The BBC's dramatisations of Britain

Discussing art and media trends and organisations generally

The BBC's dramatisations of Britain

Postby Elliott » 01 Feb 2012, 01:59

I have just learned that the BBC's new series of Upstairs, Downstairs is going to feature a lesbian storyline.

For those not in the know, Upstairs, Downstairs was originally an ITV drama made in the early 70s. It is an adorable and extremely well-written and well-researched programme, dealing sensitively with the changing society of Britain between 1900 and 1930. With performances as good as its writing, it is considered a classic of British television.

Two years ago, the BBC revived Upstairs, Downstairs with a new series, starting in 1936. Being made on a modern BBC budget, it is a much grander affair. I have deliberately not watched it because I am a huge fan of the original series and know the revival would just infuriate me. I have read enough reviews to feel that this decision was the right one. People have complained that the show is too over-blown and sentimental, that the characters are paper thin, that the history isn't well-researched, that the period accents are badly emulated, that the storylines are often preposterous, and of course, that the BBC inserts its usual political correctness into its depiction of British history.

It really was quite a feat for them to squeeze a token ethnic minority into a drama set in 1930s Britain, but they managed it. However, at least in this instance the character himself is foreign. Often, the character is British, merely played by an ethnic minority actor. This is something which really winds me up. If it was a drama set in Africa in 1936 and the tribesmen were played by white actors, there would be uproar that we Brits were rewriting African history. Yet the BBC habitually does the inverse, and liberals rush to congratulate them on their "colour blindness".

For example, in the 13th century English world of Robin Hood, you may imagine Friar Tuck to be white. But the BBC beg to differ:

Image

Their horrendously bad version of Robin Hood was, from the 3 episodes I watched, a calculated misrepresentation of England at that time. Black people are a common sight, and are fully integrated into English society. Nobody raises an eyebrow at their presence. Not only does this rewrite English social/genetic history, it also squanders an opportunity for interesting plotlines with Moors and Saracens, which would at least have some historical truth about them.

Christianity plays a tiny role in this version of medieval England. Robin is just back from the Crusades, but the religious implications of this event are totally ignored and it is just used as a painfully obvious metaphor for the Iraq War.

In one episode, the Sheriff of Nottingham has an oil well in Sherwood Forest. (Yes, an oil well.) Unable to find locals who will work for the low wages he is offering, he imports slave workers from the Middle East. Hearing of this, and the cruel treatment meted out to these poor Muslims, Robin says:

Robin in da PC hood wrote:We're going to stop this human trafficking.


People say these kinds of inaccuracies don't matter because "it's just a show". I have seen online conversations where people say that the BBC (or any storyteller) can represent British history any way they want - have Robin's merry men use mobile phones, even - because it is "fiction", and the audience know it is "fiction".

This seems to me to be wildly, and probably deliberately, simplistic.

Any adult watching a TV drama knows it is fictitious, but that doesn't stop them assuming that it is generally accurate. While they know the events depicted onscreen were actually filmed in a studio last year, they may well assume that they are a faithful representation of how people spoke, behaved, believed and lived in the past.

Adults are impressionable, especially if they lack the education to know otherwise. But children are infinitely more impressionable. What is a child to make of this depiction of a 13th century English court? (Note the aristocratic woman's Cockney vowels - an omnipresent product of the egalitarianism that has taken over our drama schools.)



The BBC's new version of Merlin is just as bad. Here is Guinevere, the White Lady:

Image

And here is a woman in Dickensian London:

Image

Another thing defenders of this kind of thing say is, "Well if you don't like it, switch it off!" But again, that misses the point. The point is the effect it has on our culture in general. It implants the notion, especially into children's minds, that Britain has always been multicultural.

The BBC reinforces this in its depictions of modern British life.

In their 2008 remake of Survivors (the original being another classic 1970s drama), only 4 of the 9 characters were white. Religion-wise, there was 1 Muslim and no Christians. Of the 4 white characters, one was a psychopath.

