Sunday, October 26, 2008

The Good Life

In all matters concerning 1970's situation comedy, I defer to my friend Neil Clark.
Neil is quite right to describe shows like Perry and Croft's 'Dad's Army' and 'It Ain't Half Hot Mum' as products of a golden age. The sound of the band of the Coldstream Guards playing 'Who Do You Think You Are Kidding Mr Hitler?' never fails to send a shiver up the spine and bring a tear to the eye; my late grandmother, God rest her soul, loved 'Dad's Army', and had one of the most infectious and funniest laughs I've ever heard. I can still hear her laughing at it now.
The reason that golden age came to an end could have come from the pages of Arnold J. Toynbee - the creative minority, like Perry and Croft, were supplanted by a dominant minority, like Ben Elton and Richard Curtis, who viewed their right to produce the kind of material they wanted to see as being more important than the tastes of the general public. I remember once hearing Eric Sykes makes the comment that appearing on television was a privilege, and that writers and producers should take care about their output's content because people were inviting them into their homes as guests; the vacuous and unwholesome androgyne Russell Brand, hopefully soon to be in deep trouble with the law, probably considers the public to be privileged to have him in their homes.
The seeds by which popular comedy became supplanted by minority taste were sown in the 1960's with the rise of the dominant minority behind the satire movement; it is ironic that David Frost, that merry old Gonville and Caius educated jokester and scourge of the Establishment, should later have married the daughter of the Duke of Norfolk. Better in the tent than out, I suppose.
Yet having been a child in the 1970's, my own favourite 1970's sitcome was Esmonde and Larbey's 'The Good Life'.
'The Good Life', a brave attempt to make humour out of economic hard times, was brought to mind by a press release issued by the soi-disant, ersatz 'Scottish Government' on 16th October. It states,
"Unused public land could soon be made available to meet increased demand for allotments, the Scottish Government announced today.

Waiting lists for allotments have risen dramatically in recent years, with more people recognising the environmental, social and health benefits to be gained from working a plot.

With current provision limited and almost three thousand people on waiting lists, the Scottish Government and other public bodies are to explore how surplus land could be made available to help more Scots 'grow their own'.
Cabinet Secretary for the Environment Richard Lochhead said:

"In the current economic climate, with food prices on the increase, interest in growing our own food has never been higher.

"The issue was raised by many people during the recent discussion on our National Food and Drink Policy and it is absolutely right that the Scottish Government looks at ways of giving more Scots the opportunity to grow their own fresh, seasonal produce

"Fresh food isn't the only benefit to be had from tending an allotment of course. They encourage physical activity, offer a place for individuals to relax and are also valuable to the local community and environment.

"I am asking a number of public bodies to consider how the land they manage for the Scottish Government could be made available to local authorities to increase the number of allotments in Scotland."
The Scottish National Party's announcements and actions while in office have quite clearly shown that they are more concerned with Scotland and the Scots as ideas rather than realities. In April of this year I blogged about how similar the SNP's views on the Scots were to those of the old Bulgarian nationalists' views on the Bulgarians - in Meininger's words,
"The Bulgarian intelligentsia turned into a class of alienated men who fell far short of developing close and lasting ties with their people as a whole. As nationalists, these activists loved their people - but they loved it as an abstraction. When the people failed to measure up to their image of it, the intellectuals turned on it with disdain. Although such an attitude might serve as a legitimate way to cure societal defects, the social criticism of the Bulgarian intelligentsia had a negativism about it that bespoke something else - the rejection by a cultured elite of what it in its frustration came to regard as the uncouth masses".
That describes the SNP to a tee. Christopher Harvie MSP, The Tube from Tubingen, had no hesitation in describing some Scots as ill dressed, as if he were embarrased to be seen with them. Kenny MacAskill, Justice Minister and Copfighter General, doesn't like the amount the Scots drink. As I once wrote,
"According to MacAskill, the virtuous Scot drinks only lightly, in a social setting; and if Christopher Harvie has his way, he'll be wearing loafers and a turtleneck."
And now, according to Richard Lochhead, he should be growing his own spuds.
Anyone who has ever read Robert Service's quite searing 'Russia: Experiment with a people', will know that in some societies which have undergone massive social changes such as the termination of the Union would be, the ability to grow your own food can determine whether or not you survive; and if the Scottish National Party are serious in their claims that Scotland would be able to make it as independent nation, they shouldn't be handing out advice which would be of interest to post-Soviet survivalists.


Blogger Neil Clark said...

Many thanks for the kind words, Martin.

The 1970s truly was a golden age for tv comedy: Dad's Army, It Ain't Half Hot Mum, Porridge, Rising Damp, Steptoe, Reggie Perrin, Fawlty Towers and of course, The Good Life. No matter how many times you watch an episode of the Good Life it never fails to charm. Great scripts, wonderful characterisations, and four great actors. TV perfection.
We've seen a massive 'dumbing down' in Britain in every aspect of our cultural life, but in tv comedy the decline has been particulalry striking. In the 70s: The Good Life and The Two Ronnies, now: Little Britain and Russell Brand. Today it's all about being as shocking and as cruel as you can be, back then it was about being funny.

Best wishes,

28 October, 2008 20:19  

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