Thursday, March 27, 2008

Hancock and Joan

How Tony Hancock would have hated Hancock and Joan! (BBC4) That's not in itself a basis to criticise it. But, as Nancy Banks-Smith said today, it wasn't worthy of him.

It was a tawdry piece of work - as bad as last week's The Curse of Steptoe was good. What a shame to see two fine actors - Ken Stott and Maxine Peake - mixed up in this mess of a drama. Ken Stott's lack of resemblance to Hancock wouldn't have mattered so much if he could have got the voice right, but that was never likely, given Stott's deep, gravelly Scots accent.
Above all, this was a mind-numbingly tedious drama and I must admit I didn't stay with it to the bitter end.

We knew the play would contain the 'C' word because the announcer warned of 'very strong language'. The 'F' word carries a warning of just 'strong language' - and that warning precedes nearly every post-watershed programme today.
(Incidentally, the Paramount channel has warnings that go something like: 'if you're one of those people that's offended by certain words, you might want to give this one a miss!' They somehow imply that you can switch off if you want to but it's really time you grew up. Sometimes they make me laugh more than the programme that follows).
I couldn't see any strong justification for using the word in a programme likely to attract a lot of people much older and more language-sensitive than myself. It made its first appearance within about five minutes, as if to say: if you think this is a cosy drama about a fondly-remembered comedian, you can fuck off to bed with your cocoa. As it happened, there were many other reasons not to waste 90 minutes of your life.

And the play included one far worse breach of taste and decency, as vile a scene as you will ever see on the screen: a shot of Hancock sitting on the lavatory suffering from diarrhoea. I can't begin to understand why a writer would write such a scene.
Galton and Simpson picked up on the fact that Hancock liked reading philosophy and in the first episode of his final series had him reading Bertrand Russell. Do you suppose that if Hancock had told them he'd had a stomach upset they would have written a scene with him groaning on the lavatory? (Rhetorical question).

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Web of Delusion (contd.)

In an interview with Education Guardian yesterday, Kenneth Baker, the former Tory Education Minister, said this:
"The web and Youface [he later corrects himself] and tube have given ordinary people power. They want to be more involved in decision-making. It means there's going to be much more power at the rim of the wheel than the hub."

Leaving aside the comic dimension of YouFace and SpaceBook, this is yet more internet-related bollocks-on-stilts from a politician.
Do I sit down at this blog in the morning singing that 80s song 'I've Got The Power!'
Do I fuck.
Blogging is just the contemporary version of vanity publishing with the advantage that it's free and you might get a few readers who can engage with you through comments.
YouTube is a place where young people can post videos of themselves setting fire to their hair.
Social networking sites are just that: places to socialise and share pictures.
None of these things have 'given ordinary people power'.

In the ten years that the internet has been an important medium in many people's lives (not forgetting that there's still a 'digital divide' with large chunks of the population still not online), has there been a significant shift in the distribution of either power or wealth in society?
Of course not.

It's impossible to say whether politicians actually believe this garbage about the empowerment of ordinary people by the internet.
But one thing you can be sure of: the political system in liberal democracies will simultaneously embrace and neutralise the new medium, making damned sure that it doesn't actually transfer any power to ordinary people.
So David Cameron posts videos on YouTube of him doing the washing-up in the belief that this connects him with young people and No 10 enables petitions to be posted on its website as a sham exercise in direct democracy - the people have spoken (well, a few nutters anyway) and we can safely ignore them.
Meanwhile, the non-liberal, non-democracies will continue to ruthlessly censor the internet. Only this week Cuba, that country so beloved of a certain type of leftie, has blocked access to the country's most popular blog.

To adapt Ken Baker's analogy, the relationship of 'the people' to the wheel is not so much one of 'power at the rim' but more like a hedgehog flattened under the wheel.
Or, to put it another way, we've always been rimmed by the ruling class and always will be.


Meanwhile, from over the pond, we have a new term to add to the lexicon of political euphemisms for lying. Being 'economical with the truth' has already passed into the language. Or, as the late Alan Clark put it: 'economical with the actualité'.
Now, Hillary Clinton, following her family-size, Melton Mowbray porkie about landing in Bosnia under sniper fire has said that she 'misspoke'.
Perhaps it's time to update the story of what little George Washington said to his father after cutting down the cherry tree: "I cannot mis-speak."
No, doesn't have quite the same ring to it.


It's a day to fly the flag at Lupin Towers at half-mast. This was Carolyn Quinn's last day on the Today programme.
Intelligent, courteous and lacking in ego, Carolyn Quinn has the most mellifluous voice in radio. She will be greatly missed.
At least we now know who Evan Davis is replacing. If only it had been Sarah Montagu. I had been hoping for the wonderful Evan and the Mighty Quinn as my Dream Team.
Ah well, you can't have everything.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Bottling It

Geoff wrote recently about the joys of local authority recycling schemes.
If his area is anything like mine, he'll have to grapple with the fact that collections for different items all have different weekly collection cycles. This is a nightmare for the terminally confused - a group in which I have already been enrolled as an associate member.

My Council did produce a helpful leaflet of Questions and Answers.
One of the questions was "What is a plastic bottle?"
You might think the only possible answer could be: "A bottle made of plastic."
But no.
The answer given is: "Anything shaped like a bottle."
I have a ceramic vase that is shaped like a bottle. Indeed, I have several bottles that are shaped like a bottle but are made of glass. But they all meet the Council's definition of a plastic bottle.
One day I'm going to throw them in my special plastic bottle sack, armed with documentary justification written by the eco-gestapo themselves.
But so far I've bottled it.

Six Million? That's Very Nearly 214 Armfuls!

Last night BBC4 showed John Freeman's 1960 Face to Face interview with Tony Hancock.
One of the more intriguing moments was when Freeman pressed Hancock on his massive earnings. At that time he was one of the highest paid people on television. Was it true that the BBC paid him £30,000 a year? After much hesitation, Hancock said it wasn't true but conceded it was very close to £30,000 a year.
This enormous sum enabled Hancock to buy a house in the country, buy lots of cars and travel the world in luxury.
Today the average salary is, I believe, around £28,000.