Image

Another interesting comparison between the two versions of Survivors relates to private schooling. In the original 1975 series, all of the main characters were (delightfully) middle-class, and the central character had a son at boarding school. In the new series, private schooling is nowhere to be seen, even though statistically it was much more likely for a child to be at private school in 2008 than in 1975. What we have there is the replacement of upward aspiration with downward aspiration.

What I personally find with modern TV drama, especially that made by the BBC, is that I don't identify with any of the characters. They seem to live in another world to me, and be raised in a very different culture. There is none of the down-to-earth common feeling that I experience in daily life. I think this is what's called "identifying" with the characters. This never happens with modern TV. At the moment I am working my way through the Dad's Army boxset, and by contrast I find it very easy to "identify" with each of the main characters. I recognise them as being my people, British people.

Particularly, being brought up in Scotland, I recognise Private Frazer as being very much "like the people I live among". Here he is suggesting a way the squad can get down from the top of a bell tower - I have known many men who spoke just like that.

I think that the BBC either don't want to show the British themselves, or they are so far removed from the real world that they actually don't know what the British are like. (When I moved to art college in London, I noticed that none of the other students wanted to speak about the towns they'd come from. There was an unspoken contempt for the Britain outside London.)

This thing about Upstairs, Downstairs featuring a lesbian storyline is a case in point. Clearly, they might be doing it in a pathetic attempt to get ratings. But even if that is the primary reason, doing it still flies in the face of normal British life, especially normal British aristocratic life in the 1930s.

For what it's worth, this is not the first time that Upstairs, Downstairs has depicted homosexuality. The original 1970s series did so on at least two occasions. Even so, I can't help feeling that while the original series was honest, the modern version is fundamentally dishonest, and that while the original did it for noble reasons (storyline, exposure of a real social issue, etc.) the modern version is doing it for nauseating PC reasons.

I don't necessarily agree with those people who say that the BBC is a Marxism-crazed organisation, but I do think they have contempt for Britain. They are constrained in expressing this contempt in the fields of news and documentary, which rely implicitly on real-world events, but in the field of drama they are relatively free to paint whatever picture they like of Britain. And I don't recognise the picture. What is more, I feel that I, and people like me, are not welcome in that picture.

Like the proverbial government wishing to elect a new public because the current public just isn't suitable, I feel that the BBC have, for some decades now, been in the business of shaping a new viewership because the one they're lumped with just isn't "correct".
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Re: The BBC's dramatisations of Britain

Postby Rachel » 02 Feb 2012, 14:20

I'm a huge fan of 1970's Upstairs Downstairs" and I finally caught the new drama when it aired here in Israel last Summer.
The new one was terrible.
Yes and a token ethinic minority of a Sikh servant was very obviously squashed into the drama. I'm sure the average British Sikh is capable of accepting that there was not a big Indian community in Britain in the 1930's and can watch a program set in that time with that fact.

It's not like there is a shortage of modern drama a good asian actor can't star in.

I was particularly annoyed by the episode where they crowbarred a German Jewish servant in who then died. I'm Jewish and I think that episode probably increased antisemitism if anything.
The character was just shoved in to preach, not because it was an interesting story. There was a baddie blackshirt and a goodie servant who accepted the German servant (who then went on to die). The pc preachyness made my skin crawl as it always does.
Now TD's mother was a one of those Germans who went to work as a servant. It's a bit of hidden history that's not well documented. (I once tried to research the story of German Jews who were forced to flee the Nazis by emigrating to Britain and working in domestic service. I found only 2 out of print books on the subject.)
There must be many fascinating stories hidden behind this. they could have used this to show this bit of history without preaching. They could also have used it to develop all the characters in the drama. You basically got these incredibly cultured wealthy people who were then suddenly forced to be servants.
Most German immigrants to Britain that I remember still had German accents years later. A famous example is "Heinz Wolff" the presenter of "The Great Egg Race" in the 80's.

As a minority myself, I don't really care if the people in a drama are black, white, brown, ethnic minority or what. What I hate is when minorities are crowbarred in for PC reasons and nothing else.
The BBC supposed to entertain and produce good drama not preach.

