Fragments of an Arbitrary Encyclopaedia – Jonathan Meades on France

Jonathan Meades on France BBC 4 Web page imageEveryman has two countries – his own and France.

So proclaims Jonathan Meades in the opening of the opening episode of his new series.

The BBC web-page for this program describes this series as

Jonathan Meades scrutinizes the 95 per cent of France that Brits drive through and don’t notice en route to the 5 per cent that conforms to their expectation

Its opening episode ‘Fragments of an Arbitrary Encyclopaedia’ explore one of France’s regions, Lorraine, where the episode page advises

Jonathan Meades travels through Lorraine and explains why, although close to its eastern border, it has become the symbolic, or even mystical, heart of France and a stronghold of a romantic nationalism that is also expressed by such diverse means as typography, music, engineering, exquisite urbanism and, above all, a sensitivity to Germany’s proximity.

Jonathan Meades on FranceThis program was broadcast without fanfare or farewell in January and February of this year.

Jonathan Meades is not well known, even in his home country of England, even in his own home county of Wiltshire. He is an unphotographed entry in the Internet Movie Database, but perhaps that just means he is barely known to North Americans. But he does at least have an entry, so he can be said at least to exist.

They describe him as a

Caustic journalist who writes on food and several other subjects, as well as presenting television documentaries

Though oddly despite this information being pride of place in his entry it comes under the section of trivia! Most of his listed TVCV is Television that broadcasts without much ado – fame is not going to seek out someone so little interested in it.

His most recent work prior to this ‘On France’ was Off Kilter which title describes his work well. His longest and perhaps most known or I should say least unknown series was Jonathan Meades Abroad in Britain exploring Britain from the outside looking in – its stop-offs were not usually the usual ones and whose episodic titles may give you an inkling of their content – The Case of the Disappearing Architect, On the Brandwagon and Heaven: Folkwoven In England – then again perhaps they give you no inkling of the content and Mr Meades might be disappointed if they did.

Meades is a literary presenter who is more writer than presenter. It is his words that make him telegenic.

And in this first episode Meades begins by listing what this episode is not about. It is not about

springs of onions, no Dourdogne, Boules, Piaf, ooh la la, Gallic shrugs, street markets, nor check-table cloths

And before I begin this review I own that my knowledge of France does not venture too much beyond the realm of cliché. Sadly France remains unvisited to me despite country-wise being on our Eastern borders save a Channel of water and if I did visit her it would probably be with those 95% seeking Paris though not at least to confirm any expectations I may have of it. I have at least got to know Serge Gainsbourg a little deeper than his carnal duet Je t’aime – though whether Gainsbourg is quintessentially French, or quintessentially Parisian or quintessentially anything I am not sure.

And what this opening episode will be about will be established and knitted via an alphabet soup but not starting at A ending at Z but beginning and finishing with V. Perhaps because we are going on a vacation, if of sorts. Or because we will be veering via his vertiginous vocabulary V to V. Well, you figure it out!

And so to the first V. Valise. To the strains of La Marselliase – some comforting familiarity. For now.

Valise as marker in his words for War and Death and for Statehood – a suitcase both literal and symbolic then – declaiming

Everyman has two countries – his own and France

Quoting a line put into the mouth of Charlemagne from a late 19th Century play La fille de Roland, by Henri De Beugnier, who has Meades note was French himself, so a predictably chauvinistic boast. And perhaps an unpredictably chauvinistic comment about chauvinism from Meades.

Jonathan Meades on France OASExcept Jonathan Meades tell us that in his case (that really was a very subconscious pun!) it is true, sharing with us that his childhood visits to France were many and various including ‘weird sojourns with his granddad’s elderly business friends’ and that he was forever hauling a giant suitcase. That 1962 (half-a-century old as of time of broadcast) in particular was the year that France became his second country, when he arrived in a war-zone – France being in the throes of a terrorist bombing campaign led by the OAS (Organisation de l’armée secrète), a secret military organization committed to keeping Algeria French. This being the year Algeria was to be granted its independence. Algeria was to become free from France if its people not free from its subsequent authoritarian government. The Arab Spring has only blown a little over this country…

When reviewing Meades it is very easy to just bask in his luxurious language and to merely repeat its mazey lines verbatim without comment save the occasional sigh of inhalation, sigh of exhalation. And perhaps that at times should be enough.

For him though the politics of Algerian Independence was of little import to his adolescent mind rather it was in his words the shameful thrill of its awful randomness…next V.

Jonathan Meades on France VallinVallin, Eugene – he was a furniture maker turned architect.

Nancy was we are advised a celebrated arts and crafts centre – Art Nouveau was favoured of Vallin’s time which genre depending on your disposition is at best reverentially revivalist at worst plagiarist.

Nancy though had its own version and took the English Arts and Craft movement as its model if a little less averse to utilizing emerging industrial technologies. This movement we are told is the  preferred style of the Caviar Left, translation Champagne Socialism.

By coincidence BBC 4 have a new series recently commenced Sex and Sensibility: The Art of  Nouveau presented by Stephen Smith who goes into much more detail, three one-hour episodes, as oppose to the several minutes that Meades passes over the subject. But Meades though voluble is nearly always concise. And has a lot of V’s to get through, here comes the next. And on to the next V.

Vaulan, Marquis de – economist and military engineer building battlements on Frances borders at a time when France was rapidly expanding – this V is not dwelt on long.

Jonathan Meades on France VaudemontOn to another V. Vaudémont – a small area of Lorraine and a place of worship or in his words

it has a tower that has a Mary on top of it!

He elaborates or continues in similar vein

A hill south of Lorraine is holy, or spiritual or mystical, one of those superstitious things anyway

He ends that it is the only hilly area for miles around which topographical prodigiousness is routinely claimed for God when in fact it actually belongs to the marvels of geological happenstance.

We spend some time with Maurice Barres one of Vaudémont’s inhabitants and politicians and described by Meades as ‘a clubbable bigot, a xenophobe steeped perhaps paradoxically in German literature’ and has ‘a Lorraine supremacist’

I am not free to think as I wish. I can live only in relation to the dead of my race. They, and my country’s soil, tell me how I should live

Meades thinks that much that he wrote was absolute tosh, but captivatingly written tosh. He notes that Barres influenced not just the gullible but an entire generation – and in him the hill was proclaimed the sacred hill of the nation.

We are advised that Joan of Arc also came from Lorraine, in nearby Domremy. And that Charles De Gaulles was a disciple of Barres too and chose to live on the border of Lorraine though on the other side of that border! Like loving the ideal of someone yet sensing even the briefest time in their presence would disappoint if not appall. Describing then from his border-vantage it has having

a melancholic emptiness where nothing changes, not the spirit, not the place

eulogizing a vapour…

Like Barres De Gaule was described as a solitary being who sought solace in the signals of nature leading Meades to conclude therefore that destiny here was a delusion prompted by

birds chatter, leaves gusting through forests naves, dappled, shafts of sunlight, raucous twigs, sprinting clouds and a multitude of furry animals scurrying nowhere in particular…

And then we look at the Lorraine Cross – a Christian Cross variant which we are reminded the Swastika was too. This Cross was a symbol for the Free French precisely because it defied this German Nationalist Imperialistic Invasion. This neighbourly violation.

This V comes to a close and next Vaugeois. Founder of ‘LAction Francais newspaper Meades lists that he is

anti-Semitic, anti-Corporatist, anti-Republican, anti-democratic, anti-Protestant, anti-Masonic, (pauses to add) goes without saying – it was Catholic and Monarchist

Meades muses on identity has a perennial concern of the far right

whose enemies are rootlessness, cosmopolitanism. A form of communitarianism which defines people by their race and inherited cultured rather than by their individuality, their aspirations, and their talents. It’s a kind of prison.

One of its street-hawkers Meades tell us was Jean Marie Le Pen subsequent leader of the French National Front and youngest ever member of the French Parliament who in turn was inspired by rabble-rouser Pierre Poujade – the deafening voice of the silent majority.

Meades proposes this eternal stance of victim is always with us, always impotent – like Philoctetes its wounds will never heal. Even those merely imagined, especially those merely imagined.

Jonathan Meades on France VedetteAnd on to Vedette –  that is the Simca Vedette – as any lover of mid 1950’s French cars needs no further explanation! Here used as a symbol of Les Trentes Glorieuses (Thirty Glorious Years)  – today an everyday phrase it was originally coined in the book of that name by economist Jean Fourastié from the late 1970’s – and described approximately the period from the liberation of France in the World War II through to the Liberation of French Women in the early 1970’s  – decades that experienced exponential industrial growth amid the rush towards modernization and va-va voom (had to get those V’s in – not a crowbar in sight!) both public and private.

We then see Meades statue-like in a French supermarket or hypermarket or megamarket you get the picture – as My Way in French or perhaps the French song it was based on Comme d’habitude, no matter, plays on its sound-system

For this economist glory relates to the spread of affluence, the triumph of consumerism, medical advances, education, improved working conditions, improved public services and so on.

I own, therefore I am.

Though ownership at least that includes and acknowledges taxation – a visceral verbal volley usually hissed from the individualists, the delusional individualists against taxes – there is no such thing as individuals – we are all social beings, inescapably so, and all the stronger and more diverse and, perhaps paradoxically, the freer for our endless interdependence.

