Magazine article The Spectator

Out of Sight

Magazine article The Spectator

Out of Sight

Article excerpt

There are some things television can do which no other medium can manage. Take one of those little-noticed programmes, Hidden Paintings on BBC4. It's presented by Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen, the chap with the King Charles spaniel hair, who used to do Changing Rooms, in which people found parts of their house redecorated while they were away, causing them to fly into a rage.

The theme is fine works of art which for various reasons aren't on public view. This week LLB considered David Inshaw, still with us, whose two best-known paintings are both hidden. One, 'Our Days Were a Joy', shows an enigmatic young woman in a graveyard. The technique is a beguiling cross between pointillism and photography. It is owned by Bristol Art Gallery, but it doesn't have space, so it's in the cellars. The better known picture is 'The Badminton Game', which John Major displayed at No. 10. But Tony Blair didn't care for it, and it's now in a vault at Tate Britain. Inshaw himself seemed resigned; LLB hinted at what may be true: the art establishment hates works that are generally agreeable to the public, unless they were painted centuries ago. Like babies denied mashed bananas, we are to be moved on to broccoli and liver, whether we like it or not.

It turned out that Inshaw had been double dating the two young women playing badminton, which brought a pleasingly louche tone: private lives of the painters perhaps. Anyhow, the story was fascinating and infuriating, and could not have been told except on television.

Nor could the tale of the spinosaurus, probably the biggest land animal that ever shook the earth, 95 million years ago. It was the star of Planet Dinosaur (BBC1), which comes 12 years after Walking With Dinosaurs and so has even more astounding graphics. The result offers on screen convincingly frightful creatures which petrify but cannot harm us, like Jeremy Clarkson. The effect is slightly muted; at times we might have been gazing at a Ladybird book designed by a misanthrope who loves to terrify children.

And you may remember Anne Elk in Monty Python who had a new theory about the brontosaurus: 'My new theory is that the brontosaurus was very thin at one end, much thicker in the middle, and thin again at the far end.' That was the general pattern for most dinosaurs and it meant, the experts seem to assume, that they walked with a precarious gait, if only to keep themselves upright, rather like David Suchet as Hercule Poirot. …

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