witnessed a preposterous, ornate ‘state visit’ from Donald Trump, whereby British politicians and media have fallen over themselves to indulge him; there is, of course, no contradiction at all in their calls for greater “sovereignty” outside the EU and their offering up of the NHS and other areas as part of a cap-in-hand trade deal with the USA…!

We’ve seen European Election results where Farage’s Brexit Party gained 2% more of the vote than UKIP in 2014: hardly a ringing endorsement of a “No Deal” Brexit. 5,248,533 Brexit Party voters signalled their strong commitment to an illusory patriotic dream, perhaps not realizing that many of their candidates are tax avoiding pirate capitalists. Sadly, my own region, the North East of England, was the most susceptible to Brexit Party’s empty, manifesto-less, empty populism: who, instead of great candidates like the Greens’ Rachel Featherstone, elected a silver goateed Thatcherite Scot who lives in France as a North East MEP:

Some positives? Well, the now unequivocally far-right UKIP flopped, with Stephen Yaxley-Lennon humiliated. Moreover, the combined Lab-Green-LD-CUK-SNP-PC-SDLP share of the vote rose to 54.3% from 42.1% in 2014. The combined Tory-BP-UKIP vote was 42.5% down from 50.8% UKIP, Con and BNP got in 2014. The right is not winning as much as it was in 2009 and 2014; even, 2004, remember, which saw the absurd, vanity-stoked rise of Robert Kilroy-Silk MEP! There is a long way to go to defeat these people and their ideas, but, tentatively, the tide is turning as facile, unachievable ideas meet reality. Yet, on the Brexit issue, you sense not enough has changed: a re-run of the referendum would simply be 52-48 the other way. Sadly, bleakly, we may have to suffer the realities of an ever more unleashed pirate capitalism before the largely inattentive part of the public realises it has been sold not just a pup, but a rottweiler.

Do we care more about blue passports or protecting the ideals of the NHS? If the anti-Brexit petition got 6 million signatures, this should be getting even more: as we are now getting to know the shape of an actual No Deal Brexit. It will be a Britain that has literally amputated its own heart and brain if we allow the NHS to be “put on the table” with US profit to be put above UK people’s well-being. Brexiters only plan to make Trump’s America great again, remember?

Novelist and essayist Jonathan Coe has written persuasively of the strange movement from Olympics Britain of 2012 to the Brexit vote of 2016, not neglecting to argue that austerity was the harsh reality beyond the optimism expressed in Danny Boyle’s ceremony:

Still stunned by the referendum result, and cowed by the way it was talked up in the media as an overwhelming mandate, our political class remains paralyzed by its own commitment to delivering the undeliverable.

Jonathan Coe, TIME, 06/06/2019

We have been landed in this mess by the Tory Party, whose leadership campaign now is focused on a positive vision for the future of the country – hard-drugs for some and Hard Brexit for all! This article, too, reveals the Tories’ state of perhaps terminal weakness, with candidates scared of the likelihood of ‘Crowds booing Tories’. If they were genuinely confident in their Brexit and indeed in defending their record in government, they would welcome a proper, representative public forum. Instead, they will lobby for a disproportionately blue-rinsed, elderly and affluent assembly of Tory members and voters… And if they do get their way – sadly, the BBC see themselves as beholden to this hapless government – it may surely end up rebounding on them, as people see an audience that manifestly does not reflect the country at large.

Friday morning’s Peterborough by-election result was more heartening than expected: maybe these are the first signs of Brexit fatigue? Or is it evidence of my gnawing suspicion that, beyond the quite large and doggedly entrenched 5 million Leavers and 5 million Remainers, the largest number of people ultimately care more about other, domestic issues…?

It certainly suggests that Labour would be likely to “win” a general election under FPTP but probably with a minority government, so would have to work with other parties (GP, SNP, LD, PC). However, it isn’t going to be quite so simple to “put Brexit to bed” if you’re in power, but they could conceivably do so, and working and compromising with those 4 other parties should be key (and it would show up Theresa May’s failures to compromise even more)… What the result should demonstrate is that the Brexit Party may well gain a lot of votes, but they’ll gain relatively few seats under FPTP and invariably split the right-wing vote in a strange reverse-mirror of the 1980s.

