The Week in Arts: Keep sitcoms free from social responsibility

Share
Related Topics

Richard Curtis is, of course, best known as a massively successful comedy writer -
Blackadder,
Four Weddings, etc. He is less well known for his charity work, but that is also impressive. His stewardship of Comic Relief is the public side; his large donations from his own income take place behind the scenes.

Richard Curtis is, of course, best known as a massively successful comedy writer - Blackadder, Four Weddings, etc. He is less well known for his charity work, but that is also impressive. His stewardship of Comic Relief is the public side; his large donations from his own income take place behind the scenes.

But, this week the two sides of Richard Curtis, comedy and charity, came together in a way which made me uneasy. It was reported that Third World poverty, a subject Mr Curtis cares passionately about, will feature more in his work. Indeed, in the New Year's Day episode of The Vicar of Dibley, the vicar, played by Dawn French, will refuse presents for her 40th birthday and ask her friends to give money to the Third World instead.

I hope it doesn't sound too uncharitable of me if I say: "Laugh? I almost did." It's just that it strikes me that this would be like Tony Hancock in the Blood Donor episode famously protesting: "A pint! That's nearly an armful!" And then going on to say: "But our hospitals need blood. Take all you can, my good man."

Television has, of course, long been a vehicle for social messages and social education. Soaps such as EastEnders have dealt with everything from homosexuality to bereavement and addiction. But dramas are one thing; sitcoms are another.

Jennifer Saunders' Edina would no doubt have urged the Dibley parishioners to transfer all their gifts to her. Saunders' Edina and French's vicar are different animals. But they both inhabit sitcoms where the viewer expects the slightly anarchic, the subversive. Do people have to do the right thing and act from the best motives in comedy? If one area of television can be free from social responsibility, then surely it should be the sitcom.

Before me are visions of Steptoe and Son taking stuff out to the recycling bin; of Basil Fawlty giving his guests an organic food option on the menu; of David Brent insisting that his co-workers take regular screen breaks.

I will watch The Vicar of Dibley on New Year's Day with interest and a little trepidation. I hope I crack a smile. It's hard not to when Richard Curtis is involved; and I'm sure he has plenty of tricks up his sleeve. But please, please, let us not on New Year's Day or any other day have a sitcom that is followed by one of those sober announcements of the number to ring if you want to discuss the issues raised.

Do a Portillo and ignore the obvious

Theatre reviewing seems to be treated rather differently from any other art form. The Daily Mail now has its political sketch writer in the stalls at night. The Spectator famously employed as its critic someone who confessed he did not know where the National Theatre was. But the most curious choice of critic is that of the former Tory cabinet minister Michael Portillo for the left-wing New Statesman.

Mr Portillo begins his full-page Review of the Year in the magazine by mentioning that he hasn't actually got round to seeing either Alan Bennett's The History Boys or Mel Brooks's The Producers (pictured) yet. Quite how do you review a year without the year's two most praised productions? It's akin to a rock critic neglecting to listen to the U2 and Eminem albums or a film reviewer washing her hair on the nights of Bridget Jones and Harry Potter.

At least the MP turned theatre reviewer has contributed a phrase to the critic's lexicon. From now on any who neglect to review the most blindingly obvious choices can be said to be "doing a Portillo".

¿ I noted the other week that the return of pop group Frankie Goes to Hollywood without its lead singer and best known name Holly Johnson was something of a con on the ticket-buying public. It was one of the worst examples of the dubious practice of bands re-forming and selling tickets without the person most associated with them.

But whenever you think you have found the most extreme example, an even more outrageous one comes along. This week The Boys Are Back in Town tour by Thin Lizzy was announced. Not all the boys are back, of course. Phil Lynott, singer, driving force and public face of the great rock outfit, died a long time ago. "The boys are back?" Only for those with no rock history at all.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SQL Report Analyst (SSRS, CA, SQL 2012)

£30000 - £38500 Per Annum + 25 days holiday, pension, subsidised restaurant: C...

Application Support Analyst (SQL, Incident Management, SLAs)

£34000 - £37000 Per Annum + excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Lt...

Embedded Software / Firmware Engineer

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Pension, Holiday, Flexi-time: Progressive Recruitm...

Developer - WinForms, C#

£280 - £320 per day: Progressive Recruitment: C#, WinForms, Desktop Developmen...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Cameron's 'compassionate conservatism' is now lying on its back  

Tory modernisation has failed under David Cameron

Michael Dugher
Russian President Vladimir Putin 'hits his foes where it hurts'  

Dominic Raab: If Western politicians’ vested interests protect Putin, take punishment out of their hands

Dominic Raab
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform