I was doing a book reading the other week at an arts centre in Bristol, and what I felt most compelled to tell the audience was how excited I was to be right there in what I always think of as the City of Holby.
If you don't know it, Holby is the fictional town in which both the BBC medical dramas Casualty and Holby City are set, and Bristol is the real metropolis in which their exteriors are filmed. I was half-tempted to throw myself under a car just so that kindly Josh the paramedic with his gambling problem and his failed marriage would come and fix me up.
Casualty is, of course, a long-running show – over the years nurses and doctors have come and gone. Some have been dismissed, some promoted, some simply not reappearing in the next series with no explanation given, but the various hospital staffs have all coped with compassion and professional competence with all the tragedies and disasters that Holby has thrown at them.
If you have the full range of cable channels, it is now possible to watch three different generations of Casualty in one day. There's the really old stuff, when Brenda Fricker was still the ward sister, showing on UK Gold, there's last year's series on BBC Choice, and there's the new stuff on BBC 1.
If you watch too much television – as I do – then you start to feel like Nostradamus or a man in a TV movie who gets the gift of foretelling events after a blow on the head in a laboratory, because when you see these old shows that you've seen before, it dawns on you that you know exactly what's going to happen next. "Oh no!" you think to yourself, "any day now the hospital managers are going to find out about Adam's HIV status"; you don't want kindly old Charlie to go into the toilets because you know he's going to have a heart attack in there, and you find yourself silently screaming at the screen "No no! Don't go up on that landing, kindly dyed-blond male nurse, you'll be pushed over the railings by a schizophrenic!"
As you can probably deduce, I spend a lot of my time watching television shows like Casualty, Holby City and others such as The Bill and A&E. Indeed, on a local radio show I was doing recently, the host asked what my favourite part of London was, and I had to reply "Sun Hill", which is the imaginary neighbourhood where The Bill is set. It's a varied area with a lot of waterfront property, it has a posh area with the big houses facing Canley Fields, a bustling market, plenty of drugs available on the Jasmine Allen Estate, and its own airport.
Most importantly, I'd like to live in Sun Hill because of its police force who, despite their personal problems and an increasing tendency to look like Vogue models, are basically well-led, caring and competent, they are hard-working and all seem to be motivated by a strong sense of justice, there are a lot of women in powerful positions, an out gay sergeant, and very little racial tension between the ethnically mixed force: in other words, nothing like the real world.
Indeed, it strikes me that, since forever, television has been painting for us a world where, by and large, evil is punished, good is rewarded, our leaders know what they are doing and people act out of coherent, logical motives. As a matter of fact, there are all kinds of regulatory bodies – the ITC, the IBA, the BBC Board of Governors and so on and on – that exist solely to ensure that TV doesn't paint too bleak a picture of the world, doesn't propound views that are too negative and reactionary.
Yet despite all this basically liberal, humanist propaganda pumped out on television – the medium that fills the leisure time of most individuals in this country, many people having no other hobbies or interests than watching the television – people still think and do the most appalling, stupid, brainless, prejudiced things, things that they've never, ever been allowed to see on the telly.
So where are the population getting all this bad stuff from? Well, I reckon somebody must be broadcasting Evil TV, which the masses are secretly watching, and which cancels out all the good, sensible, rational stuff that the regulated broadcasters put out.
On Evil TV there must be police shows called things like "Retired on Grounds of Ill-Health With a Huge Pension", where the force is riven with incompetence, jealousy, cant and corruption; hospital shows with names like "Where've They Left Grandpa's Body?" in which loads of patients die from infections they've picked up in hospital; and; perhaps worst of all on Evil TV, there are news programmes that portray the government as a pack of egotistical incompetents in the pocket of big business.
What I want to know is, who is broadcasting this evil stuff? Rupert Murdoch, probably.Reuse content