Germany: Memories of a Nation (BBC Podcast)

germany[1]We traveled a lot through Germany lately: both its past and present borders. It is nearly impossible to travel around Europe without stumbling upon traces of Germany’s past glories and sins. From Riga to London, from a Hansa outpost on Aland to the Imperial Trieste, the German-speaking peoples have left an unforgettable imprint on the continent long before the atrocities of the 20th century; and having traveled first around the Baltic, then around Central Europe this year, I had plenty opportunity to ponder this grand nation’s history.

Brandenburger_Tor_abends[1]So the new BBC Radio 4 podcast series, Germany: Memories of a Nation, drew my attention instantly – especially since it’s headlined by none other than Neil MacGregor. A few years ago, the director of British Museum attempted to tell the story of the entire world in 100 objects. Now, he is retelling the story of Germany – in 30 objects. This new series is just as intrigWeltliche_Schatzkammer_Wien_(169)pano2[1]uing and engaging, and possibly even more eye-opening, since it brings out the little-known German art and architecture from the shadow of France and Italy. Holbein, Riemenschneider, Caspar David Friedrich are just few of the names covered, among subjects that range from Stasi to Charlemagne’s empire – with the Holocaust, naturally, underlying it all, as it forever must.

The series is half-way through now, and you can catch it on its podcast page here. Go hear it. Now.

Water for the mill of the Bonn Revanchists.

CensorshipThe above rather hermetic-sounding statement is a rough translation of a slogan used by the communist governments against its critics.

The exact meaning may be lost on most people today (it’s actually from an old comedy sketch, but that’s a different story), but the intention of the quote is still well-known in Poland: those who dare to criticize those in power, are helping the “enemy” – however he is defined.

This sentiment is one that is popularly associated with totalitarian or fascist governments, but it is something that ringed strangely familiar when I read today’s statement from the Home Office regarding David Miranda’s detention:

“Those who oppose this sort of action need to think about what they are condoning.”

This is a sentence that sends a shiver down the spine of anyone who’s lived in a communist state, or even simply read his Orwell. Later today, a senior civil servant and Tory politician in a BBC interview said that “no journalist is in a position to judge” whether they should release information they possess or not. Only specialists – government specialists, he might add – have this knowledge.

There is an air of Sir Humphrey in this, as in all civic servants (“Of course we can’t let the press write what they want!”), but there is a far more sinister shadow hiding in these words. Because if only certain people – not journalists, and certainly not individual whistleblowers – should be able to decide what information is to be released to public, it’s only a step away from putting these certain people in one office and have them read all the newspapers, blogs and TV programme transcripts before they are released, just to make sure no sensitive information is being released. Information that might “help the terrorists” – because let’s not forget, this is all being done for our own good. And while we’re at it, let’s make sure no criticism of the government comes through, because we all know this also helps the terrorists. Let’s call this office, say, “Office for the Control of the Press,Publications, and Public Performances” – a neat little innocent name – and we’re good to go. Freedom be damned – “safety” is everything.



The Engines of Democracy: British political satire

So, after four fantastic series, the glorious “Thick of It” has ended yesterday, with a bang, a whimper, and a lot of swearing. I can only pity those who hadn’t seen it yet; it was as good as TV gets. Witty, funny, played and directed with utmost skill. The characters were Shakesperean, the intrigues were Borgian, the language was… well, let’s just say censoring this series would result in very short episodes.

It was a biting satire of the sort only the Brits do, and are rightly famous for: the satire on the inner workings of the government; something that, at first glance, is an extremely tedious and thankless work, but in the hands of a British scriptwriter is transformed into the most hilarious and eye-opening comedy.

I absolutely worship these shows. I used to devour them back in Poland and, as a result, I knew the ins-and-outs of the British government long before coming here. A must-see for anyone trying to have an opinion on how a democratic government works.

Yes Minister / Yes Prime Minister

A grand-daddy of the political sitcom, Yes, Minister and Yes, Prime Minister ran for a whopping five series, from 1980 to 1988. It introduced the viewers to an unlikely hero: a public civil servant. It proved, without a doubt, that the people running the UK were not the ones known from the front pages: the ministers, the MPs – but the bureaucrats who remained hidden, the shadowy figures in the corridors of power. Rt Hon Jim Hacker, whether in his capacity of a minister or even the Prime Minister, was never in charge. It’s the Humphreys of the world that are both the gears and pulleys of the machine.

House of Cards Trilogy

While not a satire per se, the House of Cards thriller (with sequels To Play the King and The Final Cut, running from 1990 to 1995) continued the theme of showing how the government really works. Francis Urquhart, played brilliantly by Ian Richardson, is properly cold and cruel, but, above all, thoroughly believable. You couldn’t help but think that this was exactly how things were behind the closed doors of Number 10 and Westminster – and it was a terrifying thought.

The Final Cut offered some respite to the viewer, and a glimmer of hope that things will not be as bleak forever. The hope, as ever, was brief.

The Absolute Power

A more straight-cut comedy, with Stephen Fry as Charles Prentiss and John Bird as his fumbling partner McCabe, the Absolute Power reflected a change in how British politics was being run since the advent of the New Labour: not by decision-makers, but by decision-explainers. The spin doctors and the PR-masters. By the year 2000, when the series first appeared on the radio, corruption, sleaze and manipulation were obvious and pretty much universally accepted as part of the ruling process, in great part due to what had been already shown on TV. What now interested the discerning viewer was how it all was being hidden from the general public – and the Absolute Power offered a glimpse into the process.

