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Posts Tagged ‘The Young Ones’

BBC New Broadcasting House image credit Luk MacGregor

BBC New Broadcasting House
image credit Luke MacGregor

In case you haven’t heard, the BBC’s Royal Charter is up for renewal next year. What is this charter, you may ask. According to the BBC’s own website, it ” is the document that allows the BBC to exist. It provides a framework for what the BBC does and how it is organised – it is the constitutional basis for the BBC. It is the document that spells out what the BBC needs to do to serve the public (its ‘public purposes’), guarantees the BBC’s independence, and outlines the duties of the people that run it – the Trust and the Executive Board.”

The charter renewal process appears to be a multi-step affair that consists of a public feedback phase, Government inquires and reports, responses to the inquires by the BBC with their own documentation and then, finally, a negotiation between the BBC and the sitting Government agreeing to a new charter.

Apparently in some circles there is a question if the UK even needs the BBC any longer. The always unpopular license fee assessed on any home with a television  whether they actually watch BBC channels or not is a perennial bone of contention of course. The perception that the Beeb is left leaning is also a problem for those with other political viewpoints. Add to the those already existing issues the new challenge posed by the huge shift in viewing habits thanks to growing satellite and streaming options and you can see why proponents of the BBC are worried about its survival.

And just in case you think all this fretting is alarmist, look what has happened to Sesame Street. The premium cable channel, HBO, will have exclusive rights to new episodes of the preeminent children’s educational program for nine months before PBS TV viewers have access to them. Ironic for a show that was created to prepare children in undeserved communities for school and was funded by public donations and ever decreasing government funds. My point here being, if the BBC is weakened financially or administratively to the point of not being able to fulfill their remit, it may create a situation where arguments to axe the institution altogether may become valid.

As an American, some may ask why I care what happens to the BBC. All I can say is I would not be the person, or the Anglophile, I am today without the Beeb. Therefore, I thought for this week’s Five for Friday, I’d share five BBC series that were influential in the development of my fascination with the British people and their culture. I’m not saying they are the best of all time or even my favorites though they surely were at one time. It’s a walk down memory lane of sorts to witness the path that formed my obsession.

1. Monty Python

Most Americans with a love of all things British will say that Monty Python’s Flying Circus had a huge impact upon them. I remember watching the sketch show on the black and white set in my bedroom when I was about twelve years old, in awe of what I was beholding.  Men dressed like ladies, speaking with squeaky voices; references to famous artists, playwrights and philosophers and historical events like the Spanish Inquisition; silly walks, fish slapping dances and bizarre animated sequences. I didn’t understand it all, but I knew it was funny. Mostly I remember thinking I wanted to go to England because they must have the best sense of humor in the world if shows like this were made there.

2. The Young Ones

The 1980’s represented my high school and college years. I was more into music than television at that point in my life, but my interests were British all the same. MTV was just getting started and many of the new bands they promoted were from the UK (Duran Duran, The Police, Culture Club, Madness). Besides music videos, the channel also broadcast a British sitcom about a mismatched group of roommates.

The Young Ones lived in student-y squalor, constantly arguing and engaging in violent slapstick. The musical performances (which I understand were required by the BBC in order for the show to be considered a variety program and thus receive a bigger budget) were novel as well. I was intrigued and thought it cool for its time since I was in a college student myself.

 3.  The Office

The Office came along when my children were a bit older and I had time to watch something that wasn’t The Disney Channel or Nickelodeon. I saw Ricky Gervais accept the Golden Globe for the show and when he said “I’m not from these parts. I’m from a little place called England. We used to rule the world before you, ” I knew I had to get my hands on this series. I reserved a copy from my library and my life has never been the same again. The Office reawakened my interest in UK comedy and television in general. I rooted for Tim and Dawn, I treasured every Gareth and Tim skirmish and, in the end,  I came to like David Brent despite his many, many faults.

4. Life on Mars

This sci-fi, cop drama infused with comedy is my all time favorite British show, BBC produced or otherwise. I can’t recall where I heard about it, but once again I borrowed a copy through my library and found what, in my opinion, is TV perfection in story, character and tone. I know it doesn’t make sense, but one thing that attracts me to this series is the nostalgic element of 1970’s England despite the fact I’m not from England nor did I live there in the ’70’s.

