Magazine article The Spectator

'Arold's Tragedy

Magazine article The Spectator

'Arold's Tragedy

Article excerpt

Rather deftly, I managed to avoid all but ten minutes of the 3,742 hours of programming dedicated this week to the fifth anniversary of the Iraq war. I've no doubt that some of it was very well done -- Nick Broomfield's Battle for Haditha (C4), say; Ronan Bennett's 10 Days to War (BBC1), which I caught ten gripping minutes of before the preview DVD I'd been sent went mysteriously blank -- but my heart wasn't in it.

Yes, I'm sure there were many bad, misguided things about the Iraq invasion and many even worse things -- as I ranted the other week -- about the post-war 'strategy'. But I'm with that sensible chap who wrote to The Spectator last week: why must we always focus on stories which show us to be evil and wrong, never on ones where -- as is more often the case - our side behaves bravely, selflessly and decently?

And why wasn't there a single programme challenging the hysteria about the cost of the war by speculating on the number of Iraqi lives which would have been lost if we hadn't gone to war? And why no mention of the success of General Petraeus's surge? I thought TV commissioning editors were forever trying to be controversial and counterintuitive. They lost their nerve here.

My programme of the week was The Curse of Steptoe (BBC4, Wednesday), a gem of a drama which told you everything you needed to know not just about the genesis of Steptoe and Son but also about the (very depressing) meaning of life itself.

Did you know that before Harry H.

Corbett was cast as 'Arold, he was a muchfêted young classical stage actor, touted as the 'English Marlon Brando'? And that his Method-actorly luvviness quite infuriated his co-star Wilfrid Brambell, a buttonedup, quintessentially English, closeted homosexual, who believed, as Olivier did, that an actor's job, dear boy, is simply to act?

When Corbett first played the role in 1962 in a one-off Galton and Simpson comedy play called The Offer he was attracted by the incisive social comment, the Beckett-like absurdity, the way it truly captured the echt working-class experience and then communicated it directly to the masses. When he finally retired from the sitcom 12 years later he realised, too late, that all his worthy artistic ambitions had come to naught: with the image in their heads of a funny-voiced, pretentious rag-and-bone man, no audience could possibly take him seriously as the Dane.

Here was a tragic case of life imitating art.

The sitcom's running gag, of course, is that for all his efforts to rise above his station and achieve great things, poor Harold will always be stuck with his sneering, cantankerous old dad in that junk-cluttered room. …

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