As for black actors in Merlin etc. I wonder what black people think of that. Does the historical innaccuracy bother them like it does me or do they feel O.K by it?
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Re: The BBC's dramatisations of Britain

Postby Rachel » 02 Feb 2012, 14:47

Elliott wrote:
I think that the BBC either don't want to show the British themselves, or they are so far removed from the real world that they actually don't know what the British are like. (When I moved to art college in London, I noticed that none of the other students wanted to speak about the towns they'd come from. There was an unspoken contempt for the Britain outside London.)


...I don't necessarily agree with those people who say that the BBC is a Marxism-crazed organisation, but I do think they have contempt for Britain. They are constrained in expressing this contempt in the fields of news and documentary, which rely implicitly on real-world events, but in the field of drama they are relatively free to paint whatever picture they like of Britain. And I don't recognise the picture. What is more, I feel that I, and people like me, are not welcome in that picture.




Just playing devils advocate here: There are also very white British dramas set in perfect rural landscapes where the only crime is a mystery type with no thuggish hoodies that are let off by frightened police who are too constrained to do anything. E.g Midsummer Murders, Jonathan Creek.

In another genre, I just watched a bit of the 2003 film "Calendar Girls" the other day. It was set in a perfect English village. No one used their email, had a mobile or suffered crime. There was no underclass. You could argue it was just as unrealistic.
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Re: The BBC's dramatisations of Britain

Postby Elliott » 02 Feb 2012, 23:01

Rachel,

You're right that the BBC does produce another kind of drama, which I would describe as "twee". This type is also produced in great quantity by ITV - Rosemary and Thyme, Heartbeat, The Royal, Midsomer Murders, Monarch of the Glen, etc.

It is important to note that these dramas are aimed at a particular demographic - over 50, mostly female, almost certainly white, and can remember a quaint Britain which they like to think was very nice. These dramas are offered to such people as a sop, a way to keep them quiet. But even then, they are offered with strings attached, namely that we must quietly accept that the Britain they depict is gone forever and that this is good. Look what happened when the producer of Midsomer Murders said ethnic minorities wouldn't fit into the programme. He's not the producer anymore.

In any case, I was really referring to the BBC's primetime dramas - Doctor Who, Torchwood, Survivors, Merlin, Spooks, Hustle, Robin Hood and of course Upstairs, Downstairs. These are big-budget dramas which are aimed at "everyone". They are quite blockbuster-ish, in that they eschew the modest simplicity that had traditionally characterised British TV drama for a kind of over-blown, showy, PC shallowness. Russell T Davies ushered in this new era with his 2005 revival of Doctor Who. When this was a success, the BBC came up with a new mantra for their drama production: "fewer, bigger, better" - which of course really meant "fewer, louder, dumber".

The crux is that if you spend a fortune on a drama (and this new trend makes that a necessity - they are really competing with Hollywood and HBO), then the programme must be as "accessible" as possible so as to get a very wide audience and justify its budget. So what do we end up with? Stupid programmes that most people like a little bit, morons like a lot, and higher-brow viewers detest.

My comment about being unable to identify with characters in modern drama really applies across the board, including the "twee" programmes like Rosemary & Thyme and those low-budget dramas which are still made. For example, Doctors, in which every character is an obvious Guardian reader and is naturally up for gay rights, multiculturalism and all the rest of it.

In which BBC drama made in the last 10 years is there is a sympathetic right-wing character?

In which BBC drama made in the last 20 years does a character voice opposition to multiculturalism and mass immigration, without being a vicious thug? Yet, everyone I know is opposed to multiculturalism and mass immigration. And I don't know any vicious thugs.

It's more subtle than that, too. I can best illustrate how deep it goes by citing an example from the original Survivors. In an episode from 1976, there's a woman who has recently joined the camp. She's not made any friends yet, because she is a bit odd and rarely speaks to other people. There's also a bit of a language barrier, as she is from Eastern Europe and speaks imperfect English.

