Tuesday, 8 January 2008

Rumble In The Jungle

The main difference between Faustus and Mohammed Ali (apart from good looks, huge biceps and er, being heavyweight champion of the world) is that Ali refrained, magnificently, from a final punch as Foreman’s legs buckled under him moments before he hit the deck.

Christmas Day, traditionally, is the occasion for TV drama to roll out its fruitiest pudding. This is partly the quaint practice of getting out your best china for the festive season and partly because the whole nation, briefly and tantalizingly, is actually predisposed to watching a bit of tele. They’ve opened their prezzies, scoffed too much food, broken the first toys, had a couple of arguments and are beginning either to fall out or fall asleep. What else is there to do but sit down, friends and family together, and flick on the box? It’s a moment created in schedulers’ heaven.

Christmas Day is also, theologically speaking, the time of new things, the birth of a new era, the dawn of all that comes after and the burying into history of all that went before. This year, perhaps more than any other, was the chance for TV to show what the future is all about. This was the birth, in a little manger behind the Coach and Donkey, just next door to ASDA on Bethlehem High Street of the New Approach in all its glory.

So what did we get? The answer is: yards of fresh, new, original and energetically creative writing. Dominating the schedule was a sassy wheeze in two parts called ‘Eastenders’, set in an East London borough that told a tale of ordinary folk living ordinary, problematic lives. They’d never have thought of that in the dark old days twenty years ago! Next up, a brilliant new concept about a couple living in a big house, him rich, her posh, called, wittily ‘To The Manor Born’. It only goes to show what you get when you let writers loose with their imagination. Finally, and perhaps most ingeniously, there was a new drama about a Time Traveller who nips about the universe in a Police Box saving planet earth among other things. On ITV, meanwhile, they’d come up with something so startling you wonder nobody had ever thought of it before. A group of ordinary people are gathered together in the Home Front Army during the Second World War. The genius of production was that it was all shot in a slightly dated way to give it a ‘seventies’ feel. Perhaps its greatest triumph was that it cast several actors into key roles who had passed on some time ago. Faustus can only marvel at the negotiations that must have taken place with their agents.

Stretching over the schedules before The Big Day, however, were some cunning adaptations of a little known Victorian novelist to really give people something fresh to chew on. So easily did the BBC’s contribution to this remarkable new genre sit with the Eastenders format that they could have welded them all together into one big Time Travelling drama about ordinary people dealing with problematic lives in a class-riddled society past and present. Maybe next year. Mind you, while we’re in a creative mood, I came across this little book by some Scotsman, I think, about this geezer who robs from the rich and gives to the poor kind of thing set during the reign of King John. I don’t think it’s been done before though it could make a good movie, too. And then there’s the Jane Austen compendium I got for Christmas. Has anyone out there thought of adapting some of those?

But Faustus, as you know by now, is an obstreperous git or a cheeky chap depending on your point of view. Of course TV had much to be proud of over Christmas. The BBC lost no time in pointing out its triumphant trashing of Dad’s Army on Christmas Day while the cute new drama on ITV about ordinary people living problematic lives in Manchester didn’t quite cut it this time around against its London rival. For a properly balanced view, check out the Have Your Say section on the BBC website. You’ll notice plenty of people writing in from Bristol, Salford and White City, er, London saying how wonderful it all was.

A Happy New Year to everyone. And here’s to great writing.