Thursday, 16 August 2012

The Best of Men

My review of The Best of Men by Lucy Gannon (BBC Two, 16 August 2012) has just gone live at Reviews in Time and Space. The one scene which I really liked, which set off a lot of the ideas in the review, and which I somehow neglected to mention is the VE Day party, where Wyn Bowen (Rob Brydon) appears as Britannia, but after the joke is over removes his Union Jack outfit and the fake breasts under it and contemplates a self he regards (like the obnoxious Cowan) as disenpatriated, disgendered. Furthermore, the scheduling of this piece on BBC Two rather than BBC One might suggest that the acceptance of the disabled as part of society has a little way yet to travel.

Friday, 10 August 2012

Split Screen: Poetry Inspired by Film and Television

Edited by Andy Jackson. Stannington: Red Squirrel Press, 2012. £6.99

As the new accessions shelf (where I found this volume) at the Newcastle Lit and Phil made clear, poetry is the realm of the small publisher; and from Northumberland, Red Squirrel Press bids to reign. Though it defines itself largely as a fiction publisher, its drey includes a flourishing nest of poets.

It has been a long time since I was any sort of poetry reader, but I was drawn in by the subject matter of this anthology. Split Screen: Poetry Inspired by Film and Television reflects the experiences of the viewing generations of recent decades, when professional promotion and performance were brought into the domestic environment on a scale never before possible.

The emphasis in this collection is on the specific and personal rather than the general, albeit appealing to an expectation of shared individual experience. Ian McMillan's musings on the influence exerted on a developing sexuality by Diana Rigg's Emma Peel (in The Avengers) doesn't break new ground ('There'll be a cloudburst soon...'), but relies (as one former television writer-producer once said) on cliches being cliches because they work. Less sure-footed is Alan Buckley's 'Walmington-on-Sea', which in its interpretation of Dad's Army as 'the old England, where each man / must know his place' obscures Jimmy Perry and David Croft's deft observations about interwar social mobility and the limits of hierarchy.

Other voices ring more sure: Liane Strauss's 'The Dark Days are Done' weighs audience expectations of Italy alongside those which shaped The Godfather's Corleone family, and sees Sonny Corleone's death as that of an Icarus born from the Medici. It's twinned with Luke Wright's mordantly concise study of Michael Corleone's character development, 'Godfather'. Where these poems about cinema engage with their films as texts, it's those on television personalities which make the case for the box in the corner as maker of the most enduring myths: Paul McGrane's 'And the doctor says' adopts Tommy Cooper's sense of rhythm to turn the story of his televised death on stage into a routine, though the reader is left to imagine what conjurer's props would be most appropriate. Angela Topping's 'Doctor Love' claims Jon Pertwee's Doctor Who as a sex symbol for adolescent girls and as a model for teenage rebels, even as the poet's maturation causes her to leave the Doctor behind. There was, as Naomi Woddis's 'Always Ours' argues through the career of Diana Dors, always a pragmatic end to British postwar fantasies.

This is a collection about time and place and personhood, and in closing with 'The White Dot' by Andrew Philip, it suggests that the age of the LCD and plasma screen and multiple channels is a death of sorts. When television closed down, when the device itself had to be switched off, it died and was brought back to life the next day. In an age of perpetual standby and twenty-four hour broadcasting, it is still not simply a machine, but instead undead, drawing greater and greater masses into communication with it. The old order mourned in much of this volume is lost in a depersonalisation as sure as that felt by the last survivor in some televised conflict. The contemporary hero of these poems is perhaps Jude Marr's Meerkat - but the choice between that of 'blood and sand realities' or the comforting comic figure advertising insurance is for the reader.

The night editor

It's in the nature of freelance work that it doesn't necessarily respond well to being penned into the working day. This editor has been kept awake by the knowledge that he is tantalisingly close to completing a range of bibliographic data for a forthcoming online project. The work can be time-consuming and sometimes involves buttressing the foundations of scholarly publications compiled in eras which allowed a more relaxed attitude to referencing than is now acceptable. It's at this point that the remote researcher falls back on online catalogues and has cause to thank the unsung heroes behind them. Such a resource is the agglomerated catalogue of seventy major libraries in Britain and Ireland, Copac. Its interface has recently been redesigned with a softer colourscheme and a more user-friendly layout which provides more information than was previously available on the old search results screen. The links to the holdings of individual libraries are an especially welcome feature of a redesign which probably reduces the number of clicks most visitors need to make on their mouse or touchpad.