Miles Kington: There's nothing new about dumbing down

'One hopes this attempt to make ordinary people into famous performers is abandoned'
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Today, as a sober reminder, I am bringing you a selection of reviews of major books and shows written over the years, starting with a caustic dismissal of Geoffrey Chaucer.

The Canterbury Tales, reviewed in Ye London Reviewe of Bookes, 1395.

"Master Chaucer seems to believe that everyone can be famous for 15 minutes, or, worse, tell a story, for 30 minutes. And so he brings into the spotlight a series of amateurs, none of whom has ever performed in public before - a miller, a reeve, a lawyer and so on - and hopes that the British public will take them to their hearts. One or two have the personality to do it - the Wife of Bath sticks in the mind - but one sincerely hopes that this wretched attempt to make ordinary people into famous performers is abandoned forthwith."

Julius Caesar, by William Shakespeare, reviewed in the Tudor Arts Journal, 1599.

"Master William Shakespeare is going to have to make his mind up very soon if he is writing dramas, documentaries or some bizarre mix of the two - a "docu-drama" perhaps? To recreate genuine historical events using actors is a highly risky process, and as we watched the actor playing Mark Antony harangue the crowd in humdrum blank verse, we wondered if any spectator felt he was learning much about Roman history. And if we are to have battles recreated, perhaps the budget might run to more than 20 soldiers. One hears that Master Shakespeare intends soon to give us another history lesson, about some long-dead Scottish king called Macbeth. At least we had all heard of Julius Caesar; I fear that the tale of the unknown Macbeth has the stamp of ill luck on it."

The South Sea Bubble, reported in the Investor's Chronicle, 1720.

"Who wants to be a South Sea millionaire, indeed? This unashamed and naked appeal to greed and cupidity ... etc etc"

A Visit to Bedlam, reported in the Doctor's Gazette, 1770.

"From this year it is proposed to discontinue the entry of the public to Bethlehem Hospital, where they had always been allowed to pay for entry and then to be entertained by the ravings of the mentally disturbed and even to provoke them. This viewing of the naked mental state, or what one might term a 'reality showing', has always struck us as distasteful ..."

Culpability Brown, described in The Gentleman Gardener, 1775.

"Is there any part of Britain now safe from the king of what might be called the 'make-over'? Mr Lancelot Brown dashes madly about the kingdom turning what were perfectly decent expanses of parkland into posturing, picture-book pieces of pretty landscape, which few people would wish to live in. 'Culpability' Brown, as we think he should be called, has set a fashion which future generations will be baffled to think we once followed ..."

Oscar Wilde on trial, previewed in the Morning Chronicle, 1895.

"The trial of the Marquess of Queensberry, accused of libel by Oscar Wilde, was undoubtedly entertaining. The decision to follow this with a second trial, in which Mr Wilde stood accused of homosexual acts, was questionable. How our hearts sank when we learnt of the decision to stage a third trial. This modern mania for constructing pointless sequels - for extending a story until long after the public has become wearied with the plot and the characters - must be pinched in the bud now, before it is too late."

'Someone Like Me: Tales from a Borrowed Childhood' by Miles Kington (Headline, £16.99) is published on 3 October. To order your copy at the special price of £15.50 plus free p&p call Independent Books Direct on 08700 798 897.