Friday, 10 July 2009

Never forget ...

... that The 11 O'Clock Show was both the Blair and the Britpop - and specifically the Oasis - of British comedy, in the sense that it pushed out every shibboleth of the cultural Left, every principle that had been more or less retained since the comparative simplicities of "oppositional" culture in the 1980s, and left a legacy which would take on a far greater scale, to the point where it would become ineradicable. As a series which was viewed with general contempt in its own time, and achieved little ratings success, whose alumni and general spiritual influence nonetheless seeped through into so much that followed, it is almost without comparison in British TV history. Basically, if you've ever laughed at anything that's built around deliberately nervous laughter and "ironically" saying the unsayable, you've laughed at its offspring, even if you've never heard of it.

One of the key newspaper articles of the last 15 years - not in terms of what happened in response to it, but what didn't - appeared in The Daily Telegraph (which was still pretty much non-celebified to an extent unthinkable for any newspaper now) in the final week of 1999. Praising Ali G - at last, I thought at the time and still think, Baron Cohen's natural fanbase showing themselves - it made one particular reference which sticks in the mind: that the physical movements of rappers were "ape-like". In the early weeks of 2000, it became known that David Irving - about to be permanently discredited even to the mainstream-right figures who had never previously felt able to unreservedly condemn him - had chanted a poem to his daughter in which he equated black people with apes. As little as five years earlier, such endorsement would still have been enough to destroy Baron Cohen's career in the world where he was then operating, and thus prevent him from going any further. But suddenly what had once been the cultural Left seemed unmoved, and continued to play along. It was at that moment, perhaps more than any other, that the legacy of both Blair's erosion of the political principles of the Left and Britpop's abdication of any sense of obligation to keep up with developments in black pop became clear.

I think we should remember that this week, and keep it in mind.


  1. "In the early weeks of 2000, it became known that David Irving - about to be permanently discredited even to the mainstream-right figures who had never previously felt able to unreservedly condemn him - had chanted a poem to his daughter in which he equated black people with apes."

    That would be April 2000, if I remember correctly. Certainly, it was burnt into my brain like nothing else.

    What I didn't like was that he made her chant she was a 'baby Arian' and then Christopher Hitchens wrote about it. (I know the guy is mainstream, but is he Left or Right?)

    Would you consider Dead Ringers and Little Britain as some of the offspring?

  2. The existence of that poem became publicly known in early February 2000, though it was in April that he was found guilty.

    Christopher Hitchens used to be unswervingly on the Left, but he grew disillusioned with it because he thought it supported illiberal, repressive regimes out of simplistic anti-Americanism, and burnt many of his bridges at the time of the invasion of Iraq, which he saw as a defence of liberal Western values. Many of his opinions could still fairly be described as of the Left, though - he is obviously nothing like his brother Peter, who is perhaps the most right-wing of all British newspaper columnists (though a dangerously good writer, when he wants to be).

    I would *definitely* consider Little Britain - especially the "ironic" racial stereotyping and "daringly" politically incorrect bits - to owe much to the 11 O'Clock Show, though I don't think there's any connection in terms of personnel. Dead Ringers is similarly apolitical and toothless, but in a subtly different - less openly nasty, more smug - way which is descended more from the joke pages of Private Eye (to which many of its writers now contribute).

  3. An abomination, hated it at the time and by the evidence of YouTube clips, it has stood up, erm, not a lot!

    It is pathetic, summarising so much about C4, that it was merely 2/3 between "Brass Eye" and this being commissioned. And worse, being accepted by a fair few as at the vanguard of modern comedy! Of the things it spawned, "The Office" has to be salvaged; it does say a lot about modern Britain, and is often very well observed in its comedy (though did lapse into smugness).

    Spot on about "Dead Ringers" - initially I chuckled a few times (the William Hague send-up), but there is as much bite as Mike Yarwood and it quickly got tedious. Light entertainment rather than satire... It was, as I recall, pretty popular with a large number of students at my Univ. college.

    Irrelevant, mild irreverence does not make good comedy or satire...

  4. Strangely enough, I was thinking about the 11 o'clock show the last few days. I liked it at the time, but I was 13, so leave me alone. I remember it was on at the same time as Lee and Herring's Richard Not Judy, and I remember an episode of the latter where they mentioned the 11 o'clock show's rubbishness - "Well, at least Ali G was good etc." I think I started thinking about it because I wondered what Iain Lee was doing now, and if he is happy.

