Television: The night of the Landslide-ometer
Sunday 04 May 1997
A young man called Simon Cavell designed the BBC's election livery. He'd come from Top of the Pops. He's a bright boy, and mischievous with it. They should have made him musical director as well. As it was, they had the usual faux-tumultuous synth racket. If they'd given the job to Simon, we might have got some of those famous repetitive beats.
"It's great," said one old Labour campaigner. "In on the winning side at last." I thought so too, which is why I stuck mainly with BBC1. I glanced at David, smug as a pug with his banks of computer hardware. Then I looked in on Jonathan, over on ITV. Only one computer for Jonathan, and that looked second-hand. If you're invited for Christmas with the Dimblebys, be sure to give the younger one a really special present. He might like a golfball typewriter.
Only Jilly Goolden would do full justice to Peter Snow's magnificent performance. "A tiny tile of blue here! A socking great block here! If I line up all these blocks like a staircase! The blue mountain Labour has to climb!" One minute, the blocks towered like social housing. Next they were flapping manically, like a privatised Departures schedule at Heathrow. There was something called the Labour Target Flyaround. And that crazed Landslide-ometer, flattening first Balfour, then Churchill, then Major, beneath great heaps of socialistic scree.
You've got to follow politics a bit before you've any chance of enjoying political satire. So why would anyone watch The Election Armistice (BBC2, Thursday) when they could be watching the real thing live? A young woman was sent out on a helicopter, to cause a hilarious sex scandal with whomever was the first MP returned. They called her "the heliharlot", "the heliwhore" and sometimes "the heliprozzy". Only the first MP elected was the well- behaved Chris Mullin. All those nasty heliwords just hung around smelling bad.
"Did you or did you not take cash for questioning MPs?" the Armistice asked Martin Bell. It took him an awkward aeon to see the obvious joke. "Oh, I see, in a TV sense. Yes, of course, that was my job." Canned laughter. Sighs of relief all round. Back to the serious channel, and a couple of hours later, Bell was the new MP for Tatton. The outgoing Neil Hamilton stepped forward to do his little speech. But look behind you, Hammy: Ms Moneypenny, the drag queen candidate, was approaching. She positioned her false breasts strategically, at either side of his head. They were red and they curved grotesquely. Naughty, naughty Ms Moneypenny. She had designed her breasts to double as devilish little horns.
It was soon clear that Election 97 on any channel had gone way beyond the bounds of parliamentary politics as we know it. The inexorability of it was farcical. It was like The Lord of the Rings. We even got our bewildered Frodo Baggins, young Stephen Twigg of Enfield. Most noble hobbit, history chose you to vanquish Michael Portillo. Read his wobbling lips. He's out.
"It's the dawn of a new beginning," as the brand new member for Portsmouth North put it. "And how long before we see child curfews?" as Jeremy Paxman impeccably challenged Jack Straw. I think it was Anthony King, the BBC1 psephologist, who first mentioned the 1832 Reform Act. It was Prof King too who summed up the events of the long night best. "Landslide is much too weak a word. It's an asteroid hitting the planet." The "only party of government" collapsed like a potwalloper. Will the last person leaving the Conservatives please turn out the lights?
General elections are by most accounts important. That's why you mark your cross with a stubby pencil, then shove it in a beat-up old tin box. Only luvvies, on the other hand, care much about The British Academy Awards (BBC1, Tuesday). That's why a shadowy oligarchy slips its chosen names into golden envelopes, to be announced with a splendid dinner at the Royal Albert Hall.
Hooray for Our Friends in the North, though, voted Best Drama Serial. They can knock the old lefties out of the political drama, but they can't knock the political drama out of the old left. Our even older friends from Weatherfield all trooped up on the stage together, to pick up the special Lew Grade Award. "You," Barbara Knox said fondly to the Bafta. "You are going home to the best little street in the world."
My Wonderful Life (ITV, Thursday) is Simon Nye's follow-up to Men Behaving Badly. Donna (Emma Wray) is a nurse, and a single parent. Unsurprisingly, she's completely stressed out all the time, and finds it difficult to make ends meet. So she starts training herself up for a promotion. Only she blows it right away. Her do-gooder neighbours lend her money to help with childcare. She blows that too, down the pub. The sit part was straight from Ken Loach's Ladybird, Ladybird. The com part wasn't strong enough to make this a daring plus.
"Donna," opined Alan, the next-door neighbour, "is torn apart by society's schizoid attitude to single mothers. So she takes refuge in spunky aggression ..." "Your file suggests a person who is not at ease with herself," fills in the lady from Personnel. You remember Forster's old rule about telling and showing. Did John Cleese ever need to write in a part for a psychologist? Like, just in case we hadn't noticed that Basil was completely barking mad?
The male characters are better written than the female ones. Alan (Tony Robinson) is a media-studies plonker. There's Roger (Hamish Clark), a shambolic indie-pop doctor. And Lawrie (Gary Webster), a handsome ambulance driver, in the pecs-out-for-the-girlies Neil Dudgeon part.
"With a name like Lawrie," says Donna, "You'd have to be a driver."
"With a name like Donna," says Lawrie, "You'd have to be a kebab ... Um, doesn't really work, does it?"
"No, not really ..."
If you are as fond as New Labour is of a blue-and-yellow colourway, you'll love Touching Evil (Tuesday, ITV). It has lashings of a blue which is dark and sinister, with lurid splodges of a yellow that's acid-bright. And I don't think it's accidental that when we first meet the lady-detective sex interest, she's wearing a lime-green shirt. Art direction akimbo! I haven't even mentioned the Robson Green yet. Or his extremely fashionable bright-blue and piercing eyes.
Touching Evil is one of those clever, wildly baroque police dramas. It starts with videotapes of a child on his way to being abducted. It cuts to a madman being thrown to the floor by the cops. The madman turns out to be Cyril (Kenneth Macdonald), our hero's psychic informer. "I saw it through the clouds," he says. The blue eyes lift with the image to the ceiling, furrowing that high, sharp forehead as they go.
Like Cracker - and not unlike The X-Files - Touching Evil is at bottom an abnormal-psychology freakiest. As such, it's total piffle. But it's nice to look at, and the details are lovingly done. DI Taylor (Nicola Walker), the sex-interest lady police-partner, has a very good smirk on her. She also wears the most unfeasibly expensive-looking coats.
Taylor doesn't look pleased when one night she gives a lift home to the enigmatic DI Creegan. To a nice terraced house, with a nice blonde woman at the door, and a nice jolly window with children's mobiles in it upstairs. This of course can only mean that Creegan isn't in a stable relationship at the minute. You can look it up in the style-book. Sophisticated Plot Twist, Variation 24.
But Taylor is far too busy catching serial killers to watch as much TV as we do. For the time being, then, she believes that Creegan is a married man. This only ups his appeal even further. For that, of course, is Sophisticated Plot Twist 25.
David Aaronovitch returns next week.
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