It set me wondering whether the relationship between today's TV stars' salaries and average salaries was any different from Hancock's day.
In 1960 the average salary for an office worker seems to have been around £600. So Tony Hancock was being paid 50 times as much.
Jonathan Ross's current BBC contract pays him £6 million a year. If my calculations are correct, that's 214 times the average salary.
This, of course, mirrors the massive income inflation amongst the super-rich more generally, with CEOs of major companies earning more in a year than their office cleaner will earn in a lifetime.
I quite like Jonathan Ross. But whether he merits a salary from public money that is massively greater than was ever paid to Tony Hancock in his prime is doubtful.


Episode 3 of series 2 of Gavin and Stacey (BBC3) has been widely hailed as one of the funniest so far. "I howled, spluttered and wept throughout" said the Radio Times reviewer.
Most attention has focused on the gym scene towards the end. Funny though that was, I was crying with laughter for most of the previous twenty minutes and never more so than at Smithy's hysterical crying fit in Gavin's office. Smithy ruled out suicide when he realised he couldn't afford the necessary quantity of Nurofen if he was going to have a holiday this year. When you're one of the writers you can give yourself great lines like that. And in the mind of Smithy, that's a piece of reasoning that makes perfect sense, as does his repeated statement that he's "the father of someone else's child".

One of the reasons the second series hasn't disappointed is that the writers keep on surprising us. Nessa's share-dealing was a jolt from the blue but she's a character for whom nothing will strain credulity.
The Observer's reviewer, Kathryn Flett, is one of those unfortunate souls who is lukewarm about the series. Fair enough. You can never argue with personal taste in comedy. But when she says she doesn't like 'warm cockles' I think she's missed the point. For all its warmth, many of the characters are tragic to varying degrees. It's from that low-level tragedy of everyday life that the comedy springs. The two chief exceptions are Gavin and his father Mick, both sensible, feet-on-the-ground blokes to a degree that would be boring were it not for their kindness and a streak of romanticism. Both have to pick up the pieces from the chaos that swirls around them and that perhaps makes them rather tragic too.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

I'd Cry and Scream at Anything

I was lured into watching 'I'd Do Anything' (Saturdays, BBC1) because 'Oliver' is one of the greatest stage musicals. It would be easy to sneer at something with such mass appeal but hearing those terrific songs belted out in a theatre is always ten times more enjoyable than you remembered.
This series is another stab at casting a West End musical through a talent show. In this case they are looking for a Nancy and an Oliver - actually three Olivers because of working restrictions on children.

A member of my family was in the last Cameron Mackintosh production of Oliver over twenty years ago (don't worry J, I won't publish the photos). Thus it was I found myself sitting in the stalls of a provincial theatre watching rehearsals, the only male among a gaggle of proud mums. My most vivid memory is of the moment the boy playing Oliver sang an unaccompanied solo. When he finished, all the other boys applauded. I started to applaud but, as luck would have it, I seemed to have got a speck of dust in my eye and had to blow my nose. Looking along the row of mothers, wads of tissues were being produced from handbags and passed around. That was a bad year for colds and flu.

'I'd Do Anything' is a dubious title for a show featuring young women desperate to appear on the West End stage. But fear not. Graham Norton, John Barrowman and Sir Cameron Mackintosh are all gay. And Andrew Lloyd Webber.......well, in the immortal words of Mr Meatloaf: "but I won't do that."

There are another ten weeks to go but so far this crying and screaming fest has been monumentally boring. Things might pick up in the live shows but I'm not sure I can face another ten weeks of crying and screaming. Some of these girls were in tears at having to remove their make-up so God knows what tsunami of lachrymosity will be unleashed when they move into the TV studio.
Some of them did the smiling or laughing cry, even when bad news was being imparted.
When I see actresses do this in dramas I find it puzzling and wonder if they're corpsing but it is evidently something that women can do.
Not that I've had much experience of making women cry or scream either in anguish or ecstasy although it may be the case that a few have wept in the privacy of their boudoirs on discovering that someone so lush played for the other side.

After two previous such series, Andrew Lloyd Webber is now adept at giving girls the heave-ho with honeyed words. Over the years, theatre people have been very inventive in developing ambiguous compliments for those difficult situations where you have just seen a friend give a stinking performance in a turkey of a play. One tactic is to throw you arms in the air and say: "Darling, what can I say?"

Last night, Andrew Lloyd Webber dismissed one girl with "You're not Nancy, darling, but you are something else!"
Quite brilliant, for the 'something else' could be:
a) 'You are perfect casting for Shaw's St Joan'
b) 'You are a talentless, hysterical no-hoper and I'd rather give my collection of Old Masters to a charity shop than put you in a West End musical.'

As for the Olivers, they have so far played second fiddle to the search for Nancy. This might be because ten year old boys, to the frustration of the producers, don't do the 'reaction shot' as well as girls, wailing like a banshee not being a cool option for your average boy.
The successful Olivers were made to read the good news from a scroll in the presence of family or classmates. Some of them reacted with no more emotion than if they had been told they were getting a new pair of trainers or a birthday bash at MacDonalds. I rather liked them for that.

At the outset, Sir Cameron and His Lordship told us they didn't want a cute Victorian urchin but a raw, feral street kid. Looking at last night's finalists, they seemed to have failed miserably. Most of them seemed to come from comfortable, middle-class families with years of music and singing lessons behind them.
There surely must be some pint-sized chavs out there who can both swear like a trooper and sing like an angel. But that reflects the class bias in the performing arts and the failure of the school system. There are some real-life Billy Elliots but they are few and far between. Maybe they should have recruited Gareth Malone who has been so successful in finding and inspiring raw talent in state schools in the two series of The Choir.
Apparently, Wayne Rooney's favourite musical is Oliver. His favourite evening in is watching the DVD and he knows all the songs by heart. So there you have an obvious way-in to reach those kids who think football and musicals exist on different planets. The Wayne Rooney Academy of Football and Performing Arts, anyone?

A word of warning though to those proud parents of the prospective Olivers. They should remember that Noel Coward could equally have advised Mrs Worthington not to put her son on the stage.
A friend of mine worked on a London production of Joseph many years ago. The show includes a choir of young boys. One day my friend told me there had been a terrific rumpus in the theatre just before the Saturday matinee. The wardrobe mistress had walked into the boys' dressing room and found them rehearsing not Joseph but a previously unknown musical called 'Onan!' The big production number involving everyone was just coming to its climax.
Oh, to hell with twee euphemisms: the little angels were enjoying a group wank.
To be fair, there's a lot of hanging around in the theatre, waiting for 'Act One, Beginners' when you're too young to go the pub. And in those days there were no iPods, mobile phones or computer games. Kids had to make their own entertainment. And when you're twelve and at a loose end Any Dream Will Do.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

The Curse of Steptoe

The Curse of Steptoe (BBC4, repeated 10.45 Easter Sunday) was surprisingly good. Jason Isaacs was a convincing Harry H. Corbett and Phil Davis was brilliant as both the dapper Wilfrid Brambell and the on-screen Steptoe Senior.

I'm a huge fan of Phil Davis and I would probably even watch Heartbeat in the unlikely event that he had a guest role in it. He should be far more famous than he is but I suspect he is too self-effacing for his own good. A lot of lesser talents probably achieve stardom through egotism and assertiveness. I remember being told that a famous actor, early in his career, had shocked people at the BBC by saying he would only do a Wednesday Play if his name was above the title. But it worked because he turned a modest talent into international success.

This play was the first in a 'Curse of Comedy' series that includes Hancock, Frankie Howerd and, for some inexplicable reason, the loathsome game show host Hughie Green.
My one quibble is that this 'tears of a clown' thesis is a little simplistic. All these people had their problems but they also had success, fame and great wealth. They must surely have had great joy in their lives as well.
I could sit down now and fill a page of A4 with reasons why I've had a life of almost unmitigated misery.
I could fill another page of A4 with reasons why I've led a blessed life of boundless love, joy and laughter.
The former, of course, would make better drama, as did the fictional angst-ridden life of Harold Steptoe and this drama about the angst-ridden lives of Harry H. Corbett and Wilfred Brambell, two men trapped for years in the most successful sit-com in TV history.
'I should be so lucky!' you can hear struggling actors cry.

I mentioned here a few years ago how I met Harry H Corbett at a party in a London theatre. Having both arrived early, we were the only people in the room. I now regret that I didn't say very much to him. But having watched him on television from the age of 10 I was somewhat over-awed. I knew that he was rather ambivalent about Steptoe so I didn't like to mention that and I didn't know enough about the Orton play he was starring in to say anything sensible about it. As we gazed out the window, the illuminated sign of his name suddenly switched off. "The fame doesn't last long, does it?" he said. I'd love to be able to record my witty reply, worthy of Dorothy Parker in her prime. But I think I just said "No, it doesn't" and took another slug of wine.

His name in lights suddenly going dark, the bitter was like one of those contrived, invented scenes so beloved of dramatists.
Talking of which, the play had a scene in which Wilfrid Brambell goes into a London pub and flees when everyone starts saying "You dirty old man!"
I once saw Wilfred Brambell sitting in a London pub and nobody took a blind bit of notice of him. This was partly because Londoners are often unfazed by the sight of celebrities, especially in West End pubs, but also because Brambell bore little resemblance to old man Steptoe, always being impeccably turned out and with a good a set of teeth.

The Steptoe drama was followed by an hour-long interview with Galton and Simpson, two of the greatest writers of the 20th century. I refuse to qualify that by saying 'comedy writers'. For their admirers, there wasn't much new material in it but it was riveting nonetheless.

I warmed to Ray Galton because although loving comedy he very rarely laughs.
I warmed to Alan Simpson because he hated writing and found it very difficult.
And I warmed to both of them because they wrote very slowly, famously sitting in a room for days without writing anything or spending an hour getting the rhythm of a sentence right.
Alan Simpson said he loved the experience of having written something but hated the process of doing it. I'd suggest that if someone loves writing or writes very quickly or finds it easy, there's a high probability that they're not a writer.
But the opposite isn't necessarily true: you can spend days of torture writing a single paragraph and it can still be crap. These days, unfortunately, it might still be commissioned for a prime-time series on ITV1.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Gavin and Stacey - Series 2

The second series of Gavin and Stacey (BBC3, Sunday) got off to a start that was both 'tidy' and 'cracking', to use Nessa's favourite terms.
I wonder if Nessa will ever smile in series 2. Probably not. Nessa doesn't do smiling. You may recall that even at Stacey's Hen Night when Nessa was ogling the male stripper and pronouncing him 'lush', her expression suggested she was contemplating a dog turd on her shoe.

Smithy, in contrast, has a child-like ability to go from tears to laughter, and vice versa, in seconds ( which provides a great showcase for James Corden's considerable talents).
Gavin and Smithy first met at infants school and Smithy has continued to go through life with the mentality of a four year old. Sat next to Uncle Bryn in the restaurant, just as he was sat next to Gavin at the age of four, he decides to make Bryn his new best mate. They could meet up in Swindon at weekends, he said.
Poor old Swindon, I thought; its name again being used for comic effect. But then I realised it was the mid-way point on the M4 between Essex and Wales. I had an image of Bryn in the Picasso circumnavigating Swindon's Magic Roundabout in ever decreasing circles as his dodgy satvav self-destructed, while Smithy sank his eighth pint in a seedy nightspot and decided that the Brynster had proved as treacherous a best mate as Gavlar.

Gavin and Stacey is often compared to Mike Leigh's work but it also often reminds me of Alan Ayckbourn, not least in the scene in the restaurant where gradually all but two of the characters end up in the ladies toilet.
That scene brought a minor criticism from one of the papers, which pointed out that it had one of the best 'Fancy seeing you here' scenes but should have then left it hanging in the air. This was the discovery of Dawn and Pete having a meal with a mysterious black man called Seth. The explanation, when it came, was pretty much what most have us had already worked out and was therefore unneccesary.
But the minor characters of Dawn and Pete are, like everyone else, grounded in truth. My parents once had neighbours who alternated between extreme luvvy-doveyness and domestic violence.

Episode 2 had a great set-piece where Gavin and Stacey are noisily rocking the bed above the heads of the rest of the family sat round the breakfast table. It wasn't an original joke but you'll never see it done better.
It began with a distant rumbling but gradually grew louder, as though the Flying Scotsman were bearing down on Billericay. Cue a masterclass in embarrassment from this terrific ensemble of actors.
Eventually, Gavin's mother turns the radio on to mask the noise and Take That boom out with the refrain 'come.....come.....come.'
That was a reminder that Gavin and Stacey is often a little edgier than we think. [Andrew Billen wrote in the Times: "this comedy is less mild than it looks and even funnier than I remembered"].
If we think of it as just an ingenuous rom-com, it's because any sexual innuendo is not pushed into the foreground but left for the viewer to pick up on or not.

Sunday's opener got 1.7 million viewers on BBC3, a massive audience for that channel. But it must be a dilemma for the BBC. They use BBC3 to try out new comedies but when one strikes gold as spectacularly as this it must be frustrating to keep the first-runs on the non-terrestrial channel when they could achieve huge audiences on BBC2 or BBC1.

It's rumoured that Gavin and Stacey won't have a long life. After this second series it may be wound up with a Christmas Special and the writers are already working on other projects for the BBC.
It will be a wrench when it ends because fans feel such affection for every single character. But at least it's one of those comedies that can sustain repeated viewings. Indeed, I was relieved to discover from fan sites that some people have watched it far more times than myself, with some even holding Gavin and Stacey party nights. It's said that people used to have Abigail's Party evenings and serve pilchard curry. No doubt a Gavin and Stacey night would feature omelettes and maybe some of Pam's vegetarian sausages.

Gavin and Stacey has been nominated for Programme of the Year at the BAFTAs and James Corden is nominated for Best Comedy Performance.
Guardian leading article:

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Zapping Through The Gags

I've heard women say that men are more given to flicking through TV channels, sampling a bit of this and a bit of that, than women are.
I don't know whether this is because men have a shorter attention span or because for them the grass is always greener on the other side - the pub down the road is going to be better and the next partner will be better in bed. Or maybe it goes back to our hunter-gatherer past: chasing the prey of the perfect programme, armed with a remote control.

Whatever the reason, playing zappidy-do-dah can produce some interesting conjunctions.
Last night's zapping produced this:
ZAP......Victoria Wood Live talking about the bizarre names celebrities give their children.......ZAP.........Jack Dee Live talking about.......the bizarre names celebrities give their children.

But Jack Dee had the best gag: 'Peaches, Cherry......they sound like a range of Glade plug-ins.'
Victoria Wood is good but not quite as good as people claim. There are too many duff gags or gags that go off at half-cock and gags that are over-contrived. And I find her on-stage persona irritating.
Jack Dee is now far better than I ever thought he could become. He's a good old-fashioned gagsmith and not laughing at your own jokes always scores highly with me. After all, you've written this stuff, rehearsed it and may have performed it several times before. Why would it still render you speechless with laughter? Well, we all know why some comics do that but if their material was strong enough they wouldn't need to.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Saturday's Snippets

Watching a fragment of last nights' Sport Relief telethon, BBC1, (and I'd certainly donate to anything that gave me some relief from sport), reinforced my view that Davina McCall is the most irritating woman ever to appear on television.
It's a hotly-contested field that has included Anneka Rice, Carol Smillie and Ann Robinson but Davina definitely takes Gold.
Even Uncle Bryn in Gavin and Stacey (returns tomorrow, BBC3), who tries to see the best in everyone, made disapproving comments about her at Gavin's second stag night.

A few years back when she was presenting Pop Idol she had already begun to screech like a crow with a garden cane stuck up its arse. But back then there were still intervals of up to 20 seconds when she managed to almost speak like a normal human being.
Today, maniacal delivery has completely taken over: over-stressed words, crazed gestures, grimacing, gurning and that I'm just managing to hold back the tears face.
It's the verbal equivalent of a letter written in green ink!!!, every other word underlined and sprinkled with triplicate exclamation marks!!!
For the sake of her family, I hope she's able to switch it off when she steps away from the camera and achieve some simulacrum of normal human discourse. This must be the case or someone would have shot her by now.


Whatever you think of Polly Toynbee, she's a columnist who backs up her arguments with thorough research.
Yesterday she had found in the small print of the budget that the Treasury now estimates that the cost of tax avoidance has reached £41 Billion, way above the TUC's estimate of £25 Billion. She didn't put this into the context of the overall budget so here are some astonishing facts. The revenue lost through tax avoidance is greater than the entire defence budget (£33bn). It also exceeds the cost of debt interest (£31bn). And it almost equals current Government borrowing (£43bn).

Unless I'm being fiscally simplistic (which is quite possible), closing down most tax loopholes would mean we could almost eliminate borrowing and balance the books or, alternatively, increase health spending, provide free social care for the elderly or do any combination of other things on the currently 'unaffordable' wish list.
Maybe the Government should spend more time shutting off tax avoidance scams and less time hounding benefit claimants and pushing the mothers of young children into work.


Overseas Readers: No spoiler.
Last night's Corrie was heavily trailed and eagerly anticipated. The writers have clearly been eager to give Jack P Shepherd (David Platt) ever meatier scenes, since both viewers and critics became aware of his capabilities. How would he acquit himself in his showdown with Gail? Magnificently, as it turned out. This was another gripping, believable, emotionally intense tour de force.
I would single out one moment when teenage bravado and smiling sarcasm turned, in the blink of an eye, into tears. This was MacArthur Park melting in the rain, the bright green icing not so much flowing down as swept away in a maelstrom of love, hate, anger and bitterness.
As always, I'll name-check the writers, Debbie Oates and Jayne Hollinson.
And lets hope Jack stays in Corrie. I'd hate to see him doing guest parts in crap like Midsummer Murders or Heartbeat.


Did I mention that the second series of Gavin and Stacey starts at 9pm tomorrow on BBC3? As my fellow blogger Betty said 'let joy be unconfined.'
From the numerous recent interviews with the writers we now know that both Peter Kay and Alan Bennett are ardent fans. (Those two are not so dissimilar, both having an acute eye and ear for humour in the ordinary).

A warning: I'll be writing about Gav and Stace again in the future, because although some people said 'there's nothing to it', the more you watch it the more you discover to enjoy. It was only on a second viewing that I realised how good the direction, editing and use of music was.

Will we discover what happened on that fishing trip?
Will we ever see Smithy's young girlfriend?
I rather hope the answer is 'no' to both.
And, no disrespect to James Corden, but I don't really want to Smithy in a thong again.

Friday, March 14, 2008

A Ray of Hope for Mehdi Kazemi

A day for a small cheer and crossed fingers.
The Home Secretary has finally agreed to review the case of 19 year old gay Iranian Mehdi Kazemi who, until now, the Government was determined to deport to Iran where he faced almost certain execution. His partner had been hanged in Iran while Mehdi was studying in Britain.

