Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Inexact Differrentials

For all the hard work put in, sometimes dramas don’t get the props they deserve. When I interviewed Anthony Horowitz, long before Simon Shaps became ITV’s idiot Director of Programmes, his pleasure that Foyle’s War had won the Lew Grade Audience Award at the recent BAFTA Television Awards was tempered with the telling off the show had received for using a Mk VIII Supermarine Spitfire from 1943 in an episode set in 1940.

More recently, the BBC’s adaptation of John Buchan’s The Thirty-Nine Steps, shown over the Christmas holiday, has come under fire for using a 1924 Morris Oxford and a 1927 Wolseley for the car chase across the Scottish wilds, especially since the drama is set on the eve of The Great War. Whereas Horowitz explained that, with most of few remaining airworthy Spitfires in private hands, “You make do with what you can get,” Ben Stephenson, the BBC’s new Controller of Drama Commissioning has gone on the record to say that period drama doesn’t have to be strictly accurate.

In an article by Anita Singh in The Daily Telegraph, Stephenson admits that as far as he is concerned period drama does not have to be strictly accurate. Further mistakes in the Buchan drama included Hannay living in an Art Deco apartment building even before being strafed by a single-seater Royal Aircraft Factory SE5A bi-plane that didn’t enter service on the Western Front until mid-1917, but according to Stephenson:

“We take the feedback on board but, for me, the purpose of drama is to entertain, not to be slavish about detail. I think that absolute dedication to perfect detail is something for a documentary and not something for a drama.

“It's different with something like The Diary of Anne Frank, because that's a true story. At the end of the day, the story of The 39 Steps is quite far-fetched. The question is: for the seven million people who watched it, did it feel authentic, did it create a sense of period? The 39 Steps just isn't a realistic story, in the way that Spooks isn't typical 21st century London. We were creating a realistic world within a world - a world of damsels and heroes and a huge amount of excitement. That, for me, is the priority. Did it create that world? It absolutely did.”

To a degree he has a point. It’s only when you fail to engage with a drama and don’t get caught up in the action that you notice any flaws, like a German U-Boat surfacing in a freshwater loch, for Chrissakes!! But where do you draw the line? Given that Stephenson considers Buchan’s story “far-fetched”, would it matter if Scudder’s coded messages were on a USB Flash drive rather than in a notebook, or is that taking it too far?

Since this new Controller of Drama Commissioning doesn’t appear to give a shit about authenticity, should we fear upcoming dramas? Especially if their content might even insult the intelligence of the CBeebies’ audience.


At 10:00 am, Blogger Stephen Gallagher said...

I was once told by a producer that in doing the research that I considered to be no more than due diligence, I was "letting the tail wag the dog".

We didn't get on.

At 11:07 pm, Blogger Good Dog said...

I've worked for two really great producers over the years. The rest were pretty much rubbish.

In fact, it's reminded me that one was so ineffectual and utterly useless that we just kept asking her to make us a cup of tea. She never did.


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