Magazine article The Spectator

Television That's Entertainment

Magazine article The Spectator

Television That's Entertainment

Article excerpt

Comparisons may be odious but sometimes they are irresistible - and, frankly, more fool the BBC for screening Treasures of Ancient Rome on the same night as The Shock of the New (Monday, BBC4). Here is Alastair Sooke on the spread of the Roman Empire: 'Rome's generals romped around the Med, sacking cities willy-nilly. . . ' Here is Robert Hughes (in 1980) on the impact of the first world war (and for anyone watching Parade's End the implications of this speech - and indeed Hughes's whole programme, The Powers That Be - will strike with particular resonance): 'The life of words and images in art was changed radically and for ever because our culture had now entered the age of mass-produced, industrialised death, and at first there were no words to describe it . . . A chasm opened between official language and what the young knew to be reality: the speech of the elders could not contain their experiences. . .' Hughes, wearing a suit and tie, delivers his introduction from beside a memorial at the Somme;

Sooke, wearing a red plastic helmet, delivers his from a canoe. Of course he does -- after all, the Roman

Empire is a laugh a minute and this is

'Sooke's Treasure Hunt': watch him bump

along the Via Appia in a Fiat 500! See him

eat an ice cream at the seaside! Giggle as he

describes scientists as 'science boffins', the

Alexander Mosaic as 'really mind-boggling',

and a bronze bust of the Emperor Augustus

as the 'Roman equivalent of Botox!'.

Sooke is confident and instructive when

he is calm and stationary, but someone --

perhaps someone wearing a spinning bow

tie and pointing a water pistol -- must have

decreed that he should, above all things,

entertain. Must all art historians now come

dressed in comedy noses? And what, I wonder,

would Robert Hughes have made of

Sooke and that ice-cream cornet?

I did -- albeit briefly -- muster a childish

sense of excitement at the prospect of

the new Dallas (Wednesday, C5). Thirtyfour

years ago the nation blinked in wonder

at that faraway land of oil and sin; now the

show has been nipped and tucked for the

21st century. Dallas! Where real men wear

pointy boots and shout, 'That's a damn lie!'

Where kissing and fighting are so gloriously

interchangeable, and nobody ever goes outdoors!

The reason we remember the original

(oh, come on now -- I know you do) is that,

back then, it stood out. The characters were

extraordinary, their wealth was astonishing

and their dentistry was awesome. …

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