One of the most impassioned pieces I ever wrote in this blog was about two young Iranians who committed suicide in Britain rather than be deported to Iran and probable execution.[]
It was the only time I've adopted the technique of putting in details I couldn't possibly know but I did so in order to humanise the desperate situation of these two men because all too often these cases are discussed in the abstract - in terms of policies on asylum, arguments about the degree of risk and, from some people 'it's very sad but some countries have these laws and at the end of the day it's not our problem, we can't have millions of gay foreigners pouring into our country, so tough shit...'

That piece was included in one of those blogging anthologies - which I can't believe anyone buys or reads - but at least it preserved in more permanent form some of the most appalling acts of inhumanity perpetrated by the Blair Government.

The case of Mehdi Kazemi has received rather more media coverage, both here and overseas. And the campaign not to deport him has not been confined to gay and civil liberties pressure groups. 80 peers signed a letter to the Home Secretary, including the former Lord Chief Justice, Lord Woolf, the former Speaker, Betty Boothroyd and Lord Ashdown. They should all be commended for their intervention.
(Have religious leaders and 'faith communities' been equally vocal? Maybe they have but I wouldn't bet on it).

The Home Secretary's decision to review the case has come before I got round to emailing my own MP on the matter. (Some of us should probably spend less time blogging and actually do something!).
I had intended to put this in the context of the Government's current rantings about 'British values' and the need to inculcate these in young people. What example of British values is it to deliberately and knowingly send someone back to a country where they will be executed for their sexuality?
It is no different from somebody marching a gay teenager over to a knife-wielding bully in the school playground.

It also, of course, breaches our international asylum obligations. Until now the Government has tried to get round this by telling the same kind of blatant lies as the Iranian Government. Just as the President of Iran notoriously said in America 'there are no gay people in Iran', so the British Government has claimed that gay people in Iran are not subject to persecution - in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

I say a 'small cheer' for the Home Secretary's announcement because this one needs watching. It could be a stalling tactic - wait until the fuss has died down and then quietly deport him on a day dominated by a big news story.
But for now, where there's a 'review', there's hope. We must cling to that hope, but not nearly so much as the teenager Mehdi Kazemi who, incarcerated in the Netherlands, has already been through mental anguish beyond our imaginings.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Still The Poor Wot Gets The Blame - And The Taxes

Watch the drinks industry squeal as the Chancellor raises duty by a modest amount.
Yet for 10 years, there had been no increase in duty on spirits. This was always the subject of one of the few jokes in Gordon Brown's budgets, e.g., "this will benefit the Scotch whisky industry in all parts of the United Kingdom!"
Oh, how we laughed.
Meanwhile, tobacco had been subject to raised duty every year for ten years.
I don't want to get into a bidding war on which is most dangerous - tobacco kills more people (although alcohol is catching up fast) but alcohol causes social disorder, domestic violence, road accidents and millions of lost working days.

But I have strong reservations about whether it's acceptable to use taxation to change behaviour. It's a point that is seldom made these days but all taxation on purchases is regressive - it hits the poor more than the rich.
Whether it's tobacco, alcohol, vehicle licensing, petrol duty or airport taxes, the wealthy can comfortably absorb these increases without changing their lifestyle.

Is it morally right to say that you will use the price mechanism, through taxation, to force the poor and those on average incomes to change their behaviour while those on higher incomes can afford to continue to smoke or drink themselves to death, drive gas-guzzling cars and jet around the world as frequently as they wish?
No, it's not. But it's disappointing that almost nobody today will question the age-old double standards and class-based hypocrisy that continue to underlie our politics.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

TV Trivia

A few weeks' ago I was mystified to find a note in my diary that said '10pm: Dave.'
I don't currently know anyone called Dave. The only one I could think of was a local electrician who has done a few small jobs for me but it seemed unlikely he would be coming round to fiddle with my fuse box at ten in the evening.

Perhaps I had arranged to meet a friend from My Space who would turn out to be either a psycho or a born-again Christian with an encyclopedic knowledge of the history of the Routemaster bus. This possibility was eliminated when I realised that I am not a member of My Space.

It was only when flicking through the Radio Times that I remembered that 'Dave' is the new name for a television channel that was previously known as 'UKTV G2'.
This was generally regarded as the most ludicrous re-branding of recent times. But now people are eating their words and hailing it as the new benchmark for out-of-the-box, blue skies thinking, a revolutionary template for connecting with your demographic.......<insert your own bullshit phrase here>.

The figures speak for themselves: 8 million viewers trying the channel for the first time and now the most popular non-terrestrial channel among men aged 16 to 44.
But before we get too carried away, it's worth noting that almost any name would have been an improvement on 'UKTV G2'. The names of the majority of satellite/cable channels describe their content. They do what it says on the tin. You won't have been misled if you find history programmes on the History Channel or food programmes on UKTV Food. UKTV G2 told you bugger all about the content.
'Dave' doesn't either, but at least it arouses your curiosity. Similarly, if you change your name from 'John Smith' to 'Tarquin de Turbeville', you may still be the same boring bag of shite but you'll attract a little more attention.

For an indication of content, you have to turn to Dave's strapline: "the home of witty banter". This is more problematic and sails perilously close to breaching the Trade Descriptions Act, unless you regard Jeremy Clarkson and the panellists of 'Mock the Week' as being the Oscar Wildes and Dorothy Parkers of our time.

One of the 'creatives' behind the relaunch says "everyone knows a bloke called Dave". Not true in my case, unless you count my local fuse-fiddler. But what if the Dave you know is a total arsehole? The bloke who wrecked your marriage. The boss who blocked your promotion. The bastard who bores the balls off you in your local pub. Seeing the name 'Dave' flash up on your screen might cause you to splutter and zap onwards, even if it means missing a five year old repeat of a 'topical' news quiz.


Last night I decided to watch James Corden, co-writer of Gavin and Stacey, on Lily Allen and Friends (BBC3) and lived to regret it.
I probably shouldn't express an opinion on the programme as a whole (in all its getting down with the kids, hey, let's tie it in with My Space ghastliness) because I'm not in the target audience, as proved by my having no idea who Lily Allen is. I think she may be a singer. If so, her oeuvre is an unregretted lacuna in my musical knowledge.

But I have to say that I have never seen a TV presenter so totally lacking in personality, charisma or technical skill. For most of the time she seemed to be in the early stages of catatonia - which she probably thinks is a country in southern Europe.

