Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Apartheid in The Prisoner: Free for All

It's a funny thing but I thought this episode would be an absolute gift for comparison to apartheid, so I'm astonished to find I'm having real problems finding any echoes of the South African system of the time in this show. Bearing in mind my hypothesis that, while it is possible to 'read' The Prisoner in all sorts of ways, and echoes of apartheid can certainly be seen in it, apartheid is not a primary interpretation of the show.
Certainly in the case of Free for All, it is very clear that what is being shown here is quite different to the South African system, although I was expecting to find comparisons in terms of vote rigging and the way everything is predetermined. I think that probably Ian Smith's regime in the then Rhodesia would actually be a closer comparison to The Village, since there voting rights were given to all races on the basis of certain qualifications (naturally they tended to rule out blacks), rather than the entire system being set up for the benefit of one group, as in South Africa. It is very clear that the elections in The Village are not real elections in any meaningful way: they are probably just another way to ensure conformity and try people out.
I think actually the best echo of apartheid in this episode is actually in Number 6's repeated assertion of his individuality and autonomy. This is precisely how the 'natives' were seen by the authorities in South Africa, and it is contrasted always to the 'sheeple' in The Village who have settled down to a quiet retirement. The wonder in this episode is that Number 6 seems to go along with it as much as he does, and of course his acquiescence is exactly the point of the exercise. The aim is actually to reduce these people to the level at which the 'natives' were seen in South Africa:
'There is nothing evil whatsoever in political segregation, which is merely to refuse a vote to an immature person or an immature and undeveloped nation, to people who don't know how to use it. That is all it is. I would not give a vote to my three-year-old child, or to any five-year-old child, and it is nonsense to recommend that we should give votes to child-like Natives.' (Senator the Reverend Miles-Cadman, OBE, Senate, February 16th 1949, cited in Ben MacLennan: Apartheid the Lighter Side. Chameleon Press, Plumstead, 1990, p. 77)
This episode also bears an unexpected comparison to South Africa under apartheid by the way people are given 'jobs' which are not jobs at all (the comparison for me would be the way in which a certain proportion of white people had to be employed, at higher wages than blacks doing the same job, and never supervised by a black). It is also interesting how the totalitarian regime does breed discontent and revolt, just as it did in South Africa, or sometimes apparent revolt, or at any rate a situation where it was well-nigh impossible to know who was who.
Apart from the obvious comparison that South African elections were 'rigged' by virtue of giving the vote to only certain sections of society, which The Village's 'elections' are, well, not so much rigged as complete charades, the lack of comparison between the political establishment of apartheid and the hidden establishment in The Village setting up a mock election, is found in the way apartheid was actually established. Building on existing traditions of segregation the National Party won a resounding victory in 1948 which led to the creation of grand apartheid. Let me be quite clear what I am saying: the apartheid regime was elected into power by the legally-established electorate of South Africa, and presumably repeatedly re-elected. It is no use trying to make excuses, the electorate made it happen. In The Village there is no way the electorate is ever going to make anything actually happen.
The election which established the apartheid government is probably best summarised by these two passages, which again make it very clear that it is difficult of impossible to make a comparison with The Village:
'The Sauer Commission [of 1947] was concerned with the 'problem' of controlling the influx of African people into urban areas. White workers, traders and merchants were concerned that this would represent a threat to their jobs and businesses, particularly since African workers would work in semi-skilled positions for a lower wage than white workers. Businesses demanded racially segregated trading zones in order to protect their businesses from competition. Numerous groups influenced this policy of 'total Apartheid', including the South African Bureau of Race Affairs (SABRA).
'Ultimately the Sauer commission did not enforce the total segregation to the extent originally envisioned. Rather, it resulted in the immediate implementation of 'practical Apartheid', which allowed some African people to enter and work in urban areas, with the complete implementation of total Apartheid envisioned as a future goal. The recommendations made by the Sauer commission were still more restrictive than those made by the Fagan commission.
'As a result, the Sauer commission upheld control over South Africa and segregation laws formed.' (Source)
'The parliamentary election in South Africa on 26 May 1948 represented a turning point in the country's history. The United Party, which had led the government since its foundation in 1933, and its leader, incumbent Prime Minister Jan Smuts, were ousted by the Reunited National Party (Herenigde Nasionale Party in Afrikaans), led by Daniel Francois Malan, a Dutch Reformed cleric.
'During the election battle, both the UP and the NP formed coalitions with smaller parties. The UP was aligned with the left-leaning Labour Party, while the Afrikaner Party sought to advance Afrikaner rights by allying with the HNP. By legislation relating to franchise requirements, very few people of Coloured and Asian descent were able to vote in this election; Africans had been banned altogether since the late 1930s, with the limited number of Africans meeting electoral qualifications voting for four "own" white MPs separately.
'The HNP, realizing that many White South Africans felt threatened by black political aspirations, pledged to implement a policy of strict racial segregation in all spheres of living. The Nationalists labelled this new system of social organisation "apartheid" ("apartness" or "separation"), the name by which it became universally known.' (Source)

