Magazine article The Spectator

Ripping Yarn

Magazine article The Spectator

Ripping Yarn

Article excerpt

There's a teacher at my stepson James's school who gives the boys lines whenever they use the word 'loo'. The desired term, apparently, is 'toilet'. So there's another of my campaigns to turn the Rat into a civilised human being gone out of the window. It's the same with computers: I maintain that books will always be best; the Rat's teachers encourage him to download drivel (and illustrations - gone are the days, apparently, when you drew your own pictures for your projects) from the Internet. And I've a nasty suspicion that once he gets a bit older, the Rat will be telling me that animals have rights, that meat-eating's wrong, that Europe's the best way forward; that all the values I hold dear, in short, are ignorant, antediluvian and evil.

Which is one of the reasons I was so keen for the Rat to watch Children of the New Forest (BBC 1), one of those wonderful Sunday afternoon children's television dramas that I thought they didn't make any more. It celebrates the monarchy, the class system, gender stereotyping, deer-hunting, landowners' rights, fruity accents and all the other splendid things that the government - and, indeed, organisations like the BBC - are so determined to stamp out.

In fact, if it hadn't been written at the height of our imperial glory by the great Captain Marryat, I might well have suspected that it was a thinly veiled satire on the horrors of the current regime. The chief hate figure, for example, is a grim Leveller called Abel Corbould (Craig Kelly) who combines the sinister mien of a Peter Mandelson with the weaselly ways of a Tony Blair, insisting that he is doing no more than the people want even as he ravishes and destroys their beloved nation.

The toff contingent, meanwhile, is led by the hunky young heir-to-the-manor Edward (Tom Wisdom), whom my wife would rather like as a toy boy, my gay friends think is the best thing since Keanu Reeves lost his ephebic charm, and whom I think of as a sort of James Delingpole character, brandishing the sword of truth, justice and general coolness and smiting the Roundhead legions until such time as he is restored to the handsome estate in the country which he lost in his father's era.

Anyway, it's a ripping yarn. I could scarcely breathe during the week that followed the cliffhanger when Edward and his little bro were stuck up the chimney while the Roundheads were cooking venison stew. And I very nearly shed a manly tear in episode one when the nobel chatelaine chose to be burned alive rather than kowtow to the Blairite forces of evil.

My ecclesiastical advisors tell me, however, that a priest would never have been addressed as 'Reverend' in the 17th century; the Rat got terribly annoyed that you could hear drums playing when the Levellers were shown singing hymns as they rode: no drum was visible; and I got a bit peeved with the scriptwriters for having the children say things like `Don't be so pathetic! …

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