The Sun Always Shines on TV


I CANNOT LIE: I write to you this week from the sofa, where, with laptop positioned as its name implies, I am watching back-to-back episodes of Four In A Bed, the reality television show in which rival bed-and-breakfast owners stay in one another’s establishments and then rate their experiences along hideously stringent lines (with comments). Finally, they pay what they think their stay has been worth and the winner is calculated via some combination of points and cash.

What can I say? I’m tired out and I think what will soothe me is to watch other people being vile to one another, spurred on by the prospect of money and fame. Their stupidity is also fabulously entertaining: presumably, they have decided to go on the program in order to advertise their businesses, but have failed to work out that nobody wants to go and stay with an arsehole, no matter how dreamy their mattresses and delicious their homemade breakfasts.

(Right now: there’s a woman on who looks as though she might need surgery to be able to smile. She is enraged that there are two UNMATCHING rolls of toilet paper in the same bathroom. I, too, would check out immediately.)

However, no matter how dilatory it is to watch crap telly while working, I’m guilty of a far greater dereliction of duty. Rather than tuning in to an actual show that is actually happening in actual real time, I should be watching something I’ve already stored. The digital planner now stands at a terrifying 81% full; a mere 19% of freedom – to press record on a whim, to series link, to save up for a rainy day – remains. This is a matter of personal reaction, incidentally: there are those who think 19% represents a near-infinity of viewing pleasure, and wouldn’t even begin to worry until they were in single figures. Those people are the kind who leave their utility bills to turn red, who allow mobile phone batteries to run down, who travel with only as many pairs of underpants as they need. Crazy thrill-seekers. Let’s just say I’m cut of a different kind of cloth and I need a little bit more wriggle room in my life.

The question is though – what to discard? What to put one’s foot down over? Already gone: entire seasons of Borgen (Danish political drama; didn’t get going quickly enough; boring); The Borgias (couldn’t get into it); Boardwalk Empire (highly designed nonsense). In prospect: a new series of Wallander (Swedish thriller; Kenneth Branagh; two reasons to watch right there); the whole of the Tour de France; the whole of the Olympics. You see the problem.

So, here, in the exact order in which they appear when I call up the planner screen, are the program I have to contend with:

New Novelists: 12 of the Best from the Culture Show Ha! I’m in this. Don’t worry: I’m not in anything else I’ve recorded. It was a panel to choose some excellent novelists, in 2011. It’s the only time I’ve been on telly, and may remain so: I ran into the producer of the show recently, but I was a) drunk and b) bummed a cigarette* off her, so she probably won’t be calling any time soon. KEEP

*continuity fans: yes. I did give up smoking. I had one lapse. That was it.

 True Stories: Village of the Dolls Oh God. A documentary about a man called Mark Hogencamp, who was horrendously beaten up by some customers at the bar where he works. Part of his recovery has involved creating a model town, Marwencol, and imagining its life during the Second World War, complete with action scenarios featuring a model of himself, heroic and able-bodied. I cried all the way through it. One of the best things I’ve ever seen. KEEP

Never have dolls been used to such ends. Sad, moving, cathartic....

The Old Grey Whistle Test At which point it becomes apparent that I do not live alone and that elsewhere in this household is a viewer who thinks that life reaches its ne plus ultra when there is a three-day special about The Who/Captain Beefheart/Lee Perry/The Dubliners on one of the serious channels. (I don’t think this a gender issue, but I did have a conversation with a girlfriend that went something like this: Me: “I mean, I don’t get why they want some things. It’s like six hours from the Newport Festival or something.” She: “It’s not like six hours from the Newport Festival. It is six hours from the Newport Festival.”) This one is tricky: it’s live concert footage of Ian Dury and The Blockheads, my favourite band of all time, and has no doubt been taped especially for me. KEEP

Midsomer Murders (“They Seek Him Here” Parts 1 and 2) Much, much more on Midsomer later, but this is one of the only things I’ve actually set up the special KEEP function for, so it can’t be accidentally deleted. This is because part of it was filmed in a country hotel in which my father worked ten years ago.

1959: The Year That Changed Jazz Taped for aforementioned father, a jazz fan who hasn’t got cable TV. Note also that the phrase: “I’ve taped it for your father” is often used tactically…

 Sonny Rollins 74: Rescued! … as in this case. NEGOTIATE

Rockpalast: The Smiths … although I think this one is for me. KEEP

Purple + eye makeup + spikey hair = Robert Smith

Keeping Score: Shostakovich This one isn’t. For God’s sake. Who’s going to watch this? Oh, wait! I know! The same man who spunked our beer money earlier this week on a signed Stockhausen LP. DELETE, VENGEFULLY

Blue Note: A History of Modern Jazz, Part 2 of 2 Again with the father excuse. NEGOTIATE

The Singing Detective, 6 episodes Classic Dennis Potter. A joint recording decision. But why every time I suggest watching it do we decide that we’re not quite in the mood and watch CSI instead? KEEP, SELF-CHIDINGLY

OK: Let’s group the next three together and say that they all belong in the SEVERE PRESSURE TO DELETE camp.

