Thursday, September 14, 2006

The Time Machine

I was fascinated reading the text of this speech from Clive James about international television. I think one can't help but like Clive James, and I think he has a keen, intelligent sense of humour. He was speaking in 1991. In many ways it's a paean to the BBC and its so-called quality programme making.

Recently I was watching some DVDs of old sitcoms, such as Yes Minister and To the Manor Born. Funny, but not so spectacular as I've sometimes fancied them, or been informed they were. As far as I am concerned they are the equal of the best the BBC has had to offer. The formulas show through somewhat, and they don't compare with works of art.

Yet the funniest thing about James's speech is the recent inserts he's made to the text, informing us of how things have changed:

The idea that you can make television only in response to market forces is an idea that not even Rupert Murdoch can render plausible. In fact he can’t really afford to hold it: not for long. Sky Television is up there, but there is almost nothing on it, and the sort of people who watch nothing don’t buy anything, so the enterprise doesn’t even make sense in commercial terms. (Note in 2006: I was, of course, terrifically wrong on that last point, as I had been wrong about the government’s assault on the broadcasting system’s having been even momentarily thwarted. I can forgive myself for failing to predict that the immense volume of exported television from the USA would eventually become remarkable for its quality, also: HBO was as yet in its infancy, and nobody could have guessed that a network like NBC would give a green light to The West Wing.)

Add in the internet and the Hutton report and Clive looks as though his thought had all the depth of a pancake. He's still dead wrong about the Government's "assault on the broadcasting system". As if the Government can be accused of assaulting that which is preserved only by virtue of its maintainance of a compulsory tax.

This little encapsulation of liberal vanity I felt contrasted strongly with the welcome celebration of the New Criterion's 25th birthday. This conservative magazine has been right about so much during that period, from the Cold War to the War on Terror, with eminently sensible artistic commentary throughout, and has had Mark Steyn writing for it for over a decade. Now that's high quality journalism

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