Magazine article The Spectator

Ubiquitous Dawn

Magazine article The Spectator

Ubiquitous Dawn

Article excerpt

It turned out to be Dawn French's Christmas and New Year. She was in everything, even David Copperfield. You expected her to crop up on the news. 'But there was some relief for the freezing Auverge villagers when British entertainer Dawn French came to raise their spirits ...

Her show The Vicar of Dibley (BBC 1) was the surprise hit of the schedules, with a fairly limp plot about poor, silly Alice havin- a baby at the time of the nativity play. I don't find Dibley particularly funny - it's cosy rather than humorous, cuddly rather than barbed, The comedy premise is the old-fashioned notion that vicars are rather grand, pious figures set above us, so that a scatty female prelate inclined to swear must be intrinsically hilarious. Of course in these days vicars are desperate to appear just ordinary folks, and in the Church of England probably don't even believe in God. So the show has a quaint, nostalgic, timeless appeal. like Jeeves or the Agatha Christie stories, which may be why a quarter of the population found it unmissable.

The French and Saunders Christmas Special (BBC 1) was, as ever, an outrage. Each sketch creaks slowly along, like a wounded galleon desperately trying to reach landfall before it sinks. The Star Wars spoof, with the characters wackily named after oriental foods, was just dire - painful and embarrassing to watch. And this self-indulgent tripe must cost the BBC a fortune every year. The clue is in the credits: French and Saunders wrote it all themselves, and they're clearly too busy to give the script half the attention it needs. There are several hundred talented writers out there, many of whom would donate their vital organs for the chance to flog them material at two quid a joke. I assume the BBC indulges F&S because it needs their talents used properly for the rest of the year.

By contrast, Dinnerladies (BBC 1) gets better with every show. Victoria Wood has mastered the American technique of packing a good gag into almost every line, while keeping the cast strictly in character. And the characters they're kept in are sympathetic and likeable. We care about them. With a dozen or so regulars, this is a tough trick to pull off, but she's managed it, and the show gets tighter, funnier and more appealing by the episode. Last week's was bittersweet, even sentimental, but never mawkish.

I admired and even enjoyed The Turn of the Screw (ITV). Ghost stories are almost impossible on television because everything we see is a ghost, and phantoms are made up of the same pixels as everyone else. (The stories of that other ghost-writer M. …

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