Monday, 22 November 2010


I may have spelled his name wrong, but I caught a radio item stating that Julian Fellow(e)s, writer of pap film and TV drama scripts, had received a peerage. Michael Winner, one of the studio guests, was offended by getting 'only the second step down' - an OBE.

These 'honours', doled out by the artistically conservative British Establishment, have long ceased to mean anything; still I wonder if Fellow(e)s's ennoblement is a worrying sign of the times. In the Philistine 1980s (which this present coalition seems to be rehabilitating) we had Jeffrey (later Lord) Archer peddling his appalling fiction, and now here's the Fellow(e)s fellow receiving Oscars and God knows what other plaudits for his snobbish and cliche-ridden writings. His Oscar for Gosford Park came from the American academy, of course, who seem eager to buy into 'historical' narratives about British toffs, although the US has more than its fair share of home-grown talented screenwriters to fall back on. It was Britain, however, who gave peerages to Archer and Fellow(e), and that has no excuse. Also aired with the radio programme was some military top brass rant about the excellent Jimmy McGovern's new TV series, The Accused. Tonight's episode apparently concerns an army corporal accused of bullying young soldiers, something which the general felt would cause offence to the relatives of those serving in Afghanistan, already worried by media hysteria over pictures of wounded soldiers and funerary scenes at Wooton Bassett. Military jingoism and misplaced sentiment are perhaps predictable consequences of these hard times, but, as with the Falklands furore, the wicked witch is kept at bay by the myth of our boys' offering themselves as a sacrifice to a notion called Hearts and Minds, never mind the collateral damage. These are not wars like the Second World War, where the issues were clear, and the enemy still clearer, and the draft of young men to kill other young men a necessary evil. Leaving all that aside, the general missed the simple point that Jimmy McGovern is a serious and gifted TV dramatist working in a contemporary-realist genre in which bullying in the army seems to me to be an entirely suitable theme.

Fellow(e)s's well-thumbed subject is the good old escapist mystery of social class, dressed up in the (often inaccurate) historical flummery of The Good Old Days. Even his 'contemporary' novel, Snobs, is a pointless, inconsequential narrative of social climbers and flunkeys toadying around the titled folk in the big house. Are we meant to look to these people for some sort of moral and social model? Know your place, and stay in it. Is that a way for a little country to get ahead in a globalised world order?

After Downton Abbey, watchable only because of the sterling attempts of the cast to inject some life into a silly story with a banal script, we will no doubt be treated to another fairytale, the wedding of royal William and Kate, presented as a tonic for the masses in troubled times but intercut with historical footage from that other fairtytale wedding of recession-hit 1981 which unfortunately failed to stick to the story. Now that was drama with an original twist.

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