It's a great British institution. free at the point of access yet heavily subsidised by the taxpayer. which embodies the high-minded ideals of public enlightenment from a bygone age. Occasionally it goes slumming in popular entertainment. which it treats with the detached amusement of a favourite auntie. And so that we don‘t have to worry. this institution is run on our behalf by the great and good. who have already made their mark in life — and usually a pile of dosh.
Naturally the Government likes to exert a little inﬂuence too. so it retains some control over the purse strings. which it uses as reins to ensure an approved direction of travel. In the spirit ofthese enterprising times. this slumbering giant has appointed a go- getting chief alive to all the commercial opportunities that such a household name possesses.
But enough about the BBC. Last week's instalment of Modern Times (BBCZ. Wednesdays) turned its cameras on another great institution. the Victoria & Albert Museum in the sloaney heartlands of South Kensington. The leaking roof which preserves the priceless objets d'art was used as a visual metaphor for genteel poverty — a kind of architectural equivalent of fur coat and nae knickers.
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Brothers and Sisters: hanging out in the BBC’s Friday night ghetto
Meanwhile the enemy within came in the form of beasties with names like the biscuit drugstore beetle or Banbury borer which eat art for breakfast. given half a chance. The cost of keeping pestilence at bay and the elements otrt requires a ptrblic subsidy equivalent to £25 per visitor.
Against this financial background. the Department of National Heritage has lopped off£l million from the museum’s annual grant. forcing new director Alan Borg to charge admission for the first time in the V&A‘s history. Because this was a documentary more interested in the ‘characters‘ on the museum‘s staff— from Dunkirk-spirited cleaners to dandyish curators — the issue ofcharging the public to see collections held in public trust wasn‘t explored.
Btrt like many old cultural institutions forced to confront market forces. the V&A is damned if it does and damned if it doesn’t. If the rrruseum's visitor numbers do not drop significantly. it will be hard for the trustees to ask fora reinstatement ofGovernment favour.
They may even get a taste for earned income. If visitors do decrease. however. the museum will be perceived as a failing institution which is out of touch with the public. Either way. expect more exhibitions of supermodel Naomi Campbell‘s platform shoes as the V&A seeks a mass audience at a fiver a time.
The BBC itself has been experimenting with a popular forrn of programming of which it has little hands-on experience — black entertainment. Having done market research. consulted its navel at length and set up a new ‘unit' for African and Caribbean shows. BBC North is pumping out two hours of programmes every week under the catch-all title The A-Force (BBC2. Fridays).
The result is a ghetto by any other name. with a collection of cheap shows which would never survive in the schedule on their own. It‘s white. suburban light entertainment dressed up in black face: Blind Date with ragga; Castles with Pentecostal choirs. If black Britons are under-represented on
television - as they self-evidently are — surely it behoves the BBC to put extra money into the programmes it does produce to ensure a high standard of output. Nothing looks cheaper than cheap entertainment shows.
The running order is built around the new. eight-week drama serial. Brothers And Sisters. which was shot around Liverpool and Manchester. It centres on farnily squabbles after the death of a charismatic church preacher. There are no characters. just actors portraying single characteristics — anger. ambition. lust. The writing is lousy and each scene looks like a rehearsal. but at least the BBC can point to this by-numbers serial as evidence of ‘multi-cultural' programming.
After spending a night in the cells in Brothers And Sisters. Lester (John Brobbey) popped up in a different kind of force as the token black copper in Prime Suspect 5 (Scottish. run ended). Battle-hardened btrt still fragrant. Jane Tennison ﬁrst meets her new team during a housing estate siege and assumes he must be a local hood. Black man in plain clothing — easy mistake to make.
Previous Prime Suspect stories have taken single issues including racism. sexism and police corruption as their theme; this overblown. four-hour marathon had them all. What was new is that Tennison had transferred from the Met to the Greater Manchester force. where she irrrrnediately hopped into bed with her boss (John McArdle). No change there. then. although it was noticeable that Mirren kept rather more of her clothes on than usual. ()bviously it‘s chillier up north. (Eddie Gibb)
A selection or television highlights listed in chronological order. Compiled by Eddie Gibb.
I Power Into Art (Channel 4) Sat 2 Nov. 8—9pm. Documentary following the progress of work to transform Bankside power station on the Thames into the new £l00 million Tate Gallery of Modern Art. due to open in 2000. I llorizon Special (BBC2) Sat 2 Nov. 8. l0—9pm. Kicking off a new series of the long-running science series and marking the BBC’s celebration ofthe 60th anniversary oftelevision. this documentary looks at TV technology. past. present and future. it includes recordings made by John Logie Baird of his early experimental transmissions which have never been seen before.
I The Stand Up Show (BBCl) Sat 2 Nov. l l.50pm—l2.20am. Father Ted's Ardal O'Hanlon hosts a new series which features British and American stand-ups. The first programme includes former Perrier newcomer Tim Vine and Al Murray’s pub landlord.
I The Bookworm (BBCI) Sun 3 Nov. 3.40-4.l0pm. Griff Rhys Jones returns with another series of the popular literary show. with a look at the influence of an Edinburgh childhood on the writing of Arthur Conan Doyle.
I Don’t Look Down (Scottish) Sun 3 Nov. l().45—l l.5()pm. Siobhan Synnot introduces another edition of the Scottish arts magazine which tonight features reports on budget opera and Shetland folk band Rock. Salt And Nails.
I Accused (BBCI) Sun 3 Nov.
l l.40pm—12. l0arn. First in a new courtroom drama series which features a different case every week. In the first episode a woman appears in court on a charge of possessing a small arnotrnt of heroin.
I The Crow lload (BBC2) Mon 4 Nov. 9-l0pm. The four-part adaptation of lain Banks‘s novel begins tonight. Sec feature.
I Sharman (Scottish) Mon 4 Nov. 8.30—l0pm. Clive ()wen stars in this new drama series about a street-wise south London private eye. He‘s hard- boiled. he‘s cynical and he decides to jack it all in. But when an ex-cop and old rnuckcr is found dead he agrees to help his widow investigate.
I Billy Connolly’s World Tour or Australia (BBC l) Mon 4 Nov.
l0. l0-l0.5()pm. After cruising around Scotland in a Range Rover for his last series. the Big Yin discards a wheel and sits astride a trike for this travel/comedy hybrid.
I Animal Cannibals (Channel 4) Tue 5 Nov. 9—l0pm. First in a two-part investigation into the cannibals of the animal kingdom. Species which eat their own kind include spiders. frogs and lions.
I When llover Met BMW (BBCZ) Tue 5 Nov. 9.30—l0.20pm. This new documentary series could be subtitled: ‘How the Germans beat the British at the car manufacturing game‘. BMW bought Britain's last major car manufacturer two years ago; this live- part series looks at how the company has changed under its new owners, who ironically are trying to increase the Britislrness of the Rover marque.
I Food and Drink (BBC2) Tue 5 Nov. 8.30—9pm. While Two Fat Ladies continue to wobble on Wednesdays. the BBC‘s long running gastronomy show returns with the ultra-skinny Jilly Goolden offering more crazed wine- tasting tips.
I Absolutely Fabulous: The last Shout (BBCI) Wed 6 Nov. 9.30—l0.l5pm. The AbFab franchise was simply too big to kill off. it seems. so we return with a two-part special about the west London fashion victims cast adrift in the 90s. In this two-patter. Edina has been swimming with dolphins while Patsy is in danger of losing her flat when the off-licence below threatens to expand upwards.
I The lloyds Bank Channel 4 Film Challenge (Channel 4) Thurs 7 Nov, 9.45—l0pm. First of six screenings of films by winners of the young lilrnmakers competition. starting with Bantams about the friendship between two football fans.
I Faith In The Future (Scottish) Fri 8 Nov. 8.30—9pm. New series of the mother-and-daughter sitcom starring
Absolutely Fabulous: Patsy and Fdlna's last shout. Maybe
Lynda Bellingharn and Julia Sawahla. I In Remembrance: Ken Saro-Wiwa (Channel 4) Sat 9 Nov. 8—9pm. Docurrrerrtary marking the first anniversary ofthe execution ofthe Nigerian writer and environmental activist.
I Secret Lives (Channel 4) Mon ll Nov. 9—l0pm. lconoclastic documentary about screen swashbuckler Errol Flynn whose off- screen life was a sleazy swirl of drunkeness and wornanising. At the height of his fame. he stood trial on two counts of under-age rape.
The List l-l4 Nov I996 95