TV UK, 28 March

BBC1's new red 'idents' celebrate everything from the Maori Haka to disabled basketball - but not foxhunting.

Dolan Cummings

Topics Culture

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In the good old days, much of the map was coloured red for the British Empire. Redcoats rampaged around the globe imposing cricket on hapless natives and generally displaying a lack of respect for diversity.

Ironically, then, red is the colour chosen by the BBC for its new multicultural branding (1). BBC1 now has a bright red logo. More significantly, the famous revolving globe which used to appear between programmes has been deemed insufficiently inclusive (the globe?), and replaced with clips that are ‘firmly in step with contemporary life’. What else but a selection of dancers in red t-shirts?

The new ‘idents’ celebrate everything from ballet to the Maori Haka and even disabled basketball, but not foxhunting, which is a shame because that would have kept up the redcoat connection. And everybody loves dancing horses. Never mind – nobody even knew there was a word for idents until the BBC mentioned it. Why start worrying now?

Back to the good old days, Channel 4 has been doing a series on the Napoleonic wars, looking at the careers of Nelson, Wellington and some less well-known players, as well as Bony himself. This week (Monday at 9pm) is on Wellington’s Women, and promises to add a new dimension to the war, though we have already heard about Wellington’s fondness for Bony’s castoffs.

One consequence of focusing on a different individual or theme in each episode is that the same events are often covered several times. This might be all right, except that the treatment hasn’t been wildly different in each case. To make things worse, the programmes mess about with the chronology, dancing between parallel timelines like an episode of Star Trek. The overall effect is quite disorienting, even if some of the details are well done.

The same can almost be said of Hornblower, an occasional eighteenth-century naval drama that at least gets points for lavishness. Horatio Hornblower is a foppish third lieutenant played by Ioan Gruffudd. In last week’s epic yarn (ITV1 on Sunday and Monday) he and the other foppish lieutenants were jolly miffed because the captain was a bit of a rotter who used the oikish crew against his officers. That just isn’t cricket, so the chaps had no choice but to mutiny, and the whole thing owed a lot to the Captain Bligh myth. Myth?

The Real Captain Bligh (Channel 4 on Tuesday) is a pleasing inversion of a TV history trope. Instead of taking a well-loved national hero and revealing that he was really a perverted beast with Nazi sympathies, the programme suggested that William Bligh was not the villain we’ve been led to believe. In fact Bligh was a brilliant navigator in the mould of Captain Cook. His only crime was that he had poor man-management skills, and failed to win over his foppish lieutenants.

Like Napoleon, Bligh made his way up from the lower orders with the help of a posh wife, but Bligh was frustrated by the Navy hierarchy, who wouldn’t give him proper backing. They didn’t even make him a proper captain when he took charge of the Bounty, and apparently his room was too small. On the other side, it turns out that Fletcher Christian was a great big upper-class crybaby with a tattooed bum.

Speaking of losers, ITV Digital is in the process of collapse, having failed to attract enough viewers to pay the Football League the money it had promised for the rights to show games. It seems that the lure of lower division football has not been enough to build an audience for the service. Not surprising perhaps, but this is a warning for the other digital broadcasters, not least the dancing redcoats at the BBC.

Somewhat bizarrely, the Football League has tried to mobilise the hordes of fans who failed to sign up for ITV Digital’s coverage to boycott Coronation Street in an effort to make the channel cough up the promised cash. C’est magnifique, mais ce n’est pas la guerre.

Dolan Cummings is publications editor at the Institute of Ideas, and editor of Culture Wars. He is also the editor of Reality TV: How Real Is Real?, Hodder Murray, 2002 (buy this book from Amazon (UK) or Amazon (USA)).

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(1) See Dancers replace BBC One globe, BBC News, 26 March 2002

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Topics Culture


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