Magazine article The Spectator

The Right Stuff

Magazine article The Spectator

The Right Stuff

Article excerpt


The right stuff

Dear, lovely but dangerously optimistic and quite often wrong Matthew Parris had a go at me in the Speccie the other week when en passant he mentioned TV critics who don't like TV. This was terribly unfair. I don't hate all TV, just about 99.5 per cent of it, which still leaves lots of room for stuff I do like, such as Peep Show (Channel 4, Tuesday and Friday), Line Of Fire (History Channel, Monday) and Blackpool (BBCl, Thursday).

Blackpool is so good that I'm sure it's going to become one of those landmark series that everyone refers back to all the time (cf. The Singing Detective, Our Friends in the North . . .), thus annoying the hell out of all the people who went, ' "Comedy musical set up North with David solid-but-dull Morrissey"? No ta,' and missed the bandwagon.

I had similar initial doubts myself. But, no, Morrissey is quite fantastically appealing as Ripley Holden, the bullying, cheating, arrogant, whore-shagging, lying and possibly murdering Blackpool arcadeowner, whom you still can't help loving because his sideburns are so great and his one-liners so fast and furious. And everyone else is wonderful in it, too, from his voluptuous wife Natalie (Sarah Parish) and whey-faced boy (Thomas Morrison) through to the unlikely (but who cares?) lollipop-sucking detective Carlisle (David Tennant).

It's the sort of drama production that makes you go, 'Why can't all TV drama be this witty? This original?' But, if it were, of course, we'd never find time to go out or read books. Also, it's never going to happen because there are so few TV scriptwriters with the energy, verve and verbal ingenuity of Peter Bowker. First his superb adaptation of the Miller's Tale and now this. Truly, we should make him our King. Possibly even our God.

The Line of Fire I watch is not, I'm ashamed to say, the edgy, highly acclaimed US cop series, but rather the trainspotterish one about battlefields which features lots of 3-D maps and the same trio of lecturers (youngie, beardie, Canadian-ie) from Sandhurst. This week's was about Borodino, which no doubt all Spectator readers apart from me knew about already, but it's the one that Tolstoy wrote about in War and Peace and the one that inspired Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture. Napoleon won, sort of, but it was a Pyrrhic victory - the prelude to his brief occupation of Moscow, followed by his dreadful winter retreat.

It reminded me of what a skewed perception many of us have of world history. We get terribly excited about what Wellington achieved in the Peninsular War, but, compared with Napoleon's eastern campaigns (at Borodino, over 70,000 men died in a single day), it barely qualifies as a skirmish. …

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