She says to the camp's leader, "I've always felt strange here, not part of it, always by myself" and he replies, gently:

"Yes, but... whose fault is that?"

Watching this recently, I was instantly struck by how "old-fashioned" it was. The leader's wise remark would never be said in a modern BBC drama. It would be assumed that the woman's problem was not hers, but everyone else's, and that everyone else should make the effort to befriend her, including, if necessary, by changing their beliefs and customs. It would be assumed that the community was prejudiced, and that this prejudice was harming the newcomer, the minority.

This is a crucial thing because it means that, by default, the community is in error and has much to learn from the minority - not the other way round. It says, in a subtle way, that traditions and common bonds are damaging, not nourishing.

Incidentally, the same series is astonishingly ahead of its time in some ways, saying things that are now cliches about modern life in Britain, yet are rarely (if ever) said in TV drama. Take this appraisal of the welfare state by a former heroin addict, and bear in mind this programme was made in 1977, decades before New Labour:

Look, I was going to die, right. Cause inadequacy. Condition hopeless. Except they were wrong. The trouble with me was their treatment. Discipline, authority, that's what I needed. I wouldn't have got to fixing [injecting] in the first place if it hadn't been for the soft option. The hand-outs, dole, hostels, treatment centres... All them graduate social workers all coming round bleeding for you. Easiest touch on the street! They'd nip out and get your methadone fix if you groaned loud enough, cover for you if the fuzz come round... And forever telling you how tough life was, how it's all loaded against you, moaning on about rights and civil liberties and victimisation... so what else are you gonna believe? "Under-privileged"... "dependent"... they got you so choked up with self-pity, you couldn't even button your own fly anymore.


Would such dialogue ever appear in a modern BBC drama? I doubt it. If it did, it would only be so that it could get disproven later in the episode, thus showing up conservatives as backward, ignorant etc. Yet we all know that it is the truth. And we have known since at least 1977 that the welfare state has the power to infantilise people, yet here we are in 2012 and any cut to the welfare state is met with the BBC's wrath and perplexity - how could anyone be against methadone for junkies?!

This is what I mean when I say that the BBC refuse to show us "ourselves". They seem to have contempt for normal British life, just as those art students I met were embarrassed about their normal British upbringings. Equally, the BBC have contempt for any solutions that aren't state solutions, and in this way they are dead against the traditional British character - which may help to explain why that character has been so profoundly altered in the time the BBC has existed. Those dregs of it which remain are rarely shown in BBC dramas, and then only to be derided:

fortitude --> bottling up your feelings
independence --> arrogance, not trusting the state
capitalist --> selfish
pro-marriage --> homophobic
pro-responsibility --> lacking in understanding
approve of male role models --> hate women
against scroungers --> against kindness
against mass immigration --> racist
against multiculturalism --> small-minded, "little Englander", outdated
against the welfare state --> selfish
resent paying tax --> irresponsible
send your kids to private school --> snob
believe in standards --> "elitist"
Christian --> stupid
Muslim --> victim
middle-class --> laughable
upper-class --> vermin, belong in a museum

Also Rachel, I agree with you about the missed opportunity in Upstairs, Downstairs with wealthy Jewish people going into service. It would be a great opportunity to show truth, and the BBC instead chooses to go the dumbed down route.

It's the same syndrome as showing black people being normal citizens of medieval Britain, instead of Saracens or Moors. A perfect opportunity for something interesting and educational, ignored for reasons of political correctness.
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Re: The BBC's dramatisations of Britain

Postby Caleb » 03 Feb 2012, 10:57

I've been watching Spooks recently. There is something interesting about it, but it's also frustratingly PC.
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Re: The BBC's dramatisations of Britain

Postby Rachel » 04 Feb 2012, 17:15

I'm on the archive televison forum "The Mausoleum Club" and the discussion of dumbing down programs for higher ratings came up. People there said that the dumbing down was caused by having a huge number TV channels on cable so that each gets a smaller share of the audience. So to justify the license fee the BBC have to make big budget dumbed down things.
I don't know if that is true...