Saturday, 22 August 2015

Special Branch: The Fear of the Vintage TV fan Somewhat Assuaged

I posted recently about my fear that there will come a time when there is no 'new' vintage TV to be discovered, a post which certainly seems to have made a hit with the blogosphere, judging by the number of page hits. Of course this may be partly explained by the recommendation by Mitchell Hadley (thank you), who has made me realise the reason that the hit counter for posts about The Man from UNCLE has suddenly gone up, even though I too don't think I'll bother watching the film.  
Having seen it as a recommendation on Amazon and hummed and ha'ed over it, I saw the discs for the 1973 series of Special Branch for sale yesterday and bought them on spec. I am delighted to say that while I didn't initially warm to this show, having watched a few episodes I think I have found another quality 1970s series.
Except this isn't a 1970s series. It's a 1960s – 1970s series, which went through a major transformation of approach, cast, and production values as it went on for a relatively short time. I can't put the complexities of reviewing this series better than the Wikipedia page:
'Special Branch is a British television series made by Thames Television for ITV and shown between 1969 and 1974. A police drama series, the action was centred on members of the Special Branch anti-espionage and anti-terrorist department of the London Metropolitan Police.
'The first two series were shot mainly in a studio on videotape with filmed location inserts; a standard method of the time but one which suffered from jarring differences in picture quality between interior and exterior scenes. The location scenes of some episodes were shot on outside broadcast cameras, leading to smoother transitions between location and studio work for those episodes. Series 1 and 2 starred Derren Nesbitt as Det Insp Jordan, working to Det Supt Eden (Wensley Pithey) and subsequently Det Supt Inman (Fulton Mackay). The episodes featuring Eden (the first 9 of Series 1) were recorded in black and white, while all subsequent episodes were recorded on colour videotape.
'The show was revamped in 1973 after Thames Television's Euston Films subsidiary took over production using film which allowed for a less studio-based series. Euston Films had pioneered the technique of shooting action and adventure series entirely on location using 16mm film, for a more gritty and realistic look. These episodes starred George Sewell as Chief Inspector Alan Craven and Roger Rowland as Bill North. The show was slow to take off so the producers introduced Patrick Mower as Detective Chief Inspector Tom Haggerty, and by the 1974 series Bill North had been axed, having had a nervous breakdown, though he returned for one episode later in the run.' (Soutce)
Since I have the 1973 series most of the episodes I have seen come towards the end of the programme's run. Perhaps I had better use the box as an illustration to this post to make it clear that I am talking about the Network DVD release, which also has the first episode of the first series as an extra. It seems this series is also available from Acorn Media, and based on this excellent review, that seems to have gone for the interview-extras rather than the extra episode. 
It is clear therefore that we are really talking about two different shows, so I will begin with the 1973 ones. I love them. You won't have often heard me say that on this blog, so perhaps I'd better also say that they don't really get into my Stonking Good Television category, because that is to me an award for objective merit and I love Special Branch for completely personal reasons.
The clothes. The cars. The desks without computers. The conflictual historical setting. The way people smoke in public areas. The way the actors have skin tags and smoker's teeth. The domestic settings are not bang up to date for the seventies, as presumably being intended to indicate poverty. Hard-hitting this is. Hard-hitting in buckets. As gritty as it comes. Romantic Anglophiles won't like this very much, it shows a working- class Britain of terraced houses and the grinding lives always lived by the working class, as well as the great and the good. It screams 'London', and is clearly the historical precedent of The Sweeney and other shows of that ilk. Incidentally, the reason the houses look so London is the stock yellow 'London' bricks used to construct them. Yellow because that is how the clay down south comes out when made into bricks. As you go north the brickwork (I'm talking about older buildings of course) tend to be more red in colour.
Visually and in reminiscence terms for anyone of my age or older, the 1973 series is superb. The theme is unusual but on repeated hearings has grown on me. The clothes are naturally of the time and the hair styles. The ongoing sparking off between Craven and Haggerty adds a layer of interest which may otherwise be missing, since this show very much moves at the pace of the time, and would probably be considered rather slow by today's standards. It is interesting that I notice it commands attention rather well, because while the relatively slow pace would seem to invite you to look away, it's interesting how quickly you feel you've missed something when you do.
The series 1 black and white episode I have seen (Troika) takes us back to a completely different age of television. Given that it was made around the time of the Tara King Avengers series, it is striking how much more like a Mrs Gale-era Avengers it is. I had better make it clear that I am not complaining here, but I do think it is difficult or impossible to treat this as one show rather than two. Would I also say that about The Avengers? – I think I probably would with the difference that The Avengers changed slowly over the years rather than the sudden change I'm seeing here in episodes from the first and penultimate series.
The sets are what I love about Troika. The meeting room in the early scenes of the show is very reminiscent of some of the more 'up-to-date' sets in early Avengers, in colour scheme and lighting. The 'presentation' uses film of the time, and the whole technological approach of both series looks incredibly old-fashioned now. The first series, on the basis of Troika alone, moves slower than than the 1973 one. The cast is completely different, which is slightly confusing, to say the least. It is also noticeable that the 'familiar faces' are different in the first episode, and the cast list reads like a list of usual suspects in jobbing actors. Unusually for me, this isn't a distraction and I don't object to it.
Perhaps I had better not comment too much on series 1, since I have only seen one episode, although I have just ordered the whole series. This is not a preference, but merely that that was the cheapest available whole series on eBay!