The interview with James Corden was conducted on a large bed. Now there's an original idea! Oh, hang on. Wasn't that a feature of The Big Breakfast, years ago?
As for the interview, Gavin and Stacey is so rich a comedy that there are a thousand questions one would like to ask the writers, given the opportunity. But Ms Allen spent most of the time flirting with James Corden (and he with her, to be fair). This culminated in Ms Allen saying "Fuck me". Not as an exclamation but as an invitation, adding 'you know how to get into a girl's pants.'

So, Parkinson it wasn't.
Parkie was prone to flirt with some Hollywood actresses but I don't recall him ever saying "I suppose a blow job's out of the question?"
Although the least sensitive of souls when it comes to swearing and sexual content (I even complained to Channel 4 once about the bleeping of 'cunt' in a comedy drama, for God's sake) I found this quite offensive. That's probably because context is everything in such matters.
'Fuck me' as a request is a phrase usually uttered by consenting adults in private. It may well be uttered by women of Lily Allen's generation in bars and nightclubs or between the rubbish skips behind bars and nightclubs. Fair enough. But in the middle of a TV interview with an actor and writer? It seemed gratuitous and inappropriate, an abuse of the greater freedom from TV censorship that Britain enjoys compared to many other countries.
Or maybe I'm just turning into a censorious old fart.


Heard on BBC News 24: Matthew Amroliwala commenting on footage of storm-lashed Britain: "these stories tell their own pictures."
No disrespect, Matthew, but have you ever thought you might be better working in radio?

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Citizenship Cart Before The Monarchical Horse

There's a basic flaw in linking the swearing of allegiance to the Queen by school-leavers to 'citizenship'.

Under a monarchical system (even a constitutional monarchy), we are not 'citizens' at all, but 'subjects'.
We are not citizens of the British State but 'subjects of the Crown', in whose name all State business and legal process is conducted.
It follows that the first requirement for having any form of 'citizenship' process or ceremony is to abolish the monarchy and become a republic.

Personally, I would be no happier swearing allegiance to a republic, a nation state or any other abstraction than swearing allegiance to the Queen.
I am allegiance-free and that's the way I like it. That's probably a very common attitude in Britain.

I originally wrote 'a very common British attitude' but then realised I was falling into the trap of defining national characteristics.
It's the trap that Lord Goldsmith's report falls into, for it is reported as saying that volunteering is a British characteristic. So nobody does voluntary work in other countries?
That's the kind of nonsense you end up spouting when you try to define national values and national character: smug, arrogant, divisive, meaningless drivel.

Fortunately, a lot of young people are intelligent enough to recognise it as such and swear a few oaths of their own in their characteristically colourful, idiomatic way, probably featuring the words 'oath', 'allegiance', 'up', 'stick' and 'arse'.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Kama Chameleon Clone

Nick Clegg, speaking to the LibDems' Spring Conference yesterday, wanted an end to policy-making in 'smoke-filled rooms'.
Congratulations, Nick, on combining a cliché with an anachronism.
Where are all these 'smoke-filled rooms' since the smoking ban? I'd rather like to go and sit in one. (If one does exist, you'd probably find Charlie Kennedy there. Personally, I think they kicked him out for being a smoker. The drinking was just a cover story. After all, there's never been any shortage of piss-artists in the House of Commons).

The similarity to Cameron was striking, partly because Clegg adopted the same style of speaking, eschewing a rostrum and walking up and down the stage, apparently speaking off the cuff. Except that he wasn't because I got one glimpse of one of those giant autocues at the back of the hall, like the ones presenters use on TV shows like The X Factor.

He had one good, if unoriginal, joke about George Osborne having had more positions on Northern Rock than the Kama Sutra, adding that he seemed to have found them rather less enjoyable. The Young Liberals loved that one but an elderly lady glared at Clegg with a face like granite, no doubt wondering why their nice, clean-cut young leader had suddenly turned into Russell Brand.

It must always be remembered that the LibDems are a receptacle for those disillusioned with the other parties and that liberalism is not a requirement for membership. I have known LibDem activists who were anti-abortion, homophobic and generally antipathetic to most of the party's policies. But I suppose the divergent views to be found within the party sits well with their need to take seats from both Labour and Conservative parties and their Janus-like approach to electoral politics.

Clegg's speech was unlikely to upset anyone because it was almost entirely devoid of actual policies. Ironically, he lambasted his political clone-mate Cameron for his own lack of specific, detailed policy.
He did dangle the possibility of tax cuts (if he were to win an overall majority, of course.....LOL) but only if there were money to spare after meeting all their spending commitments. Since the LibDems make spending commitments with the abandon of people who will never actually get their hands on the purse, the possibility of finding a superfluous wad of money down the back of the sofa seems remote.
And the standard LibDem position of reduced taxes and better services is one of those Kama Sutra positions that is only feasible for a double-jointed yoga master.

Both Clegg and Cameron have a style that is reminiscent of Blair - a style that is now discredited as far as the electorate are concerned.. That's why the Tories are struggling to achieve a significant lead in the polls.
Having thrown out their most successful leader of modern times, Charles Kennedy, the LibDems then stumbled upon Vince Cable as a hugely successful temporary leader. If they had half a brain they would have persuaded Cable to become permanent leader. His speech at the Spring Conference was far better than Clegg's.
There's a mousey, uncharismatic quality about Cable that reminds me of Attlee, but he's extremely competent and has a sharp wit. Most importantly, he has authenticity - a quality that the smooth, public school Clegg and Cameron clones totally lack.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Rivers of Blood

Rivers of Blood (BBC2) was an analysis of Enoch Powell's notorious 1968 speech. It tried so hard to be balanced and objective that both supporters and critics of Powell could watch it and find their views confirmed. So, balance achieved, you could say.
But I felt that some aspects of the Powellite agenda could have been examined and challenged a little more strongly.

It was extraordinary that the programme made no mention of the fact that Powell, when Minister of Health, had kick-started black immigration by running a recruitment campaign in the West Indies to encourage immigrants to come to Britain and work in the health service.
I also thought it absurd to include footage of the London bombings to illustrate the argument of some that Powell's prophecy had come true. The London bombings had nothing to do with immigration per se but arose from a potent mixture of fundamentalist religion and politics. The Iraq war would have made us a target for terrorism - as it did Spain - regardless of the level of immigration and if the bombers hadn't been 'home-grown', then they would almost certainly have been 'foreign-grown' and travelled here to carry out their attack.