Labour are making some positive steps, policy-wise: Angela Rayner and the National Education Service; Corbyn and Rayner with the absurdly overdue move away from the rhetoric of ‘social mobility’ and ‘meritocracy’: these are stale 1990s concepts that just dress up Grammar School-like idea of giving a leg up to a lucky few. Improving opportunities for all, ‘equality’ and ‘social justice’ are far more desirable and progressive goals. Let’s hope that Labour can also move towards a fairer system of transparency over land ownership and properly tax the biggest hoarders of land: not ordinary home-owners, but the small number who heard the vast acreage of Britain, as Ian Jack details in the LRB. More school playing fields and libraries and the idea of the Public Good.

Practical steps to achieve progressive outcomes:

1. Labour, after winning an election but without a majority, introduce a programme of constitutional reform including, crucially, Proportional Representation as a genuine sign of goodwill and cooperation towards those smaller parties.

2. They hold a second referendum on the actual Brexit deal that is available (& if No Deal isn’t given as an option, there’s proper public communication about why not).

3. The Labour-led government institute a genuine end to austerity and a return to ideas of the Public Good: NHS, NES, land reform…

4. They begin radical plans to address climate change.

I am of the Left but I care about listening to, learning from and allying with those of social-Liberal (not Orange Book Cleggite) and Green views. I am a Left-pluralist who realises the left’s historical record means it should not assume it has all the answers. New alliances need forming, to outmanoeuvre Johnson and Farage. Too many in both the Liberal-Left and the Left have turned their fire on each other and resorted to Life of Brian-esque sectionalism rather than relentlessly turning fire on the real enemies: especially those two privileged men named above, the lying journalist and the ‘rebel’ stockbroker.

Saving the planet is frankly the biggest issue that faces us. Let’s gradually and democratically consign Brexit to the history books: an impossible dream sold by the Tories on a false prospectus and face humanity’s real crisis and emergency of Climate Change and Britain’s real crisis of austerity. The first will be tough and require significant societal changes, and needs to be done in concert with others, the EU included… The Green New Deal is a good first step, but isn’t in itself going to be sufficient.

So, greater wisdom, humility and willingness to achieve the above four steps is necessary to unite the Left, ecologists and the Liberal-Left and keep the UK together as a political entity.

Brexit Britain: Day #1052: Calling generals… But not forgetting drivers

So, thought you could forget all about it…? Think again. While many of us Britishers enjoyed a sublime Easter weekend – even in the usually rainy north-west towns of Kendal and Brampton – we have again been brought face to face with the intractable lose-lose game and soap opera without episodes that is… Brexit.

Two Thursdays back, we had local elections and, curiously, the mood music from both Conservative and Labour parties is that their incoherent pro-Brexit stances have been vindicated by results which actually showed the Greens and Liberal Democrats significantly up, UKIP and Labour down and the Tories massively down.

At least some of our household voted Green in the local elections and my vote for Jamie Driscoll as Mayor of the North of Tyne was due to his seemingly genuine engagement with green issues. A municipal socialist Copenhagen upon Tyne is going to be rather likelier than Venezuela, I reckon and hope… While Tory rival candidate Charlie Hoult carried Northumberland by a margin of almost 14% in the second-round, Driscoll won by over 19% in North Tyneside and gained nearly tw0-thirds of the vote in Newcastle upon Tyne itself.

What else has happened? Man-child military fetishist Gavin Williamson lost his job, due to a purported leak about a sensitive international policy, in a strange after-echo of the 1986 Westland affair, but with added random petulance. If this is true, shouldn’t this dwarf even the leak in significance? Also, why is he accompanied by a famous, back-from-the-dead light entertainer?

With sincere apologies to the Swindonian band, XTC

If we are to believe one bizarre old buffer on Question Time (02/05/2019) who thought Williamson had been an army General, is this time to be “Calling Generals… and Brucies…!”?

