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Friday, 29 July 2011

New Formula 1 TV deal

I awoke this morning to news of the UK F1 television deal for 2012 onwards.

Given the recent speculation about the threat hanging over the BBC's coverage, such an announcement comes as no great surprise. What is surprising, perhaps, is the nature of the deal, with the BBC retaining some of the rights to coverage.

The reaction from F1 fans has been predictably hostile and confused, and in some cases shrill and hysterical. The fact is that the BBC is under pressure to make economies, and although F1 often regards itself as the centre of the universe, the Corporation has to balance its sports commitments with other "public-service" interests and duties. They cannot please everyone.

There is little doubt that Sky's coverage of the sport will be comprehensive and technically excellent, if their treatment of such sports as football, cricket and both rugby codes is any guide. However, I do emphathise with those who, for whatever reason, will not be able to watch all of the races live.

Of course, some of us feel that cases such as this throw into sharp relief the flaws and absurdities of the "compulsory" BBC licence fee, but that is another debate....

Friday, 22 July 2011

Dad's Army

A recent purchase of mine was the DVD boxset of "Dad's Army", the sitcom written by Jimmy Perry and David Croft about the Home Guard during World War 2. Watching all of the episodes back-to-back endowed me with a new perspective on the themes and issues tackled.

Although "Dad's Army" was a comedy, it managed to achieve a balance, in that it did not trivialise war or downplay its horrors. Often the humour served to soften the edges, and was derived from the hardships and upheavals being endured by the populace. Whilst the universal values of idealism, stoicism and patriotism are to the fore, gentle satire and bathos are regularly employed to prevent things becoming excessively trite.

One of the strengths of this sitcom is that it is not permitted to descend into the realms of becoming a rose-tinted account. The tensions of class, bureaucracy and power are explored; normal human frailties against the backdrop of war.

Perhaps the hinge of "Dad's Army" was the sometimes fraught relationship between Captain Mainwaring and Sergeant Wilson. Mainwaring is the classic self-made "chip on the shoulder" type, whose overbearing nature is largely born of insecurity. At times he struggles to conceal his contempt for the languid and often dilettante Wilson, contrasting their social backgrounds with their respective professional and military standing. The sergeant generally responds with gently sarcastic remarks which tend to go completely over Mainwaring's head!

I still think that Arthur Lowe received insufficient credit for his extraordinary performance as Captain Mainwaring. He expertly conveyed the officer's characteristics, and his "physical" comedy skills came in very useful at times!

An emollient to the Mainwaring-Wilson dynamic comes in the shape of Corporal Jones, who cuts through some of the tension with his straightforward, salt-of-the-earth style.

For all the eccentricities and vagaries of the characters, such as Frazer the doom-laden undertaker, and Walker the black-market profiteer, when the crunch comes their loyalty can usually relied upon. This is evident in several touching but underplayed moments throughout the life of the series. When their own interests are threatened, the platoon was at pains to present a united front, particularly in their tussles with Mr Hodges, the grumpy ARP warden.

Even though the series is set around seven decades ago, the themes and emotions examined in "Dad's Army" still resonate today.