Get Your Repeats Out For the Lads
Never let it be said that BBC2 runs voyeuristic programmes masquerading as concerned, serious television. And never let it be said that Politically Incorrect Night (BBC2, 13 April) was an example of it. This day being Easter Monday, BBC2 was especially keen to attract viewers from the other channels and networks and its attempt to do this was centred on the re-showing of copious amounts of dubious material, mainly from the 1970s, under the guise of examining British television before the supposed advent of “political correctness” a decade later changed things forever.
As Mark Lawson commented, it was difficult to see this night of politically incorrect material as anything other than a voyeur`s paradise, “excused” by the use of ironic remarks and carrying a public health warning, a ring-fenced series of programmes set apart from the rest of the schedule in a sort of televisual isolation unit.
The worst of the voyeurism concerned the programme on the history of Miss World (which may have had some tenuous justification) and a piece on pop videos which rate highly as classic teenage masturbation material (which didn`t). On the latter, the presenter reminded his audience to have the play and record buttons at the ready on their video recorders, and then undercut this remark by saying that they probably had already, anyway. To supplement the voyeurism there was a heavy dose of other material of an equally dubious nature, much of it racist. The On the Buses feature film had another run-out and there were numerous clips of Bernard Manning doing jokes about “the Pakis”, and Jim Davidson doing his “Chalkie” impression, which was always, ahem, at the cutting edge of social observation.
Get to the (low) point
Some of these compilation programmes were just cheap television aimed, as always, at the lowest common denominator. The revival in 1970s culture, fashion and styles has simply given the BBC the opportunity to resurrect some old faithfuls, testing the water for possible future repeats (following on from the recent success of Are You Being Served? on Saturday nights). One of the themes of Politically Incorrect Night was that there has now been a “loosening up” of attitudes towards racist and sexist television from an earlier era and Auntie Beeb is obviously now hoping that having got away with John Inman mincing across the screen in recent months it can bring back the likes of It Ain`t Half Hot Mum (even worse ITV could bring back Mind Your Language and Love Thy Neighbour).
This would be forgivable if it could be stated with any confidence that the BBC really knew what it is doing. Unfortunately, it manifestly doesn’t, and has demonstrated time and again that it can’t see much further than the next few months’ ratings.
Needless to say, this is not a situation which is entirely of the BBC’s making. The Beeb operates in a cut-throat competitive media environment and is under challenge on so many fronts it is now dazed and confused as to where the next attack on it is likely to come from. The BBC is increasingly a product of the modern market economy and must respond to the needs of that market at every opportunity, however distorted and twisted they are. Under the guise of “giving people what they want”—or more accurately, what they have been trained and encouraged to accept—it is likely to plumb the depths of the modern television experience like it never has before if it is to survive in anything like its present status and condition. BBC executives may laugh at Topless Darts on Live TV, but how much longer are they going to be able to resist that sort of temptation, however “ironically” packaged is open to doubt. The most likely answer, it would seem – judging by Easter Monday – is not for very long.