Following the previous week’s Question Time madness which centred on the actor-pundit John Rhys-Davies, who had played a Guardian bully-boy in LWT’s neglected 1971 dystopian drama series The Guardians, an old man in the Warrington audience provided a generous, if unintended, helping of the absurd:

Like Toby Young, 42 year-old Williamson is another man from a Labour family who has thoroughly undermined his parents’ values. Instead of having been in the army, a myth he would no doubt like to foster, he has been managing director of a Staffordshire pottery firm, worked for an architectural design firm alongside being a career politician since the late 1990s.

Stormzy provides the real mood music with his ‘Vossi Bop’, current number #1 UK single which reached the top during the weekend and contains a bluntly political attack on the government and our favourite “loveable buffoon” and transmitter of racist tropes like “piccaninnies”, “watermelon smiles” and “letter boxes”:

“Fuck the government and fuck Boris!”

Meanwhile Tim Crouch and Toby Jones’s brilliant Don’t Forget the Driver depicts a fraught Britain in which the broadly good people hang in there amid banal sourness and madness. This Bognor Regis-set sitcom is much better than the seemingly flippant, insubstantial Ghosts, which just seems a needless update on The Ghosts of Motley Hall – at least from episode #1. Yet, this latter has more than double the audience of the former, which says something about British audience tastes: settling for meagre gruel when they could have a delicately constructed repast. DFTD is a cinematic take on Britain via Bognor – which Crouch hails from. It carefully balances the mundane, beautiful, bleak and heartwarming and transcends comedy. Watch it, if you haven’t already: it’s great.

Erin Kellyman, one of many brilliant players in the DON’T FORGET THE DRIVER cast

On Tuesday 7 May, to paraphrase Paddy McAloon, “I got two things through my door, you’re no longer one of them:

On Wednesday 8 May, I didn’t rip it up – satisfying but impact-less. Instead, I posted it back to ensure these charlatans pay the postage.

Also this week, on Monday 6 May, I had a letter published in the Guardian, highlighting the historical amnesia of Coronation Street producers and media pundits in claiming the Baileys are to be the ‘first black family’ to appear in the soap opera.

INFORMER: “God didn’t save the Queen — Charlie did!”

INFORMER

TX: BBC1, Tuesdays, 9pm, 16/10/2018 – 20/11/2018 (six episodes)
w: Rory Haines & Sohrab Noshirvani, d: Jonny Campbell, p: Julian Stevens, m: Ilan Eshkeri (Neal Street Productions)

Informer is local, national and specific. It is the alternative to some of the more transnational tendencies – common, for better and worse – in recent TV dramas. In their tough script, Haines & Noshirvani address the thorny issue of national identity; they are also singularly successful in rooting their drama in the atmosphere of 2018 Britain: a place fraught, boisterous and unstable in a way a 30-something like me has never really previously experienced (though this situation has gradually revealed itself ever since the onset of austerity in 2011).

Yes, Informer is mostly London-centric, but it at least feels genuinely of a London which the drama defines in contrast to the bleak “Other” of the more fleetingly depicted North. The setting is manifestly East London, around Brick Lane and Whitechapel. Central to this geographical dichotomy are revelations of policeman Gabriel Waters (Paddy Considine)’s previous double-life: in contrast to his suburban family life in the South, his undercover work is as the self-styled “Charlie”, infiltrating far-right circles in the North. Considine – channelling some of the disturbing force he conveyed as the avenging ex-soldier Richard in Shane Meadows’ Dead Man’s Shoes (2004) – is adept in the role of Gabe, trying and often failing to separate his two lives. Edgy performances rooted in social realism are Considine’s stock-in-trade and he is given fascinating material here and is well balanced by the perceptive, acerbic Bel Powley as Holly Morten.

