Popular Posts

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The boy can grow old but you struggle to take the pastiche out of the country


The old saying about genre de vie nostalgia was that ‘You could take the boy out of the country – but you couldn't take the country out of the boy’. Well nowadays, given the reconstruction and continuity possible on TV soft soaps, the country can be set in amber and the boy can avoid growing up altogether.

Back in 1969, I had a Zen moment that has always stayed with me. I was out riding a stock horse on Montejinni Cattle Station in the Northern Territory of Australia, in a brief foray with the station stockmen and jackeroos to hunt some cattle out of the home bush.

If this sounds impossibly romantic, I have to add that I was a barely competent horseman and that this was a brief interlude, indulged by a kindly station (i.e. ranch) manager, in data gathering for my PhD on the economics of transporting beef cattle by road.

While doing my best not to make a complete fool of myself, I chatted to an aboriginal (or Koori, if that is preferred) stockman as we rode along. ‘What tribe you from boss?” he asked, “New South Wales tribe or Victoria tribe?” “Ah”, I said, “I’m from England – the old tribe”.

His approach to unraveling my background has always stuck with me and I have often described myself half-jokingly in Australia and New Zealand as ‘ethnic English’ or an ‘English aboriginal’.

So I easily warm to evaluate TV dramatizations of my tribe in its native state. And to responding now on the ongoing spate of comments about the soft soap ‘Heartbeat’ (set in the North Yorkshire Moors) and the mock-gothic, mini-film series ‘Midsomer Murders’ (set somewhere rural between Slough and Ipswich).

For starters with respect to Heartbeat, although I am (as Jane Clifton describes below) someone who was ‘a young adult in the 1960s – in other words, at the older end of the baby boomers’, I left rural Cheshire in 1962 and have only lived there subsequently for short periods of time.

I have some sympathy though with the nostalgia invoked and the winning over of the rest of the audience ‘by the inevitably eccentric characters of the inevitably cosy little English village’. And I can answer Jane’s question: ‘Did the 1960s really passed as slowly as this?’ in the affirmative.

Let’s not get too carried away though. There was real poverty among the families of farm workers (with some reputedly reduced to filling their ‘snap tins’ / lunch boxes with Kit-e-Kat sandwiches). There were also higher levels of child mortality with diseases like polio, tetanus and meningitis being much feared.

And the possibility of a ‘4 Minute Warning’ of a nuclear attack on the UK by the Soviet Union was a day-to-day fact of life.

Turning to Midsomer Murders, the rules of the game are interesting:

What's allowed:-
‘Hidden vices provide the opportunity for blackmail and a motive for bumping people off. Simple adultery is too suburban so it must be spiced up with incest and illicit lesbianism. S&M is also practiced behind those generous drives. Drug addiction is acceptable, usually practiced by spoilt little rich girls - Midsomer has also fought off an outbreak of witchcraft, sorcery and pagan rituals’.

What's not:-
‘Swearing is clearly not acceptable along with non-S&M sex scenes – that would be weird. Despite the no-ethnic-minorities rule, Midsomer did once show its contempt for a group of New Age travellers’.

So how does all this stack up with the reality of 1960s rural life?

Apart from the drugs and murders, there is a fairly reasonable fit. There were gruff, tweed-clad ladies of indeterminate sexual preferences, odd male couples who hid together in small cottages behind the smithy, and much feared visits by gypsies who would leave mysterious marks on the farm gate to record their displeasure at harsh words or a refusal to buy their clothes pegs.

As for racial diversity (see second story below) – well there wasn’t any - though one little orphan boy from Liverpool who was adopted by cottagers was held to be somewhat brown-skinned.

However things have changed in the country as a whole over the last 50 years and you can’t have late model cars, cell phones, conservatories and pop stars without widening the overall social context.

Returning to the days when strangers were absent and cars were restricted to the middling sort and above (so that traffic didn’t disturb the scenery) would also mean, among other things, re-winding some important advances in medicine and social tolerance.

And the English are not alone in struggling with modernizing their tribal affinities.

Here in New Zealand, Maori leaders flounder in taking into account the one in five of NZ Maori who have lost their tribal affiliations and who are characterized as urban Maori ‘from the four winds’ (Ngā Hau e Whā) and the tens of thousands of Maori who have crossed The Ditch to settle in Australia as ‘Ngati Kangaru’.

The problem then with associating ‘Englishness’ or another form of romantic nationalism (try the Serbs if you want an eye-opener here) with a particular time and type of place is that nothing is permanent. Those who love the decorative, monochrome misfits who populate Midsomer had better be sure that - if they are not simply seeking evening chuddy for the mind - they haven’t still got some growing up to do.

