Compliance. It's a spooky word, like some kind of euphemism employed by the Ministry of Torture in a totalitarian regime. If a female is "compliant" you imagine her as a limp doll that might be anyone's for the taking. But compliance, apparently, is big in television. And Jimmy Mulville and Stephen Fry have been making industry headlines by lambasting broadcasters at the Edinburgh TV Festival for what they call the box-ticking culture of "compliance" in television.
The pair were taking part in a session entitled "Is Compliance ****ing Up TV?" when they put the cat among the pigeons. Fry said he wanted compliance to "fuck off" and Mulville, the producer of Have I Got News For You, referred to a "culture of fear at the BBC".
Compliance with what, you may ask. "Compliance with stupidity," was Stephen Fry's take. In fact, "compliance" refers to compliance with various industry rule books such as the BBC's and Ofcom's editorial guidelines.
According to Fry, compliance means you can't show someone driving whilst talking into a mobile phone, even if that fictional character is a homicidal maniac on his way to a drive-by shooting. Mulville said he would self-censor episodes of HIGNFY to avoid the mind-numbing bureaucracy involved in trying to get borderline jokes past the controls.
The basic complaint seemed to be that "compliance" is a growing culture of inflexible rules that's in danger of stifling creativity and making our television drama less realistic.
I can imagine the scene: crazed bank robber, high on crack, bursts on to street with swag bag and machine gun – he heads for getaway car, laying waste to innocent passers-by with his brutal pump-action gun. Then he jumps into car and screeches away. But... "CUT!" yells the network mandarin.
"What?" says everyone as the actor reverses back into position, the dolly resets and the camera reloads. "We need to go again," the mandarin says. "He didn't put his seatbelt on."
That's compliance. Compliance with BBC editorial guidelines, such as: we will ensure that material likely to encourage or incite the commission of crime, or likely to lead to disorder, is not included on our services unless clearly editorially justified.
I suppose the logic is that it's very unlikely that someone would be incited to rob a bank with a pump-action shotgun. Seatbelts, however, are things we all deal with every day, so the chances of someone thinking it might be cool not to wear one are much higher.
Various stories are doing the rounds. The producer who wanted to put stirring music under some stirring dialogue and was warned in an email that it might be a problem for deaf viewers. A true-to-the-book street sign that read "Bleeding Heart Lane" in Bleak House that gave rise to a discussion as to whether "bleeding" might be offensive – being that it's a (rather antiquated, surely?) expletive.
And then there's the time that one of Johnny Vegas's best comic riffs on QI was so bleeped out it sounded like he was on a life-support machine.
It seems a shame that the BBC should be so hung up on swearing when, over on Channel 4, Gordon Ramsay – that "foul-mouthed soup stirrer" – set an all-time record this year for the number of expletives used in one show (312, apparently, in the 103-minute Gordon's Great British Nightmare, that's one every 20 seconds).
But it wasn't only the BBC that came in for criticism. The comedian Frank Skinner, in the same debate, complained that Ramsay was giving swearing a bad name. It seems the more Ramsay uses up the nominal quota of swear words allowed, the fewer there are left for comedians. And comedians know how to use swear words, said Skinner – sparingly. "Actually, 'fuck' is a beautiful word when used correctly," he said.
So true. So many eloquent phrases available to the scriptwriter; so much eloquent adding of emphasis. Eg: "I'm fucked!" barks bank robber as he wrestles with jammed seatbelt.
I mean, what else is he going to say: "Oh dear. I'm in trouble"? And if we're going to have rules about seatbelts, where do we draw the line? Think of all the rules you could have to iron out those little problems in society. How about: characters will not be shown adding salt to their food? Or: when out shopping, canvas "bags for life" must be carried at all times? Or: characters depicted going to be bed must brush gums in small circular movements?
I'd like it if there was a guideline saying: we will ensure that actresses likely to encourage or incite the losing of weight in female viewers, or likely to lead to female viewers to feeling in any way inadequate or bad about themselves, are not included on our services unless clearly editorially justified.
Hmm. Don't think that one's very likely. So, in the absence of guidelines written by me, I think I'll just settle for television that shows the world like it is and that isn't patronising. TV, after all, is meant to be a mirror to society, not one long lecture from the Open University.
Why love is blind – unless you're famous
Gary Lineker met his new wife, Danielle Bux, a lingerie model, on a blind date.
Expectations are everything. And this is particularly true of blind dates. Blind dates and hotel rooms. If you're unwise, and you're me, you imagine the future in some detail. I am particularly prone to doing this with hotel rooms. Some lovely little rustic hideaway, I'll think, maybe with a view of the mountains.
Then, if you're me, you believe your own fantasy. You get there. Expectations are dashed, as always happens to expectations. The hotel room is inevitably much more scruffy and mediocre and real than you could ever have imagined. The view is of the car park.
And there's a blind date for you.
But Gary and Danielle obviously had a better experience. Come to think of it, their date probably wasn't all that blind. No doubt they Googled each other beforehand – assuming they knew each other's names – and what with one being a footballer and the other being a lingerie model, the results were likely to have been revealing.
Women: masters of deception
Farrah Fawcett had been living with Ryan O'Neal for a few years when she died, although they were famous for their on-off, sometimes stormy, sometimes passionate, relationship for three decades.
Ryan apparently stepped up to the mark and was there for her in her battle against cancer. But now Greg Lott, a former American footballer, says he and Farrah had an 11-year affair. Ryan, naturally, denies it. But would he know?
The word on the "studies show" street is that women are having more affairs than they used to and, interestingly, that they are better than men at keeping them secret. Better at not getting caught, it seems.
It doesn't surprise me. Women are brought up to please – and to please men especially. (Like the way Farrah was busy being a Charlie's Angel.) They're brought up to tell lies better and more easily. So be warned, patriarchy – you're grooming women for infidelity!
The Beatles have been remastered and the albums are coming out again on 9 September. So, no doubt, next week will reverberate with the faded echoes of Beatlemania – almost 50 years on.
Back in 1996, I got into trouble with the press for dissing The Beatles in my TV series This Life. The fact one of the characters, Egg, said he didn't like them was a talking point.
In fact, my rudeness about The Beatles was one of the reasons I got the script commission. I met Tony Garnett – the show's producer – and during a discussion about the Sixties generation seeming to rule the world turned up my nose at them.
He was shocked.He told me it was a rare thing to shock him. But not liking The Beatles – that was shocking. He immediately gave me the job.
It is safe to admit the upturned nose was a bit of a pose back then. The Beatles, of course, were touched by genius. I was annoyed that if you were born too late and just missed them (as I did) you got the feeling you'd missed the party – for good.
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