I am happier and healthier now that I drive a Simca Vedette and have plenty of plenty, the state is no longer solely an ideal to which I bear quasi-religious fealty and adolescent resentment. It is also a supplier with which I enjoy a near commercial relationship in exchange for my taxes. My heavy taxes.

Glory then in an economic ideal not a nationalistic one of soil and pomp with vaunting exhortations to patriotism

Just as well Meades notes as this was a quite inglorious time for France.

Though as an side is this not the way of history? – it is that nostalgia thing again – we experience always our national life has anxious and disappointing and inglorious, it is only when it becomes past with the increasing distance of space and time that its ingloriousness sheds its first syllable –  embellished by unreliable memory and variously motivated cherry picking.

Back to Meades. France, both at home and its (colonial) abroad, specifically its military forays which as Meade succinctly calls it

France played 4 lost 4.

Surrender becoming habit forming and we are now given another language lesson this time a list of German words that have invaded and or been integrated into the French language.

Jonathan Meades on France VerdunAnd on to Verdun

Starting with  a song Verdun by Michel Sordou over footage of this World War One battle.

A battle in 1916 that claimed 300,000 lives. It is to France as to what the Somme is to Britain. But whereas the Edwin Lutyens Monument  to the Missing of the Battle of Somme remembers it in an architecturally appropriate way the architecture commemorating Verdun Meades thinks does not . This being the Douaumont ossuary. Not that it is frivolous but that it lacks solemnity, lacks gravity. It is the architecture of pleasure placed in a cemetery, inimical to meditative remembrance – the architects lacked the nerve to address the awful purpose of the monument , they made light of it, a 140 metre long betrayal of the dead.

They were also victims of the Modernist Century’s incapacity to devise a commemorative mode Meades adds and that no century ever needed one more.

Verlaine – Paul not Tom.  And his ode to Metz. Site of an earlier military surrender from 1870 – the invader again Germany and as before we looked at how language was invaded too this time we look at architectural invasion. Such as the Metz station – described by one critic memorably as an immense squat meat-pie!.

Further time is spend looking at renovations of existing buildings to rewrite history and render them Teutonic.

Jonathan Meades on France Metz VerlaineVersailles – and back to 1962 and Jean Bastien-Thiry who attempted to assassinate French President Charles De Gaulle and which spawned a book The Day of The Jackal  in 1971 by Frederick Forsyth and a few years later a film by Fred Zinneman starring Edward Fox and we are going off track. Back again then to 1962 and the failed assassination attempt and as much of note was his trial (also for treason) was that the General to preside over it killed himself rather than sit in judgement and the firing squad tried to miss the target, that is Bastien-Thiry!, taking half an hour to eventually kill him – because perhaps he used to be one of them, the French Military Establishment that is, having served in their air-force. He was the last person to be killed by firing squad in France. And why Versailles? This was the location of the cemetery he was buried in which tombstone now has an annual ceremony and remembrance of sorts as attended by his fellow surviving outcasts and which routinely prompts protests. As heroes and villains are often the same person.

Jonathan Meades on France StrasbourgVexatious litigants – and Strasbourg  and the location of the European Court of Human Rights – its building is disparaged for its architecture and then for its purpose.

The latter explained away has a Court of Special Pleading and that we are showered at birth with the promise of potential entitlements and should those entitlements not be fulfilled we can come here and complain and so line the pockets of the pious shysters of the Human Rights Industry!

And the architecture is described as being indistinguishable from buildings on the Polish-Lithuanian border, a comment only helpful if you are familiar with the architecture of the Polish-Lithuanian border!

Multiculturalism in the name of diversity is the next to find itself under the sun-glassed gaze of Jonathan Meades – and this one is a vituperative verbal volley – brace yourselves!

the constant injunction to celebrate vibrant diversity is moronic. It is shared qualities that should be appreciated. To emphasize differences merely consigns people to their background, to where they’ve come from, to their tribe, their caste, their religion. It creates ghettos.

France’s regionalism is then addressed. He notes that it is exacerbated by its absorption of its many bordered countries – Belgium, Germany, Switzerland, Italy and Spain.

What is noticeable he then observes is the absence of reciprocity – these countries do not absorb France as France absorbs them. Universalism in his words does not travel!

By way of example and a dig at German cuisine – what do you call good German cooking? You call it Alsacian cooking. Alsace enjoys a reputation as the most gastronomic region of France, arguably the most gastronomic country on earth. But noting the dishes themselves are all originally German but Francofied… Alsace though a border region with perhaps inevitable ambiguous loyalties to both France and its border boarder Germany.

And another French region, another V – Vichy.

Cue old British Empire-style war footage with a plummy English accent voiceover describing Pierre Laval, French Prime Minister during wartime, second world wartime, and who had to negotiate with Germany whilst his nation vanquished by them, and being described by said plummy voice as being in the habit of eating Frogs and thus making him technically a cannibal – casual cringing racist diplomatic humour!

Most French Meades advise were neither collaborator or resistance  rather at varying degrees between those two outer poles but the extremes having greater story value to history prevail. He notes though how its war criminals stealthily changed sides and suits and rose through the peacetime political ranks. And that though subsequent generations of Germans have expressed much shame for the culpability of their ancestors subsequent generations of France’s citizens have expressed no such shame for their collaborative role. Rather it was but another episode in France’s interminable civil war – right against left, monarchism against republicanism, catholic against an alliance of masons, protestants and secularists – the aforementioned AOS we are advised included both former collaborators and resistance fighters – men who had been deported to Dachau, men who had deported them.

Vienna! – the baguette is not French! You may have guessed then that it was introduced to Paris from Vienna in 1830.

Vietminh – not to be confused with Vietnam – though they were of that country and set up to establish independence from France – and during World War 2 against Japan too. And this Meades tale is about Georges Boudarel, a French teacher in Saigon who in 1950 defected to the Vietminh soon to become a war-criminal being responsible for the death of 300 or so of his compatriots. Reminding that the heart of darkness is not a geographical place but the darkness of the heart. He was sentenced to death in-absentia. And later recognized in Paris by one of his surviving victims was tried non absentia – in the interim he had been living in France having embarked on a university career as an  historian, revising his own history too, put on trials for crimes against humanity and now defended by his academic colleagues in the name of colonial revisionism. He was freed under the terms of an amnesty. This was a common French fate for colonial misadventurers. And veer off again to another v.

Visionary Visionaries – we see a ticker-tape pictorial parade of those so selected – Andre Godin, Le Corbusier,  Pascal Hausermann and Claude Nicolas Ledoux, to the sound of I Close the Door Upon Myself by Susumu Yokota.

He then elaborates a little or a lot as his fancy takes on each.

We first cut to Ledoux and his salt-works – a utopian salt works! Described memorably by Meades – though Meades has so much that is memorable that by virtue of its quantity it becomes unmemorable! – as exhilaratingly sullen.

He talks of the talking architecture – Architecure Parlante – giving Meades play to riff on model examples such as

a public toilet in the form of a syringe, a new house of commons in the form of a suitcase of money or cash dispenser, ‘that sort of thing’!

Jonathan Meades on France Le CorbusierOn to Le Corbusier described as a Swiss peasant who according to Meades wanted to be a French genius, a cultural colonialist and these the more flattering terms he has for him!. His works are treated more favorably – buildings that use machines but do not worship them. Described as

plastic, expressive with deliberately rough edges. Purity of form is suppressed, impurity of form is more interesting.  The meeting point of France and the Future.

In his second country Meade declares the future had already arrived. Or rather a future had already arrived. One that looked like it had suffered multiple amputations! But one at least that the French had a share in, not imposed from without. The future existed in the present.

Jonathan Meades on France HausermannOn to Hausermann – also Swiss – and Meades then reminds that many from Switzerland are mistaken for being French listing Rousseau, Godin and others before deliberately trailing off as a long list. Like many Scots who are thought by non-Brits as English but I veer. And what did Hausermann do? It was he that created the architecture of that French future now!

On to the next V.

Vitrine – the arrival of white Goods to France and seemingly endless household gadgets or rather appliances.

Jonathan Meades on France VitrineCar colours expanded – there was a time when every other colour was Cobalt Blue

somewhere between the colour of Gitanes and the colour of Gauloises! Two of the country’s predominant scents!, along with urine, sewers, two-stroke fuel!

Jonathan Meades on France MistralMeades then veers to typefaces and that they are as much logos charged with political regionalistic significance as functional fonts and we arrive at Roger Excoffon and Script Fonts. Script fonts are based on hand-writing and Excoffon devised a script font based  on his own handwriting – Mistral – the real inspiration being that each letter alongside any other letter appears joined up – any word comprising them appears legible yet any letter detached from the word can appear illegible – the letters work as words not as letters! Each part of each letter has a universal joint.

We then look at the Choc typeface which takes this legibility to the very limits of almost-scrawl!

Mistral is now a common place on shop-fronts and menus.

Voltaire – finally a V I have more than passing familiarity with! And back to Nancy – the city that most physically embodies the enlightenment.  Meades first reminds of Stanislovas Leščinskis, King of Poland, amongst other royal titles, and patron of many of these enlightenment figures such as Voltaire and also Montesquieu and Emile du Châtelet.

This king was described by Meadesas an epicurean philosopher and counseled happiness, optimism, virtuous hedonism, philanthropy, good fellowship, and self-regard.