While I was reading around the show on the internet, stills from Get Carter (because it shares George Sewell with Special Branch) kept appearing. I was ashamed to say I had never seen this film, but on reading about it I bought that too today, since it sounded like it was in a very similar milieu to Special Branch. It has merely reminded me of why I prefer TV to film: it seems to me that the plot of Get Carter could very well be squeezed into a single episode of a TV show. I'd also forgotten how much Michael Caine irritates me, and in fact I knew I wasn't going to get on well with the film as soon as her opened his mouth. If he doesn't have that completely subjective effect on you, and you want a gritty film set in Britain's 1970s underworld, then go for it.
My fears that there will be nothing left have been further assuaged by reading about the show Target. I have never seen that one, but if it is every released in an official way I want to see it. Also today I bought the box set of 'orphaned' episodes of Dr Who series, which I have been seeing around for ages, and finally went to. I am not in a position to write too much about it yet, but it has given me some reassurance that all is not lost for the vintage TV fan. In fact all I need to do for that reassurance is look at my own collection of DVDs.

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Apartheid in The Prisoner: A B and C

I was very tempted to omit this episode all together, in my examination of possible echoes of South African apartheid in The Prisoner. This was not for the obvious reason – that it was difficult or impossible to find such echoes in this episode – at all, in fact it seems that it is possible to see almost anything referred to in The Prisoner is you try hard enough. The obvious springboard into this episode for me was the ‘scientific’ nature of the tests used on Number 6, clearly an immediate reflection of the 1960s’ ambivalence towards science I have noted so often on this blog. ‘Science,’ in this world-view is both set up as the authority which has all knowledge and opens the door to future technology, and also as a source of danger if it gets into the hand of the wrong people.
The obvious reference to apartheid here is the pseudo-science which was used to underpin the ideology of neighbourly separateness, with most advantage being given to whites. It is probably important to note at this point that while science was misused in this way, theology was as well, and the Calvinistic Dutch Reformed Church was not slow to believe that the land had been given to the Afrikaner settlers by God. This is of course a far more dangerous idea than any pseudo-scientific posturing, because it can never be proved or disproved, and as such attracts fanaticism. My difficulty with this post was in finding examples of the pseudo-science used to underpin apartheid. What I found instead was the ravings of those who continue to maintain that apartheid was a good thing and should be reinstated (if you really want to read this kind of misuse of history, theology, science and philosophy, a good starting point can be found in the series of web posts called Opening Pandora’s Apartheid Box). Since I didn’t want this post to become a collection of hysterical right-wing ravings or a rebuttal of these views (I can rebut them, but really ought to make some effort to keep to the brief I have given myself for this post), I have found it very difficult to write anything here.
Suffice to say that the only way in which it seems to me this episode has echoes of South African apartheid is in the misuse of science, here to get into the mind of Number 6 and there to assert the superiority of whites to everyone else. One single example of this sort of apparently authoritative apartheid-era propaganda will suffice here to suggest the kind of authority and reliability imputed to scientists, which can go so wrong:
‘I must warn you against the irresponsibility of accepting parenthood where everything points to the fact that you are endowed with genetically transferrable characteristics and cultural attributes of intelligence, perseverance and leadership which can take your people to great heights. You also have an outward task: and that is to combat genetic dangers. I refer to the dangers of inter-mixing with genetically-bound heredity and characteristics which differ so much from those of your nation that there is the danger of bringing degeneration upon your people. I refer more specifically to inter-mixing with the Bantu. In this respect I do not want to be misunderstood. The Bantu have wonderful characteristics, but their genetic composition and cultural evolution is so different from that of the Coloured people that a mixing of the two cannot in this respect be advantageous for the Coloured man or woman.’ (Prof F D du T van Zyl, Dean of Medicine at the University of Stellenbosch, at the graduation ceremony of the University College of the Western Cape. Cape Times, May 20, 1968, cited in Ben MacLennan: Apartheid The Lighter Side. Chameleon Press, Plumstead, 1990, pp. 13-14.)

Book Review: The Avengers Dossier

I bought a new (to me) book about The Avengers this week. It is The Avengers Dossier by Paul Cornell, Martin Day, and Keith Topping (Virgin Books, London, 1998. ISBN 0863697542). Given the date, I assume it was one of the flurry of publications about the show timed to coincide with the film, and I'm horrified to notice that that is well on the way to being twenty years ago. I'm surprised that I haven't ever seen this book before, since I bought several books about The Avengers at the time, and I was one of the people who loved the film, saw it multiple times, and got caught up in the fandom.
I could never understand the critical hammering the film got, and reading round on the internet I can't understand the critical hammering this book gets either:
'Rarely have I come across a book with so many errors. While the authors have done a decent amount of research and present some intriguing details of the show's history, their work comes up alarmingly short in the accuracy department. Factual gaffes aside, just the sheer number of typographical errors is staggering. And these are just the ones that have been noticed so far—it is quite likely there are many more!' (source)
I have commented multiple times that one of the things which started me blogging about cult TV was the relative lack of critical sources out there. There are endless resources for The Prisoner and Dr Who, but the resources for the rest of the shows I like tend to be strong in the descriptive front and weak in analysis. I have thrown out so many books about The Avengers over the years, because I don't need another description of the plot of an episode. If I want to know that, I'll watch it. I'm not going to name any of these books individually, but suffice to say that they tend to be very glossy tomes with lots of pictures. They are clearly coffee table books.
There are also some more academic studies of The Avengers out there, usually in tomes on sixties culture or television, and some of these can make dense reading. It is a relief, then, to find that this book steers a middle course between theory of media and plain description. It analyses every episode of The Avengers (even the ones apparently no longer surviving), with a short summary of the plot of each episode and then comments under a number of idiosyncratic headings. I am amazed that I have no recollection of ever seeing this book because they almost exactly mirror my own approach to the show, including comments on the amount of champagne drunk in various episodes, the relative kinkiness, fight scenes, and most interestingly, suggestions as to the 1960s concerns touched on in each episode. The book is almost like talking about an episode with another cult TV fan, who keeps making intelligent comments about the episode in question. This is a book which I know I will find myself referring to when thinking about a particular episode with a view to blogging about it.
I will happily admit, given the number of negative or mixed reviews on the internet, that this book obviously has errors of fact. In fact if you want to see a list of them, you can click on the page referenced above. That said, I think it would be fair to describe this as sloppy research and editing rather than the worst book in world history, which to me seems somewhat excessive.