I don’t take time out to re-watch anything much these days, but every time I hear Sam Tyler’s mini-soliloquy about his predicament, I’m ready to pull my box set from the shelf and return to 1973 Manchester again.

5. Call the Midwife

My final pick is a period drama about midwives and nuns in the impoverished London neighborhood of Poplar. I chose it mainly for its heart, but don’t assume that means that Call the Midwife is sentimental drivel. Rather it’s a beautiful study in compassion and tolerance. While cast comings and goings have tampered with the original chemistry a bit, there are still few episodes that leave me dry eyed.

I’m a fan of gritty crime series, but there aren’t many quality dramas out there that can make you feel hopeful about humanity. The BBC has room for those types of programs too.

If you were to make a list of your own, which BBC series would make the cut? In your opinion, is the BBC worth saving or is it an out of date institution? I’m looking forward to your comments!

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Do you remember the golden era of variety shows with their corny comedy skits, flashy musical numbers and waning guest stars all wrapped up in a wholesome hour-long format?  If you can, you have confirmed that the demographic I’m reaching is, like myself, middle-aged. Don’t get me wrong, as a kid I looked forward to my weekly installment of Sonny and Cher or Tony Orlando and Dawn, but times change and the popularity of these musical/comedy shows has declined on both sides of the pond.  In the UK, however, sitcoms, sketch shows and other creative hybrids have found alternative ways to bring the laughter and the music together for years.

Even while the traditional variety show was still in vogue in the 70’s, musical comedy programs were experimenting with new concepts. For example, set in a fictional Manchester working men’s club, The Wheeltappers and Shunters Social Club featured variety acts, many from the Northern entertainment circuit.  Comedians Colin Crompton as the club chairman and Bernard Manning as the compere (emcee) delivered the introductions and the insults, but the heart of this blue-collar version of the Ed Sullivan Show was definitely the unusual range of performers:

 

Sketch comedy too has delved into the musical world to create classic ditties such as this:

 

Or this one from Kevin Eldon’s new show, It’s Kevin, which honors the comedy tradition of the catchphrase:

 

Sitcoms have been known to incorporate musical performances as well, a prime example being the twisted melodies of The Mighty Boosh. 

Vince Noir and Howard Moon are zookeepers turned shopkeepers/aspiring musicians.  With me so far?  In virtually every episode, Vince and Howard or one of their strange alter egos perform a song, quite often in their own special a capella style called a “crimp.”

 

Other sitcoms have utilized live-ish performances by proper professional musicians in some very clever ways.  The Young Ones, it is claimed, supplemented each of their episodes with a “musical interlude” so that they could qualify under BBC rules as a variety program and thus receive a bigger budget for their series.  Observe as Madness is basically used as a prop while the true madness goes on around them:

 

And finally I’d like to draw your attention to what I’m assuming is a lesser known sitcom series called FM.  The concept here is that real British bands and solo artists are spotlighted on the fictional Lindsay Carol (played by the now very well-known, Chris O’Dowd) radio show.  No disrespect to The Young Ones, but if the producers of FM were playing the bigger budget/variety card as well, disc jockeys would, at least in theory, have occasion to encounter an indie band in their workplace. I just like the organic-ness of it all.  And now please enjoy DJ hijinks juxtaposed against the high energy soundtrack of The Wombats’ My Circuitboard City.

 

I’d like to end with a quote that ties these music and comedy elements together.  The internet tells me that Peter Ustinov said it and he was British so there you go:

“I was irrevocably betrothed to laughter, the sound of which has always seemed  to me the most civilised music in the world.”

 

 

 

 

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Last week I had the heavy-hearted task of dropping off my son and daughter at their respective colleges. For the first time my nest is empty and my primary career and purpose for the past 20 years is effectively over.  I have now been relegated to a seasonal/consulting mother.   I might be milking this a bit for dramatic effect but I’ve come to realize that this next stage of my life will be  quite different and I need to figure out what it will look like. New hobbies, a new job, a new cause…there’s so much to consider. Will I now have time to watch more British television about which I can then blog?  I hope so and I hope you hope so too.   Anyhow, that is my challenge…well, that and finding a way to pay college tuition for two kids.