Nancy was described as his greatest work – a Versailles for the people.

Jonathan Meades on France Voltaire

This statue of the Polish king is improved by the long-distance view. Up close you'll see a pigeon-poo tear-stain running down his cheek!

We spend time looking at his main commissioning architect Emmanuel Héré de Corny and his various creations described by Meades as ‘vectors of happiness’.

He notes his architecture was dated even before the final stone was laid – by at least half a century indeed – and, ‘so what’ – the worth of art he contends is not about novelty and being ahead of the game.

To the penultimate V – Vosges – a  vineyard rural area – this one included not so much for its place in French life and its history but in Meade’s own memory, charged childhood nostalgia – such as Nonagenarian great-grandmother and her seventy year old daughter who cooked a dinner of him of hare

telling him that this was the house that she had been born, and from which she had never moved, yet she had changed nationality four times, French, German, French, German, French. She told it to him without rancor it was merely what had happened to her. She hoped to die French. She did.

La Valise ou le cerceuil and we are back to that suitcase again.

This time, to the statement everyman has two countries, his own and France he answers ‘Wrong’.

Some men have no country – has in the aforesaid displaced Algerians – as this v fully translates as ‘The suitcase or the coffin, expatriation or death – hundreds of thousands left Algeria, hundreds of thousands were murdered. The authors of this overlooked genocide he advises were the terrorists of the FLN (National Liberation Front) and their new friend Charles De Galle.

The program now vanishes. This post vaporizes too.

Imagine – Books: The Last Chapter?

Books: The Last Chapter?With the rise of electronic books is the final chapter about to be written in the long love story between books and their readers?

So asked Books: The Last Chapter? –  the questioning title of a seventy-minute episode of the BBC 2 series Imagine from December of last year, posed by the program’s human incarnation Alan Yentob. Adding

Will the app take the place of the book?

Anecdotally both my sister and her husband bought Kindles for each other’s Christmas 2011 present and both loved them and both are forty-somethings and if not technophobic then certainly technoskeptic. And well as we know there is no evidence quite as compelling as anecdotal evidence.

Books: The Last Chapter? Imagine - web pageImagine is the BBC’s flagship Art series – I think that means it is expected to aim for a viewing figure at least comparable to a midweek midnight episode of a British Bowling regional meet – Art Programs for Art Programs sake. Imagine was I presume the BBC’s alternative – or complement as we are civil Arts types after all – to ITV’s South Bank Show the brainchild/lovechild of the ubiquitous Melvyn Bragg. Or it was until that show and or Melvyn Bragg were axed with its final broadcast in December 2009. Channel 4 have plenty of shows about classic and contemporary artists but perhaps surprisingly no regular series devoted to it. A gap in the market perhaps. And Channel 5 – be serious!

I am sure I read somewhere that the real name of Imagine’s presenter (and creator/writer/producer) Alan Yentob is Alan Botney but that he reversed his last name to make it sound more exotic! But now wonder whether this might be one of those urban-myths propagated pub-to-pub as afterall if your first name is the modest-sounding Alan I would think you should be going the whole-hog and reversing both names – Nala Yentob certainly sounds exotic – if perhaps to these ears female. Moving on!

The program starts with examples of analog technology – a crackling vinyl copy of David Bowie’s The Man Who Fell To Earth, a film camera, a land-line telephone, even a letter! before cutting back to Alan Yentob with iPhone in hand – commenting that

Technology expands the mind but shrinks the world

and

Making things that were once pleasurably different more or less the same

He portends that books are to be next with the profoundest change since Guthenberg as they ‘become consigned to the dustbin of history’!

Books: The Last Chapter? First book...We then get a potted history of the book. We start before the printing press, before even the physical object of a book, in the form of a scroll. A very long scroll. A second century AD roll of Homer’s The Iliad housed at the Bodleian Library in Oxford, England. Then we move forward three centuries to a very early example of a physical prototype of the modern day book in the antique form of Eusebius’ Chronicles.

A book very much more convenient to hold and to read than the scroll it was to replace but for all that still only marginally more accessible as this book was literally the ‘one and only’ of its kind. Mass production of copies was not yet upon us. Nor indeed was typography. These original books were all hand-written.

Books: The Last Chapter? CaxtonUntil William Caxton. With him appears the first book published and mass produced in the English language.

This technology propelling the producing and publishing of ever greater volumes of books in ever shorter periods of time. All the way to the modern day. With books at the digital threshold or precipice. Which is what this program will then take its remaining time expounding on.

Books: The Last Chapter? - Alan Bennett Uncommon ReaderWe are at the here and now and the here being at a book reading by Alan Bennett of his The Uncommon Reader.

Alan Yentob then remarks that

we made books and books made us

It is not yet clear to me how the aunt and uncle of an analogue book is able to shape us where the niece and nephew of the digital book with same content just different form will not be able to make us also. Let us hope this program is more than a curmudgeon’s moaning about the passing of all things.

This program takes some curious detours in its narrative. We are advised that books are 99% water 1% fibre so that like their readers they are organic too!

Books: The Last Chapter? Moma Book SmellingWe then detour further from the reading of books to the smelling of books – yes you read that right! – this might sound like some surreptitious sniffing activity undercover of darkness but no there are people who do this and get paid for doing so. We meet one, librarian Rachael Morrison of the Museum of Modern Art in New York. She records her verdicts of the books she samples and smells into a ledger. I write samples but in fact she at one time or another smells each and everyone of the library’s books, each and every three-hundred thousand of them! Olfactory overload!

Her comments are in the same spirit as a professional perfume-smeller or wine-taster. And the prose as purple. There is a ledger column for ‘Olfactory Essence’ –  and entries such as ‘burnt Tortilla’ (for The Order of Things by Michel Foucault!) and get this ‘a hug with an elderly relative’ – this ledger it seems is worthy of publication in itself or at least as pretensions of.

She explains this last entry with the quite subjective experience that her parents usually wear and smell of wool (I was not even aware that wool had a smell, I guess I just have a base olfactory system!) and that her grandfather smokes and the way that his smokes sticks to his woollen clothes! For this librarian at least it is not just the physical tactile nature of a book that no digital version can provide but also its very peculiar aroma. During this curious sequence it was never asked why the Museum of Modern Art felt the need to take note of the smells of individual books let alone studiously record them. Was this something particular to MOMA I mused or standard practice of all libraries?!

Alan Yentob himself then mused that there might be a special Smell App for all those book-readers who find themselves seduced to read The Importance of Being Earnest on a Kindle or Nook but nostalgically miss its literal (as oppose to literary!) pungency.

He then alludes to Apps again as

a bland little word like Tweet, Blog and Search that are all quietly changing our world

Books: The Last Chapter? The ElementsAnd by way of ‘is it a book, is it an app’ we move onto The Elements by Theodore Gray. Formerly a glossy coffee-table book it has now become a content-rich multimedia application which since its application incarnation inception eighteen months ago has seen sales of over a quarter-of-a-million copies – nothing to smell here he notes except the ‘sweet smell of success’. Ta da!

Books: The Last Chapter? Theodore GrayAnd so Imagine – Books: The Next Chapter? As we then meet its publishers (or perhaps producers) Touch Press whose speciality is in touch screen versions of  books such as The Elements. The company was established by a former TV producer (Max Whitby) and a scientist (Stephen Wolfram) and by the aforementioned author Theodore Gray among other illustrious founders and we see them in a development meeting with author – and again do the usual descriptions break down here? content producer? Multi-media magician?! – Simon Winchester. They are discussing his latest app Skulls, this one specifically for the iPad. Simon Winchester is there in the meeting or rather he is ‘there’ – being as he is a disembodied video head on a laptop screen – quite fitting of course.

Theodore Gray clearly has no attachment sentimental or otherwise to the printed book – referring to its readers as ‘fetishisers of the printed page’ (well really!) – and adding that

it’s kinda annoying to have to hold the book open!

Speaking as someone who owns and reads books on an iPad I can tell you the paperback, even a hard-back Russian novel, is kinder on the wrists!

All this tiresome physical interaction with the external world. A future of cerebral interaction only where Megamind’s flourish, our craniums expanding as our limbs and torso diminish…

The program then explores the current publishing model in more detail. It is noted that a publisher is focused on getting books on shop bookshelves. The author of books should not be impacted too much by the ‘digital switchover’ but those involved in its physical manufacturer distribution and sale most certainly will be. And indeed already are. Most notably and iconically the book shop.

Books: The Last Chapter?And not just to paraphrase the You’ve Got Mail universe where the Kathleen Kelly small book shop resists succumbing to the Joe Fox corporate chain of books but where both are at the mercy of the online retail behemoths, most notably Amazon, laying the likes of Borders and many other casualties in their inexorable wake.

Publishing consultant – when there are more consultants than there are professionals they are consulting on you know an industry is in trouble – Mike Shatzkin notes that we are a literal crossroads as five years ago most book sales were in store whereas five years from now most will be online, though he notes that that does not mean online sales are only digital as with Amazon itself hard and paper back sales still match those of their Kindle equivalents. For now.

Most bookstores we are reminded are limited by their physical space, whereas an online store is usually a portal to a global distribution network – all that you could want, all that you could need.

Books: The Last Chapter?

The program then cuts to a meeting with the old guard of the book industry – agents and publishers – as they discuss where they find themselves currently and where they are likely heading within the next decade.