Caleb said something on the other post about http://www.westerndefence.org/viewtopic.php?f=32&t=74&start=6 people getting the government they deserve that's relevent to this:

"Regarding the media, I think all bets are off these days. Any grip the left-wing mainstream media may have once had on power is fading fast. Between cable television and the internet, the big broadcasters become less and less relevant (and powerful) by the day. Twenty years ago, this forum wouldn't have existed. It would have been very difficult to meet like-minded people (and exchange information and discuss it with them) outside of a very small area around you."

I wonder if there's less freedom in TV now not having the freedom to express ALL views -left AND right, than there was in the 60's and 70's.
It makes TV less creative.

Your quotes from Survivors remind me of why I like old TV and television along with new things. If you watch only modern TV alone there's no variety in the outlook of people who write the scripts now.

I like watching old films that have things said in them that would never be said today.
I don't mean nasty racial stereotypes like in Nazi propoganda or "Birth of a Nation" but intelligent un PC arguments about things.
Even better if there is a Dalrympian view expressed.

One film I recommend for un PC entertainment is "Serious Charge" made in the late 50's.


I'ed recommend it despite the silly trailer and Cliff Richard because most of the film is a serious drama involving homosexuality and other interesting topics and there's a good plot twist.
The hero is a religious Christian vicar (gasp!) and one message of the film is that beating teenagers with a belt for bad behaviour is a good thing. I'm totally against that part but I enjoyed watching the film because it well made and was so unPC that just the novelty of the change was good.

old BBC drama that allows *intelligent* unPC views that aren't allowed:
70's Survivors (that Elliott mentioned)
70's Upstairs Downstairs - homosexuality and Hudson is a "goodie" conservative character.
"Poldark" 1975 - At one point in S1 Ross Poldark wonders why people get angry about the slave trade when ordinary British people were currently living in conditions almost as bad, this was a true fact e.g the selling of orphans from the workhouse in Oliver Twist.
"When the Boat Comes In" 1977 - Socialist Trade Union people can be just as greedy and backstabbing as capitalists.

I anyone has any good suggestions for more un PC films/TV drama let me know. I enjoy them for the change in viewpoint, even when I don't agree with them.
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Re: The BBC's dramatisations of Britain

Postby Elliott » 05 Feb 2012, 01:00

Caleb wrote:I've been watching Spooks recently. There is something interesting about it, but it's also frustratingly PC.
I've never watched Spooks. I have heard that it's very over-the-top. Can you give examples of PC from it?
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Re: The BBC's dramatisations of Britain

Postby Caleb » 05 Feb 2012, 09:37

Three things:

1. It's extremely anti-American. The Americans (and also the Israelis, and the sympathisers of both) are portrayed as war-mongering vigilantes who are actively engaged in not only trying to start WW3, but also actively selling out and/or undermining (liberal) Britain itself. The characters who hold the "moderate" middle position basically back America only in so far as it's a necessary evil, but they don't seem to actually disagree with the position that America (and Israel) is the greatest threat to world peace.

2. They absolutely pussy foot around Islam. Obviously, it would be boring if every episode involved foiling an Islamist plot, and they've had to be quite creative with their various villains (which does make it somewhat interesting), but the fact that in terms of global terrorism, Islam is disproportionately involved is really played down. Even in the cases where there is an Islamist plot, there's a fair amount of sympathy for the perpetrators. There is also always one Muslim who is a good guy just so we know not every Muslim is bad.

3. Counter to that, any kind of home grown nationalist is not just a terrorist, but is extremely unsympathetic. For instance, in the first series, there was an episode involving what was basically a thinly veiled depiction of the BNP. When their leader turned out to not only be a racist vigilante, but also beat his wife, I just groaned. Why not just have him torture kittens for a hobby too? Funny how there's no mention of female circumcision or honour killings regarding the Islamic terrorists. Throughout the sixth series, the main spook has an affair with the Iranian diplomat's wife and the diplomat and his wife are going to go and live in Canada (arranged by the British government) and live happily ever after. Give me a break. How terribly cosmopolitan of them!