In contrast to Bodyguard, Haines & Noshrivani present a whole Muslim family, in depth and warts and all: no idealisation or demonisation here. Heading an impressive ensemble cast is Nabhaan Rizwan as Raza Shar, a second-generation British Pakistani hairdresser who is mercurial, street-smart and basically decent but roped into deeply questionable activities as part of his new role as police informer. His family life is troubled and all members are presented as flawed human beings – not as driven ideologues or dupes for Islamist ideas as so many other dramas present Muslims. As I previously argued, Bodyguard does the Muslim community a grave disservice in its simplistic fictional representations of them.

This drama is keener to display how individual foibles can lead to a tragic, inexorable sequence of events and also sets up the intriguing subplot of Gabe’s double-life as “Charlie”, keeping open until the last episode the sadly all too realistic possibility of far-right terrorism in Brexit-afflicted Britain. The characters in this northern world, like Sharon Collins (Rachel Tucker), are not ogres, but nor are they shown to “have a point” in their core views. Sharon is distinguished from the rest in seeming less passionate in her politics, but nor does she seem to countenance leaving the group: she is of their world.

The world these particular Northerners exist in is clearly shown to be limiting and limited – indeed, they celebrate the legend of Charlie as the socially-mobile one who “escaped” – genuinely neglected by the metropole but also self-defeating in their closed attitudes. “Charlie”, when he encounters Nigel “Nige” Briggs (Richard Glover) who lays bare the geopolitical divides when Charlie asks him “What are you doing down here? I thought you’d never set foot in London”: “I still stay out the PC swamp as far as I can. But, you know, when duty calls.” As Gabe explains to Holly, “He [Charlie] was a hero to those people – the one that got away”. But, in his fiction, he didn’t escape to London but to the dreamland of Florida.

In a taut, frightening scene in episode 5, “Charlie” has returned in character to a working men’s club type venue where friends of Nigel Briggs (Richard Glover), implicitly of the far-right, gather to celebrate Nigel’s life following his death, which, in a dramatic irony unknown to them, was linked to his encountering Charlie again. Gabe as “Charlie” shows himself to be an expert rabble rousing MC, and is announced as “the master of disaster himself”. His rhetoric is inch-perfect in its rough sentimentality and incitement: “I know that Nige is up there, watching us. And he’d want us to have a fucking riot!”

“Charlie” is a performative, masculine Nazi, not with swastikas but a Burberry-style Mod jacket and who has the pogoing audience as putty in his hands, sharing in a love of their retrograde Oi brand of punk music. And then, there is the more disturbing turn when a pizza delivery man of Asian ethnicity appears to deliver food and “Charlie” apparently loses control of his persona and appears to side with what is an overtly racist mob against him. This scene, while clarified in episode 6, is not robbed of any of its stark power. It is violence and bigotry distilled; as Dennis Potter said of David Edgar’s ‘Destiny’ in 1978, this is ‘malignancy charted’, the malignancy of 2018 that has been gestating for a long time.

In Gabe’s assuming of this alter-ego ‘mask’, nothing is dressed up: he is shown to have a conflicted love and shame for being “Charlie”. Being “Charlie” seems to give him some greater adrenaline, ego boost and sense of belonging to this dangerous world, which holds greater excitement for him than his family life with Emily (Jessica Raine) and children. You get a sense that he might actually want to, as he says, “glory-days it” with Nige. This drama exposes the real and actual corruption of undercover police work, while also not necessarily denying its necessity.

Roger Jean Nsengiyumva is brilliant as Dadir Hussain, a roguish drug dealer who is nevertheless far from a stereotypical Black Briton; family life is more important to him. There is a brilliant scene where social worlds collide when Raza and Dadir encounter middle-class students in a local art college; this conveys something of East London’s distinctive and diverse social milieu. Raza also has a great, taut scene in episode 1, where he meets some middle-class London hipsters and rebukes them for their patronising, hackneyed attitudes and demonstrates he possesses cultural capital they don’t expect: knowledgeably mentioning photographer Robert Capa.

This is a defiantly uncomfortable drama of Britain in 2018, which centres on the mundane realities of multicultural London. It also conveys a tellingly nightmarish vision of the North, seen as if in passing via the cult of “Charlie” that hoodwinks the downtrodden, self-excluding group who put their faith in flags more than people. Best of all, it gives voice to a range of men and women and race is only centred on by the racists, whose stories are rightly given less time.