The Thick of It

The masterpiece of the genre, the Thick of It combines all the best of its precursors: the overbearing power of the shadowy figures and “special advisors”; the terrifying, mind-wrecking reality of the innermost core of the government; the omnipresence of spin and PR. Peter Capaldi as Malcolm Tucker was Humphrey, Urquhart and Prentiss combined into one – and multiplied. Ruthless and effective, striking fear into the hearts of those who would get in his way, and – yes – dashingly handsome, Tucker made you both cringe and gasp in awe.

Because this is always the important factor in this kind of a show: no matter how loathsome the main character’s actions may seem, we always root for them. Tucker and Urquhart have the qualities of dark anti-heroes. They are the Dirty Harrys of the democracy; their methods, even their motifs are highly suspect. But the way they go about it oozes class and intelligence. And if there is any positive message, you get from watching British political satire, any light in the tunnel, it is that the men who run the country – the real rulers – are smart and classy. Even if they are thoroughly immoral.

Parade’s End’s End.

So, Parade’s End has now ended.

Christopher Tietjens and his trademark Frog Smile

I have a love-hate relationship with BBC: love it for all it does, hate it for how little it does. Five episodes? That’s it? I could clearly see there was material enough for a whole season of drama. This is worse than Sherlock!

The first episode I skipped altogether at first, thinking “not another Edwardian drama… haven’t we got quite enough of that?” I was drawn to it, eventually, by Benedict Cumberbatch – nothing that man does is ever wrong – and the script writer, Tom Stoppard, of the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead fame. The combination of two promised the entertainment would be of the more cerebral sort. And I was not disappointed. Continue reading “Parade’s End’s End.”

Asylum of the Daleks – 5 questions, 1 observation

I’m too old for this shit.

I’m an old school Whovian. “My” Doctor was Pertwee, closely followed by Baker (even though they were both active before my TV-viewing had begun). Don’t get me wrong – I love the NuDoctor. Eccleston, Tennant, even Smith, are all great. But there is a handicap that being a long-time Whovian gives you, and that is that you care for the overall continuity and quality of the plot.

That’s why I found it hard to enjoy yesterday’s episode. Oh, I appreciate the script quality, the much improved pacing, the overall epicness, and the acting prowess of everyone involved. But the first ten minutes of exposition threw me so far off my suspension of disbelief that I couldn’t watch the rest of the episode in peace, without expecting at least some explanation of what was going on. It never came – in fact, things got progressively worse.

And don’t give me that ‘there’s no continuity in Doctor Who’ crap. Of course there is; loads of it. The writers acknowledge it – there were even nods to a very long established continuity in this very episode (see below). My only hope is that Moffat knows what he’s doing, and that everything gets explained away eventually. As it is, I’m mostly perturbed.

So here are my five questions regarding this episode.

(my God, it’s full of spoilers!)

Continue reading “Asylum of the Daleks – 5 questions, 1 observation”

Delia Ann Derbyshire – A Tribute

Delia Derbyshire at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop

Eleven years and a month ago, Delia Ann Derbyshire died at the age of 64

Delia Ann Derbyshire started out as a working class girl in bombed-out Coventry, soon to grow into a brilliant mathematician in Cambridge – where only one in ten students were female at the time. But it was her decision to specialise in modern music in 1959 which changed her life – and that of millions of people throughout the world up to this day.

Continue reading “Delia Ann Derbyshire – A Tribute”

The Hollow Crown: Henry V – so strange I saw it twice.

Edit: Привет всем людям из России и Украины которые читают этот пост 🙂

Doe-eyed Hiddleston and ever brilliant (though underexposed here) Paterson Joseph

A major televised adaptation of Henry V is always a generational experience – even more so than a Hamlet. It sets in stone who’s the theatre-loving public’s most current heartthrob. It defines the contemporary view on the justice and injustice of war. Finally, it reminds everyone how brilliant Shakespeare’s battle speeches are and how always relevant his history plays remain.

Tom Hiddleston had, of course, been cast as Hal long before the onset of Loki-mania and, as such, the choice had been dictated purely by his acting prowess, not fan popularity. To play Henry in all three consecutive instalments is no mean feat, and that Hiddleston manages to even get through to the end of it all is a respectable achievement of itself.

Continue reading “The Hollow Crown: Henry V – so strange I saw it twice.”

The man who destroyed Britain

No, not Cameron. Not even Blair. It’s this guy:

The boy with the face like an ass

The guy who apparently vowed to ruin what’s left of the British humour.

Zai Bennett. Former ITV2 controller (yeah, those are GREAT credentials!) now BBC3 controller who vowed to start with a ‘clean slate’ – and by this he means axing everything that was even remotely popular.

Two Pints of Lager – alright, I can live with that, although for a certain generation of British public this was their Dad’s Army.
How Not To Live Your Life – the only US-style UK sitcom that worked. Why cancel it? No idea.
Ideal – that was the first major WTF?? Yes, it had a long run, but there was NOTHING like this anywhere on TV! And it was still funny as hell! And it had PSYCHO PAUL. YOU DON’T MESS WITH PSYCHO PAUL.
And now the latest blow: Mongrels canned after only two successful series. The last funny thing on the channel other than endless repeats of Family Guy. Why? Because. Or rather, ‘to make place for new shows’, like oooh soo brilliant Jake Whitehall’s new sitcom. I bet that’ll be a riot.
As Johnny Vegas said: “I’m being fired by the guy who commissioned Kerry Katona.”

So yeah.  That worked out great for everyone..