Sunday, 16 August 2015

Apartheid in The Prisoner: The Chimes of Big Ben

The portrait of Verwoerd's government is removed from
the parliament building. Cape Town, 1996
What can an attempt at escaping The Village and aiming for London possibly have to do with a Nazi-inspired eugenic oppressive regime on the other side of the world? The clue is in the title. Big Ben (although technically it is only the name of the bell) is of course the common name for the clock on Britain’s Houses of Parliament. Its chime is a symbol of Britain wherever we go. As such it represents the State, being placed in the major legislative building, it means home to the colonial nodding over his sundowner, it means freedom for the prisoner who has sneaked in a radio to listen to the World Service.
Of course in this episode the significance (which I have phrased in uncharacteristically sentimental terms) of Big Ben is turned on its head. In reality, Big Ben becomes the symbol of the State’s secret imprisonment of people and spying on them.  In this it is very clear that the State described in this episode is very much the same sort of state that created and ran apartheid in South Africa.
There is, for example, a strong emphasis in Number 2’s voice on the word ‘democratically’. The apartheid government was elected into power by the vote of all the South African citizens who had the legal right to vote. The law is created by the state and both the government(s) behind The Village and behind apartheid use their own created law to make themselves have right on their side.
Similarly the creation of law leads to the creation of a legal reality for the populace. This is of course almost completely manufactured. The Village is no more a real village than a ‘Bantu homeland’ was genuinely where that ethnic group belonged. Surely the major effect this show should have on the thoughtful viewer is to make him question some of his own presuppositions about his own state. I will guarantee at this moment there will be people reading this who will be thinking that their own state isn’t as bad as that portrayed in The Prisoner or the government of South Africa which implemented grand apartheid. And this is precisely the assumption being challenged here: the whole point of The Prisoner is that the state behind The Village is our state and The Prisoner is himself Number 1. And of course we like to think that our own state will police our ‘rights’ (in reality only given by the state, they’re not intrinsic), and while in Europe we are probably rather safer than most places in this because there is always a higher court in the form of the European Community, we tend to ignore crimes of our own governments. Britain’s actions against the Kikuyu in Kenya are awful, for example, as is the reluctance to give redress and the paucity of that redress.
There are of course two problems with the artificial legally-sanctioned creation of reality. The first is of course that while a majority of people will consider their own short-term interests over any long-term gain by fighting it, this situation will actively breed resistance in those minded to resist. I have also been watching the film Cry Freedom. I must remember that I come to the subject from a longer-term interest in the history of that part of the world, but it still strikes me as not half as brutal as the apartheid regime actually was. In the film, however, there are fears continually mentioned of informers, and of course these fears are among those actively resisting the system.
A totalitarian regime is necessarily doomed. Of course the apartheid regime in South Africa could never have been maintained for ever, since either pressure from outside, economic failure, or revolution would have had to bring the state to its knees. It is interesting to reflect on how The Village would have lasted in the longer-term. I have a feeling that it would have stood a better chance than the apartheid regime since it was not a whole country, and the relatively small number of ‘disappearances’ of people who would have had to be secretive about their work life anyway, would probably not be significant enough to raise queries in a well-intentioned observer.
And once again it is at this point that The Village departs from South Africa: the two set-ups are clearly the same sort of government, but clearly disagree in their fundamental purpose. If The Village had been directly inspired by South Africa, The Prisoner would take place in a much larger forum than a fantastic village. So my initial suspicion is once again confirmed, that The Prisoner has echoes of the apartheid regime in South Africa, but is probably not directly inspired by it.