Generation Y gets ifs first mention – also known as the Millennial Generation – those born after Generation X and vaguely dated as being born some time in the last quarter of the last century – as those who consume (I hate that word – not even food should be consumed) near three-quarters of their textual information (another urghh phrase!) online. They note that the three main publishers in ten years time for books are not going to be Penguin, Harper Collins and Faber & Faber but Google, Amazon and Apple.

Concern is then expressed about the discovery of new literature for readers asking that with no face-to-face local presence of book stores are we are all then just cast adrift in a sea of information, where finding books becomes evermore hit and miss?

I am not so sure about that. One of the notable aspects of buying a book on Amazon or other online stores is the review process, more specifically the feedback of previous readers. Their own reviews can provide a more informed and authentic review of a book than the more usual hype of the publishers and their cherry-picked favourable reviews? And the algorithms they employ which suggest that as you recently bought this you may like this are pretty impressive I have to concede no matter how complicated and difficult to understand I like to consider myself!

We then come to the issue of copyright and whether all digital information will become free or should become free – inevitable allusions to Napster are quickly made. If you live in a country with Libraries like Great Britain then to an extent, a tax-subsidized extent, books have always been free. Will this be their digital destiny too? Will there be a Spotify for books for that matter, that allows us to read (stream) books freely for a limited period of time funded by relevant targeted and or irritating advertising?

But will that itself become an academic desire as the very concept of digital ownership fading cost to zero establishes itself? Another way to say that books will become worthless? At least economically. Worthless perhaps but not valueless. The program itself wonders what we will pay for if not content. It proposes this will be context and community. Not entirely convincingly I thought. The suggestion was that an author will be paid to read their work in person or that readers will subscribe for them to discuss their work as they go – I like this idea but not quite buying that an author needs to ‘turn up on the page’ – their writing should be speaking for itself and we the reader will take from it what we will based on our own experiences and beliefs – I am not sure either author or reader would want this extra if you like meta-story on the page.

Books: The Last Chapter? Gary ShteyngartWe now switch sides as it were. Following the digital reading utopia of Theodore Gray we now go to the digital reading dystopia of Gary Shteyngart and his book Super Sad True Love Story referred by Alan Yentob as working on his new novel in upstate New York

far from the tweeting crowd

Another grand comparison was made to EM Forster’s ‘only connect’ plea from his 1910 novel Howard’s End

Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon. Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer. Only connect, and the beast and the monk, robbed of the isolation that is life to either, will die.

where his plea is ‘only disconnect’. Shteyngart makes great play of being off the digital grid, forced free from the ever widening deepening web. Though disappointingly for me when I googled him I noted he had a Facebook page – well who knows perhaps it was an impostor account – I wonder if I will ever be famous enough to have impostor social media accounts!

He talks of ‘the party in your pocket’ of your smart-phone that is

binging and pinging and clinging and singing and dinging

But not ringing! I noted though he did have a Television – so a selective disengagement or perhaps just a slow weening. Like in turn those who make great play of not having a TV in their homes – so what do you do with your evenings? Oh, you know, we listen to the radio!

He thinks in generalisations which makes him entertaining if not always insightful demurring that ‘we live in a culture where youth is the only thing that is important’.

He is quick to add though that he is not against progress rather its speed. Though at the risk of speaking in generalisations myself I don’t think we can equate all progress as positive or negative. Whatever works. For us.

Books: The Last Chapter? Institute for Future of BooksNext we are introduced to someone from the Institute for the Future of the Book – yes, really! – its co-founder and director Bob Stein and back on the other side of the digital divide. His line was it is the message we should seek to preserve not fuss overmuch over whatever medium happens to be carrying it at any given time, at any given place – the book just a mechanism for the transmission of ideas – so to get hung-up on any one particular format is silly and obstructs us from grasping all the other exciting formats available for its propagation.

The program then puts forward the view that the digital format takes books from the private to the public, from an intimate one-to-one with a paperback to a shared digital experience – we can read a book together and annotate and comment on it together. I guess! Whereas our highlighting of passages in books is for own benefit only (leaving aside striving to impress (upon) others that we may want to lend the book too!) – with a Kindle for example all of our individual highlighting is recorded and stored in Amazon’s database so that we can see the most commonly highlighted phrases of any particular book of interest to us.

Books: The Last Chapter? Marshall McLuhanWe then arrive at McLuhan. Marshall McLuhan. Of the Medium is the Message. Primarily he was referring to Television as against its predecessor of the mass-printed and mass-circulated word but the program suggests that digital technology and the world wide web is even more revolutionary. The program discusses the overload of information. Its overwhelming force and presence. It is commented that in this context the word becomes more emotional and collective where on the paper page it remains more solitary and analytical.

Books: The Last Chapter? Douglas CouplandSwiftly we move on – or back – to Generation X and its Canadian author (and visual artist) and proponent Douglas Coupland.

Books: The Last Chapter? Coupland Twelve StatementsHe thinks that McLuhan’s medium is the message is now more prescient with the web than with TV too. He then comments that human attention span is now the length of one Beatle song – dating himself as very much of Gen X by so doing! – and that the Web even perhaps unintentionally panders to this in a way that the analogue world of books and vinyl never could. It is much easier on the web for us to flit about from one  object of interest to another – very easy for you dear reader to have left/fled this piece many many words back! He casually throws in that Artificial Intelligence is not ‘ever just beyond the blue horizon’ – well he did not quite say this but I am paraphrasing! – but already with us – the web our collective memory, presence, consciousness. Where does it end and we begin, where do we end and it begins…

Remembering too though that Marshall McLuhan did not approve of these changes – he saw TV as the enemy even in its black and white infancy broadcasting a handful of channels only.

We now find ourselves in San Francisco and to meet an entrepreneur and inventor and who is like an anti-McLuhan. And who believes

that friends are electric

We now hear inevitably Tubeway Army.

Books: The Last Chapter Brewster KahleAnd this is Brewster Kahle founder and digital librarian of The Internet Archive – whose mission is to scan every book that has ever existed and make them free to all comers on the web – subject to copyright. Unlike Google who also do this they seek to preserve the original ink too – an analogue back up. Alan Yentob prior to meeting him ponders what book to bring for the man who likely has every book there is to have and decides on Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 – the temperature at which books burns – as an appropriate choice as it describes a world where books are banned and burned and an underground establishing itself to preserve them as heart-learnt human memories – though I am assuming such a book would already be in such an archive but it makes a good poetic point for the program.

Kahle likes the gifted Ray Bradbury book though comments it is not the burning of books but the proliferation of books and information that is a greater problem. Adding too that we become the books we read – how we invest in them emotionally, intellectually, and how we can then recite them back. He then plays a game of ‘if we could be any book what would it be’. He himself thinks he would be either Euclid’s Elements or Ben Franklin’s Autobiography – so not committing to one then! Alan Yentob thinks he would be Voltaire’s Candide. I am not going to play along though – I cannot be constrained and described by any one book – urgh!

Books - The Last Chapter? Internet Digital ArchivesThe building use to be a Christian Science temple which I only note as we are shown a part of this Digital Archive where we see clay figures sitting in temple pews. And who are these figures? Everyone who has ever worked at the archive or is still working for five or more years! Imagine that as an incentive to stay with a company! In the very same room are all the digital servers stacked up to the church ceilings each blue bleep a digital download or upload of a book (and audio and video) somewhere in the world. Millions of books ‘up there’, ‘in the cloud’.

What will tomorrow’s cloud be the program then wonders. How much more of us, of humanity will be existing digitally, ethereally in some San Franciscan server?! How much of us will remain on earth in analogue, not digitally stored and cloned in the buzzing ether?

Finally or perhaps by way of a nostalgic post-script we are taken to a cyber-cafe on its premises where alongside drinking your simmering caffeine concoction an analogue book can be printed off of any contained in their vast digital archive – taking as long to print off as your coffee takes to brew. The program ends with Alan Yentob drinking an Expresso while reading a freshly pressed copy of Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe.

Books: The Last Chapter?The show ends with the disclaimer that no books were harmed in the making of this program!

Imagine – Books: The Last Chapter? dispenses with a traditional beginning middle and an end. This story rambles. Its tale is inconclusive. The current chapter still being written. There is no The End. Perhaps it is a post-modern tale but perhaps too the same as it ever was. Story never-ending.

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Bees Butterflies and Blooms – the quiet catastrophe

Bees, Butterflies and Blooms Villages Farms Countryside… the loss of Britain’s wildflower meadows and grasslands is estimated at around 98 per cent. Have we lost our connection with the wildflowers and habitats that were once so common and supported our pollinators?

So asks Bees, Butterflies and Blooms a new three-part gardening and conservation series from the BBC currently being broadcast Wednesday nights at 8pm on BBC 2 – well first being broadcast anyway and then subject to the usual re-viewing opportunities.

Its presenter Sarah Raven according to the program’s website ‘is on a mission to halt the decline in honey bees and insect pollinators with insect friendly flower power’. Sarah Raven is also a writer and gardener and has her own professional business Online Garden and Kitchen Shop.

When I first checked this on the BBC iPlayer I also saw a program Bullets, Boots and Bandages – the BBC are going in for alliteration I noted and letter B alliteration at that – are they like each subsequent series of the erudition-and-beyond QI (one of many laid eggs from Stephen Fry) going to be working their way doggedly through the alphabet toward this end. I am looking forward anyway to the long overdue Beer Bicycles and Belfries.

Bees, Butterflies and Blooms Presenter Sarah RavenBack to Bees Butterflies and Blooms. Sarah Raven is aiming to halt this aforementioned depletion in insect pollinators using Flower Power – by bringing flowers back into our British towns, cities and countryside. And this series sets out a crisis and quite an apocalyptic one at that. Sarah Raven describes it as a ‘quiet catastrophe’ – while we are busy going about our increasingly urban lives our farmlands and other rural-scapes have been transformed into soulless food factories producing ever-more efficient food stuffs but of increasingly uniform nature leaving our bees and other pollinating insects increasingly vulnerable to pesticides and parasites.

In Britain alone the loss of wildflower meadows and grasslands is estimated at a startling 98%. The loss of pollinating insects to extinction would be heart-rending enough but it has even deeper implications than that as it threatens our very food supply such is their integral part in its process.

The opening episode is titled ‘Villages Farms and Countrysides’ as it is in the ‘country’ that her campaign to reverse this decline will commence. The BBC iPlayer guide for this episode informs us that she hopes ‘to encourage farmers and village communities to help recreate a network of crucial habitats for struggling bees, butterflies and insect pollinators’. To this end she visits a village called Creaton in Northamptonshire – they will be her pilot as she seeks to convert the countrysides horticultural practices one village at a time. She breezily advises us that

if we can get Brits planting pollen and nectar rich plants throughout the country together we can get Britain buzzing again.

And she starts in the countryside because, surprisingly to me at least, this problem is less pronounced in our towns and cities. We see her in a field, a productive (being the keyword here) habitat of food but also a ‘wildlife desert’ as due to pesticides it is bereft of wildflowers and weeds the very life of our insect pollinating population.

She then demonstrates the effect of this on our everyday eating and diet by visiting a supermarket and filling up a shopping basket with food for a standard British breakfast – no not a half-eaten banana and a few swigs of coffee! – fresh fruit as well as fruit-juice and smoothies, jam, yoghurt, even coffee and chocolate (bees pollinate the respective Coffee and Cocoa beans) and then removing all the insect-pollinated items – all that was left was the wind pollinated food stuffs – wheat, oat – leaving us just with porridge and bread – this is the fate that lies in store for a British breakfast – a Scottish breakfast!  Cue the ever-young strains of Big Yellow Taxi as Joni Mitchell coos its one of many sage lines

Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone

Bees, Butterflies and Blooms CreatonSarah Raven’s next call is her first to Creaton – chosen not because it is as typical as any other British village but because of all the villages in Britain it is the one with the largest depletion of pollinating insects – it is in its village-greens, verges and even church-yards where the wild-life has been mown and tidied out of existence. Sarah Raven is as knowledgeable as she is passionate about the subject – as she wanders through a Creaton church-yard with the head of the Parish and other parishioners in pursuit she lists off all and sundry wild-flowers that she casts her eye upon – the rest of her troupe, not very convincingly I thought, nodding their heads in agreement. I was nodding my head too, and I was watching alone!

We then get some history – back near-seventy-years to the end of the second world war and the modernising of food production – meaning taking small-scale agriculture and making it large-scale industrial. Part of this meant creating ever larger fields by removing the previously connecting hedgerows. And it is in these hedgerows and the verges of land adjoining them that the insect pollinators use to live and flourish.

We get some science too. Being advised that it is not just the lack of pollen-producing wildflowers but the lack of diversity in them too – bees for example requiring a variety of flowers to build up their immune system. Professor Simon Potts  (of Biodiversity and Ecosystem Science at the University of Reading) explains the symbiotic relationship – a greater diversity of wild flowers a greater diversity of bees, a greater diversity of bees a greater diversity of wild flowers.

Bees, Butterflies and Blooms Council MeetingWe return to Creaton and a parish council meeting. We are first shown sepia photographs of the village at the early part of the twentieth century with naturally wild village greens and Sarah Raven asking us and them if they will ‘re-embrace its wild-side’! The parish council require more convincing than that and consider a  tie-in with the UN 2010 Year of Biodiversity  – when this series was initially filmed – and creating a pause in their progress – for further consultation must now be had! Meetings about meetings comes to mind.

The program then cuts away to a Royal Society for the Protection of Birds Reserve in Dungeness, Kent and Doctor Nikki Gammans of the Bumblebee Conservation Trust . We discover that there are now 25 species remaining, 2 of which are now extinct and a further 7 now endangered. Dr Gammans speaks also of a symbiotic relationship – between farmers and bees – as the farmers help the bees to thrive the bees in turn help the farmers produce richer crops.

We are then given another stat – an estimated 84% of our crops in Europe are dependent on insect-pollinators and especially bees and without this our food chain could collapse.

We are then advised of our role in re-establishing bees in our national life. We are encouraged to collect wild-flower seeds for our own domesticated gardens. Though there is perhaps a rub – that it is assumed we all have homes with gardens. I myself live in a first floor flat with not even a balcony to lay out some seed trays for. And as much as I love bumble-bees, not quite to the extent that I want them living unconstrained about my home. But I digress.

Bees, Butterflies and BloomsWe then spend some time in Sarah Raven’s undomesticated garden. We see her cleaning the wild flower seeds by dividing them from their petals – this is not quite my hope for a wild garden – rather untended growth while said wild gardener heads indoors for a more sedentary urban pursuit like a hot cup of tea and even hotter game of scrabble on his iPad while the Lesser Knapweed and St John’s Wort are left to get on with it. While Sarah Raven is cleaning these seeds we learn by way of some nature and nurture that her father was a botanist and an artist combining both loves in wildflower illustrations.

We then revisit Creaton in September to catch up on progress or even if there has been any progress. If you consider meetings about doing things but not actually doing those things has progress then there has been progress. So Sarah Raven then seeks parishioner persuasion with a people-pestering-paper-petition (see I can do uncontrived alliteration too, well okay then contrived alliteration). Most of the parishioners seemed more than happy to sign this petition if perhaps succumbing to the seductive persuasiveness of a BBC camera crew lurking just outside of their eye-shot.

Bees, Butterflies and BloomsHaving successfully gathered and armed themselves with seeming sufficient signatures it was expressed that they could sympathise with the hitherto reluctance. Mmm – you would think the building of dens of iniquity were being proposed for their village rather than a verge of wild-flowers on their village green and little-seen church-yard back-waters. The invasion of the flowery margins!

A Northamptonshire farming family the Farringtons had also been brought on board. The head-farmer Duncan Farrington in particular requires far less cajoling to see both the ecological and economical benefits of re-introducing strips of wild flowers alongside his main crop of arable fields.

As noted Sarah Raven is leading by example and we see her commencing the sewing of her wild-garden in Autumn – this being the optimum time for both annuals and perennials to be sewn – I can see you all nodding your heads in a pretence of understanding you urban lot!

The final quarter of this opening episode jumps forward to May 2011 allowing us to see the progress of the various wild flower projects. The farmer’s field will need a second year for the perennial flowers to establish themselves against the hardy arable weeds. The Creaton village did eventually decide to commence with their project with the tiny baby steps of an area of the village-green being allowed to go wild and native.

The head of the parish council is then called on for his reading on proceedings to date. He shares that a lot of the villagers ‘quite like it’ – an underwhelming sort of endorsement if ever there was one! – and just for good measure adding ‘that there are other’s not so favourable’! Against that though they have instigated a project to increase wild-flower growth in the villagers own gardens as part of a new group ‘Natural Creaton’

Remembering too that Creaton is the program’s pilot and that Sarah Raven is wanting every village in the UK to follow suit – tiny steps indeed.

In the second episode Towns Gardens and Britain in Bloom she will be taking this challenge to our towns and cities and asking that the Britain in Bloom Competition, the UK Garden Industry and Royal Horticultural Society join her in this endeavour. I look forward to seeing how she gets on. And am hopeful that her cause blossoms with this BBC broadcast – sorry but an irresistible pun should not be resisted.

Bees, Butterflies and Blooms Closing credits

The Jelly Fox – Noel Fielding’s Luxury Comedy

Noel Fielding's Luxury Comedy E4 LogoLike Salvador Dali and Mick Jagger recreating The Jungle Book. Or a William Blake inspired party-time.

Noel Fielding's Luxury ComedySo describes the associated web-page for Noel Fielding’s Luxury Comedy from production company Secret Peter showing on E4, the new comedy from one half of The Mighty Boosh, the eponymous Noel Fielding, but though the other Boosher, Julian Barratt, is absent the spirit of Boosh is still very much at play.

Not just its spirit though but also some of the Boosh actors. Michael Fielding (is he more than a name-sake to Noel I wonder?!) who played Naboo turns up here as Noel’s anteater butler – yes you read that right! And Rich Fulcher who played Bob Fossil turns up as William Jessop celebrating his one hundredth birthday and being visited by the ghost of a flea. This may start to give you a feel for what this Luxury Comedy is about – or not.

We are warned that it contains adult humour – in the UK that means only suitable for those over 18 – if you are 17 and British sorry but then this is not for you! Though this show may well not be for you however old you might be – more of that later. It may just as well have warned us that it contains childish humour and that if you are serious-minded-adult-type to watch at your peril.  For Noel Fielding’s Luxury Comedy is for the child in all of us, if, that is, your inner child was expelled from Kindergarten…

Incidentally to establish that you are indeed eighteen and beyond, Channel 4 make the serious demand of you that you click in a box on their online player confirming such and you are then cheerily beckoned in, not a bleary burly bludgeoning bouncer in sight. Anyone seventeen and younger will naturally be deterred by this. Okay that’s enough sarcasm.

Noel Fielding's Luxury Comedy - The Jelly Fox cast

The cast awaits you

The Luxury Comedy starts in musical fashion with the entire cast however significant however insignificant welcoming us to them and their show.

This second episode, The Jelly Fox, then cuts to Noel Fielding in black leather jumpsuit and Aladdin Sane style face-paint dancing around to a nineteen sixties rock song (I could have just said ‘the 60’s’ couldn’t I as I doubt most of you are familiar with the rock music of the 1860’s).

The rock music so alluded is from 1960’s psychedelic group Lysergic Casserole who recorded just one album which ‘no-one has ever heard of’ and described by Noel Fielding as ‘the best band ever’ but then explaining that

they disappeared having took so much LSD they got trapped in their own guitar case

And the episode proceeds from there. There is no linear way to refer to this episode as it is beyond transcription if not description. You will either get tuned in to its own particular madness or look upon it aghast and askance before tuning out toward the lesser insanity of the BBC News at 10 or James May’s Things You Need to Know – James May is very likely in fact Noel Fielding’s TV Uncle – I do not know if that is helpful or pretentious of me – or both.

We see Lysergic Casserole’s guitar-case-trip as they experience Orson Welles having a romantic dinner with a cheese-cake, and then Welles pulling a skipping rope out of his…well I will let you use your own imagination here!

Noel Fielding's Luxury Comedy Lysergic Casserole

Lysergic Casserole – the amount of times I have spelt this wrong over the years

Their music like all the music in the show is provided by Sergio Pizzorno of British rock group Kasabian – I was sceptical when I first heard of this collaboration not thinking Kasabian’s rather masculine swaggering feet-firmly-on-the-ground music would best serve Noel Fielding’s head-in-the-clouds whimsy – Mercury Rev or Polyphonic Spree would have been more fitting I felt – but Pizzorno’s music sits very comfortably with Fielding’s madcap visions.

Noel Fielding's Luxury Comedy - Diamond Back

Diamond Back

Later Noel Fielding decides to rescue Lysergic Casserole from their Guitar Case bound fate by erecting a ramp made of Ryvita! – it is not just their freedom he has in mind though, he considers that they might make a second album and he could be their manager! But his snouty nosed butler reminds him that the sixties was a half-a-century ago and like Austin Powers their respective mojo’s might not adapt to the transport to the present day…alas they and their Harley’s trajectory is toward the guitar-case of the rock-star they call Diamond Back – Diamond Back having risen from the swamps of Putney, his father a pet-shop junkie and his mother, well she had a hundred eyes. Clear? I hope not.

Noel Fielding’s Luxury Comedy has comedy and music, that at least is established. It also has art. Much of the art is provided by Fielding but not all of it. Animation is provided by the show’s director Nigel Coan. Coan is another Boosh connection having provided its animation too.The Luxury Comedy sets are art and there is one scene where Noel Fielding himself is producing art. The most striking and impressing aspect of the program is its look – its visual swagger.

Noel Fielding's Luxury Comedy - Keep off the Chest

Artist at work – can you see what it is yet?

And as noted in one scene we see Fielding painting on canvas – we can assume this was done in real-time and condensed into TV-time – Rolf Harris used to do this kind of thing, well not quite this kind of thing!

Noel Fielding's Luxury Comedy - press-ups

The finished work

If this show is going to work for you you have to take it on its own terms. Concepts like narrative development and dramatic conventions are only going to get in your way. You have to go with its flow, let it get into your blood and nerves, let Noel Fielding get inside your head. If you are not prepared to do that then the Singing Detective and Celebrity Juice are also scheduled alongside it – their own particular brands of madness may be more accommodating of yours. Though these allusions to other channels imply a world before time-shifted TV of  +1 channels and endless repeats, of online players and PVR’s, and as if the most of you would be watching it during its first E4 Broadcast Thursday evening’s at 10 o’clock!

Noel Fielding's Luxury Comedy with Andy Warhol

With his cleaner

I alluded to the Boosh lineage but not all of them are from that particular ancestral tree. For example Noel Fielding’s cleaner Andy Warhol. Yes that Andy Warhol. Well is there another Andy Warhol?! He is played by Tom Meeten. In this episode he is planning a vacation with Picasso and Keith Haring and has organised a cleaner replacement going by the name of Frida Kahlo! His suitcase was given to him by Jackson Pollack and his rucksack is borrowed from René  Magritte – not at all art for art’s sake this! – Fielding comments about the Magritte rucksack ‘Yeah it’s a nice design but probably gets a bit annoying’!

Noel Fielding's Luxury Comedy René Magritte Rucksack

René Magritte Rucksack

Though this episode is called The Jelly Fox it is only in the second part of the show that mention is made of him! We see Little Chrissie and Spoon Snake and their crew on their way to meet The Jelly Fox. And who or what is the Jelly Fox? Well

he gives you what you need. He lives in a blue-fabric castle with creases in it. He will give you a tablet that dissolves in wine. To wipe away your past…

Noel Fielding's Luxury Comedy with Dolly

Dolly and the Warhol-cum-Kahlo Cleaner

We then cut back to Noel Fielding and another new (ir)regular character Dolly. Dolly is played by Doll Wells. Dolly has given him a face-painting of David Bowie. Except that she has painted a Tiger. We then see cleaner Frida Kahlo except that it is Andy Warhol wearing a dress. He wants to wear a dress in public but is uncomfortable in doing so, so passes himself off as Mexican surrealist painter Frida Kahlo! – the usual cowardly recourse of the man in denial of their transvestism! Dolly advises him that he should not be ashamed of this. She then advises that she dresses up as a Fireman and a Baby and calls herself a Firebaby! Noel then wants to know whether she dresses with a fireman top-half and nappy or romper suit and a helmet. She explains the latter, obviously! He considers it a joke, she a serious concept. They then argue over this point. Getting nowhere they decide to consult Hawkeye – the complex technology that resolves the flight of balls in Tennis and Cricket not Captain Benjamin Franklin Pierce of M*A*S*H* fame!

Noel Fielding's Luxury Comedy - Hawkeye

Hawkeye declares

If only all dilemmas could be resolved this way! Hawkeye decides it is a Concept, and that is an end to it!

It is only at the show’s end that we actually encounter the Jelly Fox – the term plot-spoiler has no impact on a show like this but I won’t reveal it all the same.

If you should be watching this on the 4OD online player you may note a ‘More Like This’ option – but other than its previous episode there is almost certainly nothing more like this on E4 or any other TV channel currently….and I am thankful for this.

Noel Fielding’s Luxury Comedy happily revels in its own wild imaginings. I am happy to revel along in it too – and I don’t have to take anything to do so. The whole psyche-shifting experience is all perfectly legal!Noel Fielding's Luxury Comedy - The Jelly Fox

Identity – Second Life

When you find out where they’ve been, you’ll discover where they’re going.

Keeley Hawes Identity DSI Martha Lawson

DSI Martha Lawson

This is not me trotting out pop-philosophy following on my brief flirtation with pop-psychology in my last post. Rather this is the strapline for the new to STV (Scottish TV) show Identity.

Identity is a crime-drama – when you encounter a new drama on ITV there is a better than evens chance that it will be a crime-drama. Though it is new to STV it is not new to British TV. British people not living in Scotland (I am now navigating a political trip-wire here!) would have had the chance to become acquainted with DI John Bloom and DSI Martha Lawson back in 2010. Why the STV program controllers thought to hold it off to its Scottish viewers to 2012 I do not know. We are quite provincial about Scottish crime dramas it seems – much loved but now deceased crime soap The Bill always had significantly lower viewing figures north of the Hadrian Walls than south of it and when it comes to geographical divides it is never about North versus South but West versus East and I am not invoking the Cold War either rather of Glasgow’s Taggart and Edinburgh’s Rebus and never the twain shall meet – joined up policing, as if! But as much as we Scots like Taggart and as ever-running as it is, it cannot have been this that kept Identity off the STV schedules.

Perhaps that is what Scottish Independence will come down too – good riddance to you say the English and you can keep your Taggart too and with two fingers back in return (for the sanctity of stereotypes if not poetic license at least, we are less polite) ‘aye and the same to you and you can take your Midsomer Murders and stick it where the sun don’t shine and I don’t mean Manchester!…shame on me for making parochial meteorological allusions in a blog being read all over the world!!

The Scottish Independence debate will not of course be as churlish as this.

But as gripping as the vagaries of regional TV scheduling is for us all I think I should move on to the show itself.

Just as there is a high chance that a new ITV drama will be a crime drama there is in turn another high chance if it is a crime drama that it will be an adaptation of a crime book, preferably a long running serial  And in turn yet again if so a very high chance that its author will be Lynda La Plante.

Keeley Hawes IdentitySo what about Identity. This does seem to be written for Television. It is certainly not an adaptation of Milan Kundera’s 1999 Identity and the only other book titles I could find called Identity were dry sociological studies and tracts concerning what it is that makes us who we are, and who we are not.

