May 15, 2007
A commercial for CCTV
CCTV - quite possibly the greatest invention in history; something as British as cups of tea and Trafalgar Square! Or so you would think after watching two hours worth of a 'documentary on the history of CCTV'.
I missed the first hour screened last Tuesday but if the second hour was anything to go by, the police and security companies must be wincing at this eulogy to the silent (though not for long) cameras that increasingly watch our every move.
In fact, one viewer has confessed as much to a blog on civil liberties issues:
As someone that works within the CCTV industry, I have to admit I found the programme positively embarassing. The subject of video surveillance, good or bad depending on your viewpoint, is worthy of a far more informed and accurate interpretation, and this regrettably was not it. As a less than balanced promotional piece for the wonders and benefits of CCTV, it just about hit the spot. In terms of presenting a truthful representation of the current situation, the few learned talking heads failed to provide the level of informed comment and interpretation, that the british public have a valid right to expect.
Have a look at the writer's website and you'll see that he is not an average punter on CCTV.
So, what exactly set my blood to boiling point?
1. The documentary was c. 60% footage of people committing crime, 35% policemen explaining how wonderful CCTV was. Occasionally, the voice of Jamie Theakston would intone that the cameras hadn't prevented 'that' crime but had helped secure a conviction.
2. The makers would surely argue that they did address social concerns about CCTV. This amounted to little more than half a minute of Shami Chakribati and Prof. Martin Gill of Leicester University midway through, and Information Commissioner Jonathon Bamford for a sentence at the end.
3. Straw men. The old debating favourite this. A copper at the end said (and I'll try to quote as exactly as I can without a transcript): 'When people say to me they have a problem with CCTV per se, I ask them whether they want us to go back and stop using technology to prevent crime' (my emphasis). Few people have a problem with CCTV per se - quite the contrary: most critics are worried about how it is used, who uses it, not its very existence. 'Governance' may be too tedious a word for prime time telly but that is what it boils down to.
4. Shameless pandering to one side of a popular tabloid debate: speeding cameras. Or to quote Jamie: 'what gives CCTV a bad name'. But no fear, a new kind of camera is here that recognises antisocial behaviour at box-junctions. Oh, and another camera that recognises how you walk developed by someone who was so shocked by the murder of Jamie Bulger he had to go on a CCTV crusade [nb you cannot criticise someone inspired by such an appalling crime as it sullies the very victim's name. Don't ask why, but you cannot - cf Princess Di].
Ultimately, I am disappointed that such a significant slot in the BBC1 schedule can be gifted to so one-sided a programme. I don't expect a polemic on the abuses of CCTV either - that could be as equally unsuitable for a publicly funded broadcaster. A little fairness and balance, perhaps? Else we end up with Fox News...
October 27, 2004
The obligatory Peel post
Some observations on the death of John Peel:
a) Mark E Smith of The Fall was on Newsnight last night to comment. Whoever dreamt up that interview was in mischevious mood: Smith slumped in his chair, his delinquent-pixie face resting on the foot of the screen while Michael Bradley of The Undertones reminisced fondly about the man who made his career. Gavin Esler then starts to interview Smith who is having none of it - well very little. Newsnight shows previous episodes online for 24 hours so do hurry over for a look: Newsnight.ram.
b) Andy Kershaw on Channel 4 News was also willing to challenge the Peel-fest at the Beeb - he revealed that Peel was increasingly annoyed at the ever-later Radio1 slot and said it was 'killing him'. Ouch.
d) Some good blog tributes: Apostate Windbag, Suw Charman ('he never let a thing like language get in the way of playing a good song') and Stefan Magdalinksi ('John Peel, one night, after school, plays the record that changes my life. Right there, "Stakker Humanoid", by Humanoid, more or less destroys my interest in all the records I own already, at a stroke. What was *that*?').
e) And finally, how many people at 65 would have so many recent photos that make them look as cool as Peel's - the UK's national papers are justifiably plastered with them. In fact he looked cooler of late than he ever did in the 70s and 80s. Other than Terence Stamp, of who else in their 60s could you say that for?
October 06, 2004
Round Pegg in square hole**
Überblogger Suw Charman has been getting very, very, very excited of late about Shaun of the Dead (the rom-zom-com for those who're viewing in Tuvalu) and Spaced, Simon Pegg and Jessica Stephenson's 'slacker sitcom' of a few years back (which I also have just bought).
What fascinates me is the cultural exchange and how the American audiences take this quintessentially British flick that lovingly gives *homage* to a quintessentially American genre. Whoop jug! they love it.* Well, according to Metacritic, anyhow.
*For confused Spaced fans, that's a misquote from King Lear so you neededn't watch all the episodes seeking a whispered quote from Brian
**Apologies for the title - it has some relevance
September 14, 2004
[Second in a brief series on TV criticism, curiously]
Thinking about Clive James led me naturally to Nancy Banks-Smith (as mentioned below). I wondered whether there is an archive or fan site for the most accomplished critic currently writing (and funniest too). And there is, of sorts. It will surprise few of your that Mr Phil Gyford has the answer:
Yonks ago (less than five, but certainly more than a couple) I wanted to add Nancy Banks-Smith, the Guardian’s masterful TV reviewer and national treasure, to Byliner but I couldn’t find a suitable page to index. Then — duh — I realised I could monitor the paper’s search results for ‘Nancy Banks-Smith’. So here she is, all Bylinered up. While her writing doesn’t make me wish I’d caught, say, last night’s EastEnders, the turns of phrase at least have me relishing her reviews of it, a talent no other writer can match.