Brexit Britain: Day #1040 – Mass-Observation and Dream Diaries

From the 25-27 April, I attended the seventh annual conference British Association for Television and Screen Studies; the first I had attended and at which I spoke.

On Friday 26th, during my panel, the preceding speaker talked eloquently about a long lost BBC TV series EAST END, broadcast in 1939. This was an anthropological insight into the subject of Jewish and Cockney life in the East End of London, presented by Tom Harrisson, one of the founders of the Mass-Observation movement. More than a decade ago, David Attenborough presented a documentary on Harrisson, entitled Tom Harrisson: the Barefoot Anthropologist (BBC4, 18/01/2007). After our panel, the speaker JJ told me how easy it was to get sidetracked in the M-O archives: for example, getting engrossed in the dream diaries participants were asked to complete in the early years of the Second World War.

On Saturday afternoon, I made my way back from the conference on the Cross Country train to Newcastle. While there was excellent free WiFi access for the whole journey, and I spent much of the time typing up my handwritten notes from a fascinating documentary on Italian genre cinema of the 1970s, I couldn’t help observing some of what was going on around. The woman next to me was older middle-aged, serious but fairly cheery when she struggled to locate the right ticket. At Leeds, the train emptied. At York, it filled up again. A hen party, and nearer to where I was sat, a group of young women – very Geordie and working class. The sort of people Rod Liddle might patronise or, even worse, claim to speak for. The announcer on the PA system chummily advertised alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages on sale. 

This group was loud, on a generally noisy carriage. At a few points they had current popular “tunes” on, as I heard a passerby say. They went out of their way to be polite. One of them needed a tissue or something and a fellow passenger gave one and was thanked profusely: “You see, I’ve got manners, me!” It could have been an encounter in Lynsey Hanley’s book Respectable: The Experience of Class (2016).

This was far from the threatening raucousness you can sometimes get on a Saturday train from tanked-up average geezers. Their dialect was interesting – the Geordie usage of “grief” as a verb. Moreover, they did not just speak about their own lives but about the varied (and none too promising) job prospects in areas like nursing. One of them in particular had strongly held views, critical of people in their own generation who seemed to want to earn their money via Instagram, in some way… They were critical of people being “obsessed” with social media and discussed what they saw as the bad pay and conditions of being a nurse today.

After mentioning the difficulties the Health Service is having in providing care for certain conditions, one said: “I don’t think there’ll be an NHS in ten years’ time.”

These aren’t the sort of people, in age, class or geography, whose voices we hear much, except if they are ghettoised in reality TV or entertainment or mediated by journalists of left, neoliberal or right wing persuasions. (Most commonly, the latter two) It made me think of the folly of scrapping BBC3. It also made me think: why on earth doesn’t the BBC make a current affairs equivalent of Gogglebox, based in the likes of trains, bus queues and shopping centres? Unmediated by voice-over.

I had a dream, yesterday morning. The Prime Minister was holding a press conference. This was seemingly being broadcast to the nation. Yet instead of the usual sort of media set up she was sat on the floor. Beside her was a pile of books. After making a very cursory introduction, she picked up one of the books and began reading. The contents were baffling: nothing seemed to make sense.

It seemed she was somehow trying to be “authentic”. Yet, she was completely failing to connect and seemed utterly oblivious to how it was all coming across.

She abruptly abandoned the first book and starting reading from another, which again made little sense. The gathered journalists were scratching their heads and began muttering, uncomfortable at the non sequiturs. The PM’s delivery was as prim and Sunday school teacher patronising as usual, but it seemed she hadn’t learned the content beforehand. It seemed to me that these were books that had meant something to her in the distant past, or to someone else…

I was in the midst of the group and, somehow, a book appeared in my hands. I turned the pages, it was an old book, its contents were obscure. Its texture as a physical object particularly struck me as I turned its dusty pages; whole chapters were marked with soot. Yet, I was able to detect amid its antiquity that its subject was English culture and in particular English seaside resorts.

