TELEVISION REVIEW / Swotting up with the fly on the classroom wall
When the completed document eventually went up behind glass, a small crowd would gather, gazing at it with a mixture of awe and foreboding. I can still recall the murmur of consternation that greeted the revelation, one dreadful year, that the only way he had finally been able to square the circle was by inflicting a period of Triple Physics on my class, an act of mental cruelty which I think was unprecedented in the school's history. Even the masters were shocked.
Some boys contemplated an appeal to Amnesty International, others resigned themselves to getting their heads down and serving their time. Since then, though, Triple Physics has been my benchmark for inescapable, dutiful tedium and it returned vividly to mind during High School II (Saturday BBC2), by the distinguished American director Frederick Wiseman. At three hours and 50 minutes, his film made the Dimbleby interview with Prince Charles look shamelessly rushed.
The Radio Times described it as 'uniquely detailed', which is a diplomatic way of putting it, I suppose. On the same lines, you might describe the London telephone book as a 'uniquely detailed' account of the city's social and ethnic tapestry. Certainly, in High School II, you had the feeling that the floor of Wiseman's cutting-room didn't need much sweeping at the end of the day. You got everything, in a succession of long scenes which presented the daily life of Central Park East, a Harlem public school with a reputation for excellence at odds with its locality.
Whether you would have known this if you hadn't been told it before you started watching, I'm not sure. There was no helpful voice-over, no screen captions to help you judge the seemingly endless succession of limping conversations (literally endless in my case - I confess I couldn't go the distance). The pedagogic method most favoured seemed to be that of education by an act of willed belief; 'That's an interesting theory,' said a teacher with grave caution, in response to some halting, barely articulate answer from a pupil. 'It's very interesting - I hadn't thought about it before today,' said another, soothing her students' embarrassment at their own ignorance with a wash of white lies.
Apparently this gets results, though the revelation that several of the students who go on to college spend their early years taking remedial writing and reading qualified your admiration a little. As did the eyelid-challenging patience of the director, who sat without a murmur as teacher after teacher attempted to insinuate knowledge into their bored, cud- chewing charges.
More memories elsewhere. The rerun of the first programme from the first series of Monty Python last night (BBC2) reminded me of returning to school after a long foreign holiday to find that a new language had been invented in my absence - an incomprehensible blend of silly names and surreal connections which had become indispensable to all social intercourse. And the Wimbledon coverage recalled that there was once a time when the men's final offered more drama and skill than the women's and that, if you wanted a commentary studded with speedometer readings, you watched a Grand Prix.
TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice
Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites
TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Nigel Farage: Me vs Russell Brand on Question Time – he's got the chest hair but where are his ideas?
- 2 Harry Potter fans can apply to the Hogwarts-inspired College of Wizardry
- 3 Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
- 4 Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
- 5 Orange Wednesdays are no more
Peter Lik: The self-proclaimed 'fine-art photographer' whose work sells for millions
The best underrated Christmas movies from Love, Actually to While You Were Sleeping
Grace Dent on TV: The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies was a beautifully shot, immensely considered drama
The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies, review: Jason Watkins is brilliant, but real victim Joanna Yeates is reduced to a footnote
Marilyn Manson denies involvement in shocking Lana Del Rey rape video
Disgruntled RBS worker writes hilarious open letter to Russell Brand after anti-capitalist publicity stunt leaves him hungry
Nigel Farage's approval rating hits 'record low' as popularity suffers in wake of Ukip sex scandal
Nigel Farage defends Kerry Smith 'ch***y' comment: 'If you are going for a Chinese, what do you say you’re going for?'
Pakistan school attack live: Taliban kill at least 132 children in 'horrifying' massacre
Sony hack: Angelina Jolie branded 'seriously out of her mind' in further embarrassing leaked email saga
Panic Saturday: 13 million Britons spend £1.2bn – while 13 million others across the country live in poverty unable to afford food