The night I left my daughter in her much-too-small freshman dorm room, I came home and pulled out my copy of Starter for Ten (for the record, this is not a television series, but a film which I recommend to anyone who will listen).  I think I wanted to soothe my sense of loss by remembering that unique feeling of starting college – a mingling of nervousness with the belief that all things are possible.  Starter for Ten stars James McAvoy as Brian Jackson, a clever, working class lad embarking upon his first year at Bristol University.  Once there, he encounters a complicated  mixture of academic, political and romantic situations.  Brian also joins the University Challenge (an actual quiz show by the way) squad where he shows himself to be “a general knowledge god” and leads his teammates to compete in a nationally televised match.  And as we see, film nods to television thus making my post indeed relevant to this blog.

College is a time of many changes.  Students are invited to discover what they believe and who they want to be.  Parents are confronted with the fact that their kids have grown up and therefore they must reluctantly find ways to reallocate their energies.  I dedicate the following clips to anyone who is facing a university-related challenge in their life.  Enjoy!

First comes the audition process (from the film Starter for Ten):

 

Don’t wait until the journey to the match to do your revision (from The Young Ones):

 

A divine team name will always work in your favor (clip from actual University Challenge match featuring Jesus College of Oxford University):

 

 

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I was watching the special features documentary on a Doctor Who series the other day… because I have all the time in the world and have somehow without intention started becoming a novice Whovian.  Anyhow, executive producer Russell T. Davies was talking about a cargo spaceship created for an episode entitled 42.  He said they decided on a design which had a “slightly British, slightly knackered, slightly homemade feel” to it.  I hadn’t consciously acknowledged it before, but I knew exactly what he was talking about – that distinct look of being drained, worn out and drab with no attempt to be anything but functional.

From stained, faded, or outdated wallpaper prints to stacks of clutter piled round a room, this type of decor can be observed in a great number of television programs, past and present.  One of the most common scenarios is the bachelor flat which adds an extra dimension, uncleanliness.  Gary and Tony’s living room (Men Behaving Badly) is notorious for it’s filthy couch.  The squalid student apartment of The Young Ones is only rendered worse by Vyvyan’s destructive tendencies.  Even Sherlock and John Watson sharing 221B Baker Street live in shabby and sometimes quite creepy conditions, especially when Sherlock leaves a severed head in the refrigerator.

Sometimes less than fashionable home interiors are due to the occupants’ financial situation.  Daisy and Onslow (Keeping Up Appearances) seem perfectly happy in their dilapidated abode while overworked and under appreciated Barbara (The Royle Family) does her best to keep up her family’s modest castle.  And though the Being Human house has a peeling pink exterior, Annie works to make her home warm and inviting while the boys bring in their meager hospital janitor wages.

As for workplaces, Arkwright’s, the small grocer’s shop in Open All Hours is drab and hodge-podge with every space used to it’s fullest utilitarian potential.  Besides, the proprietor is too cheap to foot the bill for any renovations.  Part workplace, part domicile, the parochial house shared by Father Ted and his fellow priests looks as worn and craggy as the island they live on.  And maybe the oddest example of all, in the basement of the chic and shiny Reynolm Industries building is the dreary IT Crowd department with the carcasses of old computer parts strewn about.

I know this style intimately because I lived in such a room for five months during my college study abroad days in London.  Since we faced a back alley, we kept the curtains drawn – curtains which drooped from an inadequate number of hooks.  The color scheme was dingy neutral, the furnishings were bland, and an out-of-commission fireplace was coated in off-white paint so thick it made the only potentially interesting feature in the room fade into the woodwork, so to speak.  We tried to jazz it up with posters and mementos from home; however the room refused to brighten.  But we were college students, accustomed to more spartan accommodations, and besides, we had access to all of London outside our drab door.

I have discovered that my old program house has been transformed into a posh four star hotel now, all gleaming white and elegant.  But I’m not sure if I don’t prefer it as it was before.  After all many structures in Britain and across Europe are much older than those in the States – they have earned their grunge as it were.  Some still display battle scars from WWII.  The time-worn quality emanates humbleness and persistence that those of us from newer lands don’t always appreciate.  Besides, according to Moss and Roy, tampering with a delicate ecosystem can kill the rain forest and we don’t want to kill the rain forest, do we?

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