Friday, 27 November 2009

Marred Product

Andrew Marr

About this time on a Friday I catch Andrew Marr's 'The Making of Modern Britain' on TV. The archive footage is good and there is a broad narrative that seems reasonable most of the time, albeit deeply bent by retrospective wisdom.

Retrospective wisdom is annoying because it reads the future into the past when it wasn't there. Chamberlain was, it seems, a dolt for believing Hitler and everyone who cheered him was a minor insignificant dolt for believing there'd be no war. Dolts, the lot of them. We know there was a war so we know exactly what dolts they were. That's TV history. The next moment the British are shown preparing for war. No particular reason given, just a change of tone. No explanation. That's also TV history.

Mustn't bore them, you know. Not for a second.

What the combination of retrospective wisdom, the desperate desire to not bore us, and the fatal love affair with celebrity results in is less the Making of Modern Britain than the Making of Faces. Marr's face.

Marr's programme consists of Marr gurning in between clips of film. He gurns as himself and he gurns in costume. He gurns in funny voices, meaning he puts on silly voices for those who were wrong. And he does it all the time, every five minutes or less. Nothing is possible without a gurn and a silly voice. In today's programme alone we had Marr gurning as a Greenshirt, as a Butlin's camper, as a thirties bather and a great many other things. Silly voices all round even when not in costume. He has ridden a merry-go-round and he has gone round in dodgems. He is a ham actor. He hams it up leaving no minute unhammed. I fully expect to see him hamming it up in a concentration camp, doing funny Jew or funny German,

No, I don't fully expect that. But it's just round the corner, Andrew, if you want a go at it.

Genteel readers please close your eyes now. The fact is, every time he goes into a gurn or a silly voice I just wish he would fuck off.

Marr is not the star of history. He is not even an original interpreter of it. He is an intelligent man who knows perfectly well he is being a prat. I doubt it is even his fault. There is some producer prodding and daring him: Go on Andrew! G'wan! Terrific!

Much the best thing was the footage of the battle of Cable Street. At least he didn't pretend to be Mosley or an East Ender. How tempting that must have been.

I have practically stopped watching television. It fills me with despair even to think of it most of the time.


Emerging Writer said...

Totally. Too many witty anecdotes. And then he dresses in an Edwardian bathing suit and swims in the Blackpool sea.

Mark Granier said...

Thanks for the laugh George. I know exactly what you mean.'Gurn' is perfect, and Marr isn't the only one. Light years from Olivier and The World At War, and as for Bronowski...

Diane said...

". . .smart, subtle, gracious" re: Szirtes (Guardian Review 24.11.09, p 20)

Diane said...


George S said...

Bronowski was marvellous. But both Kenneth Clark and John Berger were good on art, as was Tim Marlow much more recently. (I have an aversion to Waldemar Januszak). And I can't help remembering AJP Taylor.

I like it when people just talk. Then they show some film, preferably without music or funny effects. Or they show someone else talking, maybe even in another time. Then they talk some more.

When I am talking to someone in the room I am not constantly flicking my eyes here and there or turning them so they look at me at 45 degrees tilt, or imagining them black and white. I am not waiting for them to wave their arms about. I don't expect them to talk to music. I look into their eyes and try to guess what is there, under the words as well as in them. I like doing this.

The TV is in the room.

I know it is useless saying all this, because some git will just tell me to bugger off and read The Oldie, the comic book version of grump. AJP Taylor? So what was Disraeli like, dad?

I won't do grumpy old man. I will just quietly turn the TV off and be one viewer less. And sooner or later the TV will disappear altogether. If I want to see football I'll nip down the pub. Or - why not? - even down Carrow Road. They do occasionally play football there.

The World at War was marvellous too.

George S said...

And thank you for pointing me to the Graun, Diane, though I suspect that is a slight case of damning with faint on Crown's part. A bit like being praised for a neat rendering of Chopsticks on the piano.

Blogumentary said...

I know what you mean about despairing of telly. I work in it - and yes I make documentaries.

If you want to see, good, intelligent and compassionate programming, can I suggest that you try Al Jazeera English. They have two strands, 'People & Power' and 'Witness'. Both are 21 minutes long and both are, on the whole, made by committed film makers who care about trying to describe the real world.

Al Jazeera English can be found on Sky and they have a dedicated 'channel' on YouTube.

Happy hunting.

Diane said...

Chopsticks -- can be a nice easy way to face a new day........however, you are the musician!

George S said...

Yes, bit grouchy, I know, Diane. Just seems odd to ignore the title series and to talk about Woolworths.

But I shouldn't complain. So I won't.