Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Steptoe and Son: Porn Yesterday

This may seem like I'm going completely off-topic but one of my other interests is architecture and I have been watching a film called Utopia London  about the idealistic planning involved in reconstructing London before and after the Second World War. In Utopia London's vision, egalitarianism featured highly and everyone was to have the same opportunities. In my humble opinion, the egalitarian bright future dreamed of in the 1940s was a red herring. On the whole people don't want to share and even if you were to share out the world's resources completely equally, some people would still manage to be penniless after the first week.
As a result of these elements of human nature we find the kind of alternative economies we see in Steptoe and Son (you see, I was going somewhere with that introduction). This is also not something which is different anywhere in the world: where I used to live in Bearwood, if you wanted rid of something you just had to put it out in the street. Metal is taken by dealers, anything else is reused, recycled or burned, and about the only thing you couldn't get rid of was old mattresses. If something had been out a couple of days you just had to put a sign on it saying it was for sale and it would still vanish, even if it was absolute rubbish.
This alternative economy as lived by the underbelly of society is the subject of Steptoe and Son. One of my aims in wittering away on this blog is to understand the TV I watch better, and it is only through writing this post that I have realised one of the reasons I have always found this show uncomfortable to watch- it is the subject matter of hand to mouth living in poverty. I always thought it was the dysfunctional relationship between father and son which made it so uncomfortable. In fact Steptoe Senior goes into the level of desperation which led to his debut in porn, and the wonder is that Steptoe manages to make this kind of desperation the subject of comedy. The nature of this comedy in a sense places Steptoe and Son firmly in the category of realism TV rather than the unreal TV I normally prefer to escape with.
In this episode Steptoe senior's desperation-fuelled film debut is turned into humour by the simple device of Harold ridiculously over-reacting to the What The Butler Saw film. Made in the 1920s for the sort of machine you would find on a seaside pier, it was very unlikely to terribly pornographic by the standards of the 1970s when this was made! Even the Vicar comments that much worse was being broadcast on the TV than you could see in one of those machines. Harold's disgust is strongly contrasted to Albert's wish for sympathy for his plight and wish to keep just one picture from the reel as a souvenir.
Into the middle of this comes, bang on queue, the Vicar. Despite Harold's moral disgust at Albert's appearance in film the Vicar wants to see the reel and even wants to sell it to help finance new bells. The vicar is played by the wonderful Anthony Sharp, who I don't think I've seen elsewhere as a clergyman but was surely made to play one!
Another class division is made very clear when the scene changes to the fete. In contrast to Albert and Harold's bare-chested working man appearance (they share my approach to clothing on a hoot day) the people at the fete are all very smart indeed. Visually this makes it very clear that they are hobnobbing with a different class of punter here. A class of punter who are queueing up to see a What The Butler Saw film rescued by scouts from an old photographer's shop (the alternative economy again). I love that some of the women recognise Albert and want his autograph! The Vicar gets in on this by charging for his autograph. This episode therefore is ironically about desperate poverty but it is ultimately overturned into a success...which is capitalised on by the Establishment in the shape of the Vicar's bell fund.
And just in case anyone's wondering...you don't get to see the 'porn'!
Image credit: http://www.albertandharold.co.uk/porn_yesterday.html

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