Sunday, March 23, 2008

The power of good telly

I recently read The Two of Us, Sheila Hancock’s memoir of her passionate and sometimes rocky marriage to John Thaw. Thaw was propelled to fame along with Denis Waterman in the 70s in the landmark British cop show, The Sweeney, and later starred (less interestingly and convincingly to my mind) as Inspector Morse. I was not a Thaw fan and was surprised to read that his passing (he died of throat cancer in 2002) almost stopped the nation and attracted the condolences of Prince Charles and Cherie Blair among others. Such is the power of telly I suppose. Thaw himself was a great apologist for it as a respectable alternative to legit theatre and Hollywood stardom, self aware enough to acknowledge that being a big fish in the relatively small pond of UK telly suited his ego very well.

What tickled me more than any of the insights into Thaw’s vodka sodden years and latter epiphany were Sheila’s lovely asides about the telly luminaries of my childhood: Frankie Howerd, Derek Nimmo and Kenneth Williams. Just as Sheila observes that fans felt they had a personal relationship with Regan and Morse (the heroes of the two Thaw series) I felt and feel an affection for those eccentric performers from Up Pompeii, All Gas & Gaiters and numerous Carry Ons because they were inhabitants of my childhood world and laughing at their antics was a shared and galvanising family experience.

The writers of Life on Mars realise how deep this goes. They made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up when they rendered “Give Me Sunshine” (one of Morecombe and Wise’s themes) in a sinister and unnerving version in the first episode of series two. It messes with your head, tampers with a deep sense of the familiar and comforting. Dennis Potter knew it too when he staged rape, murder and execution to the lilting feel-good songs of the 30s and 40s in Pennies From Heaven.

A Potter production I tried hard to appreciate but which just didn’t work for me like Pennies From Heaven was Black Eyes. How nice to see Gina Bellman, who played its eponymous heroine, teamed with James Nesbitt in Jekyll over the past few Sundays and what a tour de force piece of telly that was!

Doc Martin, At The Movies and docos on Walt Disney and Lee Harvey Oswald have kept me engaged this Easter break when a virus put paid to planned trips and outings. At the risk of committing blasphemy as Compass has just usefully reminded me many thought Martin Scorsese and Monty Python did in the 70s, thank God for good telly!

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