Tag Archives: Television

How TV programmes get made

“Every few months the senior executives at BBC and Channel 4 and ITV leave to take up similar jobs at a rival channel, where they immediately sack the existing staff and bring in their mates from their last jobs. They then cancel programmes and commission focus groups of unemployable daytime TV- watchers with personality disorders to try and find out what viewers want.

Meanwhile, writers are summoned from all over the country to dream up ideas for vibrant new, original programmes – ‘We don’t know what we want but we’ll know it when we see it’ – which are then ditched in favour of pet, cookery, gardening and home improvement shows, or more shite with Nick Berry in.

This time I’m considering pitching an idea about two sick dogs who swap homes. While they’re away they get looked after by sexy vets, and their gardens and kennels have makeovers. Then they die and get barbecued by Ainsley Harriott. I’ll need about a month in England for meetings with various chancers, charlatans and posh boys calling themselves producers, then I can go back to Ireland for as long as I like.”

Pete McCarthy, McCarthy’s Bar, 2000

TV penetrates our lives in ways we scarcely realise

“Nothing happens, nothing is to be believed, unless it appears on the screen. The fact that we should know better is irrelevant. The film Broadcast News questioned the values of TV news-gathering but ended up with a cosy belief that good drives out bad. Nor did it disturb the central tenet of all TV, which is that goodness and badness are irrelevant to the audience.

The person who appears regularly on the box is imbued by the viewers with special prestige. TV is the springboard to fame. Fame provides money. Money equals power. And power, whether to control one’s own life or to exert control over other people’s lives, is the key to existence.

Many films have attempted to warn those either beguiled or blinded by fame, that the world on TV is not real, It is, at best, a one-dimensional representation, while celebrity itself is a hollow concept.

But TV is a complex creature which cannot be defeated like Godzilla: it penetrates our lives in ways we scarcely realise, The grip it holds on our thoughts and the limits it puts on our imaginations is stronger than we wish to acknowledge.”

Roy Greenslade, The Guardian, 1999

When a woman wants me to do anything, I always insist on knowing why

“When a woman wants me to do anything, I always insist on knowing why. The oftener you make them rummage their own minds for a reason, the more manageable you will find them in all the relations of life. It isn’t their fault (poor wretches) that they act first, and think afterwards; it’s the fault of the fools who humour them.”

The Moonstone, Wilkie Collins, 1868

How’s that for good ol’ unreconstructed sexism? No way a writer would get away with that today. Then again, I’m reminded of what Jack Nicholson’s character says in the movie As Good as it Gets when a young female receptionist can’t resist asking him:

Receptionist: How do you write women so well?

Nicholson: I think of a man and I take away reason and accountability.

As Good As It Gets
Continue reading When a woman wants me to do anything, I always insist on knowing why

Why should the dregs of our society act in a caring and decent manner when our self-seeking leaders don’t care about fairness and freedom?

GBH was a seven-part TV drama by Alan Bleasdale, set in a Northern town in the Thatcher years, broadcasted on Channel 4 in 1991.

In this scene Jim Nelson, the working class headmaster of a special school played by Michael Palin, sleepwalks out of his holiday caravan during a thunderstorm and crashes into a tree. Waking up on the ground  in his pyjamas, soaked to the skin, he finds Grosvenor, the impoverished aristocratic owner of the caravan park played by Daniel Massey, appearing from the bushes wearing an oilskin jacket, miner’s helmet and lamp, sheltering under an umbrella  with a half empty bottle of whisky under his arm.

Continue reading Why should the dregs of our society act in a caring and decent manner when our self-seeking leaders don’t care about fairness and freedom?

Off Air, Broadcast, W Stephen Gilbert

A Town Like New Orleans? BBC2
by W Stephen Gilbert
31 Aug 1981

The BBC Manchester series City was a more random collection of reports on where we’re at. I caught four editions, particularly enjoying Ian McNulty’s well thought-through film on musical life in Leeds. Apart from the diversity of musical styles, the fragmentation of socio-political attitudes also came over.

Continue reading Off Air, Broadcast, W Stephen Gilbert

Clive James, The Observer

by Clive James
The Observer
23 Aug 1981

An unintentionally wonderful programme called A Town Like New Orleans (BBC2) showed what happens when people whose proper concerns should be some form of fruitful labour start mucking about with art. Few real artistes despise business – in fact the more original they are, the more they tend to respect the workaday world – but it is a hallmark of the dabbler that he prides himself in being set apart, and so it proved here.

Leeds it appears, is crawling with jazz and pop musicians who have managed to convince themselves that they are contributing to the biggest explosion in their respective art forms since King Oliver met Louis Armstrong or Phil Spector invented the wall of sound.

Continue reading Clive James, The Observer

Something stirring up North

A Town Like New Orleans?
by Dennis Hackett
The Times, 15 Aug 1981

This was the last of an occasional series under the generic title City, “occasional” being a word often applied to something someone is not quite sure about. The town we were invited to compare with New Orleans was Leeds, as unlikely a parallel as one could imagine except that we were concerned with a particular aspect of it: music.

“Leeds is going to expand musically”, a voice told us. “It is going to be like New Orleans.” If that perhaps is not quite the way it is, there is evidence – with more than 200 live groups in the town – that something stirs in what might be thought of infertile ground.

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A Town Like New Orleans? City, BBC2 (1981)

A Town Like New Orleans?
Radio Times, 14 August 1981,

In every town there are thousands of musicians – ignored by both television and the music industry alike – playing live music for fun and very little money. Watch and enjoy the Jack Bennett All-Stars, Another Colour, Howard Sarna, the Roskoe Players, the Zero Slingsby Quintet and The Commies from Mars.

The making and breaking of street music

A Town Like New Orleans?
The Mary Kenny Saturday TV Review
Daily Mail , 15 Aug 1981

They talk about books, plays, films, television programmes which ‘change your life,’ such is the dramatic impact.  Life changes come from inside the human soul, though, not from outside.

But last night’s programme A Town Like New Orleans? (BBC-2 – and the title refers to Leeds, of all places) had a direct influence on my behaviour. Having seen it, I deliberately went out and put money in every buskers collecting hat that I could see.

Continue reading The making and breaking of street music

Today’s Television, Peter Davalle, The Times

Today’s Television
Peter Davalle
The Times , 14 Aug 1981

A TOWN LIKE NEW ORLEANS? (BBC2, 9.45 pm) is about a musical explosion, or rather a series of pops, because this is a film about Leeds’ two hundred or so jazz, rock and folk groups that pack the pubs, the pavements and the front rooms of unlovely semi-detached houses. There’s even a couple swaying to flute and recorder among the daffodils of their back-garden.

The sounds of music are familiar enough to my ears, ranging from the innovatively interesting to the derivatively awful. What is special about Ian McNulty’s film is what the players have to say.

Continue reading Today’s Television, Peter Davalle, The Times