Did we like it?
While the programme neatly condensed a disparate genus of dramas into one place and was entertaining with it, very little new was said about each one.
What was good about it?
• The stark fiction of Cathy Come Home which acted as a necessary antidote to the delusions of prosperity which infected 60s Britain. It also helped Shelter, as it was inundated with charitable donations.
• A judicious choice of music – The Specials, Kasabian, New Order and Gorillaz.
• The way in which seemingly innocuous elements in dramas helped push understanding and benevolence in society such as Uhura and Kirk kissing in Star Trek and the equality of Cathy Gale and Emma Peel with Steed in The Avengers.
• How Roots, according to Darcus Howe filled in “the black space” that existed in the lives of all Afro-Caribbeans by relating the tale of slavery through the experiences of one man and his descendants after he was kidnapped from his African homeland and shipped in chains to the plantations.
• The work of Dennis Potter, which still retains its capability to shock exemplified by Brimstone And Treacle where the Devil, in the manicured guise of a young Michael Kitchen, “rapes” a brain-damaged young woman back to “health”. But he wedded often horrifying narratives with profound themes of frustration and alienation, rather than just titillation.
• Most of the dramas featured didn’t change the world through any arranged de-sign. They captured the public imagination through being foremost excellent stories, which were well-written and acted. This was most vividly apparent in The Naked Civil Servant, a biography of Quentin Crisp starring John Hurt, which helped shift attitudes towards homosexuals.
• Russell T Davies arguing that Queer As Folk wasn’t controversial as he’d seen far more explicit sex scenes in dramas between men and women.
• Edge Of Darkeness, which was one of the best political dramas of the era. And it irritated Margaret Thatcher. As did Who Bombed Birmingham?
What was bad about it?
• The clips of 1950s dramas such as 1984 and The Quatermass Experiment were too brief.
• The talking heads inanely mimicking Yosser Hughes’ “Gissa job” catchphrase.
• Derek Hatton contributed. Nothing this man ever says gets beyond the monstrous gravitational pull of his own ego unless it is ingloriously self-promotional.
• Three of the most execrable phrases in the English language appeared.
“Water cooler drama” – a three word idiom which embodies the surreptitious slavery inherent in offices across the country, in that people no longer have the liberty to wander over to a friend’s desk to chat about TV last night and that such wilfully “inefficient” behaviour must take place under the excuse of collecting a cup of water.
“Swinging Sixties” – one of the most abhorrent, shameful misnomers of the last century. Sure London was “swinging”; or rather two blocks around Carnaby Street were, while the nearby districts pressed their faces up against the glass window excluding them from joining in the fun. Meanwhile, the rest of the nation, outside that glorious hive of vacillation, toiled in unrewarding employment trying to feed their families rather than their impromptu drug habit.
“Cool Britannia” – proof that Alastair Campbell’s propaganda machine was at work almost as soon as Blair became PM, as it would take the skill of a true ma-nipulator of truth to metamorphose Britain into a “cool” nation on the back of one election victory. What’s more, who were the flagbearers? Oasis – already descending into the flatulent indulgence of Be Here Now. Artists? Artists who end up in the gallery of a name associated with getting Thatcher into power can never be valued as definitively culturally significant and more likely acquired a piggy back to “cool” like bovine parasites.