The Big Picnic: theatre of war
The announcement by Bill Bryden, BBC Scotland’s former head of drama, that he wants to put on a marathon end-of- millennium production in Govan’s Harland and Wolff Engine Shed, covering a century of Glasgow life, suggests this large-scale theatre director has lost none of his megalomaniac drive. But in the meantime Bryden has been confined to the small screen with a television adaptation of his 1994 epic The Big Picnic.
This is the man whose 1990 spectacular, The Ship, culminated in the life-size hulk of an ocean liner
being ‘launched’ down a ramp, while the audience disembarked to watch. The same director returned with The Big Picnic, a budget-busting re- creation of World Warl in the Govan shed, which enabled half the audience to keep pace with the action on a hydraulically powered seating bank that slid along the length of the performing area.
A weakness of that production was that those spectators who followed the action on foot didn’t have the freedom of movement to reap the benefits of promenading. That’s a weakness Bryden’s film of the production happily overcomes, the cameras getting right into those trenches and among the actors in a way the audience never could. It’s not that it tries to cover up the production’s theatrical nature - we still have to adjust to the echoing acoustic and the disembodied audience laughter - it’s more that its editing and camera angles are all filmic.
It’s significant, indeed, that the film makes no play of the movable seating bank, a gimmick rendered meaningless by the flexibility of the editing suite.
But there’s one problem that Bryden can’t overcome with this television adaptation. (in stage, The Big Picnic might have called to mind little more than Joan littlewood’s 0h WhafA Lovely War, but on screen it’s up against an extensive genre of purpose-built war movies. It couldn’t hope to compete. As a souvenir of a popular production, it will be appreciated, but as a piece of television in its own right, it is likely to leave the uninitiated out in the cold. (Mark Fisher)
The Big Picnic is on Sat 22 June on BBBZ at 10pm.
I Are You Sitting Comfortably? (Radio 2) Fri l4 Jtrn. 7.03pm. A new six-part quiz for trostalgia fans with a set ofguests to kill for. Bonnie Langford. Tony Blackburn. Sylvester McCoy. Jenny Hartley and Leslie Grantham are among the top-flight celebs roped in to cast their minds back to old TV. toys and sweets. Thotrght it couldn't get worse? The host is the gummy Don Maclean.
I Documentary: ltickin’ (Radio l)Sun to Jun. 7pm. Nick Hancock investigates the relationship between football and pop music. one which has been strong since the 70s btrt really took off during ltalia 90. ()pinions worth listening to belong to John Peel. Pat Nevin and Massive Attack. Mick Hucknall also contributes. Irvine Welsh and Bobby Gillespie were not consulted for their views. Strange. that.
I Sunday Feature: Lanark (Radio 3) Sun lb Jun. 5.45pm. Fifteen years after the pttblication of Alasdair Gray's ground- breaking rnix of science-fiction. surrealism and the history of an art student. Lunar/("s mark has remained on writers such as Janice Galloway and Liz Lochhead. David Stenhouse splits his analysis into writing about the city. .fantasy and realism. why Gray is different and his influence on literature.
I You’re Just As English As You Feel (Radio 3) Mon l7 Jun. 9.20pm. ‘ls England a country in denial. with its intellectuals only too keen to acknowledge their Celtic roots?‘ Blimey.
contrm-ersial eh'.’ Patrick Wright opens his four-part dissection of the linglish psyche by investigating warm beer and spinsters cycling to evensorrg. Listener figures this side of Hadrian's Wall may well depend on the outcome of a certain sporting occasion.
I I Was That Teenager: Helena Kennedy 00 (Radio 4) Fri 2| Jun. l0.02am. Criminal author. broadcaster. barrister and all-round amazing human being Helena Kennedy chats to Hunter Davies about her early years in the Gorbals. which explains her accent. She had to share a bed with her atrnt and her dad was a bundle strangler. A dispatcher at a newspaper to you and me.
I The Great Hock H Boll Swindle, Part
4( Radio I) Stilt 33 Jun. 7pm. Cynicism a- go-go as the all-new Pistols prove that punk was the charade of the century. Tonight we follow the Filthy Lucre tour from the press conference announcing the whole farce to the Finsbury Park concert which is broadcast straight after Mary Anne Hobbs‘s documentary. ‘To all you punk bands.‘ snarls Lydon. 'grandad‘s coming back to teach you all a lesson.’ How terribly. terribly sad.