John Lennon: Classic Albums

The Doors: The Story of LA Woman

Sweet Home Alabama: The Southern Rock Saga

Now: something interesting happens. We go into a run of Shakespeare, recorded not by me, but as a present for me. I find it very touching that my cohabitant thinks he must find something properly highbrow for to me watch in case there isn’t a channel somewhere that’s showing Jerry Maguire. And I actually will watch the following. At some point. When the time is right.

Henry IV (2 episodes, from the Globe)

Macbeth (the Verdi one)

As You Like It

A Midsummer Night’s Dream (as a ballet! Who knew?)

Othello (My favourite short description: “Othello’s friend Iago sows seeds of doubt about his wife’s fidelity with devastating results.” I’ll say!)

Hamlet (from the Met, with an understudy playing Ophelia. I may watch to see if she makes any mistakes or gets flustered)

The Merchant of Venice (1973 TV adaptation. Yay! I love the Seventies)

Olivier = Shylock. All you need to know.

Phew! After all that culture, it’s great to be back to:

The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band KEEP (I’m feeling expansive)

Dead Art: London (in which we look around West Norwood cemetery. NEGOTIATE)

The Book Review Show (watch quickly, with liberal use of the fast forward button to get to the good bits and then DELETE)

Sight and Sound In Concert Ian Dury and Dr Feelgood in concert as part of a series called Punk Britannia. Oh well. KEEP

SportsCenter Special, Defending Kiev OK: this has football and Nazis in it. KEEP

Telstar: The Joe Meek Story There is such a long story about why this got taped and why it’s really important that we watch it and it can’t be deleted, etc etc etc, that I zoned out. There’s no need for anyone else to suffer. KEEP, but wearily.

Punk Britannia There’s three episodes. I can’t in all conscience argue for its deletion, although someone did tell me recently that “it’s not as irritating as it might have been,” which hardly seems like a recommendation.

P’tang, Yang, Kipperbang A lovely little film from 1982, about a 14-year-old boy obsessed with the Ashes (that’s cricket), and girls and stuff. I was 14 in 1982 and although I wasn’t and am not a boy, it is obviously utterly redolent of everything about my life.


Donovan: Sunshine Superman I’m not joking: the cohabitant is fixated on Donovan. He peppers his conversation with Donovanisms and sings Donovan songs and refers to him as a genius. He also seems to find him strange and occasionally annoying. I don’t get it. DELETE (IN YOUR DREAMS)

All in the Best Possible Taste Three episodes of a documentary in which Grayson Perry, transvestite potter, visits working-, middle- and upper-class communities and tries to fathom what shapes our ideas of what constitutes good taste. At the end of each program, he makes a tapestry about all the people he’s met; the pieces themselves are being exhibited at an art gallery about 200 yards from my house. This is the nub of the problem. Do I watch the programs first, or see the tapestries? KEEP WHILE I FIGURE IT OUT

The Genius of David Bowie Oh, come on.

Veep Everyone’s talking about it, which means I can’t watch it for about a year because I hate the idea of water-cooler moments with a passion.

Midsomer Murders At one point, I had 38 episodes of this detective show recorded. Slowly, painstakingly, we have watched them all, and more besides. Now, we are down to only a couple and we’re spinning them out. Midsomer is really the core of the digital planner; occasionally I believe it to be the core of my relationship, and my life. It is certainly my most reliable pleasure.

Would you feel safe in a village named midsomer?

In Midsomer, which is a constellation of villages (sample names: Midsomer Worthy, Midsomer Parva) around the central town of Causton (rarely pictured; not photogenic), murders occur with terrifying frequency; they are often related to a power struggle within a self-contained society, such as a group of amateur painters, perhaps, or about rights of succession within an upper-class dynasty. In general, there are about three murders per 2-hour story; and they are solved by Tom Barnaby, a sensible, likeable, methodical detective who has none of the usual dysfunctions (alcoholism, depression, etc). He is often aided by his wife, Joyce, sometimes because she is a keen hobbyist who is involved with one of the societies (choral; dramatic; gardening, for example), but more often because she has splendid intuition. Occasionally, their daughter Cully, a would-be actress, makes an appearance. These days, she is married, but she used to be the focus of attention for DCI Barnaby’s sidekicks; the bumbling Troy, who was succeeded by the suave Scott, who was kicked out by the lovely Jones, whose part has been expanded to include hints that he is something of a lothario.

A few months ago, the actor playing Tom Barnaby left, after many years; and with him, Joyce and Cully. He was replaced by “John” Barnaby, “Tom”’s cousin. Initially, we weren’t sure. We thought the new Barnaby was playing it a bit too much for laughs; we wondered if his wife wasn’t a bit too glamorous. We were won over a little by his dog, and by the fact that Jones is staying. We’re giving it a go. We’re hopeful. You might think this is KEEP, but actually we have to DELETE as we go. Otherwise, it would be mayhem.

London on Film: The East End Where we live! KEEP!

Quadrophenia documentary Seriously. It’s just not funny. DELETE, CALL RELATIONSHIP GUIDANCE COUNSELOR


About Alex Clark

Alex Clark is a freelance journalist living in London, writing about books, arts, football and a whole host of other things for papers such as The Guardian and The Observer. She is also editor at large of Union Books and the former editor of Granta.
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One Response to The Sun Always Shines on TV

  1. Major Weekling says:

    My DVR is 68% full, and it’s mostly kids’ shows. Count yourself lucky that your cohabitant is not into Doc McStuffins or Peppa Pig…

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