Mark Andrews: Nothing wrong with being stuck in the 80s
IT happened during a family meal some years ago. With a laser-like precision, a close relative made an observation that was so unarguably true that I had little choice but to look at myself in a different light.
“You’re stuck in the 80s,” he remarked as we sat around the table at a Berni Inn. Actually, it wasn’t a Berni Inn at all, but I would probably have liked it to have been. There’s nothing better than a good steak with thick-cut chips, it’s miles better than all that nouvelle cuisine you get these days. And I’ve always considered the mock-Tudor beams and corporate horse brasses to be the last word in good taste and elegant style.
Anyway, the observation came about after I had just been waxing lyrical about The Comedians revival show, which I had just seen the Birmingham Alex theatre. A wonderful night of side-splitting comedy featuring the late Jim Bowen, Mick Miller – the first bald man to ever grow a mullet – and headline act Stan Boardman, who foresaw a time when Osama Bin Laden would be star turn on Through The Keyhole. No nastiness, no politicking, just good, if not especially clean, fun.
Actually, stuck in the 80s was probably a bit generous. A quick look through my DVD and VHS collection – yes, I’ve still got a video recorder – reveals box sets of On The Buses, The Sweeney and Van Der Valk, plus a bit of Minder and The Professionals. I’ve also got every episode of The Avengers – the real one, not that Marvel Comic nonsense – Mind Your Language, and a bit of early Jasper Carrot. Drop The Dead Donkey and Alan Bleasdale’s GBH just about brings me into the early 90s, and there is a bit of Alan Partridge for a more contemporary feel. But anything much after that is usually lost on me.
I was reminded of this the other week, as the newsroom became engrossed with the new series of Game of Thrones. I would love to feed you a few titbits of how the conversations went, but I’m unable to because I really couldn’t understand a word they were talking about. It really sounded like a foreign language.
Of course this may in part be down to the fact, as someone stuck in the 80s, I don’t have satellite, cable or internet television, and they don’t show it on BBC or ITV. But I’m pretty sure that even if I did have the opportunity to watch it, it would still be lost on me. It all sounds unfathomably complicated, and more like hard work than entertainment. It doesn’t seem to be so much a television series as a sort of secret society which you are either part of, or you’re not.
But it’s not just the fantasy stuff that goes over my head. There are all these gritty, big-budget dramas which seem to keep everybody but me captivated for weeks on end.
These usually seem to be described as ‘cinematic’. Which seems to be a euphemism for slow-paced and very intense. Gloomy lighting, muffled dialogue, overpowering incidental music, and episodes which go on for hours. And none of the good old-fashioned fist fights which gave the classic dramas a bit of a buzz. I’m sure it’s all beautifully directed, but I can’t help but hanker for the days when drama was simple, fast-paced, and over in an hour at the most. Usually with the bad guy getting a much-deserved pasting, and the hero making a witty philosophical observation before the credits roll.
At the moment, it seems to be Cannock-born Jed Mercurio who is all the rage, with Line of Duty and Bodyguard getting rave reviews, but even these also seems a bit heavy-going for my tastes. Why can’t we go back the days of Frank Burnside flushing a wrong ’uns head down the toilet in The Bill?
Besides, as a dyed-in-the-wool Black Countryman, I’m always going to find it hard to love anything by Mercurio. Remember that awful sitcom The Grimleys, about a dysfunctional family living in Dudley in the 1970s? That was Mercurio’s work, and it still rankles after 20 years.
I think what really annoyed me about The Grimleys was that I was actually expecting it to show the Black Country in a positive light. Maybe a bit of sharp, observational wit, as typified by the late Tommy Mundon, a few shots of much-loved landmarks, even a bit of affectionate, self-deprecating humour.
What we actually got was lazy portrayals of hapless losers, squalid housing – it was actually filmed on a council estate in Manchester – and a script consisting largely of references to Gornal and Tipton delivered in ridiculous accents.
With hindsight, it was naive to have expected anything else. For whatever reason, the TV world doesn’t seem to like the Midlands. From Benny in Crossroads to Raised by Wolves, people from this neck of the woods are always portrayed as stupid, uneducated and downtrodden. The only one that wasn’t too bad was Take Me Home, featuring Reece Dinsdale as a computer whizzkid who had just moved to Telford.
That, by the way, was made and screened in 1989. I rest my case. Now where’s that Rubik’s Cube?