Likewise, there never turns out to be a nationalist who isn't a raving lunatic, because that would be absurd! By definition, anyone who isn't a liberal is a raving lunatic. Except if they're not white/British. Then they have an authentic culture that Britain is infringing upon.
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Re: The BBC's dramatisations of Britain

Postby Damo » 05 Feb 2012, 14:50

They absolutely pussy foot around Islam


I wonder why they pussy foot around islam. Is it because deep down the liberals despise and fear islam?

Anyway, I saw a program yonks back about religious terrorism. The terrorists were scottish and fundemental christians. It was absurd.
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Re: The BBC's dramatisations of Britain

Postby Elliott » 06 Feb 2012, 03:46

Thanks for the description, Caleb. It sounds awful. I'm sure it's well-made and all that (I think everything the BBC makes is undeniably of a high technical standard) but the writing sounds cringeworthy.

Damo, who knows why the middle-class liberals pussy-foot around Islam... it could be self-hate, or hate of Islam, or simple fear. I suspect it's a case of the appeaser and the crocodile.
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Re: The BBC's dramatisations of Britain

Postby Caleb » 06 Feb 2012, 08:21

People pussy foot around Islam because everyone knows the white man is the Devil. Self-loathing goes a long way.

Elliott: Some of the plot lines are quite well done (though plenty are also fairly preposterous), but most of the sixth season had an extended plot line (involving Iran) and recurring characters and wasn't so great.
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Re: The BBC's dramatisations of Britain

Postby Tomasz » 27 Feb 2012, 14:56

I found this forum incidentally,looking for opinions about new series Upstairs, Downstairs.I'm Polish living in Scotland so excuse me for my poor English. I fully agree with opinions about enormous big load political coretnessin this filmand also other BBC productions. I almost fell from sofaduring documentary showing Bronze Age times, 3000 years age. Presenter compared Egyptians to closed conservatives and Phoenicians to open liberals. Awful manipulation. Personally I very don't like BBC for their "Laconia".It shows Polish soldiers in Laconia as cruel bastards and all Germans are good and nice. Nice forum anyway.
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Re: The BBC's dramatisations of Britain

Postby Gavin » 27 Feb 2012, 19:28

Hello Tomasz! Thanks for your contribution, though it tells me something else too:

Not a lot of people join this site - after all we don't publicise it very widely. We get spam registrations which I occasionally purge, and we get occasional new users who have recognised Dalrymple's brilliant writing and who share his values - but not many.

What does it say that, among the few new users, we have a Pole? To me it is a further indictment of the state of the UK. Your people are after all a minority in the UK, and often a scapegoat. I have met Polish thugs but I have also met countless more pleasant and hardworking Poles in the service sector than I have English. The women can come across as rather clipped and cold (I sometimes think they confuse austerity with professionalism) but the men I have always found to be pleasant. The Poles also do not introduce an alien culture into the UK (or a totalitarian religion) or argue for laws to be changed in their favour. In many ways, with their hard work and professional manner, the Poles are putting the British to shame.

I would like to have the site flooded with similarly concerned Brits, but nonetheless, you are very welcome. If you wish to contribute further I am sure we would all be interested in your perspective.
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Re: The BBC's dramatisations of Britain

Postby Caleb » 29 Feb 2012, 04:07

Welcome, Tomasz. I spent a month travelling in Poland and went to most regions. Which part are you from? Poland is quite a lovely country, especially in summer. I particularly liked Wroclaw. I also found Polish people to be quite interesting to talk to about politics, culture, etc. I also knew a few when I lived in England.
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Re: The BBC's dramatisations of Britain

Postby Gavin » 29 Feb 2012, 18:59

Just a quick one, since I am currently out in St Katherine's Dock in London typing this on my phone, but with the recent ludicrous news that Lucy Liu is now to play Dr Watson it looks like an American production company is trying to give the BBC a run for its money!
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