    I have no idea if Robin's analysis holds water. I think it would be more accurate to say that Lee and Herring was "Love in the First Degree" to The 11 o'clock show's "Respectable". In this light, Stewart Lee's Comedy Vehicle - his most recent offering - is the comedic equivalent of Katy Perry's "Hot 'n' Cold". Similarly, it is a reflection of the society we live in that enjoying Stewart Lee's Comedy Vehicle is seen as comparable to having a crush on Keren Woodward - i.e very logical and very widespread.

    How to fit Peter Hitchens into this? Well, if we are to consider his immensely dull reflections on the death of Michael Jackson, we can ponder how much more enlightening it would have been if he'd said, "'Love in the first Degree" is a far greater achievement to me than 'Man in the Mirror' ever will be, and Norman Tebbit agrees with me. Oh how I recall my melancholy impatience as a youth - the weeks would go by before 'Love in the First Degree' was sung at Evensong. children today know nothing of this music. oh the empty pews etc..."

  5. I stopped reading PH some time back, and absolutely never will again. It was a gruesome sort of addiction, very much like the fixation I had on various far-right internet enclaves - I knew that, give or take the odd excellent turn of phrase and accidentally insightful remark on the hollowness of our political culture (to which he, of course, has no real or workable answer - anyone who can call both the big parties "corpses" yet *not* support proportional representation is, like so many, desperately close but agonisingly far), I was going to disagree with almost all of it, so why was I wasting my life reading it? It feels far better being released from such pain.

    I do however applaud your mockery, and "Love in the First Degree" is indeed a fine single. I must admit that, because he hates the Beatles every bit as much as any latterday white British hybridisation of black American music, Hitchens is less hypocritical than, say, Littlejohn - but that leaves less nervous laughter to be had from picking logistic holes in his arguments. If there is any kind of pop he would write about in such terms it would probably be that of, say, Eden Kane. Now *that* would be entertaining. But I still wouldn't see it, or want to.

    I must grudgingly concede though that PH's implacable opposition to the BNP may perhaps have convinced some people not to vote for it (not enough, obviously). That is more than anti-BNP articles in the Guardian would have done - fascism will only be defeated if it is opposed in part by people with a broadly traditionalist view of the culture of whichever country it is operating in, because it is only they who can change the minds of those most tempted to vote for such parties. The public impression that *all* critics of the BNP were immersed in the most heavily metropolitan-trendy-leftie form of popcult probably strengthened that party in places like Burnley and Barnsley, however painful that is to admit.

  6. I empathise with the state of being addicted to the writings of someone you don't necessarily like. It's possible to have an interest in what someone has to say on issues, without having much if any sympathy for it.

    I'm not sure of your contention about PH's influence on BNP voting though. Surely practically all mainstream right-wing journalists have declared their opposition to the BNP?

  7. Indeed they have, and sadly it didn't seem to get through in many circles, but at least there is the *possibility* that such writers may talk people out of voting BNP, something that isn't there with left-liberal criticisms of that party. Hitchens in particular often seems to be cited as one of the more acceptable mainstream-right columnists by BNP acolytes (John Tyndall, considerably more extreme than the current BNP is *prepared to be openly* and - I think, I hope - also much more so than most of those who voted for it, often cited Hitchens positively and gave his first book a good review) so there is at least the possibility (I put it no more strongly than that) that some BNP followers would listen to what he had to say and *perhaps* reconsider because of it. The fact that so many didn't is in part a sign of how endemic public cynicism about newspapers has become, something for which the tabloids have to take much of the blame for printing so many outright lies that even well-argued and well-sourced articles they may print (on whichever subject) can be so easily dismissed ...

    Thinking of Tom's post upthread - Brass Eye was a point of no return in so many ways, partially because there was *no further to go* in terms of its content, style and form (and so Chris Morris's only way out would be 'Blue Jam' followed by endless and ever more marginal marking time on the sidelines) but also because (as Not the Nine O'Clock News had been the first) it was the last "oppositional" comedy produced under the Tories, and thus the last before the questions of which side you were on, and who the "establishment" was, and who you would be seen as rebellious by opposing, became (of necessity, in the context of how much Labour had shifted) much more unclear than they had been. Also, I think Labour being in office with a position which could almost be described as *post-political* - *the abolition of politics* (Hitchens again, ha!) - created a smugly apolitical attitude among the new generation of comedians, a natural absorption of their environment and the fact that they didn't really understand what had gone before. The problems would only become apparent much later, when it became clear that there could no longer be an oppositional comedy to set itself against the repackaged NuToryism ...