'Masterful...national treasure.' Quite what NB-S would make of that I'm not sure, but I can quote you a choice nugget from the treasury:
Have you ever met an evil cow? This is how Janine (Charlie Brooks) is always described. I think it extremely hard on cows, easy-going creatures whose strength is as the strength of 10 because their hearts are pure.8 May, 2004
Finally, this a welcome reminder of the inspired Byliner – a web tool that keeps you up-to-date with your favourite columnists.
September 13, 2004
Glued to the box
Think of Clive James for a moment. For most people now he was that slightly rotund and balding Aussie who appeared on our screens every New Year's Eve to laugh at Japanese people doing painful things to one another on Japanese TV. After a while the format seemed to tire and James seemed bored. In recent years he has been absent from our screens.
Of late, though, I've been reading Glued to the box, the third volume of James' television criticism in The Observer from the late 70s and early 80s - the writing that made him famous. And well worth it it is too.
You might think television criticism the most ephemeral of literary collections and for the most part you would be right. In James' hands, however, it matters less what he was reviewing (The White Bird Passes anyone?) and more the how and the why. Like all really good writing, it tells you something, but not necessarily about the subject. Only AA Gill and the woefully unsung Nancy Banks-Smith have the bravura to bring off such enjoyable scribblings on the gogglebox.
My favourite passage, so far, has to be quoted at length and covers the Embassy World Snooker Championship in 1980. Welshman, Terry Griffiths has gone out of the competition:
The result was a disaster for him and for the cigarette firm sponsoring the tournament, since the Welsh maestro is a formidable consumer of their product. While his opponents were plying the cue, Griffiths was always to be seen sucking an Embassy. He puffed and dragged. He ashed and stubbed.
...Hurricane Higgins is another great consumer of free fags. He smokes the way he plays – as though there is not only no tomorrow, but hardly anything left of today either. With adrenelin instead of blood and dynamite instead of adrenelin, he sprints around the table... he stood revealed as a truly great smoker, capable of reducing an Embassy to ashes in a few seconds.
Meanwhile, back in London, a bunch of Iranians were threatening to do the same.
June 29, 2004
It was Saturday morning, I had made my coffee but not yet had a shower and I fumbled for the on-switch on my radio expecting a bit of music and maybe a little mindless chatter from Jonathon Ross on Radio2. Instead I got someone called Oliver promoting more environmentally friendly design and DIY, what is more, this Oliver (Heath, apparently - and I know that the pic, left, is of Laurence Llewellyn-Bowen BTW) announced that Changing Rooms is doing a recycled materials special in the Autumn.
I've been looking at the media and sustainability issues recently and whilst it is clear that the news teams are increasingly aware of the need to think about social and environmental issues, I'm not sure that the lifestyle programmers are aware that their impact is a hefty one too. It has the Delia-effect: your trusted TV expert tells you to get X, Y or Z and the next day the DIY stores are struggling to fill the shelves fast enough.
So despite efforts from various people I know to give the Big Brother house an eco-makeover or encourage sustainable holiday options, there has been a fair amount of frustration. Now Endemol – at Oliver Heath's suggestion – are taking a lead. Even more impressively, Heath asked listeners to contact Endemol if they are or know of manufacturers and sellers of recycled materials. So, if that includes you, I suggest you take a look at the following link.
Who knows what might follow? Hell's Locally-Sourced Organic Kitchen? What Not To Throw Away?
April 20, 2004
Oh, hobbledehoy... of course
I slept badly last night: shortly after I turned out the light and shortly before I fell asleep, a strange memory floated to the surface briefly, then disappeared. It is a puzzling memory from a decade ago, in which I was not absolutely certain what was going on: unable to read other people's – and particularly one other person's – intentions.
I didn't dream about it, but instead worried about how I was to post an entry to the Commonplace this morning. Half-formed dreams repeatedly harried me with unreturned comments on some nameless but very popular website. Nothing I saw or read really grabbed me yesterday (except the seed of an idea to write on the new Trollope TV adaptation on BBC1 on Sunday evening) and the blogging addiction has been curiously rapid in its annexation of my spare time.
The 19th-century novelist Anthony Trollope almost certainly did not sleep with his friend Kate Field. She liked him. They corresponded frequently. They saw each other as often as they could, which, given that Trollope lived in Britain and Field in America, was not often. Trollope was enough of a public figure to generate some tabloid press over the non-affair. He was happily married, and faithful. For all that, I have no doubt there were times when Anthony and Kate sat across from each other and he wished she would jump out of her chair and into his arms. Kate was stunning, funny, an early feminist, and altogether formidable. He wrote of feeling his heart flutter in her presence. Everything remained platonic – the novelist had often written about hobbledehoys, and at the core of hobbledehoydom there is a commitment to reasonableness, a tempering of one’s acts if not one’s thoughts, all born out of terror in the presence of beautiful women. So he sat. Had he moved at all, Kate might have responded favorably. Who knows? He did not dare. He was a putz, a coward, a Charlie Brown, a hobbledehoy.
On reading this article everything fell neatly into place. Though different in circumstances, this was the word to describe my situation all those years back, and Martinez writes beautifully in exploring what it means to him and to Trollope. For perhaps now I look back, it was in seeing He Knew He Was Right the other day that dislodged the fragment. The hero, Louis Trevelyan, does what he thinks is correct even though he is uncertain how to read his fellow characters or still more importantly express himself effectively.
Trevelyan is a hobbledehoy, though not in quite the same way as Martinez argues Trollope himself was, but he is a 'putz, a coward, a Charlie Brown' all the same, just as I was in that fragment, which now rests back where it belongs.