The programme did make clear that it was the language employed by Powell that made his speech so nauseating and incendiary: the reference, for example to 'grinning piccaninnies' - the same phrase used more recently by Tory London Mayoral candidate Boris Johnson.
It's also highly significant that Powell was vehemently opposed to the Labour Government's Race Relations legislation which was to make illegal the 'No Blacks' signs that were commonplace in the windows of pubs and guest houses and in job advertisements. That makes nonsense of Powell's claims that he was not a racist - or 'racialist' as people seemed to say in those days. It was Powell's extraordinary argument that making it illegal to discriminate on grounds of race 'victimised' the white population.

Just as young people today are incredulous that gay men used to be sent to prison, it must be equally hard for them to grasp that in recent history it was legal to put up signs saying 'No Blacks' or 'No Coloureds'.
A mixed-race friend of mine, who had served in the RAF, met up with some old service friends in Earls Court in the sixties. At the first pub they went to, the barman explained that he would serve the white men but not my friend because he was 'coloured'. It was this practice that Powell wished to preserve. Yet there was a clip of him on The Frost Programme asserting that he believed in the equality and dignity of all races. So was Powell really the formidable intellectual and master of logic that his supporters continue to assert?

I was about 17 when Powell made his speech and it led directly to my first, very modest foray into activism. I wrote a letter to our then Conservative MP and sent a copy to my local authority. I was subsequently greeted as a hero by the Mayor at a local event (a man, it must be said, who was a working class factory worker) and it led to me doing some voluntary work for the local Community Relations Council.
I mention that the Mayor was working class because last night's programme seemed to imply that the working class supported Powell and it was the middle classes, students and the intelligentsia who rose up against him.
This is a flawed and simplistic interpretation of events and is part of a wider problem with the BBC's current 'White' season of programmes that focuses on the marginalised white working class.
I imagine that the black working class feel pretty marginalised too, so a series on the working class, and non-working classes, irrespective of colour, might have been more sensible.
Followed, perhaps, by a series on the middle classes, who have always been the most insecure and paranoid social class, going back to Victorian times. And there are enough programmes in the archives that show the middle classes voicing not just the same concerns over immigration as the white working class but also deep-rooted and vociferous racism. Remember Channel 4's The Dinner Party of a few years' back or The F***ing Fulfords, to name but two?

The predominantly white, middle class BBC may be patting themselves on the back for giving a voice to the white working class and allowing them to express 'politically incorrect' views but the whole enterprise is misleading, simplistic and divisive.
And, ever since earlier waves of immigration from Ireland and elsewhere, hasn't it always been the white middle class who, having the means to do so, have hot-footed it to the suburbs and villages, leaving behind the working class to manifest that much-vaunted British virtue of tolerance - or not, as the case may be?

Friday, March 07, 2008


Did you know that 'sausage' could be a verb as well as a noun?
I heard this on the radio this week:
"The choice was whether to re-house her or sausage her".
No, it isn't a new sexual euphimism. It was a pig breeder talking about one of her animals.

Meanwhile, my newsagent is advertising for Paperboys. Except they're not. The sign says: "Home News Delivery Staff Wanted".
'Paperboys' is undoubtedly both ageist and sexist. But I'm puzzled as to why 'Home News' has to replace 'Newspaper'.
But I suppose it's a small miracle that, in the current climate of fear about children's safety, young children are still allowed to cycle round the houses at dawn and dusk.
On Radio Four this week, a reporter managed to invent the word 'arbatorium' when what she meant was 'arboretum'. It would have been a sackable offence in the days of Lord Reith and Alvar Liddell.
Perhaps an 'arbatorium' is a place where dead trees are cremated?

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

A Right British Hodgepodge

This Government continue to make fools of themselves with their codification and promotion of 'Britishness' and their Citizenship Tests and Citizenship Ceremonies.

Margaret Hodge is now in hot water for taking a swipe at the Last Night of the Proms, an occasion that is not much to my taste but is simply an end of season party and the worst that can be said of it is that it distracts attention from the weeks of fine concerts that precede it.

Something that has attracted less attention in her speech was the suggestion that British citizenship ceremonies should be held in castles, theatres, art galleries and historic houses.
"Being made a British citizen in those kind of surroundings allows people to associate their new citizenship with key cultural icons and then offers them a chance to build a longer-term engagement", says Hodge.

This suggests another money-spinning opportunity for Longleat House in Wiltshire. For any immigrant whose faith or culture sanctions polygamy, Lord Bath and his 73 'wifelets' would not only introduce them to the glories of British eccentricity but make them feel at home. But should they be deeply religious, it might be better to keep them away from the explicitly erotic murals that His Lordship has painted on some of the walls. (Best to also draw a veil over Lord Bath's father's obsession with the Nazis).

Another venue for citizenship ceremonies might be Cliveden in Berkshire. Our new citizens could be shown the swimming pool where Jack Profumo met Christine Keeler and learn about the fine old tradition of Tory Ministers having 'sex romps' with prostitutes and then resigning in a blaze of tabloid headlines.

Or what about Dorneywood in Buckinghamshire and its John Prescott Memorial Croquet Lawn? New Britons could learn how, in their new land of opportunity, a working class lad rose to the rank of Deputy Prime Minister and learned to play croquet on staff awaydays, when he wasn't shagging his Diary Secretary.

Chatsworth, I feel, is rather too large and overpowering for the newcomer of humble origins. So what about an English country cottage? The very cottage in the grounds of Chatsworth where former Home Secretary David Blunkett played Blind Man's Bluff with Spectator publisher Kimberley Quinn. Our new citizens could reflect on the mysteries of the British caste system: the cottage was loaned by the Duchess of Devonshire; David Blunkett was a working class, Methodist, Labour Minister; and Kimberley Quinn was the wealthy, married publisher of the right-wing Spectator magazine.

But putting frivolity aside - and if you didn't laugh, you'd cry - doesn't Hodge's proposal represent the hackneyed association of Britishness with symbols of the wealth and privilege of the ruling class, the imagery that fills a thousand calendars and lures a million American tourists?
If we must have these absurd ceremonies, which are as un-British as anything you can imagine, let them celebrate the culture of the ordinary people who built the wealth of the country. Let's have them in a pit museum or a redundant shipyard or a Northern workingmen's club.
And let's face it: a lot of National Trust members won't take kindly to finding the State Dining Room is roped off and full of Poles and Pakistanis, even if they're singing God Save the Queen.
'coming over here, taking over our stately homes.......'