[For further posts in this Blog on related issues see, for example: 2nd March 2010 'The Anthropology of the Indigenous English', and 11th February 2010 'Heart's Ease and Solastalgia]


[by Jane Clifton, The Dominion Post, 16/03/2011]

‘Nostalgia is all very well but in the UKTV’s “new” Monday series ‘Heartbeat’, it’s been 1965 for 18 years now, which is a long time for frosted, shell-pink lippy and boxy Anglias to endure.

The channel has billed the show as back by popular demand, which suggests there are a lot of ageing baby boomers out there.

The 1960’s-set light police drama is one of Britain’s longest-running TV programmes, having begun in 1992 and being technically still in production – though its maker ITV says it is currently ‘resting’ the last series having finished filming last year. It has toyed with axing it but viewer backlash in Britain would apparently be too strong.

The return of heartbeat here (in NZ) starting this week with its 10th series made in 2001, is a fascinating snapshot of how TV programming has changed. In the 1990’s this was one of TV One’s top shows and got prime time scheduling. In recent years, it’s had a run on Saturday afternoons when one but the beadiest-eyed viewer will have even registered its existence.

So how is it standing up? About as well as a comfy, holey old jersey that you’re fond of but that you wouldn’t be seen wearing other than for gardening.

Its appeal always relied heavily on nostalgia among those who were young adults in the 1960s – in other words, the older end of the baby boomers. The rest of us, if not won over by the inevitably eccentric characters of the inevitably cosy little English village, were tempted to wonder if the 1960s really passed as slowly as this.

It is also startling how many police officers – suspiciously many of them young, male and nice-looking – were deployed in such a peaceful little territory. There seem to be about six, but it’s the wise, old retired copper (Derek Fowlds) who seems to do most of the heavy lifting whenever there’s ‘trubble at t’mill’.

And if there is anything he can’t sort out, the district nurse (Kazia Pelka) generally can, so this is shameful over-manning at the cop shop.

And how, in just a few years from here, we arrived at Gene Hunt in ‘Life on Mars’ or even the ancient Carter and Regan on ‘The Sweeney’, doesn’t bear careful examination.

Perhaps though the show’s innocence and gentleness is the secret of its longevity – the notion that once upon a time, nothing too nasty ever happened. Gangsters, bikies, fraudsters and the like did crop up in the dear old 1960s, but were easily brought to book, and often turned out to be misunderstood / nice underneath / more sinned against than sinning.

They were no match for canny folk in an English village, where assorted busy-body aunts, rascally poachers and keen young coppers were all happy to be part of a caring community, to an eternal sound track of The Hollies, Gerry and the Pacemakers and Petula Clark.


[by Anthony Barnes, Press Association – UK Independent, 16/03/2011]

The producer of long-running TV hit Midsomer Murders, Brian True-May has been suspended by TV production company All3Media, after sparking a row when he claimed part of the show's appeal was an absence of ethnic minorities.

He told Radio Times the ITV1 programmes - which have run for 14 series - "wouldn't work" if there was any racial diversity in the village life.

True-May, the drama's co-creator who has been with it since day one, said: "We just don't have ethnic minorities involved. Because it wouldn't be the English village with them. It just wouldn't work.

"Suddenly we might be in Slough. Ironically, Causton (one of the main centres of population in the show) is supposed to be Slough. And if you went into Slough you wouldn't see a white face there.

"We're the last bastion of Englishness and I want to keep it that way," he added.
An ITV spokesman said: "We are shocked and appalled at these personal comments by Brian True-May which are absolutely not shared by anyone at ITV.

"We are in urgent discussions with All3Media, the producer of Midsomer Murders, who have informed us that they have launched an immediate investigation into the matter and have suspended Mr True-May pending the outcome."

Midsomer Murders, based on the books by Caroline Graham, was launched in 1997 and has featured 251 deaths, 222 of which were murders.

But True-May said he has not previously been tackled about the programme's failure to reflect "cosmopolitan" society.

"It's not British, it's very English. We are a cosmopolitan society in this country, but if you watch Midsomer you wouldn't think so.

"I've never been picked up on that, but quite honestly I wouldn't want to change it," he said.

True-May has also banned swearing, violence and sex scenes from the show but his idyllic formula does not stop challenging storylines, or other elements of diversity which do not involve ethnicity.

"If it's incest, blackmail, lesbianism, homosexuality... terrific, put it in, because people can believe that people can murder for any of those reasons," he told Radio Times.

The series returns this week with a new star, Neil Dudgeon, who has joined the cast as DCI John Barnaby, replacing actor John Nettles (DCI Tom Barnaby) as the central character.

Mirroring the way the programme, which is broadcast to 231 territories around the world, avoids portraying racial variation, so ethnic minorities apparently avoid the show. A study in 2006 found to be "strikingly unpopular" with minorities'.

No comments:

Post a Comment