LAST NIGHT

TV Reviews: All Mod Cons and Classic Albums
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The Independent Culture
All Mod Cons (BBC2), a brief history of British interior design, began with a scene of horror. Barry Bucknell, apostle of the do-it-yourself pelmet, was about to assault an innocent door. First he abused it ( "ugly, old panel door," he said) and then he swung it on its hinges to reveal the other side - a sheer, glossed face complete with floral plastic pull grip. We could do this, too, he assured us, "just by fitting a sheet of hardboard over the door". Twenty years later someone was destined to spend many hours undoing his work. Worse was to come, though - the clips from Bucknell's House, a BBC series in which the presenter took a derelict house and modernised it, showed that it was nothing less than a snuff movie for original features - out went the Victorian fireplaces and overmantels, in went the very last word in heating appliances - gas-fires shaped like a Chevrolet's front bumper, surrounded by an altar of pearlised tiles. This is the inescapable curse decoration has visited upon us - every generation doomed to despise and destroy the work done by those who went before.

This entertaining programme offered many such delicious frissons - the complacent satisfaction of shuddering at our parents' taste, or laughing at their formal manners. But, because it conspicuously showed that taste had come full circle (and because it showed that our parents had a better rationale for their atrocities than mere fashion), it was more than usually alert to the fact that we are the raw material of sniggers ourselves. It may well be funny to watch Valerie Singleton in a stiff drama of youthful nest-building, but will the eager makeover artists of Home Front look any less ridiculous in 20 years time? Won't all those carefully aged mirror frames suddenly begin to look dowdy rather than distressed? Tomorrow's junk has to come from somewhere, and it's your duty, and mine, to provide it.

There was more nostalgia on BBC1 later in the evening, though in a far more reverential form. Classic Albums' account of the making of Jimi Hendrix's Electric Ladyland is one of those programmes that is destined to be recorded on a freshly-bought cassette, meticulously labelled and then filed, just above the complete bootleg and out-take collection. It will be undiluted joy for those with a passion for the record under the microscope, something of an ordeal for anybody else. When I was at school, I once briefly joined something called the Progressive Rock Appreciation Society - essentially an excuse for playing records during study periods. We would sit around an ancient Dansette listening to King Crimson with expressions of solemn concentration on our faces, and then attempt a musicological discussion. This film shared something of that adolescent desire to have one's thrills taken seriously. (Because of that, perhaps, it was an unusually sober account of the rock lifestyle - when a voice-over read out one session musician's diary, it pointedly excluded the phrase "very stoned").

It has to be said, though, that the music is unusually susceptible to such dissections - it may strike the listener like a stone, but it is laid down over time as sedimentary rock and, if you still have the studio tapes (as they did here), then you can peel layer from layer, exposing each individual component for its supplier to comment on (even down to the comb-and-paper kazoo noises on one track). Naturally, most of the musicians who appeared had a vested interest in talking the occasion up. After 20 years buried in the small print, where only members of a Progressive Rock Appreciation Society would notice them, it was finally time for a name-check. More than once you suspected a session musician of a little retrospective gilding - taking a routine workday and turning it into a musical epiphany. Who can blame them, though? Watching the "without whoms" of rock reminded me that television has its equivalents, too. So, a big hand please for Jeannette Knights on Music Clearance and Danny Finn, the Dubbing Mixer, who managed to fade between hummed recollections and the original recording with inaudible skill.

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