More Crap From Cyber-Boy Cameron

Here's posh Tory Boy David Cameron writing about the internet in yesterday's Guardian:

"It is transforming our political culture and putting people firmly in control. [Oh, really?]
There are hundreds of millions of blogs, each is its own newspaper with a potential readership of billions."

The key word there, as my fellow bloggers will know, is 'potential'.
How many blogs have a readership in the thousands or even hundreds, never mind billions?
(By the way, Dave, that comma after 'blogs' should be either a full stop, a semi-colon or a colon. But it's not your fault you were sent to a sink school like Eton).

But there's more bollocks to come:
"..........contrary to popular belief, young people are getting more and more involved in politics. Networking sites are bringing millions together in the name of common interests such as global poverty or climate change...........last week, we [The Conservatives] launched our new ad campaign on Facebook."

It takes just a few clicks to add your name to some worthy group on a social networking site like Facebook. I wouldn't call that political activity.
A few years ago every other teenager seemed to be wearing a wristband that denoted something like 'Make Poverty History'. Groups on networking sites are a similar form of gesture politics, harmless but impotent.

I'm sure that many young people get involved in more active, non-virtual political activity but most politicians seem unable to distinguish between the two things. So you increasingly find politicians stating that a particular Facebook group has 3,000 members as though that actually meant anything.
If the political class (including Cameron) could ignore at least one million people marching through London against the Iraq war, are they really going to sit up and do something in response to what people are saying on social networking sites?

Cameron claims that 'his generation' understand the internet and are adapting to the 'new politics'. But every time a politician starts spouting this kind of gibberish it just proves that they don't really get it at all.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Moving Update - The Rake's Progress

Some years ago I dispensed with a bookcase and put a large number of books up in the attic. The books were in plastic carrier bags (how will we manage when the eco-fundamentalists get them banned? [carrier bags, not books, although books may be next if books have a large carbon footprint or if a book casually tossed from a boat is found to have concussed a turtle]).

Anyway, my imminent move meant retrieval of said books from the attic. Unfortunately, I had put them under the eaves at the furthest point from the entrance. Crawling towards them on my stomach was ruled out for two reasons.
Firstly, the risk of falling through the ceiling into the living room at a time when I had just sold my house. Not that there's ever a good time to fall through a ceiling but it's a well-attested fact that if something bad is going to happen it will happen at the worst possible time and if you're going to injure yourself a few weeks before Moving Day, at least wait until contracts have been signed and your buyer can't pull out because of the pile of rubble in the living room.

Secondly, I have a trapped nerve in my arm. Or it could be what my parents' generation called 'neuralgia'. Or early warning of a heart attack. Whatever. It ruled out clambering crab-like across the joists in semi-darkness and then reversing with a carrier bag of books clenched between my teeth.

Thus it was that I resorted to a variation of an old fairground game. I stayed near the entrance and attempted to lift the carrier bags with a long garden rake. The first three times it worked splendidly and I awarded myself an embroidered cushion, an Art Deco table lamp and a broken PC monitor as prizes, all of which were conveniently to hand.

I congratulated myself on my ingenuity. But pride goes before a fall. Don't worry, I didn't actually fall. But the plastic bags began to break and scatter the books across the attic. (What's all this eco-shit about plastic bags lasting a thousand years? Five years in my attic and the buggers have almost totally bio-degraded).

So now the books had to be raked towards me like giant autumn leaves whilst taking care not to damage them. I know it's not the same level of atrocity as Nazi book-burnings, but this was really no way to treat an early edition of The Code of the Woosters or dear old Beatrice Webb's My Apprenticeship or even Marcuse's One Dimensional Man, unreadable though that was (but any self-respecting Child of The Sixties had to own a copy, along with Ronnie Laing and Family and Kinship in East London).

Eventually, all was safely gathered gathered in and I descended to terra firma exhausted, 'black-bright' as they say in Yorkshire, and with flecks of fibre-glass loft insulation in my hair.

This week a dealer comes to purchase some of my books. Or possibly not. I can see him now, scratching his head and saying: "Frankly, Mr Lupin, slight foxing is par for the course but severe rake damage......."

Where's Tony?

The latest fighting in Gaza has left 109 people dead and left me mystified.
I thought Tony Blair's new job was to bring peace to the Middle East? Yet I can find no mention of him in any newspaper reports. Nor has he popped up on the television news.
I do hope he's all right.
Maybe he's on sabbatical in order to start work on his memoirs. Or he could be in Brussels, lobbying to become the President of the EU. It's obviously unthinkable that new conflict would erupt in the Middle East if Tony the Peacemaker were in the region.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Pick of the Day

Saturday TV seems a bit of a desert at the moment. Even Ant and Dec have lost some of their appeal, having ditched most of the elements in their show that appealed to anyone over ten years old.
But tonight offers one of the biggest treats of the year. BBC2 is showing the entire first series of Gavin and Tracey, back-to-back from 9.30pm.

It's rare, if not unprecedented, for a terrestrial channel to do this with a comedy series and proof that, by some strange alchemy consisting of a great script and terrific performances, Gavin and Stacey became one of the most endearing new comedies of recent years. We'll have to wait for the imminent second series to decide whether it's at the top of the 'minor classics' list or something even greater.

It's proof that comedy doesn't necessarily have to be edgy or push the boundaries to be successful and there's almost no swearing.
For me, one of the tests of good comedy is how much I remember from a single viewing and whether I can smile at the recollection of particular scenes. With Gavin and Stacey there are dozens of scenes I'm looking forward to seeing again, many of them featuring Rob Brydon's brilliant performance as Uncle Bryn. Look out for his car journey using SatNav and the disastrous Stag Night he arranges for Gavin. Then there's Smithy (James Corden, co-writer) compering a pub Quiz Night in return for unlimited free beer and becoming so drunk he can hardly read out the questions. (I've witnessed a couple of hilarious pub Quiz Night scenes myself but I'll keep them quiet in case I ever write a sitcom).

So if, like me, you came to it late or if you've never seen it, here's your chance.
Then tell me why you hated it. I dare you.

I wrote about it a little more fully here: