Archive

Archive for February, 2013

Press Gang

February 25, 2013 3 comments

There is an odd thrill in discovering that a particular artist or creator that you admire presently has also created things in the past that you also really liked, especially when you can learn more about that persons process simply by rewatching or re-reading their old stuff. A recent example for me was rewatching all of Press Gang1

For those not lucky enough to be British teenagers in the 80’s, Press Gang was a kid’s tv show that told the tale of a newspaper ran by school children. It isn’t a school newspaper, the premise is that it’s a local paper targeted at the youth audience2. This Junior Gazette is ran by the tyrannical Lynda Day (played by Julia Sawalha (who would go on to be the straight woman in Absolutely Fabulous), and she is supported by a cast of misfits including a chap called Spike3, who spends most of the series trying to pursue Lynda romantically.

Oh so eighties

Oh so eighties

At its heart, it’s a drama about truth and beauty, and yes, I know how that sounds, but hear me out. The beauty in this case isn’t the constant struggle for romance and happiness (though that is part of it), but the burning desire for unobtainable perfection. Lynda wants the paper to be perfect, Spike strives to be desired by all, the marketing manager Colin wishes to own all the money in the world and so on. The cold light of truth shines on all of these desires and is represented by the newspaper itself, which every episode must carry on no matter what. This allows the show to be silly and serious at the same time; one part of romantic comedy farce and the other part serious teen drama.

This is the framework for some rather dazzling stories that still work to this day. I thought that the more melodramatic scenes that involved themes such as teenage suicide, abuse and the death of the young would have less of impact on me now that I’m a more world weary type of chap, but the show still packs an incredible punch and this is all due to the incredibly well rendered characters and the wit and wisdom that seems to be burnt into almost all of the dialogue.

It certainly isn’t perfect; it suffers a little bit from the ‘moral of the week’ formula all too common in Eighties dramas, and is hampered by that decades unwillingness to be blunt about what it’s trying to say4. The performances are superb, and when it is good it is very, very good. Some of the ideas and scenes are clearly a first draft for more memorable moments of Moffat’s later shows; the slapstick of Coupling can be seen in some of Press Gang’s sillier moments (usually featuring the hapless gobshite Colin), and the relationship between Lynda and her best friend Kenny has echoes with Holmes and Watson in Sherlock.

The old show is well worth a re-watch, but be warned; you will find yourself rewriting the last episode in your head for weeks, if not years, to come.


1: Of course I’d known for years that Moffat was behind Press Gang and Coupling but the thrill only becomes obvious when you take the time to experience the earlier works again.
2: The 80’s were obsessed with capturing ‘youth audiences’ as if young people were this new and strange alien culture that had recently come to Earth. Looking back on it all, I cynically wonder if the 40-something commissioning editors weren’t merely trying to recapture their own youth.
3: Played by South London’s own Dexter Fletcher with a not-as-good-as-you-remember American accent, He went on to be in a wide range of British movies, typically as ‘slightly crazy cockney geezer’. We try not to talk about his stint as the presenter of kids show Games Master.
4: Back in the 70’s and 80’s, TV programming made the mistake of taking idiots with too much time on their hands too seriously. This severely hampered what could talked about on telly, especially children’s drama. Proto-trolls such as Mary Whitehouse and her ilk deserve their own blog post however, so I’ll talk about them some other time.

Advertisements
Categories: TV

International Please Don’t Pirate Books Day

February 6, 2013 8 comments

Over on Chuck Wendig’s blog Terrible Minds he invited people to talk about Book Piracy. Now it being me, the first thing that sprung to my mind was a dystopian Waterworld style future in which the most precious things in the world are books.

After all, if most of the landmasses on the planet became flooded and we all lived on re-purposed ships and barges, things that float would be at a premium. Those floating villages that could rig up enough power to run electrical devices probably wouldn’t waste that precious resource on e-readers, so it would be down to keeping surviving collections of books in a safe and dry place. Librarians would be more heroic than they are today, carrying shotguns and strictly enforcing fines.

All of this would lead to book piracy, of course. Tricorn wearing men and women would roam the seas in powerful ocean-going vessels, seeking out the precious booty of books. Libraries would be the targets of these terrible raiders (who presumably speak in Cornish accents), and librarians would have to protect those who wish to steal these stores of knowledge for their own selfish gain. Huge campaigns would be waged over the last surviving copies of House on Pooh Corner and adventurers would go off on quests to find the legendary “Amazon”, a mythical place that they say is filled with books.

Floating Villages are not a good place to store books

Floating Villages are not a good place to store books

Of course, when they say “Book Piracy” they might mean illegal file-sharing. It’s an interesting problem that isn’t as modern as we like to think it is. Art, be it movies, music, or books, needs to be shared and enjoyed by the community in order to be worth anything. As someone who makes a very modest living from writing, I want my work to do two things; be enjoyed by as many people as possible, and I also want to be paid. If the work isn’t good enough, it doesn’t sell. If I charge too much, it doesn’t sell, and both of those are fine; it’s on me to make sure it’s good work, reasonably priced and on time. If everyone steals my work then I don’t get paid at all, and I have to find something else to do in order to stay safe, fed, happy and living.

People will always seek to share art. This is such a fundamental thing that we even have a whole skill-set devoted to it. People train to be librarians, museum attendants and curators. A society that seeks to punish someone for wanting to enjoy music, view dramas or read books has gone wrong somewhere; we need to feed our brains almost as much as we need to feed our bellies, and if you try and deprive them of this right, then the metaphorical pirate ships will arrive.

The modern argument about file-sharing seems to be one of greed. On the one extreme you have people who wish to take everything for granted and never pay anyone for anything. On the other extreme you have people who want to charge people large sums of money for anything anyone has ever created. Neither of these are sensible approaches, a good book should not be the privilege of the wealthy or those with flexible morals. The middle ground for this debate is that of the public library, and subscription sharing services like Books Free. I like the idea of a service that mails books to me for a modest fee, though I’d be happier if they made sure the fee stayed modest and within the reach of everbody.

What is your take on this debate? Comments below please.

Categories: Books, Rants