I suddenly felt that a sense of epiphany, as if it was being provided by a film voice-over: that I was aware, at least in part, of what she was getting at. Yet, I kept my silence and the broadcast continued. 

Brexit Britain: Day #1023 – Basil Fawlty to EU: “Give us a No Deal or you’ll be CRUSHED!”

So, the Brexit soap opera – series 4 is it, or 41? – has drawn to a close. Pleasingly, there has been much compelling television which engages with not just metropolitan London (the engrossing, zeitgeist-chasing Fleabag on BBC1) but also: down-at-heel Bognor Regis (the aptly discomfiting, sour Don’t Forget the Driver on BBC2), 1990s Northern Ireland (the magnificently refreshing Derry Girls, on Channel 4), 1970s-80s Yorkshire (Liza Williams’s astute, damning record of a society’s grim misogyny The Yorkshire Ripper Files: A Very British Crime Story on BBC4; why not BBC1?) and our very own Newcastle upon Tyne (David Olusoga’s A House Through Time, on BBC2, tracing a representative our-story of class, power, knowledge and culture).

It has also been a week when the Radio Times has proclaimed Connie Booth and John Cleese’s Fawlty Towers (BBC, 1975-79) as the UK’s favourite sitcom, which has also been interpreted as a warning about the isolated Little England mindset. One that wasn’t heeded. Somehow, many people have clearly overlooked Booth & Cleese’s encoding: laid-back liberalism and open-mindedness about women, the working class, the Irish, the Germans, black GPs and other professionals (not of the Bodie-Doyle kind!). Instead, they have aberrantly decoded Fawlty Towers as meaning that a besieged island mentality, angry paranoia and obsession with class status are desirable ends.

Speaking of Fawlty’s influence, what about that long-time MAY’S BRITAIN… favourite Mark Francois? This abuser of Tennyson and the English language (Europe will be “facing perfidious Albion on speed”, apparently), has not been tipped for the knacker’s yard of clapped-out Gammonry but for the Tory leadership…! By Telegraph columnist Charlotte Gill, who seems to have a latent desire for Tory oblivion, which would be just about the only positive by-product of an actual No Deal scenario. “A No Deal”, planning for which has been finally halted this week, is manifestly not the most popular option for the public, whatever IDS and Boris Johnson have claimed this week.

Gill’s unhinged punditry arrives amid inconveniently cautionary voices about the whole “Brexit” enterprise; not from usual suspects but from the Daily Mail‘s Peter Oborne on Open Democracy and James Kirkup in Brexiter-haven The Spectator. Oborne stresses the threat to the UK and regrets his lack of consideration for Northern Ireland back in 2016; Kirkup assiduously dismantles the myth that we would have ‘control’ or ‘freedom’ if we “go WTO”. Both reflect on actual scenarios we face now, not on the illusory fantasy Brexits that were hatched in many bonces in June 2016.

These were fantasies ludicrously indulged by the Prime Minister, as this January 2017 rhetoric captured on the front-page of The Times attests:

Somehow, the innate glory of Britain as a country put us in the driving seat, in a negotiation ‘against’ 27 other nation-states working in tandem and supporting each other… Somehow, for Brexiters, EU claims about not doing a trade deal without the backstop are bluff, yet a self-harming No Deal is not a bluff, but a desirable end!

As the second “Brexit Day” passed with barely a whimper; instead of mass public discontent, I sense rather tired annoyance and indifference. There was a whimper, an “off-grid”, “blackout” protest of maybe 3,000 (at best) social media diehards. Do they actually believe their propaganda that staying off work and sitting in the house with the TV off for one day could “bring the country to its knees”?

They exclaim: “No cars, no shopping, no TV, no phones!” Until we get our way and we get No free roaming on holiday, No EU food imports, No jobs from companies who have settled here over our 46 years of membership! No United Kingdom!

