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Hoses of the Holy in the Parallel Universe

May 17, 2005

The Beiderbecke Thing

I used to have a thing for Barbara Flynn, in particular because she came across as so witty and smart in The Beiderbecke Affair and it's less successful spin-offs.

They've been showing it on ITV3, The Beiderbecke Affair. The original series finished last week, but the The Beiderbecke Tapes starts on Thursday. The nice thing is I don't think I watched the third one, The Beiderbecke Connection, so that'll be nice for me, won't it?

Written by Alan Plater, and set against a backdrop of the warm and cuddly mythical North in Thatcher's Britain, The Beiderbecke Affair had a charm all its own, and could lull you into thinking there were still decent people in the world. Corrupt policemen and councillors got theirs, and even though Jill Swinburn only received 54 votes at the election, she still demanded a recount. And it had James Bolam in it, so you watched it because you knew it would be good. These days, they think you'll watch something because it has someone who used to be in EastEnders in it.

There were some great lines in the final episode. The graduate policeman who turned out to be "all right really" arranged to meet Trevor and Jill on the 4th floor of the multi-story car park. "That information you gave me has turned into a very high level investigation."
"If it's such a high level, shouldn't we meet on the fifth floor?" she said.
"Or the sixth?" added Trevor.

I was reading Mark Lawson (log-in required, I think) on the 50th anniversary of ITV in the Guardian yesterday, and he said in the article how ITV had confounded its critics by broadcasting some of the best dramas - something it's easy to forget when you see the current schedule with Celebrity Media Whore Island or whatever it is called.

Watching The Beiderbecke Thing felt luxurious. It took several weeks to tell a very gentle story, with interesting characters and witty lines. In today's Hallmark Universe, they cannot bear to broadcast anything like it. Dramas take place on consecutive nights and tv executives fear the short attention span. Although the Inspector Morses now seem sedate and quaint, they were pretty damn good at the time.

The thing about The Beiderbecke Affaird, that it was on ITV, was that the advert breaks seem to have been written into the script. It was like a curtain opening and closing, not like someone just got interrupted in the middle of a sentence. When I watched Star Trek in me youth, my mum would call out, "Advert," when the screen went black between scenes. With the Beiderbecke Affair, you never resented the advertising, because each scene came to a gentle close.

One of the nicest things about it was the way each episode was titled after the first line spoken: "We are at the brink of a new era, if only..." It was all very well done indeed, not that they need me to tell them that. But why can't modern day execs look at it and think, "Yeah, that's when we used to do things properly. Let's do it properly again."? Why is that? Why is everything so crappy now? You'll say commercial pressures, but I just told you, I even enjoyed the fact it had advert breaks, didn't resent it - whereas modern commercial breaks just make me resentful and angry.


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