1990s >> 1997 >> no-1110-february-1997

TV Review: Mass debating with barmy Bernie

Usually there is much competition for the dubious privilege of which programme has plumbed the lowest depths of inanity and humbug in the period before this column goes to press. Last month there was no contest. Not even Richard and Judy or Ricki Lake came close to matching the televisual disgrace which masqueraded as informed debate under the title of The Monarchy: The Nation Decides (ITV, 7 January).

Billed as the biggest exercise in democracy ever seen on British television, this programme told us all we need to know about the nature of democracy that exists in capitalist society. Virtually every aspect of it, from the so-called “debate” format, to the paucity of the views expressed by the invited panellists through to the uncontrolled (and allegedly rigged) telephone poll, went to demonstrate that democracy in capitalism is largely sham democracy.

Nothing more than a soundbite was allowed, most of the debate was taken up with whether the Royal family are “value for money” (whatever that means) and as Roy Greenslade explained in the following day’s Guardian, the audience of 3,000 had been whipped up into a near hysterical frenzy before the show so that by when the ‘debate’ actually started it resembled little more than a bear garden.

Large sections of the audience, invited from several cities around Britain, simply shouted, heckled and cat-called on a mass basis for the entire duration of the programme. This meant that the little debate that would have been possible was rendered useless—and clearly by the design of Carlton TV who commissioned and ran the whole thing.

In a sense it was understandable that the audience—or a least a sizeable enough part of it—should have behaved in such a way. It was probably the best chance they had of stemming the tide of verbal diarrhoea emanating from the panellists. Nonetheless, some seeped through and the stench was truly repellent

Particularly odious, as a representative of the monarchists, was author Frederick Forsyth. Though coherent in an entirely tangential manner, Forsyth’s bad-tempered performance was sufficient to bring a whole host of rather unkind epithets to even the most considerate reviewer’s mind—like ‘arrogant’, ‘bumptious’ and ’surly’, these being the least descriptive but at the same time those least likely to result in a libel action. Forsyth’s main defence of the royals was that they are an economic bonus for Britain. To echo this point, he shouted at his hecklers “Your jobs are at stake!,” claiming that any expenditure on the Royal Family is easily outweighed (he even had some figures) by the tourist revenue they create every year. It was possible to imagine the millions of rich tea-towel makers and commemorative mug engravers across the length and breadth of the country nodding sagely in approval. The suggestion that the multinationals and big-time capitalists were the real beneficiaries of all this (if there are any at all) was not considered. The programme producers had neither the time nor inclination to let anyone string more than two sentences together and a coherent reply to this nonsense, if any had been forthcoming, would have been near impossible.
Arise, Sir Bernie
One panellist smartly retorted that Forsyth would be better off sticking to writing Fiction, something he evidently knows a bit about, but what poor old Bernie Grant is good for is anybody’s guess. A knighthood perhaps, or an early peerage. Never a stranger to controversy, one might have anticipated that Grant’s presence on the panel was guaranteed to set the cat amongst the pigeons. But, no. Bernie knows which side his bread is buttered on and launched into a sycophantic eulogy of the Queen that would have put Dame Vera Lynn to shame. Elizabeth was a marvellous head of the Commonwealth, he claimed, and did an awful lot to help all the poor black people in Africa.
It was obviously beyond Bernie’s comprehension that the Queen and her like, and the system they uphold, is the reason for their poverty and misery in the first place. But never mind, she’s so gracious and has such a lovely warm smile as she walks among the malnourished. Well, she can continue to smile very big smiles indeed with suckers like Bernie Grant to do her bidding for her.
Most of those who plucked up the courage to oppose the monarchy, including those who rang in, did so with the proviso that they wanted a nice, respectable Head of State—a leader to look up to. Bizarrely enough, Princess Anne was the most popular choice followed by monied clown and failed balloonist Richard Branson. As such, the legions of republicans proved themselves little better than the raving monarchists. But then again, why should we expect them to be any different? These are, after all, people who vote for the Labour Party, the Liberal Democrats or the Greens and are therefore fully tuned in to what can be expected in an inherently hierarchical, class-ridden and exploitative system like capitalism.
Even if Carlton had provided for a proper debate format, it would have been to no great effect. For does anyone still expect serious arguments for social equality from such people and their elected representatives? Frankly, it is no more likely to come from them than it is from the Duke of Edinburgh. and if this dreadful programme had even one little thing to commend it, it must have been the obviousness of that.
Dave Perrin