I Better Than Seru Radio 4 ) Wed 26 Jtrn. 9.45pm. New series kicked-off by Raffaella Barker who discusses a tron- carnal activity which gives her intense delight. Apparently. the feel of fabric. the escapism of make-up and that whole dressing-up thing turns her on. Better than sex? Should get out more. Raffaella. (Brian Donaldson)
Economic theory is dull. economic theorists are boring and journalists who write about economic theory are one long yawn — economics. what a great idea for a three-part television programme. This was obviously the thinking behind False Economy (Tuesdays. Channel 4). a television version of former Guardian economics correspondent Will Hutton‘s best- selling political treatise 7'lre State We 're In.
80 boring must Hutton. now editor of The Observer. have appeared to the makers of False Economy they decided the only way to make the programme watchable was to use the kind of jumpy editing and disjointed narration perfected by youth television and adopted wholesale by party political hucksters. advertisers and any other snake-oil salesmen who believe their message needs a massage. The result was TV designed fora goldﬁsh with attention deficit syndrome.
Almost as irritating is Hutton's delivery which has the kind of breathless and affected inarticulacy which is television’s shorthand for passion and urgency. Perhaps it‘s years of talking about economics that has left Hutton with an acute verbal tic. btrt just about every second word he uttered was ‘erm'. Maybe he meant ERM.
This all added tip to a format which was unable to sustain even the simplest line of argument. All that seemed to matter was juxtaposing the wildly gesticulating Hutton with images of people clearly less fortunate than himself to illustrate his Big Idea — the 30/30/40 society. While these numbers may sound like the vital statistics ofa rather pear-shaped screen starlet. they are actually Hutton's explanation of the division of society into the have-trots (first 30 percent). the have-a-lots (40 per cent) and the have-a-bit-but-could- lose-it-any-moments.
Hutton‘s argument. so far as it was possible to follow if you hadn‘t read his book. is that the middle 30 per cent of society have been pushed into casual work. contract labour and other forms of insecure labour patterns. fundamentally disrupting our economy. Whereas in the past companies have traditionally absorbed the impact of at least the smaller economic troughs by drawing on their own reserves. at far larger portion of the workforce is now riding bareback on the graph of national productivity. It‘s a ride which is scary and uncertain. if occasionally exhilarating. But there's also the danger of being thrown off altogether into the dirty-thirty pit.
Hutton‘s discovery that the people who already have least. lose most dtrring economic downturns is hardly news. but the reason he is being listened to so intently by Tony Blair
and the New Labourites is that he demonstrates that the middle classes are now hurting too and in far greater numbers. ‘l’m saying that acttrally for capitalism to deliver the goods it must be managed and regulated.‘ says Hutton. Like John Major. he believes that a ‘feel-good factor" is required to help restart the economy by inspiring confidence amongst consumers. They would disagree on how to achieve it. of course. but that's politics for you.
By contrast. Freddie Patterson (George Cole) is An Independent Man (Mondays. Scottish) without an -ism or -ology to his name. Having pulled himself up by his bootstraps. he owns a lucrative chain of north London hairdressing salons called La Maison Frederick but decides to go into politics to put a little back into society. If he had read Will Hutton‘s book. Freddie would describe himself as a bottom 30 chap who clawed his way up to become firmly established in the top 40. Anyone who remembers Cole from his duckin' and divin‘ days in Minder will recall he spent his fair share of years as a middle 30 en route.
An Independent Man. allegedly a comedy drama. is a blatant attempt to relocate that archetypal Thatcherite entrepreneur Arthur Daley in the 90s. He has shed the camel coat for something a little less spivvy. but the roguish twinkle remains. Even though Dave. the diamond geezer who dispensed vodka-tonic and good advice over the bar at the Winchester Club. has been replaced by an Italian restaurateur called Alberto. the set up is basically the same.
But having gone legit. the Patterson/Daley character has now developed a social conscience which propels him into politics. A natural Conservative by birth and tax return. Freddie is elected on a Tory ticket but crosses the floor to become an independent town councillor with a casting vote in a htrng administration.
While the central character came ready-made. the political machinations of Labour and Tory politics have been culled from a ntrrnber of different dramatic sources. including Alan Bleasdale's study of socialist corruption GBH and Andrew Davies's arch take on the Machiavellian Right in the Francis Urquhart trilogy that began with House OfCards. Btrt all that combined wit and panache has been lost. leaving only a line of caricatures and parodies through which Cole slalorns with his eyes shut.
Together An Independent Man and False Economy represent a dumbing down in the treatment of British politics on television that makes Forrest Gurnp look like Maynard Keynes. Or should that be Milton Keynes. (Eddie Gibb)
82 The List. l4-27 Jun l‘)‘)()