Television: Classic TV - it's a good little runner

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Bit by bit, as the baby-boomer generation move through life, their shifting interests and preoccupations turn up on the medium most sensitive to them - television. In 10 years' time, as the boomers hit their late fifties, there will be endless shows concerned with retirement and grand- parenting skills. Ten years after that you can expect helpful DIY-funeral programmes, and advice on memorial services to be littering whatever digital system is then in operation.

At the moment we who are born of the Fifties and Sixties are enjoying the "Classics". We have already had classic cars, classic trains and classic buildings. And there is plenty more to be mined from this seam. But whereas a dictionary definition might give "classic" as meaning ideal or exemplary, in TV parlance "classic" means what we all used to talk about back then, and had nearly forgotten. Or, the one we would all have talked about back then had we been hip enough.

In the late Sixties, when I was 14 and 15, you didn't get hipper than Jimi Hendrix and Electric Ladyland, the subject of the first edition of Classic Albums (BBC1, Mon). Hendrix "was absolutely the man on the scene", said one admirer, correctly. I sat down to watch this programme with more than usual avidity because I adore this stuff and it's always so well done by the Beeb. Last year's Dancing in the Streets was a great gig, and the series tracing rock'n'roll family trees, with its tales of band lechery ("So Dave took off with my old lady."), treachery ("Dave's drug thing was affecting the group. I knew he had to go - I called Wayne, and he was available."), and - of course - death ("They found Dave leaning against the toilet. It was a bummer.") was irresistible, even where you'd never heard of the bands that were featured. A bit like Brookside with music.

Actually Classic Albums was a far more sober and serious-minded affair, mostly consisting of a worthy explanation of the way that an LP was recorded and mixed - from the neglected talents of the backing vocalists, to the odd unhelpful appearance at the recording session of Rolling Stone Brian Jones (not much longer for this world). For those of us who think that Hendrix's version of "All Along the Watchtower" is as close to divinity as rock can get, and who can still imitate every note of the talking wah- wah pedal on "Still Raining, Still Dreaming", this was fine, if rather slow.

But what really took me back 28 years was the discussion of the design of the album cover. This (I will explain for younger readers) was a photograph of about 10 young women of various races and sizes, all of them naked. In those early days of permissiveness the picture became simultaneously notorious and sought after. In fact, after one of those terrible teen parties where unrequited lust is only quenched first by drink, and then by vomit, I discovered that a thief had pilfered my record collection, taking the Ladyland cover, but leaving the record behind. For several years my copy languished inside a cover depicting a boring-looking man in flat cap standing beside a locomotive, and entitled Don Bilston and the Age of Steam. No one stole that.

Then, as another discussion of how the kazoo was laid over the piano took place, I found myself distracted by the phenomenon of ageing rock stars and their hair. Most of them suffer some kind of tonsorial arrested development, freezing their coiffure in a petrified variation of what they shook when they were on stage all those years ago. Those who then had centre-parted locks now sport an off-the-forehead shoulder-length semi-perm of staggering ugliness. Others go for the grey ponytail. None seem to recognise that haircutting has moved on since 1970. Perhaps they are waiting to feature in Classic Haircuts.

"Before Classic Albums, time for some some classic football," said the hidden BBC continuity announcer on Monday night. (The more progressive Channel 4 now shows its announcers reading their little scripts from some sound-booth in the darkened heart of C4 House. Myself, I like seeing them and wondering how much they get paid for what looks like a very easy job. But I daresay these 10-second bursts of introduction every half hour are full of their own obscure complexities, and that one day we will be treated to Classic Continuity Announcers.)

Any road, Match of the 80s (BBC1, Mon), picked up where Match of the 70s had stopped: ie at the end of the, er, Seventies. And whereas Mr Seventies had been Dennis Waterman, the estimable Danny Baker (who could teach Sixties rock bands a thing or two about partying) is our guide for the football of the Thatcher era. When, in the next millennium, we lower our arthritic hips into our armchairs for Match of the 90s, who will be chosen to remind us of kung fu Cantona and Chelsea teams entirely consisting of foreigners? Antoine de Caunes - postmodern hero and ironist - presumably. Or maybe a woman even.

To give extra poignancy to my evening of nostalgia (or Classicness), the year in question was 1981, when - on my first visit to Wembley - I saw the FA Cup Final replay between Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City in which Ricky Villa scored the best Cup Final goal ever. And there it was again, slo-moed and everything. But pleased as I was I couldn't help feeling that the whole show was - for Baker - uncharacteristically reverential, its structure too chronological and thus forbidding the kind of spikiness that he excels in. But then, I suppose, this was - for him - a serious cultural responsibility.

Classic TV is very easy to watch, which makes a reviewer's job much simpler than when - say - he or she cannot bear to look at the programme that is to be reviewed. But I have a serious problem with all shows involving real operations, whether on people or on animals. These days most programmes feature such procedures, suggesting that focus groups all over Britain are expressing a lust for real blood that producers are forced to assuage.

And few of them are doing it with more aplomb, more success and less concern for my feelings, than the makers of Plastic Fantastic (C5, Tues), whose eight programmes are charting the arse to elbow story of cosmetic surgery. September promises penile extensions ("Make mine a foot," patients do not ask), but this week we visited the brothers Viel (pronounced "vile"), in their breast surgery. I watched about five minutes of this before feeling queasy, returning just in time to see a trailer for next week's nose edition, in which a man with a chisel was inscribing something lapidary on the inside of a someone else's head, via their hooter. People are strange.

Nothing, however, could be stranger or more Viel than Judge Judy (ITV, Tues), an imported Yank daytime job, in which a hatchet-faced lady judge is allowed to rule on real-life cases that some of her fellow countrypersons are stupid enough to refer to her - and all in front of a studio audience. Tacky but no harm, you may think, for Judy to judge between, say, two guys who have bent fenders on the highway, or between a shopkeeper and a customer.

Forget it. Such matters would not be entertaining enough for our debased tastes. We must have the woman who is suing her estranged husband for not taking custody of her troubled teenage daughter, who (licking your lips yet?) is right there in court to accuse her trembling mother of alcoholism, drugtaking and physical abuse. And how the audience loved it when - on the basis of minimal evidence - Judge Judy subjected the woman to a disgraceful and bullying harangue. It was appalling.

Sure David, but that's Americans for you. British people would never permit such intrusion, British TV would never behave so unethically. Oh, but here is a strange logic, ne c'est pas? It's a bit like all those years (before Electric Ladyland) when the only breasts you were allowed to peer at were the black, tribal ones in the pages of the National Geographic. White tits were not permitted. So, were the black boobs somehow not breasts at all, because they belonged to Africans? And are grotesque invasions of the lives of others in the name of entertainment somehow excusable on the basis that they are only foreigners? Now, I don't know what fart- faced commissioning editor was responsible for this scheduling disgrace, but someone at Network Centre must realise that this is bad telly, and take it off. It's Crap and it ain't Classic.

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