Alf of the nation
Tabloid telly writer Garry Bushell reckons there’s a plot to keep Alf Garnett off our screens. Eddie Gibb hears the conspiracy theory.
It’s 1966. ‘a year of schism.‘ according to Billy Bragg, when the Working Man was celebrating England’s World Cup triumph (Hurst. Charlton. ‘thcy think it's all over'. etc) while his daughter was wetting her pants over The Beatles. The nation was in flux and needed someone to make sense of it all, an armchair warrior to set the world to rights.
‘You can’t rewrite the world the way you want it to be. You have to accept it the way it is and Alt Garnett is a truth.
People like All exist and there are hundreds of thousands of them.’
The chosen one was AlfGamett — ‘a royalist. a loyalist. a bigot. and proud of it‘ — the anti-hero of Till Death Us Do Part. This was mainstream entertainment. a sit-corn for goodness sake. with a central character who spouted racist invective like a mother tongue . . . which it was — Alfwas a West Ham man through and through, but funny with it. Alf Gamett’s creator Johnny Speight got away with something that few writers managed before or since; encouraging an audience to identify with a blatantly
Bushell on All on the box offensive central character.
Forward to 1994. and another Cockney, who might claim to ‘say the unsayable’. Garry Bushell, music
journalist turned Sim television critic. is the self-
appointed defender of white. English. working class culture against an occupying force on our screens — the ‘culturati‘.
In the first of a new Without Walls season, ‘The
National All“, Bushell berates the lslington trendies.
the arts/media fixers who. he says. have a ‘voracious appetite for other cultures but are ignorant of their own’. In short, the Alan Yentobs of this world who commissioned another series of Alf Gamett scripts but ‘bottled out‘ of making it. (The BBC’s official position is that another series ‘can‘t be ruled out'.)
‘You can‘t rewrite the world the way you want it to be.‘ says Bushell. ‘You have to accept it the way it is and AlfGarnet is a truth. People like Alfexist and there are hundreds ofthousands of them.‘
To prove it. Bushell takes us down to his ‘local working rnen‘s club' (not the News lntemational branch, by the looks of it) for a St George’s Day knees up. His point is that these are the ‘politically and culturally disenfranchised working class' whose fondness for jellied eels and Union Jacks make them media pariahs. He does not suggest that Gamett
‘Mind control systems are being imposed, I believe, to suit the ideologies and prejudices of the left-wing, middle class intelligentsia.’
speaks for them. but that he has been silenced as a ‘sacriﬁcial lamb’ to keep the ‘race relations industry‘ sweet. ‘Mind control systems are being imposed, l believe. to suit the ideologies and prejudices ofthe left-wing, middle class intelligentsia,’ he says.
it's an entertaining argument. suggesting Alf‘s absence from our screens is directly linked to a cold hand of political correctness zapping anything that might cause offence from our television sets. But has Bushell been set up by Channel 4’s own culturati? For a generation of Sounds r‘eaders he will be remembered as the rock scribbler who cuddled up with the Oi! skinhead scene, while his time at The Sun has coincided with the paper‘s ascendancy as the ultimate yob symbol. Has Garry unwittingly allowed himself to be cast as the Alf Gamett of his time? Without Walls starts with The National Alf on Tuesday 25 October at 9pm on Channel 4.
_ Sitcom sisters
No imported American sitcoms featuring strong female lead characters start on Channel 4 next week, but that’s about as far as the similarity goes.
Ellen is a played-for-laughs thirtysomething set up, where crisis means going on a first date and finding there was a lump of broccoli adhering to your cheek throughout the main course. Major angst is wondering \ whether to take another day off from
definite political subtext.
the bookstore to get another driving licence photo taken after the first one made you look kinda goofy.
By contrast Joan Mosely (Tina llfford), single mother of three in South Central, has real problems. She’s lost her job at the education
centre where she worked for twelve years and her cheques have started bouncing at the grocery store. Meanwhile, her sixteen-year—old son Andre has started toting a pager and she’s worried he might get sucked into
los Angeles’ black-on-black violence. ‘l’m not gonna let you get yo’ narrrow black ass shot off because you look like one of ’em,’ she half-cries in frustration. Joan, a good mother in a bad area, tries to keep her family from growing up crooked by loving them lots, but money sure would help. And this is comedy? Well yes, but with a
Subtext is something Ellen, starring stand-up Ellen DeGeneres, is deliciously free of. It’s the comedy of recognition for a strata of America’s white, urban, middle-classes - ‘uppity whiteys’ as South Central’s Andre puts it. There’s no need for the show to be \ aspirational - these are the people
‘ who don’t have to try too hard. When Ellen is funny, it’s because the script writers, based round the team that brought you The Wonder Years, put clever jokes in the characters’ mouths. South Central doesn’t try as hard to keep the gag rate up, but invites a bigger range of responses than just laughter. It’s the better of
the two, but that’s like comparing apples and pears. (Eddie Gibb)
South Central starts on Tuesday 25 October at midnight and Ellen is from Friday 28 October at 9pm, both Channel4.
South Central: real prbblem
The List 21 October—3 November 1994 77