Well, I’m sitting in the house now, writing this and listening to house. Through the TV is playing ACID: MYSTERONS INVADE THE JACKIN’ ZONE, a compilation of Chicago Acid & Experimental House from 1986-93. A CD I bought in London two Saturdays ago. After having listened to Jens Lekman & Annika Norlin’s epistolary album Correspondence via the internet. I have played Mr Fingers’ ace ‘Washing Machine’ and also used a washing machine. Beat that! While they are free to listen to their Arthur Askey and Strawbs records on gramophone or vinyl and re-read Enoch Powell’s ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech for the thousandth time without so much showing a leg… I think my activities will have as much effect on the world as theirs.

I seriously hope that this is my last Brexit post for a while, and the “Francois for PM” and “Blackout” incidents constitute an appropriately hapless, desperate damp squib with which to end this series of the Brexit soap opera. Sadly, I fear “Brexit” is going to be with us for at least the medium term. A nation has grown used to shouting at itself for three years, and, bizarrely, it likes it! Or, many do: especially those Leavers who like saying “get over it” and claiming to speak for “the 17.4 million”, but also that curious niche of Remainers who are desperate to rewind the clock to Cameron-Osborne’s neoliberal political programme of 2015/16.

As we enter a “Brexit Lull”, desired by all but those true believers in traitors and betrayals, there are other issues we might consider important. Greta Thunberg’s Friday climate change protests continue; David Attenborough is to broadcast on the subject on BBC1 next week. We might focus our minds on what happened one hundred years ago today in Amritsar, India, and while welcoming the fact that the Prime Minister raised the issue in Parliament, we should all urge her to apologise on behalf of the UK for what we did.

In writing about the 1978 Play for Today ‘Destiny’, I noted that the scene from David Edgar’s earlier stage play mentioning the killing at Amritsar of 400 unarmed Indian protesters by British troops ordered by Brigadier-General Reginald Dyer was excised from the television version. This showed a certain historical timidity in the BBC, which, while backing the play’s complex and even-handed dramatisation of many political voices, and showing the poignant death of Major Rolfe’s son in Northern Ireland, excised the historical facts concerning many more deaths in India in 1919.

We must remember, we must apologise. We must see ourselves as others see us, whether we want to do free-trade deals with India or Europe, or both or neither. I believe in the choice of a new generation and insist that we can leave Powell and Francois behind and heed the lessons of Fawlty Towers.

MRS WILSON: “March for Victory!”

MRS WILSON

TX: BBC1, Tuesdays, 9pm, 27/11/2018 – 11/12/2018 (three episodes)
w: Tim Crook, Anna Symon & Alison Wilson, d: Richard Laxton, p: Jackie Larkin, m: Anne Nikitin (Snowed-In & PBS Masterpiece & All3 Media – for BBC One)

Mrs Wilson is the only docudrama among these BBC dramas I’ve addressed, being based on real events, with Ruth Wilson playing her own real-life grandmother. It is, to refer to Derek Paget’s definitions in his excellent No Other Way to Tell It: Dramadoc/docudrama on television (2011), very much a docudrama rather than a dramadoc, with the facts informing a drama that attempts to get to deeper emotional truths.

As Joseph Oldham has commented on Twitter, ‘It is like James Bond but as seen from the Bond Girls’ perspective’, with the shadowy Alec Wilson seen as charming rogue but only seen partially and with the roguery not passed over. Iain Glen is excellent as the dubious spy and novelist (24 novels, 1928-40), coming across as like a corrupted Roger Livesey. Ruth Wilson is exceptionally engaging as the tortured, betrayed Alison Wilson, equally able at suggesting her severity and plausible emotional repression as well as the necessarily volcanic eruptions as she comes into greater knowledge of her husband’s bizarre life.

Patriotism and its associated myths are seriously questioned, as we see things from Ruth’s perspective and Alec’s genuinely held patriotism may just be a desperate cover for his myriad infidelities. We see a “maverick” from the perspective of her wronged wife, and the precise nature of his dealings in the likes of Egypt and India in the 1930s and 40s remains opaque, even mystifying. Is he even an Oscar Wilde style ‘sphinx without a secret’? He definitely is a father whose guidance cannot be trusted, as in the repeated scenes of him reading one of his patriotic adventure stories to one of his sons: “Gordon was a brave soldier. He wasn’t afraid of the enemy, was he? No! He was going to win the war for his country. He led his soldiers over the highest mountains, across the widest rivers, marching onwards — march, march, march! March to victory!”


