review

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
"She loves Jesus and he will lead the way for her," said Georgina Clarke's mother, explaining why she was so anxious for her daughter to get into Canon Slade, the heavily over-subscribed church school which was at the centre of a wincingly acute Witness film (C4) about the agonies of school selection. As it happened, Jesus led the way down the road to St James, Georgina's well- tutored piety (she could recite all the books of the Bible in sequence) having failed to accumulate enough points to get her into Canon Slade.

If all this sounded more like a petrol station promotion than a sensible way of ordering the provision of education, Karen Blumenfeld's film had no real villains. And if there was a hypocrisy at the heart of it - less-than-devout parents worshipping at the altar of academic success - it was one compounded of perfectly worthy motives. You could hardly blame the Church authorities for requiring some proof of commitment (given that they had to choose somehow), any more than you could blame the parents for caring about what kind of school their children attended. Any moral discomfort you felt rested on top of these sometimes incompatible good intentions.

Perhaps it was unwise for some parents to make so much of their children's religious beliefs, given that they were not yet at the age when blind acceptance turns into considered faith. Perhaps also there was something a little sour about the reactions of those who were turned away, a lack of charity about the dilemma faced by the gatekeepers. "It's their loss," said one woman tartly, as if playground spite had motivated the decision rather than the simple practicality of overcrowded classrooms. On the other hand, you could see that some disappointed applicants might view the points system as less than perfect in its administration of justice, seemingly putting a higher premium on church attendance than such Christian duties as caring for the sick or helping the poor. You did wonder, too, why it didn't seem possible to lose points - particularly when a divorced couple turned out to be one of the families which won through on appeal. Did betraying a promise made before God count for nothing in the religious audit? Think about it a little bit more though, and you see that while it might be biblical to visit the sins of the father on the children, it would hardly be Christian. The matter is an ethical Mobius strip - an endless loop which looks as if it should have two sides but turns out to have only one - an anxiety to do the right thing.

I have been rebuked recently, more in sorrow than in anger, for the casual assumption that every truly terrible programme on TV is made by Carlton. This happened after I had credited them - perhaps debited would be a better term - with the production of some atrocity for which they were not culpable, an error which I am apparently not alone in making. I could see their point - why should they take the blame for other people's rubbish even if they are television's pre-eminent fly-tippers, sneaking out after dark to dump garbage into the schedules?

That said, it is difficult to shake off the mental associations that the name conjures up, the sense that it will serve as a useful adjective, much as Evelyn Waugh used to employ "Balkan" as a pejorative qualifier. It is in that sense alone that I point out how very "Carlton" BBC 1's Tuesday evening schedule is. From Holiday to Crimewatch UK, the landscape, whatever you think of the quality of its individual components, is thoroughly commercial - an industrial estate dedicated to the production of high viewing figures. Even the programmes that might be defended as informative betray by their advice a dismal perception of the audience's intelligence. I suppose there are people out there who need to be told that a plastic bathtub is not a sensible place to leave a burning candle (the "moral" of a 999 Lifesavers report), but surely they are far too Carlton to be watching the BBC anyway.

Comments