Howard Jacobson: Jews on Coronation Street? No thanks

There’s nothing to stop them having a bunch of Hassidim propping up the barat the Rovers Return

Share
Related Topics

Let me see if I understand the arguments correctly. Midsomer Murders is a realistic portrayal of English village life, and because English villages don't have black people living in them it would compromise verisimilitude to have black people in the programme. The contrary view being – correct me if I'm wrong – that a) English villages do have black people living in them, and b) even if they didn't, Midsomer Murders is so hopelessly improbable (how many murders can one sleepy English county support?) that a black face here and there would hardly affect its plausibility.

I don't watch programmes of this sort myself. Show me a police drama and I want to go out and commit a crime. It's intellectual laziness on the part of programme-makers to go on producing murder mysteries, and it's intellectual laziness on the part of viewers to go on watching them. If there's nothing better on telly, read a book. Preferably not a murder mystery. Reader, you don't need me to tell you that almost anything is more interesting than the mind of a detective. Whether Midsomer Murders is tosh I am unable to say; but it belongs to a tosh genre – in fact two tosh genres: cops and country ways – and I therefore feel secure in assuming that it is tosh itself. My apologies if it isn't, but only someone who watches it can tell me with authority that I am wrong, and why would I trust anyone who watches tosh?

This being the case, who cares who's in it? It mistakes the nature and function of drama, even bad drama, to suppose it is obliged to even-handed representation. We rarely see philosophers or literary critics or sociologists in television drama; indeed we rarely see characters who would know what a philosopher does; when we see teachers they are indistinguishable from their pupils; when we see politicians they are fools, and when we see scientists they are up to no good. Television rubs the itch of the unemployed proletariat or the inanely idle middle class, and the rest can go hang. You can fault that on aesthetic grounds – the seam is overmined – but politically there's no case to answer. Drama can do what it wants. The mistake is to suppose it's a mirror of our culture. So why hit upon black people as the only ones missing out when the truth is that we all are unless we happen to be a nurse or a detective?

Next, someone will be proposing quotas. So many black or brown faces per 1,000 acres of location multiplied by so many black or brown faces per 10 pages of script divided by so many black or brown faces per 100,000 people watching who aren't themselves black or brown. And when we've finished ethnically engineering plays about rustic life we can start with the rustics themselves.

I lived for 12 years in a village in the West Country. It was only when a black family turned up to walk the cliffs one warm July afternoon that I realised theirs were the first black faces I'd seen there in a decade. Was it racist of me not to have noticed their absence? I'm not even sure it was racist of the villagers to come out and look. It would have been the same had we appeared out of the blue in the middle of China. That which we haven't seen before makes us curious, and there's nothing wrong with curiosity so long as it remembers its manners.

To the question "How come no black people were living in the village?" there are a host of answers – some economic, some to do with the perpetuation of old ways, some to do with the opportunities, ambitions and preferences of black people themselves – but most of them innocuous. Which is not to say that prejudice – whether virulent or merely unknowing and perfunctory – was entirely absent from the hearts of locals. As the only Jew in the village, I encountered a bit of it. I ticked one local businessman off for referring to the new Jag he'd just bought himself as a "Jew's canoe", and then regretted it when I saw how distressed he was to think he had distressed me. Forgive them, Lord, they know not what they do. Signing books in Wells once I was complimented by the aromatic wife of some sort of Trollopian prelate. "Do you mind if I tell you you have a fine face?" she asked me sweetly. I gave her my better profile and smiled. "We have an old Jew in our village with a face just like yours," she went on. To which my unvoiced response was not "Why is there only one?" but "How come there are that many?".

If we're going to play quotas, then Jews have more to complain of than most. Why are there no Jews in Coronation Street, for example? That Jews would be unlikely to live in a street of people whose only idea of a good time is going to the pub and getting wasted, I concede. But they could make fleeting guest appearances. There are, for example, many Jewish taxi drivers in Manchester, so there's no reason why they shouldn't be seen dropping off at the Street. And anyway, as with Midsomer Murders so with Coronation Street, what's truth got to do with it? Where's the truth in having a fatal fire or explosion once a month and a wedding in every episode in which one of the participants runs weeping from the church? If the producers believe they can make such events feasible, then there's nothing to stop them having a bunch of Hassidim propping up the bar at the Rovers Return.

If I am not mistaken, there were Jews in Coronation Street once, though as I recall they were all in the shmatte business and made shmatte business noises and did shmatte business things with their hands. So isn't it better – if those are the only Jews the writers of Coronation Street can come up with – that they don't come up with any at all?

My own position on seeing Jews in television soaps and serials is that it doesn't matter if I don't, and by preference I would rather not. I don't think our absence from these lower forms of representation works tellingly against us. And since Jews, as everybody knows, control the media, one must assume that it's part of the Jewish media-mafia conspiracy to keep Jews off the screen rather than put Jews on it.

Be pleased, I say to those who can't find themselves on telly. There is no better place not to be seen.



React Now

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

SQL DBA (2005/2008/2012, projects, storage requirements)

£45000 - £50000 Per Annum + excellent benefits package: Clearwater People Solu...

Copywriter - Corporate clients - Wimbledon

£21000 - £23000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Copywriter - London As a Copywrite...

Horticulture Lecturer / Tutor / Assessor - Derbyshire

£15 - £18 per hour: Randstad Education Nottingham: As a result of our successf...

Retail Lecturer / Assessor / Tutor - Derbyshire

£15 - £18 per hour: Randstad Education Nottingham: Randstad Education are succ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Tiger skin seized from a smuggler by customs officers in Lhasa, Tibet  

Save the tiger: Poaching facts

Harvey Day
 

Save the tiger: 7 saddening facts about the extinction of Javan tigers

Harvey Day
A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried