Not for the first time on a Sunday evening me and the wife settled down to watch a new series, and not for the first time she found herself on her own after 15 or 20 minutes. For I’ve just given up on another Sunday television series, this time The Village, on BBC 1. Tonight, as before, it seemed as if somebody in the distant past had hit on a formula – lost England, sensitive boy, mysterious woman, a few weirdos, etc – and now the formula is being flogged to death.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m a sucker myself for ‘the England that is lost’. Two of my very favourite poems deal with a similar theme; Goldsmith’s Deserted Village and Gray’s Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard. A few decades later comes Cobbett, who may have got a few things wrong in Rural Rides, but thunders and fulminates his prejudices in a way that few since have been able to equal. (And I for one envy.) But of course, these are works of genius, written by men who cared and felt . . . not ‘writers’ banging stuff out with one eye on the US market.
I say that because it’s glaringly obvious that the England being presented in these Sunday evening nostalgia-wallows must resonate with our transatlantic cousins. It must correlate with their preconceptions of Ye Olde England. In fact, I’ve mentioned writers, but these bloody things are now so formulaic that there could be a computer program doing it all. As I write this an electronic intelligence could be churning out She Was Only An Ostler’s Daughter But She Knew Where To Get Her Oats.
The other thing that causes the old grey matter concern is why Larkrise meets Downton seems to be the dominant ‘drama’ genre on prime-time television. For a start, it’s questionable how real these depictions of bygone England are, outside the misconceptions of Elmer and Lulu-Belle in Cincinnati. So what sort of an England do these ‘dramas’ portray? Perhaps most obviously, it is a very structured society, in which everyone knows their place. There is an Empire on which the sun never sets. Johnny Foreigner is either patronised or given a jolly good kicking. And there are never – how can I put this? – ‘persons of colour’ in these works. Everyone is white, English and Christian. That’s it! – this is Ukip TV!
For this ‘drama’ format is nothing less than a form of national escapism for our English neighbours. These regular Sunday fantasies are the England many of them would like to return to. If Monsieur Farage was put in charge of the BBC (and the way things are going, who’s to say he won’t?) we’d probably have some mustachioed old fart in the 1890s, with uncanny foresight, warning that ‘England’ should never enter into any political or economic union with her continental neighbours.
All of which I can understand. Those English who don’t believe that the X Factor is the most important thing happening are confused and worried by a country clearly on the slide. What I cannot understand is why this nationalistic and escapist dross is forced on us Welsh. Haven’t we got a computer program of our own that could produce something better? Perhaps even writers?