There have been some truly magnificent TV programmes about our built heritage over the years. Fine historic buildings set in glorious British landscapes make for splendid television.
Mix in some heart-stirring music – Elgar or Vaughan-Williams generally do the trick – and put a middle-aged voice-over on it, and you’re well on your way to a BAFTA ‘Best Specialist Factual Programme’ nomination. But one thing these – genuinely brilliant – programmes lack, it seems to me, is an element of slapstick. Or cartwheeling. Or twin brother presenters with straw blond hair gelled to gravity-defying vertical perfection. Up until now, that is.
Jedward’s Big Adventure
It was the chap in charge of World Heritage Site (WHS) policy here in the department who first spotted it. An advert for a forthcoming TV programme from the makers of Big Brother, to be broadcast on CBBC, and called Jedward’s Big Adventure (with the interestingly punctuated strapline Jedward; Tourist Guides to some of the UK’s famous World Heritage Sites….!). So, before you could say ‘Fly on the Wall’, my press guru Jeremiah was on the phone to Endemol for a preview tape of the series.
And it turns out that it’s really rather good. Yes it’s very much part of the current children’s television oeuvre* being bright, bold and brassy in approach – and with a pound of tomfoolery to every ounce of factual information – but they do it with style, enthusiasm and boundless good humour. The learning pill is well sugared, yes, but the key facts are got across. And while I have some sympathy with the point of view that the history of, say, the Tower of London is exciting and gory enough without a showbiz make-over, there’s a lot to be said for the sheer energy and oomph of the twins’ approach. As well as the Tower, programmes in the series will look at WHSs as diverse as Hadrian’s Wall, Blaenavon, Edinburgh, and the Devon\Dorset Jurassic Coast.
Mary Anning and the Lyme Regis Fossils
The format of the series is that the boys materialise at the location in question, learn about why it is special by talking to local experts** and then act as tourist guides in competition with one another for a prize or forfeit which, generally, involves the winner or loser getting covered in something gooey and unpleasant. And there are nice – and rather surprising – little touches too. During the programme about the Jurassic Coast, for example, John or possibly Edward dresses up as Mary Anning the 19th century fossil hunter who, as a child, made major discoveries around Lyme Regis including what turned out to be the first complete fossilised ichthyosaur skeleton to be brought to the attention of the London scientific community. The costume, and the doll that John-or-possibly-Edward clutches while playing the part, makes the point vividly of just how extraordinary Mary Anning and all her achievements must have been.
So, as I said earlier, it’s good stuff and something you can safely commend to your young children if you are so blessed. And if said children subsequently disappear upstairs in search of hairspray, gel and styling mousse, be assured – it generally does wash out. Eventually.
Good News from Parliament
So, what else can we talk about? I know. A Private Member’s Bill – The Live Music Bill – finally made its way through the many and various stages of the legislative process. Parliament-watchers will know just how impressive this is. PMBs, as they are known, can be blown off course by the slightest thing – whether it’s the Government of the day withholding support at a critical moment or one of the back-bench awkward squad shouting ‘object’ at just about any point. So congratulations to the people behind it, and to everyone who supported it, and most of all to the collective common sense without which . . etc.
As you’ll have guessed, the Bill wouldn’t be about to become an act without Government support in the shape of my team at DCMS beavering away to help behind the scenes. My thanks to them, and now we can move on to build on the spirit of the Live Music Bill ourselves, with a broader reform of licensing rules and regulations affecting entertainment more generally. I’ve written about this in the past and we spent a fair slice of last year consulting the trade and the public on what they thought of our plans. There were hundreds of responses so inevitably we have to move at a slower pace than the PMB was able to do. But be assured, we’ll get there as quickly as we possibly can.
That’s the way to do it
One area of entertainment licensing deregulation that I can’t imagine anyone will take exception to is getting rid of the silly rules that apply to Punch and Judy Shows. As things stand, they need a licence which costs them money and hassle, two factors which, I suspect, may help explain the P&J man’s traditionally grouchy*** demeanour. I hope we’ll have good news for them as part of all this but, in the meantime, I hope they’ll also be cheered up by the news that the Heritage Lottery Fund have awarded a grant of £240,000 to help preserve and promote the traditions of this part of our heritage and culture. That’s – as Mr Punch would say – the way to do it.
*Nice word. And it was only while digging around to see if it was entirely the mot juste that I realised that the expression hors d’oeuvre – meaning, literally, ‘apart from the main thing’ – comes from the same root. They’re the little nibbly things that get brought round at drinks parties, of course, and in French the word is both singular and plural, although the English think nothing of sticking an s on the end if there’s more than one. [Etiquette Note: I should add that hors d’oeuvre may be served at the table, as a part of the sit-down meal, or they may be served before sitting at the table. Hors d’oeuvre prior to a meal are either stationary or passed. Stationary hors d’oeuvre are also referred to as “table hors d’oeuvre”. Passed hors d’oeuvre are also referred to as “butler-style” or “butlered” hors d’oeuvre.]
**Another favourite point for me is the moment when they interview a Beefeater at the Tower – there’s a neat little gag about the chap being a ‘Yo, man!’ Warder. Silly, I know but it did make me laugh.
***This is an outrageous stereotype, I know. The child-hating P&J man in the classic sit-com Hi de Hi, played by the brilliant Leslie Dwyer, has a lot to answer for.
Jedward image from Jedward’s Big Adventure, CBBC, 4:30pm, 6-10 February
Punch and Judy image by Clive A Brown on Flickr. Some rights reserved.