Katy Guest: Lionel, you've got a bad dose of nostalgia

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The Independent Online

On the evidence of this week's Edinburgh International Television Festival, we will soon be approaching the end of TV as we know it. Lionel Shriver, an Anglophile American who currently lives in London and frightens the Daily Mail with her novels, has accused British TV of "patronising" viewers. And if that were not enough, TV's imminent demise has been predicted by Dr Wint Cerf, who is not a comedy German windsurfing expert but one of the original architects of the internet, no less.

Horribly for his audience of people who make a living in the televisual arts, he reckons that TV is fast approaching its "iPod moment". It is a concept so hair-raisingly unthinkable that they should make it into a dramatic mini-series and run it in place of Tales of the Unexpected.

Now there is nothing new about educated Americans coming-over-here and telling us that the Yookay And Yerp would be so much better if only we would just preserve ourselves in aspic as a sort of quaint little theme park for visiting Yanks. But do these visiting grandees have a point? Does it take an American to tell us that our TV is turning us all into morons?

Not according to Joyce Carol Oates, the American author whom I met recently at the Edinburgh International Book Festival. Oates told her doting audience how relieved she was to be in Scotland, where audiences are intelligent and the media have brains. She told me that British newspapers are infinitely smarter than those in the States, and all our media a breath of fresh air. And this from someone who has been three times nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. Coincidentally, she also told me that she can't wait to read Lionel Shriver's novels. Perhaps it illustrates the old Independent slogan: "Great minds don't think alike".

One of Shriver's main complaints was about the media's coverage of the disappearance of Madeleine McCann. "Responding to the desire for a good story ends up distorting the real-life story," she said. "I don't assume television producers are scheming to distract the proles from what's going on in Afghanistan but these stories consume airtime that is disproportionate to their social significance." Oates had called it a "compelling story" and admitted that a similar tabloid tale forms the basis of her next novel – set in America, of course.

Like many Americans, Shriver seems nostalgic for a Britain that never really existed. Bring back the days, she said, when she used to watch Monty Python, Yes, Minister and Blackadder. Are Monty Python and Black-adder any more intrinsically intelligent than How to Look Good Naked – which Shriver criticised – or The Thick Of It, which she didn't mention? In her opinion, maybe.

Like a younger sibling waiting for a pat on the head from their big brother, Brits love to get compliments from sophisticated Americans. Shriver was sure of applause when she announced that television viewers here are "smarter, more sophisticated and hungrier for real information than you might think". We should pay attention to these outsiders, who love Britain and want to tell us to hold on to what we've got – but we shouldn't be so flattered by their tributes that we forget that sometimes we get the TV we deserve. After all, to paraphrase their countryman H L Mencken, "Nobody ever went bankrupt underestimating the intelligence of the British TV audience."

Is this the only form of mis-match left?

Wee Jamie Cullum must have seen his height mentioned more times in the last couple of months than in the rest of his life put together. The diminutive pianist thought his luck was in when he started dating statuesque model Sophie Dahl, above left; they should have realised that this is the last relationship taboo. At 5ft 4in, Cullum, above right, is eight inches shorter than his Amazonian girlfriend, and the public seems to think it is entitled to snigger at their liaison in a way once reserved for mixed-race marriages or those with an age difference. But at 6ft, who is Dahl supposed to hook up with? Owing to the bizarre truism that celebrities are all tiny-wee, there are few eligible men taller than she is – and David Walliams can't go out with everyone.

* As a nation, we do have a peculiar habit of bearing other people's grudges for them. Like a nosy friend who vocally refuses to believe that your boyfriend will ever be good enough for you, the British do not seem able to let things lie.

Spare a thought, then, for Camilla Parker Bowles, who can't do right for doing wrong in the eyes of a lot of people. Having accepted an invitation from Princes William and Harry to attend Diana's memorial service later this week, she has now backed out because other people will not forgive her affair with Prince Charles. Joan Berry, the president of the Diana Appreciation Society, said she "couldn't be happier if I had won the lottery" at the news of Camilla's non-appearance.

"I am very touched to have been invited," said Camilla, explaining why she rebuffed the princes' invitation after they found the strength and magnanimity to ask her. Still, so long as Joan Berry is happy.

k.guest@independent.co.uk

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