Thursday, 27 October 2016

GBBO: For God's Sake Shut Up About Your Soggy Bottoms


Jimmy Perry died earlier this week as you may well be aware. With David Croft he was responsible for some of the best loved sitcoms of television's golden age, from a time when we all had no choice but to sit around the household's one large set, which many of us rented and watch one of only 3 channels - live. Video recorders had not been invented, colour television was only just being introduced.

Perry deserved the tributes that were written of him, but those who claimed that his programmes are as funny now as they were when they were first shown were guilty of rose tinted spectacles. His shows were of their time. They were well written, proper, character led comedy. But they are not as funny now as when they were first shown. They have been dulled by the passage of time from a gentler era. Our comedy has evolved. Dads' Army would not pass muster nowadays. Evolution has not been kind to the creations of Perry and Croft. Indeed some of their creations cannot be shown on television any more since they would be considered racist or politically incorrect. And for once the political correctness police would not be wrong. But as I say, they were of their time.

In truth Dads Army was never as good as we remember it. The same is true of most of the great sitcoms. It's even true of 90% of the output of Morecambe and Wise - and it hurts me to admit that. We tend to remember the great moments and edit out all of the dross in between. For every 'Don't tell him Pike,' moment, there were some painfully bad moments in Dads' Army. Watch the repeats on BBC2 and tell me I am wrong. How often do you laugh if you are being really honest? Even Blackadder wasn't as good as we remember it, although it is one of the top ten series of all time, notwithstanding the fact it has the Labour leader as a fan - or was it just that it was the only moment of popular culture that had permeated his consciousness during a career of obsessive compulsive drudgery?

But those who this morning are mourning the end of Great British Bake Off should content themselves with this thought. Apparently some people seem to think that this is a genuine moment for great sadness and regret and not just the end (yes I know it is going to Channel 4, but that is a lost cause) of a not very good show about cakes leavened with some crap jokes and Mel and Sue's sledgehammer comic timing. It's even got a leader column in today's Telegraph for crying out loud.

Let me break this to you all gently. This was a show about cakes. It was flotsam and jetsam in the cacophony of digital media we all have fired at us. That's all. They might sometimes have been very impressive cakes, but they were cakes nonetheless. It's audience figures were impressive I'll admit, but that probably just says a great deal more about what was on the other channels or possibly about our own inability to think of anything better to do with out lives.

Television has created some genuinely great moments just in recent years. Breaking Bad,  Parade's End, Happy Valley, War and Peace. All genuinely great television. Comedy has been a little more difficult to find genuinely groundbreaking content and what there is has tended to be American such as the excellent Modern Family, Big Bang Theory, 30 Rock. But recently there has been the startlingly good Fleabag. Still available on iPlayer. Treat yourself.

In a few years time GBBO will be one of those episodes in our past upon which we look back with nothing more than faint embarrassment (not me obviously, I have taste) like teenage fashion or music choices. If you are experiencing regret then I have to sadly inform you that you are wasting your life. Even if you must spend it watching TV, there is lots and lots of good television available cheaply. For god's sake get yourself a Netflix subscription. The first 30 days is free.

The only part of GBBO that will likely live on in any form will be its soggy bottom catchphrase. But that tells you all you need to know about this show, and not in any way that it should be proud of. Anyway, game shows often have catchphrases. On balance though I think Jimmy Perry's were better, don't you.  

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