Episode 3: Alison, very impressed with her husband’s jingoistic bedtime story…

This scene is a more naturalistic docudrama variant on ‘Once upon a Time’ in McGoohan and Markstein’s The Prisoner (TX: ITV, 1967-68) with its pay-off that James Bond style escapist adventure that we have just watched is just a children’s story, used as diversionary propaganda to indoctrinate children in the Village. Compared to Bodyguard, which does have its scene of Budd harshly remonstrating with his child – “Don’t show weakness!” – it is a deeper questioning of “Sturdy Oak” masculinity and traditional militarism. Ruth Wilson, interestingly enough appeared in several episodes of The Prisoner’s 2009 revival, the same year as appearing in the adaptation of the late Andrea Levy’s Windrush narrative Small Island.

We have the now relatively rare case of a TV drama engaging with religion – these aren’t the days of Adam Smith (TX: Granada, 1972-73)! Though I am aware of Jimmy McGovern’s Broken (TX: BBC1, 2017), which I haven’t seen. Ruth finds faith as a way to come to peaceful terms with her shattered life – caught in the maelstrom of Alec’s labyrinthine existence, it seems to make perfect sense, as well as emphasising religion’s relatively greater centrality to British life in the 1960s, where the ‘current day’ scenes are set. Mrs Wilson does veracity well; the period décor, costumes, furnishings and hairdos are all present and correct and this explicitly feels like a plausible version of the 1940s and 1960s, with no transplanted 2018 dialogue.

The focus is on the domestic, cast into doubt and mutilated by the glare of the public world. This sense of disruption is conveyed by the intrusion of Alec’s past into Ruth’s present, following his death. We are treated to visitations from recent Terrorscapist TV fictions: Keeley Hawes, much more incisive as the luminously bohemian actress Dorothy Wick than as the Home Secretary in Bodyguard and Fiona Shaw conveying enigmatic gravitas as Alec’s snaking intelligences services “handler” Coleman, much as she did in Killing Eve. Dave Hill, always a welcome presence, is a Landlord, and has form in terms of appearing in film and television that interrogates national identity: A Day Out (1972), Bill Brand (1976), Britannia Hospital (1982), Remembrance (1982) and The Monocled Mutineer (1986) are just some of his previous credits.

Mrs Wilson is exactly right at three hour-long episodes, it doesn’t outstay its welcome or become overstretched. The ending, with its shift to the real descendants, speaks of a pragmatic decency in our national character that seems all the wiser in this age of inflated culture wars between liberalism and conservatism.

Now, to examine, after Raymond Williams and John Ellis, its place in the British television flow of 2018: after its end we are immediately told that ‘Poirot is here’. Following trailers for the now-traditional BBC Christmas Agatha Christie of The ABC Murders (BBC1, 2018), as well as Death and Nightingales (BBC2, 2018) and Luther (BBC1, 2019), we have grim-faced Huw Edwards reading the BBC News at 10 O’Clock on Tuesday 11 December.


The soap opera just keeps going… Unlike Mrs Wilson

This was the day that there was supposed to have been a vote on Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement with the EU, but the Prime Minister had bottled it, fearing a heavy defeat. Edwards speaks about a possible vote of no confidence by the Tory Party in May’s leadership – which later happened, revealing a fraught 63-37% split. There is a trailed story about lowering unemployment figures, but most prominent is domestic gloom (BBC London reporting more train fare increases) and international realpolitik through the EU spokesperson on the WA: “It is the best deal possible. It is the only deal possible.”

You are left wondering about the enigmatic, adventuring Alec, but far more about the consequences of his actions, and, inevitably, thoughts are drawn to many current day would-be British “buccaneers” and the likely consequences of how they wield power.