_ Who swears
Swearing on TV: a threat to civilisation as we know it, or an attempt to depict unavoidable social realities? A Channel 4 Without Walls special kicks around some of the examples and arguments. Tom ‘PG’ Lappin goes on oath.
Not a lot of people know this but the poet Robert Browning once concluded a poem with the line ‘an old nun’s twat’, believing he was referring to her wirnple. Nice one Bob, and one of countless examples of popular art forms flirting with vulgar language, occasionally gratuitously, but often with intent to provoke or develop a debate.
TV and swearing have had a tempestuous relationship over the years, and Channel 4 (who else?) have chosen to explore some of the more common broadcasting language taboos in a Without Walls special. In true Channel 4 tradition it‘s a mixture of serious analysis and spurious irreverence. The first programme, [Exp/eaves Deleted, an exploration of the origins ofswearing, asks how some words can still shock, and how broadcasters deal with the dilemmas posed by strong language.
Contributors include producer Verity Lambert who believes the authorities have been tightening the curse-strings of late. She recalls being allowed to use the ‘c’ word in a 1979 TV play, but being asked to remove a ‘fuck’ from another script. Last year, Channel 4’s own The Cammnile lawn was censured by the Broadcasting Standards Council for using the word ‘fuck’, much to the disgust of the series director Sir Peter Hall. ‘l think the BSC enquiry and ruling on
The Cammnile Lawn is perfectly preposterous.’ he says. ‘I gather it was one person who was shocked. and because one person was shocked, the entire country may now be deprived of such things in future. This is minority rule. not majority rule.‘
You probably wouldn‘t expect to find Sir Peter lining up on the same side as Jerry Siltlt)\\’i[l, but the
‘There’s lots of things you can show on television, smoking, drinking, horror films, sex scenes, Ruby Wax, political opinions, but the one thing they come down on very heavily is swearing.’
acerbic Glasgow comedian is equally contemptuous of would-be censors in the second programme, the coyly—titled The Greatest l"@.’£*.".’ Show On TV. Using sketches and clips of classic TV swearing moments from Kenneth Tynan to John Major, Sadowitz outlines his argument that our response to swearing is as childish as the act itself.
‘There's lots of things you can show on television,‘ he says, ‘smoking. drinking. horror films, sex scenes, Ruby Wax, political opinions, but the one thing they come down on very heavily is swearing. But who is doing the complaining and from what are they trying
The curse oi Sadowiu to protect us‘?‘
According to Lady Olga Maitland we as a nation don't like bad language and shouldn‘t have to put up with it on the TV: ‘The vast majon'ty of people don‘t like this sort ofthing,‘ she insists. ‘What the television companies are doing is pandering to a tiny minority. Why shouldn’t they look after the wider majority of people who want good clean entertainment? And high literature provides all that.‘ Fellow moral guardian Lord Rees-Mogg has claimed that the word ‘fuck‘ will be commonplace on TV by 2030.
‘lt's a long way off,‘ counters Sadowitz. who is frustrated by the narrowness of opinion represented by broadcasting watchdogs. ‘Why is it that people who don’t have a complaint never phone in to complain that they don’t have a complaint? [er, right Jerry] Why is it that TV companies only listen to people ifthey give themselves a fancy title like the National Viewers and Listeners Association.”
In the end, he argues, ‘Swearing is an emotional sound effect that conveys feelings not thoughts. lf swearing‘s childish, it‘s got to be infantile to over- react to it.’
No shit, as Tennyson once said.
Without Walls Special is on Channel 4 on Saturday 26 M(U‘(‘/I at llpm.
:— Artful codger
Alan Bennett was sitting enjoying a quiet drink in an Italian eats a couple oi years ago, when a middle-aged English lady approached him. ‘l’d like to thank you ior all your work in the opera,’ she told the bemused playwright, and he didn’t like to correct her. The problem was the caie proprietor then demanded he sign the visitors’ book, and Bennett iound himseli drawing a pencil-sketch oi himseli, adding the signature ‘David Hockney’ and escaping as last as possible.
Alan Bennett wonders which picture will fit
It was a suitably uneasy
i r l
under his raincoat
consummation oi Bennett’s a relationship with the world oi art, revealed to BBCZ viewers in Portrait 0r Bust, a one-oii programme looking at Leeds City Art gallery and its visitors. Bennett adopts his characteristically voyeuristic approach, eavesdropping on a party oi elderly ladies as they stare at the paintings, as well as oiiering personal reminiscences oi what he admits has been a ‘shallow’ appreciation oi art. ‘Art in general has always punled me,’ he admits, recalling how his regular visits as a schoolboy were inspired by a desire to take the weight oii his ieet rather than any aesthetic yearnings.
‘I iirst visited the gallery on a school trip early in the Second World War,’ he
recalls. ‘The place had scarcely any pictures and the only one that caught my eye was rude.’ lie remembers wistiully how he and the rest oi his class stared in vulgar iasclnatlon at a battlefield scene ieaturing a woman with hared breast, as their prim teacher tried to interest them in a Sea Scouts display.
Nowadays Bennett’s tastes are more sophisticated, although he again has to resort to baser instincts when judging the worth oi a picture. ‘I iind it hard to divorce appreciation irom possession,’ he says, ‘sol knowl like a picture only when I’m tempted to walk out with it under my raincoat.’ (Torn Lappin)
Portrait 0r Bust is on B802 on Monday 4 April at 8pm.
The List 25 March—7 Apn'l I994 61