Magazine article The Spectator

Television Repeat Proscription

Magazine article The Spectator

Television Repeat Proscription

Article excerpt

If only there was an alternative ending to the Titanic story. We could use a change. 'Phew, we almost hit that iceberg!' Or, 'Thank goodness the White Star Line made sure there were ample lifeboats for everyone on board!' Or even, 'So it's true - this ship really is unsinkable, and tomorrow night we will be safe and well in a rat-infested tenement on the Lower East side shared with seven other families!'

But of course it's not a story, it's a myth.

You might as well have a happy ending to Oedipus Rex. And in the same way we can see it again and again. In Julian Fellowes's version alone (ITV, Sunday) we get it four times. It's about man's hubris in the face of nature. It's about class. You can't take your money with you, but you can use it to postpone the trip. And it's about courage, cowardice and the band playing as the ship went down because they were British. Three years later, twice as many people died on the Lusitania, which was historically a far more important event, but I don't think anyone's made a TV mini-series about them, possibly because they were torpedoed by boring old Germans. And also because the ship sank in 18 minutes, which didn't leave time for heartfelt reconciliations between unhappy couples, or changing into dinner jackets like Benjamin Guggenheim, who wanted to drown dressed as a gentleman, so proving that an American can have an upper lip quite as stiff as any Englishman, and not because of the ice in his scotch.

All of which shows why Titanic With Len Goodman (BBC 2, Friday) was, in spite of its silly title - Goodman, before being a judge on Strictly Come Dancing, worked for Harland and Wolff, who built the ship - rather more affecting than the fictional series (which lost more than a third of its audience in its second week). These were real heroes:

5th officer Harold Lowe, who saved several real people, and real cowards, such as Sir Cosmo Duff-Gordon, who settled himself comfortably in a lifeboat, and later was seen on the Carpathia dishing out Coutts cheques to crew members who had obeyed his orders not to return for survivors screaming in the water. (His family say he was just a generous sort of chap. ) There is nothing more powerful than a myth that turns out to be true.

The BBC paid some £22 million for the rights alone to The Voice (BBC1, Saturday).

It's a basic, off-the-back-of-an-envelope talent show, so why it cost so much I cannot imagine. …

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