Kevin Myers: Yes, we're in trouble, but not when compared to that gibbering loon lying across the water
Published 18/08/2010 | 05:00
The new BBC detective series 'Vexed' on Sunday evenings is an absolute must, for those connoisseurs and chroniclers of the terminal decline of licence-funded broadcasting.
That this truly abysmal series was ever made was due entirely to the perverse value-system that can emerge within a "public-service" organisation like the BBC (and RTE also). For the BBC, almost pathologically, has set itself the organisational priority of employing lots of big names at high salaries, rather than of making good television programmes as an existential norm.
'Vexed' is perhaps the worst television programme I have ever seen: centred on two detectives -- one male, one female -- it is nasty, crass and meretricious. Its hero -- played with a toxic oafishness by Toby Stephens -- is surely the most revolting male lead that film and television have yet devised: a charmless, dysfunctional nerd who, if he wasn't bullied at school, certainly should have been.
How could such a dreadful series even have got through the concept stage of planning, never mind passing all the viewing-tests that the BBC usually demands of its programmes before airing them?
One might equally ask that of the almost equally risible series 'The Deep', which featured the woeful Minnie Driver as a submarine skipper. This was probably because the BBC's first choice as the submarine skipper, Naomi Campbell, was attending a party for Nelson Rockefeller -- or Nelson someone-or-other, in Iberia, or whatever.
Nobody now scanning the BBC schedules could doubt that this is an organisation in decline. Yet a generation ago, the BBC was making the best television drama in the world, while US TV companies made amongst the worst. Easily, the best TV drama in the world now comes from the market-led US: whereas almost nothing but rubbish comes from Britain.
Dysfunctionalism is squeezing the last gasps of life out of the BBC, just as it has, over the years, taken so many other British institutions by the throat, and choked them all.
Let me admit now that I don't understand anything about economics. So I certainly don't have a clue how Britain makes ends meet. Forty years ago, Britain was the world's largest exporter of lorries and sports cars. Now it makes neither. And the great names of the British car industry -- MG, Austin, Bentley, Rolls Royce, Land Rover, Jaguar -- are today either dead or owned by Germans and Indians.
The British car industry now consists of robots welding Japanese cars in Sunderland. In terms of R&D, the cutting edge is in Frankfurt, Toulouse, Seattle, Tokyo and Bangalore, not Birmingham or Manchester.
Yet the best-supported football league in the world, the oddly named Premier League, exists in England. The two Manchester clubs, the two Liverpool clubs, Wigan, Bolton, Blackpool, Blackburn, all compete in a single catchment area the size of county Dublin, as do, separately, Aston Villa, Birmingham, West Bromwich, Stoke and Wolverhampton, as do Chelsea, Arsenal, West Ham, Tottenham and Fulham.
All pay their largely foreign players a minimum of £40,000 each per week, and all charge their spectators -- those shirtless, obscenity-bawling Anglo-Saxon fatties with breasts -- at least £100 a head admission money.
This defies all logic or analysis. What does Wigan sell to the world that enables its overweight young menfolk to fork out £100 a head for an hour and a half's entertainment on a Saturday afternoon? Or Stoke? Or Bolton? I couldn't find any of these places on an unmarked map, yet they feature regularly on 'Match of the Day' on BBC -- yes, the same public-service channel which is now almost incapable of creating a respectable television-drama series.
The only recent exception to this systemic failure was the highly inventive modernisation of 'Sherlock Holmes', starring Benedict Cumberbatch. Needless to say, this was greeted by the deeply unpleasant 'Sunday Times' critic, AA Sneer, with his predictably pseudo-patrician, but actually rather witless brand of know-all disdain.
Yet his reaction is actually symptomatic of the greater problem, as if dysfunctionalism were spreading through British life like MRSA in a confined hospital ward. An intellectual malignance now seems to infect every part of British life: thus BBC Radio Four yesterday broadcast a documentary about the future of the RAF, without even discussing the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the insane vertical take-off combat-aircraft being co-developed with the US.
This is the costliest, and potentially the most ruinous, aircraft-procurement programme in British military history, yet it didn't even get a single mention on a "serious" BBC programme about the future of the RAF.
Yes, we are in dire trouble on this sorry island of ours: dire, dire trouble. But I don't think we're fooling ourselves as systematically as our neighbours seem to be. So we should stop measuring ourselves against Britain, as, for historical and linguistic reasons, we habitually have done.
Indeed, it is merely another symptom of our sickness that we should even contemplate evaluating our health against that of the gibbering loon in the cross-channel bedlam. The only useful comparisons for us lie on the European mainland: Finland, Denmark and the Netherlands. Henceforth, we should focus largely on the relatively hale and hearty lands beyond the Waddenzee in order to see how ill we really are.