Its creator is Ed Whitmore. He wrote it, directed it, produced it. Identity then is his baby. His TV CV is threaded through by crime too – Silent Witness, Waking the Dead, The Inspector Lynley Mysteries and on – he has even written one episode of US crime drama CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. The Internet Movie Database tells me this and that he wrote a TV movie also called Identity in 2011. I have not seen this but it is as you might expect based on this TV series. It stars Angela Bassett and Orlando Jones so I am just guessing that it is a version made in the USA. Curiously though it has no reviews and is awaiting five ratings – what exactly does that mean?! And like the falling unheard tree in the woods if a film has not been reviewed did it ever exist. For a film called Identity it seemed somewhat fitting.

What’s that you say, there is a TV program to be reviewed, oh yes, so there is…

Before recording this to review – sorry going to have to keep you waiting a bit longer, or am I by now talking to myself – that would have been a good strapline for my blog actually – I had to make space for it on my PVR and so watched another program toward deleting it. This was Mark Zuckerberg: Inside Facebook broadcast on BBC2 December 2011. It was a look at Mark Zuckerberg’s astonishing Facebook success – his life before Facebook, his life since. It was presented by Emily Maitlis and it was a surprising yet also unsurprising reveal of Mark Zuckerberg depending perhaps on whether you had seen The Social Network. But this paragraph does have a relevant point to this review. Namely that Facebook is about identity, about privacy, about truths, half-truths and lies. The identity we want the world to see.

The opening episode of Identity was called Second Life an obvious allusion to the Second Life website and digital world within a world. Except that Second Life could also describe Facebook.

This opening episode is about stolen identity.

Are we rightly vigilant about our identity becoming lost let alone stolen online or have we been scare-mongered into paranoia, paper-shredding away our existence, by a traditional mainstream media using fear to sell copy?

Alas fear it seems sells more than hope.

The stealer of identity in this opening episode was near-invisible, a shadow of a shadow, wreaking havoc on seemingly unrelated victims.The thief-of-selves had no government records, no private financial accounts or traces of purchase transactions, no credit card used – a cash only circumspect existence.

Aidan Gillen Identity

Aidan Gillen

This then was not just any old crime but a rarefied crime. The police investigating it would need to be of a specialized unit – and as likely to be sat infront of a computer screen as burning up rubber in pursuit of some common-place knife-wielding villain. And how to make police officers in swivel chairs and a mouse not a gun in hand dramatic? Well there would be plenty of opportunity for going undercover – good old fashioned private dick stuff – and those that do remain stuck back in the office have plenty of opportunity to overwhelm if not astound us by bleeding edge tomorrow-is-already-happening technology.

The head of this team was the aforementioned (aforementioned about a thousand words ago weren’t you paying attention?!) DSI Martha Lawson played by Keeley Hawes. She is the people-manager of this team of inevitably brilliant misfits. It is also her brain-child and baby and she is keen to nurture it in the face of a not always empathetic police hierarchy. Her career and reputation are on the line. It might not be worth mentioning that she has played a TV cop before as any British actor worth their salt – and Keeley Hawes is definitely worth her salt, whatever that actually means, I understand it to be something damn well good – as played at least one TV cop – in her case as Alex Drake in the insufficiently over-rated Ashes to Ashes. It might not be worth mentioning but as you can see I did anyway.

Her team includes the also aforementioned DI John Bloom played by Aidan Gillen who first came to my attention in the late 1990’s as Stuart Jones in Queer As Folks. For any American readers (as if, there are always American readers!) you may have seen him as Mayor Thomas ‘Tommy’ Carcetti in The Wire – I watched and enjoyed The Wire and only say this because as a blogger-reviewer of TV programs I am not allowed to say otherwise. You as a reader of blogs may have been watching one of the endless CSI franchises instead. The key factor about John Bloom is that he worked previously as an under-cover cop, deep undercover – he thinks like criminals do having breathed their company for longer than he should have, it takes one to no-one, that sort of thing…

Identity Holly Aird and Shaun Parkes

Shaun Parkes and Holly Aird

These were the two characters allowed to spread their wings in the first episode. DS Anthony Wareing’s wings were kept in check but his character’s brooding more black-and-white view of crime and criminals was clearly as counter-weight to his more liberal-minded colleagues. Moral relativists in the police force, what is the world coming to! He is played by Shaun Parkes.

In programs such as this – let us say ‘CSI like’ as it has the widest cultural resonance – don’t all reflex at once – largest viewership then – there is at least one on the team who is office-bound, socially awkward, a super-intelligent geek, who will be feverishly tapping away at his or her Mac keyboard (sorry PC users but you know its true!) muttering to themselves as they go as no-one else will listen to them or certainly not understand them anyway. In Identity this is Tessa Stein played by Holly Aird.

In this Second Life her first moment of earning her cop chops is being able to track this seemingly invisible villain’s location to a petrol-station because, get this, they used their Nectar card. For all non-British readers this is a Supermarket Loyalty Card – I won’t say which Supermarket as well for one thing WordPress does not allow advertising on this blog so where’s the Quid pro quo in that. At the time I was musing to myself ‘wow fancy that my supermarket loyalty card can betray my movements, not just my guilty purchases’.

But wait for a moment. We are being asked to believe that this stealer of identities, so careful to protect their own identity that they leave not even a footstep in the snow behind, cannot stomach buying their petrol with cash without getting Reward points from their supermarket of choice?! Though I guess when you are running up other people’s credit cards to the tune of hundreds of thousands of British pounds those loyalty points really do add up and unlike the cocaine you are wolfing back they are not to be sniffed at.

Nevertheless it is this complacency with their customer loyalty card that leads the detectives to close in.

I found the final reveal to be surprising and clever if also a little contrived – as if they realized the hour was soon to be up and this was no two-parter and they better move from a stroll to a canter. It was a story-line that would have been better served over a couple of episodes.

I hope you have appreciated how I have not overly plot-spoiled for those who have not seen it – which I am guessing will be most of you – even to the extent of using gender-neutral language to describe him sorry her, them!

This Second Life episode has certainly whet my appetite for more even one whose appetite for crime drama is a sated one.

Identity has identified a current visceral fear no matter how reasonable or not that fear might be. It is certainly a contemporary bogey and ripe for TV drama.

I hope that Identity delivers.

Money – who wants to be a billionaire?

Money - Who wants to be a millionaire?Do you dear reader want to become rich beyond all your wildest imagining, all without having to work? Catch? There’s no catch, what do you take me for?!

Money is a new three-part documentary, currently showing on BBC 2, presented by Vanessa Engle, exploring our personal attitudes to money. Vanessa Engle also produced and directed Money and is building up an impressive CV of singular documentary-style series such as Jews, Lefties and from last year Women.

The first episode ‘Who Wants to be a Millionaire?’ asks if anyone can get rich if they truly apply themselves? And by rich it is meant material wealth – put aside any thoughts here of a pursuit for spiritual and or philosophical fulfilment. And do not spend time to consider whether some professions may lend themselves to great wealth more easily than others, or that others might be more rewarding of dedication than other career paths. No this not about any laborious get-rich slowly-and-surely and then only perhaps.

Vanessa Engle

Vanessa Engle

No, this is your do nothing or something very close to nothing and get rich doing it, and pronto, do you hear!

How we can get the most from doing the least possible.

Yes, do not exhort us here to study hard, work hard and with a bit of luck thrown in we will conquer all we survey, malarkey.

No, this is your classic get-rich-quick scam coughs! scheme – I wonder in their history if there has ever been a scheme that was not a sham, a scam, a spam? You know the thing – ‘I earned £1238.29p in one day for just two hours work just for undertaking some routine task but with a special unknown secret which I will disclose to you, because frankly I like you, you have a nice face, so because I like you I am offering you it for a special time-limited price of £99.99 – sadly as much as I do like you, and I really do like you, this is a one time offer, so act and act now etc etc’. We know who is getting rich here. Or so we might think. But as this documentary shows there really is one born every second. Sucker that is. Incidentally there is available another version of this post which shares some of my own secrets to instant wealth – just contact me and for a £10 PayPal donation I will share it with you.

These days with a documentary as likely to be a mockumentary it is not always immediately clear if what we are watching is some serious exposé or a dry spoof. Was this another Brass-eye or the real Alan Whicker?

Vanessa Engle was adopting the Louis Theroux approach to documentary-making and interviewing – the give them enough rope and let them hang themselves slowly technique. Nothing we could possibly script could outdo the words coming out of their own mouths of their own free-will. You never have to make it up!

Money - Who wants to be a millionaire?

The ones born every second

This program looked at both those getting rich off the schemes and those getting schemed by those who have gotten rich by them.

Those generally getting rich being those promoting and selling them – who write expensive books and run even more expensive intensive weekend seminars. Those generally not getting rich being those who read said expensive books and sign up to said expensive seminars.

Those providing these schemes are referred to, by themselves at least, as Wealth Trainers or Gurus (the latter term always a red-flag in my book) featured in this episode were Robert Kiyosaki and T Harv Eker (a botch of consonants and vowels half-heartedly attempting to be a name). Both have websites I am sure and equally certainly only a few seconds after having landed on the home-page we will be bombarded by pop-ups asking us to sign up now for life-changing wealth-enhancing secrets in the form of downloadable e-Books. I don’t actually know this but I have a sense that I do – call it my sixth sense for bullshit. You reader are a responsible adult and quite capable of making your own decision as whether you wish to venture forth into their web-domain.