Saturday, 15 August 2015

Apartheid in The Prisoner: Arrival

I published an introduction to this series of posts on apparent references to South African Apartheid here, at least partly to force myself to get on with watching through the series again and writing the posts. I realise that since then I have been avoiding the subject, which on re-reading through my first post, I think is caused partly by the way I planned to deal with the series by subject rather than episode. I have decided, therefore, to write another series of posts about The Prisoner, focussing particularly on echoes of Apartheid, and going episode-by-episode. I would predict that I will be forced to omit certain episodes rather than post on them, with a comment that I don’t feel there are references to apartheid in them.
Imagine my delight, therefore, on watching Arrival in a mindful way, to find numerous possible echoes of apartheid. I theorised originally that The Prisoner would be open to an apartheid-based interpretation, but that no final identification or evidence of inspiration would be possible. My watching through this episode and reading about the subject of apartheid have not caused me to change my mind.
The most obvious way in which this episode reminds the viewer of South African apartheid is the parallel between the ‘removal’ of Number 6 from his home, and the forced removals of different ethnic groups finding themselves living in designated white areas under apartheid. In fact, this viewing has made me realise for the first time, the full significance of new arrivals’ cottages in The Village being reproductions of their own homes. This tells them clearly that this place to which they have been forcibly taken, is from now on their home. There is no possibility of going back to the life they led. This is paralleled very clearly by the forced removals under the various Group Areas Acts in South Africa (the District Six removals are a better-known example). In fact much earlier days a system of separateness of the races was built into the way South Africa operated (for example in allocated racial areas in the plan of Johannesburg before it was even built). From the National Party’s winning of the elections in the late 1940s that system of ‘petty apartheid’ was turned into a policy of ‘grand apartheid,’ in which racial groups had a ‘homeland’ designated for them, to the advantage of the ruling white minority. Obviously complete separation was never possible, because of the whites’ requirements for labour, etc, and so while people had homelands (which they may never have set foot in in their lives) in reality people remained mixed up, in fact in designated white areas, it was required by law to build servants’ quarters. And this is, of course where the analogy also falls down. The aim in The Prisoner is quite different. In a sense Number 6 has to be kept in a safe place where his knowledge can’t be put to use, but there is no sense in which the reason is anything intrinsic to him. It is as a result of his action in resigning, and this is also clearly the case for everyone else in the village. They are given, as it were, a home for life, but this is based on no external ideology.
As is the way in analysing episodes of The Prisoner, I must take the opportunity instantly to contradict myself here, and say there is apparently a certain ideology underlying the prisoners’ removal to The Village. Apart from the obvious approach to knowledge and security, it is phrased very much on Number 6’s arrival, as if it is an act of kindness to him. Number 2 is very sure that Number 6 will come to like The Village eventually, and in fact come to appreciate the paternalistic actions of his masters in placing him there against his will. This is a very clear echo of the front placed on the ideology of apartheid in South Africa. Verwoerd got the ideology hook line and sinker from Nazi ideology after studying in Germany. However that did not stop him speaking publicly defining the word apartheid as being a way of saying ‘good neighbourliness’ (here), an incredible untruth, almost exactly paralleling The Village’s propaganda of itself.
Another obvious echo, which does not stand up to too close scrutiny is that being given a number which hereafter defines him, parallels legal designation of race in South Africa. This echo is further reinforced by the continual use of pseudo-medical and scientific language in The Prisoner, to designate Number 6 as a social problem, in the institutional psychiatric way largely criticised at the time, which I have posted about previously. It must not be forgotten that the ideology underlying apartheid was one of eugenics, adopted wholesale from the Nazis, and in the apparent ridiculousness which resulted, the underlying racist philosophy could easily be forgotten:
‘The Group Areas Act defined three races, Dr van Rensburg said – “White, Native and Coloured”. All those who fell between White and Native were regarded as Coloured. But the Act allowed the Coloured group to be subdivided into Indian, Chinese, Malays and those commonly known as Coloured people. The Malays were regarded as Malays only as long as they lived in their own group area of Schotsche Kloof. If they moved into another area, even across the road, they became Coloureds. A Japanese, so far as the Act was concerned, was “Coloured” because by definition he did not fall into any other group. The Act did not have a definition of a Japanese. But Japanese living in the Union could get permits to live as Whites, buy houses in White areas, and attend White cinemas and restaurants. But any Japanese tourist would technically be Coloured. However, he could once again be treated as a White and book in at the best hotels for a maximum period of 90 days.’ (Dr van Rensburg was chairman of the Group Areas Board. Cape Times, March 2nd 1960, cited in Ben MacLennan: Apartheid The Lighter Side. Chameleon Press, Plumstead, 1990, pp. 31-32).
‘That would be telling,’ says Number 2 when asked what Rover is. I think possibly it would be anachronistic to compare his attitude to the later obsessive control of the South African and foreign media, which I believe to have started in the 1970s; the South African government was at first quite upfront about what it was doing, at least when compared to the government of the odious Ian Smith in what was then Rhodesia. Nonetheless, it would be important not to underestimate the sheer level of secrecy and bureaucracy which necessarily underlies a completely fabricated society. The Village would probably be more likely to last a long time than the apartheid regime in South Africa, which by artificially controlling the whole economy and society of a country, brought it to its knees.
In fact the broader picture is what makes me think that South African apartheid only carries echoes in The Prisoner, rather than being a possible inspiration for The Village – The Village’s multiculturalism is the exact opposite of the plan in South Africa. The whole point of The Village is that you no longer know who is who: in apartheid you are intended to be ever clearer on who is who.

