Andy Mac

When was the last time you watched a classic British sitcom on Freeview? Since the advent of digital TV, there is now a host of smaller channels regularly playing the sort of comedy programmes I grew up with. We’re talking the likes of Benny Hill, Ronnie Barker in ‘Porridge’ and ‘Open All Hours’, Frank Thornton and crew in ‘Are You Being Served’, and Patricia Routledge as the irrepressible English snob Hyacinth Bucket in ‘Keeping Up Appearances’. Those, of course, are the delights the executives deem suitable for contemporary broadcasting. If you’re after a touch of Alf Garnett or the Royal Artillery concert boys of ‘It Ain’t Half Hot, Mum’, forget it. Those beauties can only be accessed via Netflix or DVD specials. When the Spartans of Censorship combed their way through the vast archives of British comedy, they immediately ruled the latter two strictly off-limits. The fact that Garnett’s bigotry was always exposed as a sham, or that Melvyn Hayes and Windsor Davies’ troops were accompanied in every episode by two genuine Asian actors (Barbar Bhatti and Dino Shafeek) were trifling inconveniences glossed over so as to support the ‘inappropriately racist’ narrative. Even with those classics our overlords permit us to see, they are incapable of airing an episode without some verbose explanatory warning, kindly informing us all ‘the programme and its language reflects values of times past and are not indicative of the standards or values of today. There may be words, terms and phrases some viewers could find offensive.’ ‘Dad’s Army’ is the latest masterpiece to come with the obligatory health warning. Who could have imagined the antics of Arthur Lowe, Clive Dunn, Jimmy Beck and Ian Lavender would one day find themselves under the watchful eyes of the Wokerati?

So what are these ‘standards of today’? Can they even compare in terms of quality to what censors have been so eager to discard over the past couple of decades? For we live in a televisual world where even a scintilla of perceived racism, sexism or ageism must be prefaced with a hysterical warning; but violence, rape, nudity and profanity are casually waved through like the limo of an important dignitary at the gates of a state function. The 1960s and 1970s (and even the comparatively relaxed ’80s) may have had TV programmes guaranteed to make today’s emotionally-unbalanced adolescents recoil in front of their iPads in terms of the descriptive language they used, but what they didn’t have were examples of moral debasement that would make a prison’s ‘Mr Big’ blush. Whereas once upon a time an exciting storyline in ‘Coronation Street’ consisted of a public altercation between Elsie Tanner and Hilda Ogden in the Rovers Return, it now has to feature such comforting situations as male rape, drug abuse and murder. The linguistic human imperfections of yesteryear have disappeared from the modern offerings that pass for entertainment now, though what’s replaced them are storylines and scenarios utterly bereft of any semblance of innocence.

Perhaps the best example of this is a programme shown on Channel 4 called ‘Naked Attraction’. It consists of a series of contestants who’ve fallen on hard times on the love or relationship fronts and who are keen to pick a potential partner based on nothing other than naked appearance. The choices are silhouetted in different coloured booths of frosted glass. At the beginning of each round, a little more of the bodies is exposed until the contestant makes a final choice based on the naked attractiveness of his or her opposite number alone. If viewers weren’t already overwhelmed by the vulgarity on display, they would be by the compering of host Anna Richardson, who’s far from reticent when it comes to describing her own sexual history and experimentation. How did our moral compass as a society veer so far off course where the conditions are ripe for such soft pornography to make it on to our TV screens? When initial complaints were made to Ofcom on the issue of full frontal nudity, their concerns were dismissed as the authority declared such images did not breach their guidelines. There you have it, ladies and gentleman. Vaginas, penises and smutty bedroom talk are perfectly in keeping with Ofcom’s standards. A casual off-the-cuff remark about, say, a person’s homosexuality? Wow, that necessitates a warning, age certification, ear muffs, a hyper-sensitive remote control, a contextual explanation from Alexa, with a note of denunciation from the Archbishop of Canterbury thrown in!

Television isn’t about basic entertainment any longer. Every production pushes its own narrative. It’s as if TV executives believe we are one audience that must be educated on their world view, and nothing other than their world view. Aside from what I’ve described above we also have programmes with same-sex couples and interracial couples included with an almost omnipresent frequency. I have nothing against same-sex relationships or interracial ones. Neither do I have an aversion to a steaming bowl of treacle pudding saturated in hot custard. It doesn’t mean I want to finish off a meal three times a day, seven days a week with it. Most of us accept the facets of modern society. We don’t need indoctrination through the prism of light entertainment designed to compel us to adopt a certain belief system to match. That is not what television should be about.

When I was at school, we had one teacher (Miss Brewer) who prided herself on the fact she didn’t own a television set. Back then and to our generation, non-ownership of a TV was something to be remarked upon. No longer. People are turning away from TV in their droves, relying instead on sources of pleasure such as YouTube, Netflix and Amazon (notwithstanding their increasing use of ridiculous trigger warnings). Could it be a question of more variety now than ever before? Or could it be the possibility terrestrial television is devoid on so many levels of the ability to entertain and educate us to a satisfactory degree? I’ll let you reach your own conclusions. I reached mine a long time ago.

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