Thursday, March 27, 2008

Only Last Week

I don’t do religion, and I’m not a fan or marzipan either, so the long weekend was set aside to start editing two half-hour documentaries rather than simply gorge on chocolate and watch The Great Escape. Except it didn’t go to plan.

We were still waiting on the archive footage and selected clips and, more importantly, the scripts. There was pretty much all the unedited interview footage to go through, but even then we didn’t have much of a clue with what to do with it. Instead we broke for a coffee and watched BBC News 24 while snow was flung horizontally past the window.

The big fanfare was that the BBC had secured the rights to broadcast Formula 1 motor racing. The fact that the five-year deal will cost somewhere close to £200 million wasn’t widely publicised.

As reported on

The BBC deflected criticism about its use of the licence fee by saying that the 10.6m UK audience that watched British-born Lewis Hamilton’s narrow failure to win the world driver’s championship last year demonstrated the sport’s wide appeal. Dominic Coles, BBC Sport’s rights director, said: “The Brazilian Grand Prix was the most watched sporting event in the world last year. That’s what I’d define as a crown jewel.”

Which means they’re either chasing ratings or think they’re doing F1 fans a solid by showing the races free of commercial breaks. I suppose there’s something to be said about guys in fast cars going round and round and round a track. There’s certainly a skill to it if not much else. But really, a large portion of the audience is watching for one thing.

Eventually each interview was rendered out as a QuickTime Movie and I headed home where I could through them in turn, noting down the usable answers and their timings without the distraction of us generally goofing around and laughing at Homestar Runner. Back in London, it meant that I could watch The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency as Easter Sunday drew to a close.

I haven’t read any of Alexander McCall Smith’s Precious Ramotswe novels but I was aware that a faithful adaptation would result in a drama that, while light-hearted and good-natured, would be light on plot. But the 105-minute adaptation had the credentials that would make me sit up and pay attention, by which I mean it was co-written and directed by Anthony Minghella and co-produced through Mirage Enterprises for HBO and the BBC.

The imagery was incredibly seductive. The opening four-minute sequence, from the titles to the arrival of the grown-up Precious Ramotswe and the final credit was a wonderfully assured introduction to character and locale. Actually, those first shots travelling over the river reminded me of the opening of Jim McBride’s The Big Easy.

Though the easy charm made it a treat to watch, the recent death of Anthony Minghella cast a shadow over the warm Botswana landscapes. Most of the listing magazines that came with the weekend newspapers mentioned his passing in their preview to the drama. Except of course in The Times’ The Knowledge.

Obviously Caitlin Moron was too caught up fudding herself senseless at the prospect of Doctor Who returning to the screen to write anything with the remotest hint of sense. Because it was co-written by Richard Curtis and starred Jill Scott as the plump Precious and Anika Noni Rose as her thin, bespectacled sidekick, Grace Makutsi, the Moron concentrates on pushing forward her notion that The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency was nothing more than The Vicar of Dibley with zebras and giraffes.

More insulting was her almost complete disregard of Minghella’s contribution to the adaptation. In fact

This is a prime-time drama with an all-black cast, and cinematography by the late Anthony Minghella.

was the sole reference in her article, which total wrongheadedness was also an affront to cinematographer Seamus McGarvey for his exemplary work. In fact McGarvey’s lush visuals were so utterly persuasive that I completely forgot to finish my game of hangman once the programme started, having only got as far as:

_ _ I T _ I N / M O _ _ N / I _

_ / _ O M P _ _ T _ / _ _ N T

After some prompting to the relevant parties the documentary scripts still didn’t turn up. We were promised they would arrive on Tuesday. Easter Monday, between trawling through the interview footage, I got around to watching The Curse of Steptoe on BBC iPlayer.

The one problem I have with dramas like this is they tend to be very bitty, simply stitching together the important scenes from the history of Steptoe and Son like it was some greatest hits package. Funny and poignant that it was, Terry Johnson’s Not Only But Always, starring Rhys Ifans as Peter Cook and Aidan McArdle as Dudley Moore, suffered the same fate, as did his Carry On-based Cor, Blimey!

I can’t say I subscribe to this theory that all comics are tragic clowns who end up in a world of shit. Maybe it’s because they are seen as funny on stage or onscreen, that the general public is dumb enough to expect them to perform funny in real life. Though one I’ve had dealings with was a thoroughly miserable bastard, the Bubbly Blonde has always been a hoot when I’ve been out with her and Work Buddy.

Ray Galton and Alan Simpson, who first wrote for Tony Hancock before creating Steptoe and Son seemed to be in agreement that the theory was complete bollocks when they wrote about “the curse of comedy” for The Times. If The Curse of Steptoe wasn’t up to much, it provided the perfect excuse for the hour-long Mark Lawson Talks To Galton and Simpson.

The first script turned up late Tuesday morning, which meant that we could at least begin to make a start. Come the evening, I heated up another M&S ready meal and settled down to Lawrence of Arabia. Eyes closed, I’d shuffled the DVDs and it had won out over The Bridge on the River Kwai and Doctor Zhivago. It seemed an appropriate way to acknowledge the centenary of the birth of Sir David Lean.


At 5:20 pm, Blogger Clair said...

The Beeb have paid Far Too Much for F1, especially with no bidding war.

And less of those ready meals, they're no good for you, M&S or not. Love, Your Nan.

At 9:30 pm, Blogger Jaded and Cynical said...

F1 should be paying the BBC for the promotion and coverage it'll recieve.

And don't be too hard on Caitlin. She had a lot of easter eggs to get through that week.


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