Cloudspotting, BBC4

by | May 8, 2009 | All, Reviews

Did we like it?

The TV equivalent of a daydream, as opulent clouds crowded the screen and a genial host provided an unobtrusive commentary about his love of those impassive celestial vessels. It wandered on for perhaps half-an-hour too long, but that felt oddly right too.

What was good about it?

• The gorgeous shots of clouds from all over the world. Sometimes they were part of Gavin Pretor-Pinney’s films, others were clouds sent in by members of the Cloud Appreciation Society of which Gavin is president.

• There were so many varied types from the wispy cirrus, the slab-like strata and the fluffy cumulus, and all strains and varieties in between, that it was impossible to become bored by them. Alternatively, you could just gaze out of the window, which is what Gavin was hoping to encourage viewers to do.

• Host Gavin Pretor-Pinney, once he’d settled down, was a perfect guide to clouds. His gentle manner, studiously informing you about the different types of clouds and how they formed in the skies was simultaneously gripping and slack, rather like watching clouds, picking out a few words and sentences here and there while being distracted by the beauty of the clouds elsewhere.

• And it was this perversion of television as you could drift away from the narration into a reverie that made you forget about how long the programme was actually dragging on for. Sometimes you’d snap out of being hypnotised by a cloud vista to pick up the threads of Gavin, or one of his many CAS acolytes, talking about some cloud or another, without any real idea of what they were going on about. But this just provoked you to start staring at the clouds again.

• Gavin’s futile efforts to convince his young daughter about the attraction of clouds. After several fruitless attempts to make her gaze upwards in awe, she eventually assented but did so in the manner that all children do when they’re bored by their parents – “Anything to shut him up” drifted onto the screen as a caption to perfectly sum up the situation.

• Gavin’s quest to get a new type of cloud recognised. He had to impress the Royal Meteorological Society with his evidence, and while they seemed a little too chuffed to appear on tele to give an objective assessment, Gavin was delighted by the response.

What was bad about it?

• Gavin’s introduction was too defiant, as though he was getting his retaliation in first for what he presumed would be the vulgar derision of an audience sceptical of the charms of clouds.

• In one way this was touching, as it exposed his sensitivities to the mockery that his passion has evoked in the past, but in our case he was making misguided assumptions that we, and indeed a majority of his audience, would be part of that snarling morass of persecution and societal assimilation common that herd of scum who take lessons in how to behave from the eyebrows of Cowell and Morgan.

• “Am I the only person who prefers clouds to blue skies?” Gavin pondered. While this was a conceit – the CAS has thousands of members – it was also wrong to presume the majority would prefer the pure azure firmament; clouds adorn the sky with twisted, warped effigies beyond the imagination simply because they are moulded so randomly. Only yobbish sunbathers could possibly plump for clear blue skies, and as they are a redundant sub-human sect of the human race their opinion hardly matters except in areas of which pub to get drunk in at the weekend where they corral themselves off into pens like dumb cattle for their ritual mental slaughter.

• Gavin also claimed: “Clouds are pretty much viewed as a nuisance” and “We spend all our money trying to get away from clouds”. Both of which are grotesquely false statements that exaggerate the public repugnance towards clouds to make his crusade to appreciate clouds all the more noble.

• But the most vexatious part of his philosophy was: “Life would be dull if we had to look up at cloudless monotony day after day.” While his view is correct (not to mention that we’d all soon be looking up from our hollowed out, desiccated skulls), when polemicists avail to convince heretics to their perspective through the “life would be dull” stratagem it evokes the impression that their reservoir of ideas has run dry, that they’re reduced to the idiots’ vernacular of when someone’s opinion is so utterly discredited that all they have left to retreat to is the hoary “life would be dull if we were all the same…”.

• ‘Life’ wouldn’t be dull if on certain things everyone agreed; instead ‘life’ would be liberated of the indolent fools who can’t be bothered to think for themselves.

• But after his shaky opening, Gavin relaxed and became much more cogent, amusing and interesting.

• Craig the aeromancer who believes that futures can be predicted simply by weather conditions. It was ironic that one of nature’s ugliest anomalies was warted onto this fine programme that celebrated the beauty of the world around us. The delusion that clouds can somehow divine the paths of individuals in clear possession of free will is just as abhorrent as horoscopes.

Luke Knowles

Luke Knowles


Editor of the website and host of the podcast. A general TV obsessive. I've been running the site since 2008 and you can usually find me in front of the TV. My Favourite show of all time is Breaking Bad with Cracker coming a close second. I feel so passionately that television can change the world and I'm doing my little bit by running this site. You're Welcome!


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