Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Farewell to The Great Entertainer, Mr Michael Grade. (You Can Stop Spinning In Your Grave Now, Lord Reith)

My relationship with television is, I admit, unusual. My mother, Mrs Elder (or Ma'am), came from Brethren stock, and thus harboured a suspicion of all electrical appliances, with the exception of her Kenwood Chef, which was employed to make all manner of cakes (fairy, angel), puddings (butterscotch Instant Whip, mostly)and a surprising array of savoury dishes which did not usually require the intervention of a powered whisk (omelette, baked mince, and Beef Wellington, which, improbably, took its flavour from a tenderised gumboot).
For many years, she resisted television's sultry advances, and lectured nightly on the dangers inherent in what she called "blue-light" homes, these being houses in which the living room light was turned off, leaving the inhabitants bathed in the afterglow of the cathode ray tube. This blue light was, I understood, every bit as pornographic in its symbolism as a red bulb, and far more common, even in the town, where dens of iniquity were plentiful.
But, as the years went by, Mrs Elder (or Ma'am) softened. The invention of interior design - whilst otherwise regrettable - led to the production of television sets disguised as antique furniture, thereby allowing Brethren families, and those of us whose pursuit of joylessness was merely Presbyterian, to exist in a happy state of deception and self-delusion. When visitors came round - which was not often - the doors of the front of the television swung shut with the ominous finality of Mr Auguste Rodin's Gates of Hell, thus creating the innocent illusion that the Elder family was in the habit of staring at the tallboy of a winter's evening. (This was not entirely untrue).
As is the way with sin, Mrs Elder (or Ma'am)'s attitude softened. Eventually, the doors of the television were replaced with a net curtain drawn across the screen. This was not helpful when trying to read the words on Call My Bluff, but it did lend an implication of voyeurism to The Duchess of Duke Street.
But some rules remained. Commercial television was not encouraged, and Mrs Elder (or Ma'am) could sometimes be heard complaining about "ITV people"; these being uncouth individuals with a brash disregard for good manners. Her contention was that ITV's audience, being by definition weak-willed, was unfit to endure the bombardment by advertisements which was, and is, accepted as the norm on commercial television.
In this, she was, and remains, ahead of her time, and I doubt whether she would be mourning the decision of Mr Michael Grade to abandon public service at the BBC for the gay diversions of the independent sector. It is a fact unreported in the hours of broadcasting devoted to Mr Grade's career that, having already attracted the nickname Pornographer-in-Chief during his stint at Channel 4, Mr Grade has turned the BBC into a republic of mediocrity. Under his watch, Mr Jonathan Ross was awarded £18m of licence payers' money to compensate for his imperfect diction. The schedules are full of minor celebrities pretending to be ballroom dancers. News reporters no longer wear ties. Even the programmes of the admirable Sir David Attenborough have been given a musical soundtrack, on the assumption that the viewer will be unable to appreciate unaided the majesty of nature.
I am aware that time does not stand still and we may never again enjoy programming of the standard of Softly, Softly, Tomorrow's World (with Mr Raymond Baxter presenting) or Call My Bluff. But we should not mourn the Great Entertainer. He will, I trust, be very happy under the blue lights of ITV.

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