May 04

when i hear the phrase ‘dumbing down’ i reach 4 my gum…

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when i hear the phrase ‘dumbing down’ i reach 4 my gum…

I can’t quite make up my mind abt Nick Knowles’s Historyonics, a BBC TV series for kids (?judging by the timeslot?), which retells historical events in a form which reminds Old Man Me of the long-ago pre-Python slapstick series Do Not Adjust Your Set… The presenter – Knowles – intrudes a lot into the recreations, but if that sounds a bit David Starkey for you, there’s also oodles of anachronistic gags and games with what-you-the-viewers-know (or think you know), and just silly fun dressing up, more even than Michael v.tight-trousers Wood wd be happy with, I feel. I missed Guy Fawkes, Robin Hood and Richard III, but I?ve enjoyed Dick Turpin and Julius Caesar?s two invasions of Britain. One of the things that this format can be very smart indeed about, of course, is the matter of who’s telling you the story and what their agenda is: Turpin and Caesar were both very smart self-publicists, and as a result the story we know abt them is still somewhat determined by their own PR skills at the time. Another thing Historyonicsis better at than the kind of spooky-filter point-lens-at-their-legs reconstructions you get in a typical Simon Schama showoff piece, is actually how horrible real history back in the day might have been: Knowles – who writes them – gets fairly hardcore events on-screen by turning actual real bloodshed into kids’ slapstick, but he has a neat way of working with the knockabout to remind you that, if it wz happening to you, this-or-that element in the story wd be as awful as [insert present-day atrocity here]. The young Turpin torturing an old woman by holding her down over her own logfire, for example. Or the druid in the Caesar piece, who casually drops that he knows what he knows bcz of the child-skinnings and sacrifices that are part of his job. The Romans vs Celts line owed a little bit too much to Asterix – not that this source of viewpoint for us moderns shd have been overlooked, more that it was given an easier ride, say, than the Roman perception of self (which wz interlocked very neatly INDEED with present-day imperialist delusions and self-importance).

Personally I’d have liked a wee bit more Christopher Hill in the analysis of the ambiguous celebrityhood of highwaymen in their day – it was hinted at (Turpin had apprenticed as a butcher, but the above-board meat trade collapsed, so he became a poacher, and so on – well, a speedy class analysis of the pol-economy REASON for the collapse of the meat trade wdn’t have gone amiss… it wasn’t as if there isn’t plenty of other class analyses, of differing CULTURAL attitudes to eg highwaymen) but not followed through. OK maybe my assumption that there are self-appointed gatekeepers harrumphing at this travesty is my own form of snobbery, but if this is part of sleb-led DIY TV’s legacy, it’s not an awful part by any means.

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