Not all of those who try to get rich quick get poorer even more quickly. Some do actually hit the jackpot – and I think jackpot is the key phrase here!

Money - Who wants to be a millionaire?The program starts by one of those jackpot winners – a married-couple sitting on a good size property portfolio and living comfortably off its combined rental income but equally tellingly making even more income by marketing their success to others – I got rich quick so you can too sort of thing.

And the husband of this couple casually making this gob-smacking statement

there is enough money in the world for everyone to be millionaires!

Even if there was and we each received a million-dollar cheque I am thinking that there might then be rapid price rises – excitingly, frighteningly called hyper-inflation – and we would be none the wealthier for all those extra zeroes on each of our respective bank balances. For any excessive wealth to exist there must exist alongside it an excessive level of poverty? But I digress. The husband however would not be put-off by my Marx-Lite dialectic and indeed goes on to add that the reason that we do not live in a world full of millionaires is because most of us choose not to be a millionaire. Content instead to tend our gardens and stare wistfully at TV programs like this.

Actually this was not the first clip in this program –  the opening, fleetingly, laying-the-groundwork clip was one of these wealth guru’s asking, no imploring, their audience, whether they wanted to be rich and whether they wanted to be happy and – wait for it – whether they wanted to be rich and happy. Yes please and can I have a side-order of spiritual fulfilment too? I can?, lovely!

Cue Travie McCoy and Billionaire –

I want to be a billionaire so frickin’ bad, buy all the things I never had

(We were incidentally beyond the water-shed but it was the version with the cuddly F Word that was being used not the moral-corrupting Gordon Ramsay patent-applied version carousing our apparently innocent ears.)

playing on the program soundtrack as we witness hordes of the wealth-expectant as if they were attending church and a congregation waiting to be blessed the ancient secrets of extreme wealth for very little effort from this alchemist preacher of the cash-dispensing pulpit.

And let me be clear I am not disdaining any of them their desire to get rich, no matter how quick and easy they seem to think it should come. I am no self-lacerating protestant work-ethic touting nine-to-five wage-slave worker-drone cheer-leading Neo-Con lackey me! What is it with working hard to get by if you can work smart and fly high? We already have programs tapping into this entrepreneurial spirit such as Britain’s Next Big Thing and Dragon’s Den but it is usually notable from watching such programs that those who prosper do so not as a means to an end of luxury and idleness but as an almost accidental by-product. Such self-made (not lottery-made and inheritance-made) millionaires usually live to work not to escape work – however cash rich they become they are usually forever time poor.

Being cash-rich and time-rich now there’s an elusive butterfly

Money - Who wants to be a millionaire?The first of those trying to net this gossamer butterfly was Janice, a 38 year old leisure nurse from Ilford Essex – for Janice though The Only Way Is Out of Essex. Janice has post-it notes strewn across her furnishings and fittings with statements such as ‘I am a Millionaire’ and ‘Health and Wealthy’ alongside recycled food jars now serving as penny-expectant piggy-banks as she sings ‘Ka-ching’ whilst loading another tuppence into their plastic bowels.

She might get penny rich but she is clearly pound poor. Her largest account balances alas are negative being the tens of thousands she has racked up on her credit cards attending wealth creating seminars and purchasing the various attendant merchandise.

One particular post-it note says ‘I’m a millionaire, thank you’! When asked by Vanessa Engle who she was thanking she without much hesitation retorted ‘The universe’! A slightly quasi-religious secular variation of praying for rain to fertilise your crops, the crops in this case being – well there’s your first problem – Janice is of the belief she should be visited upon by vast riches just for being, well, Janice. A gross and grotesque sense of entitlement if ever there was one, but not one alas confined to Janice alone but to the hundreds and thousands who attend these wealth seminars.

These wealth seminars which are pyramid schemes of we get rich by picking your pockets and all you need to do is to find another thousand poor souls (literally and figuratively) to pick their pockets.

For Janice herself does have a job which is low paid with long hours and she is hard-working. She is charming too but alas easily charmed in return.

Money - Who wants to be a millionaire?The next featured looking to get rich were a young teenage couple – the girlfriend declaiming that she finds the whole idea of having a job quite ridiculous! To her a global paradise of jobless people – nothing being done save attending wealth seminars and those who provide them sunning themselves on beaches – but who to serve them their cold Martini’s the would-be waiters now closeted off in darkened rooms chanting into the ether ‘I am a deserving worthy individual, universe shower just a little of your vast wealth upon me’!

Vanessa Engle’s programs as noted lets those so filmed speak for themselves unscripted and the quotes they make are indeed priceless. The girlfriend then goes on to say quite reasonably that working for a pittance does not appeal and then states quite casually and extremely unreasonably

unlimited income is what appeals to me!

Not even mere vast riches but riches without end – is that too much for her to ask?!

In a later scene we see this teenage couple about to attend yet another seminar (surprising isn’t it that one seminar is never enough and that the failure of said seminar to make them wealthy encourages not discourages them to attend even more!) and with a Tesco plastic carrier bag in hand. When asked what the contents were they share some basic grocery because they say the cost of the meals on offer inside is very expensive – who would have thought that! Still a lesson is being learned – wealth protection is key to wealth accumulation!

Money - Who wants to be a millionaire?We learn that she was first set on this path by reading Rich Dad Poor Dad by self-styled wealth-guru Robert Kiyosaki at age 12 – what a book to read at age 12! She now has shelves and shelves of such books – Ka-ching – no not Janice stealing in from another scene but the ghostly voice of Kiyosaki himself!

Later we see the two of them visiting an Estate Agents with another male couple in tow as their mentor and consultant respectively (for very reasonable fees we can but assume) and absurdly informing the estate agent that they are looking to set up a property portfolio and to buy a number of flats and houses in the local area. We had previously discovered that they have a net worth just shy of less-than-zero – with what were they going to buy all these properties then let alone one? – how much bricks-and-mortar can fairy-dust buy?!

These are but two of those followers (for it is a kind of money cult?) featured in this program to give you a taster – I am not going to detail the others as the program itself does an excellent job of portraying them and their money-filled dreams.

We though also get to see the wealth gurus themselves – in action delivering their seminars on stage, their luxurious homes and cars, and in face to face interview with Vanessa Engle.

Money - Who wants to be a millionaire?

Robert Kiyosaki

The first so introduced is the aforementioned Robert Kiyosaki and his book ‘Rich Dad Poor Dad’ – wealth-guru, author, thin-air salesman, scam-artist. These are words that some might say about him. I am letting you make up your own mind though!

He shared with Vanessa Engle the very reasonable observation that wealth is about knowing your assets from your liabilities – giving an example that if he had a car and rented it out as a cab it would be an asset but if he merely owned the car it would be a liability. This at least was not quack-economics.

Later we see the man with the tongue-strangling name T Harv Eker author of ‘Secrets of the Millionaire Mind’. Like Robert Kiyosaki (oh dear reader I hope their names aren’t trade-marked and that I need to pay rental income to them for each time I use them!) he has the habit of slurring words into the microphone sprouting out of his left-ear as he addresses his audience – the sound of their own oily words leaving a bad taste in their mouth that even their own silvery tongues cannot overcome?!

Unlike Robert Kiyosaki who does at least believe to become rich you need to be financially educated Mr Eker (for I shall now refer to him as that) – extols only that you need to believe and chant ‘I am a successful money manager’. At this point I could only break into laughter wondering if perhaps this was a Ricky Gervais out-take I was in fact watching after-all!

I did not laugh as much as his next declaration that

I am probably best known as a cross between Donald Trump and Buddha

The most tangential script-writer could never have written that!

Money - Who wants to be a millionaire?

T Harv Eker…ick!

There is nothing I would even try adding to this statement! T Harv Eker presents a telling concoction of smiling mouth and unsmiling eyes. His memorable quotes does not exhaust with the above frightening cartoon hybrid as he goes on to say ‘I’m a multi-multi-millionaire and you can say multi for a couple of minutes’. And an endearing way of not flouting his wealth in our faces.

Mr Eker is quick to let us know that he is first and foremost a scientist not a spiritualist – a scientist in the same way that an Astrologer or a Creationist considers themselves one. The changes to our mental attitudes we must make he says are to our neurological pathways not our Chakras – he then goes on to witter – to talk – about Energy throwing in Einstein’s iconic E=MC squared for good and meaningless measure.

Some viewers watching this episode will doubtless be outraged and angry not just at these schemes but at this program itself – that it should be investigating and exposing these charlatans. But the program with its gentle-questioning of all concerned is eliciting far more openness to the TV cameras and revelation of its practices and thoughts than if this was a hard-hitting exposé where doubtless those providing the schemes would have then retreated to the isolated cold grandeur of their gated homes and those buying into them to their bedsits with curtains closed.

Vanessa Engle’s gentle method of enquiry throws far more light upon this twilight world.

The program ends to the the sound of Cole Porter’s “Who Wants to be a Millionaire’ with Frank Sinatra crooning in duet to Celeste Holme and answering ‘I don’t’

Who wants a marble swimming pool? I don’t. Because all I want is you.

If only the young teenage couple would realise the riches they already have.