Sunday, 2 August 2015

The fear of the vintage TV fan, with specific reference to Arthur Haynes

There is a fear or anxiety prevalent among those who love classic TV. I don't say cult TV as such, since if you are, say, a Whovian, the franchise is always going to be so strong that there will always be more. If your liking is for any particular genre of TV, then something else you like is bound to come along. No, this fear more affects the fans of classic TV, and is one of the reasons people flock to see newly discovered shows, and scan the 'wiped' news. And it is this: What if there is nothing good left to be discovered? I actually find myself feeling rather anxious at the very act of typing those words. I also get that feeling whenever I look on the Network website to see what they've released recently or look at the recommendations on Amazon. You see, the trouble is this: it's been a while since I've discovered a new show I've never seen. What if there aren't any more?
Now obviously I am a great fan of The Avengers, and I think one of the reasons I was so disappointed by the Big Finish productions of the lost series 1 episodes, was that they were like the echo from the past of a memory I would like to have and which I will likely never have. I'm probably sounding overly negative here, but I think given the way episodes of The Avengers are found (unexpectedly in Western countries) as opposed to how Dr Who episodes are found (by trawling through the archives of African TV stations, to which they were exported and which had less rigorous deleting policies), makes it much more likely to my mind that there remain undiscovered Whos out there. I wouldn't actually object to the lost Series 1 Avengers being remade, even with modern production values, but given my reaction to the Big Finish efforts, I'd probably be very difficult to please.
I have another problem – that I just don't like contemporary TV much. I also don't like contemporary film much. The reason for this isn't purely snobbery, but when you don't watch much 'live' TV, you become extra sensitive to the tricks it plays – you actually watch the adverts, question the journalism, think about it too closely. Similarly if you're accustomed to vintage TV shows, you become very sensitive to CGI, and it just looks wrong.
My usual mental cut-off point is at 1970. Perhaps I use this to describe the kind of TV I like, since it is plainly not right. My recent orgy of watching 70s TV shows which had me scampering back to the 60s must have managed to focus on a lot of duds. Just now I was watching The Professionals, a quality 1970s show which takes repetition, and which I keep meaning to blog about here. Other later shows which remain in my permanent collection include The Young Ones, Sapphire and Steel, Bottom, Spitting Image, and the X-Files, so in reality I don't cut off at 1970 at all. I think this may be rather the expression of a preference for a time in broadcasting, when everything was psychedelic colours and bizarre plots. The associated fear, of course, is that that moment in time has gone and in reality nothing made nowadays can compare for that reason alone.
Also I find I don't like everything before 1970 by any means. As I write this I am watching the first volume of the Network release of the Arthur Haynes show, which I had never heard of and bought on spec. The blurb on the box describes it as an unconsidered gem (or words to that effect). There is a reason for that, and I don't want to imply that I'm being overly critical, and of course it's rich coming from me, but it is fantastically old-fashioned. And not, to me, old-fashioned in an appealing way, but rather in a way that would probably have appealed to my mother, or even grandmother, as being more influenced by the Variety of the past. This show has brought home to me just how advanced shows such as The Avengers and Dangerman were, and also makes me realise that the forward-thinking, modern milieu of the 1960s was not universally popular. It is not a displeasing show if you like variety, but it is not something I feel inclined to watch again.
I sigh at this point, and wonder where my viewing will go from here. I've actually just ordered series 1 of Spitting Image, and the 1940s film of Busman's Honeymoon, but I don't really have any 'must haves' in the TV box set world at the moment, nor do many of Amazon's recommendations get my heart aflutter. No need to worry as far as this blog is concerned, however, I still have some series I haven't blogged about at all, and some planned posts on series I've already touched on. Perhaps that will be the way ahead – continue to watch my classics, and think and write about them in different ways.