Wednesday 13 August 2008

Evenin' All

Last night I found myself watching a couple of episodes from the ancient police drama Dixon of Dock Green that were showing on BBC4. Expecting to find them merely quaint and, by modern standards of slickness, shambolic, I was amazed and impressed by how technically accomplished they were - especially as the cast and crew were working in conditions their modern equivalents wouldn't even contemplate, and on budgets that wouldn't stretch to a 90-second insert these days. Many of the scenes were filmed live, and there were certainly no retakes, so lines are often stumbled over (giving an oddly raw, modern feel to the dialogue). The acting was at least as good as it would be in today's British cop shows, and there seemed to be a geniune 'chemistry' among the ensemble cast. A deft script drove the story along smoothly, and the whole thing was hugely watchable.
Above all, though, it was a piquant illustration of how the country has changed - yes yes, for the worse - in the 50-odd years since then. Dixon of Dock Green represents a world where decency, restraint, good manners and good humour seem so firmly engrained you'd think nothing could ever shift them. What happened? Everyone - apart from a lovable rogue off the streets - spoke in Received Pronunciation (the women more markedly than the men), and even the lovable rogue was capable of quoting that now forgotten book, the Bible. Everyone (with the same exception) was decently dressed, and all the men were smoking heroically and drinking steadily, but without getting drunk. If there was any inner torment going on, they kept it to themselves. To appreciate just how wide is the gulf between then and now - how extensive has been the work of change and decay - check out The Bill, or the BBC's equivalent police soap, Holby Blue. No don't, it would be too painful.
Meanwhile, here's a suggestion for the next series of Life On Mars (one of the very few good BBC dramas of recent years) - instead of taking the action forward into the 70s (that was a failure), take it back to the 50s and plunge Sam Tyler into the world of Dixon of Dock Green. That would sort him out.


  1. Nige, fabulous idea about the 50s and LonM

  2. Every generation thinks the world is much worse then it used to be when they were young.

    If they're all right, it must have been one helluva glorious Golden Age from which we've all been steadily declining.

  3. I'm not sure this is always true, Brit - and I think the 50s in England was one of the exceptional periods, when many or even most of the people thought the world was better and set to get better still. After all, compared to being under the Nazi jackbooot,it must have looked pretty good.

  4. There was the not infrequent occasion when Jack would forget his lines, this I think was towards the end of Dock Greens life. It certainly contrasts with today's shows, policewomen have to be lesbians or single mums and have thick chief constables who hinder the investigation. The theme for the current crop seems to come from the "make em' turgid" school, Lewis and New Tricks being prime examples. Brit, I can assure you, on balance, things ain't as good as they were, we had a freedom then that now does not exist.

  5. More freedom to do what in the 50s? Buy a mangle? Eat spam? Hop on an EasyJet to the south of France? Listen to Handel on your iPod? Browse potential new careers on the internet?

    Pessimism and misanthropy are not the same as wisdom.

    "The world/young people/society is getting worse" = "I am getting old".

  6. Brit, I think that from memory there was a report last year which said that people in the 50s were generally happier and more optimistic than people today. I agree that there are many things that are better today, it's just that now we live in a world of over inflated expectations that can rarely be achieved.

  7. Well, we've got more choices now than ever before. Complaining about that is a waste of energy.

    There is no obligation on the part of 'society' to both offer you freedom of choice and also cure you of your existential angst. If you're unhappy, that's your business.

  8. Freedom from being arrested and having a criminal record for...
    1/ Smacking a wayward child.
    2/ Photographing my granddaughter at her school sports day.
    3/Calling a black lesbian single parent a scrounger without fear of being called a racist homophobe and arrested.
    That of course is, as they say but the tip of the iceberg.
    Brit, do you really equate freedom with the ability to get on a plane with 230 Euroslobs, disembarking at a continental destination now ruined by drunken, loudmouthed Britons ?
    The size of the paycheck and the choices it brings are obviously far greater than the fifties, I for one do not make the mistake of equating that with freedom.
    At the age of fourteen I did a 700 mile cycle tour of England and arrived home happy and unmolested. Today????

  9. Brit, I do not own, or ever will have the need to own, an IPod, basically because the Fraunhofer MP3 codec is lousy, will that curtail my freedom ?

  10. Do you write editorials for the Mail by any chance?

  11. Brit, you're such a fool. Try walking around London or Manchester in the early hours and see how long it takes for someone to disembowel you and steal your optimism.