How depressing was the small screen this holiday season? Nothing but retro: retreads, re-runs and re-heats, enough to convince you that the Two Ronnies and Morecambe and Wise weren't all that great after all.
Especially the Two Ronnies. And what about that documentary on little Ron? You'd have though Ronnie Corbett was some kind of comedy genius, but he's not even Wee Georgie Wood. And yet contemporary comics such as Catherine Tate, Matt Lucas and Bill Bailey queued up to pay sycophantic tribute without once laying any sort of finger on what it was actually he was good at. Difficult, I know, but someone should have tried.
The docudrama about Morecambe and Wise was worse than embarrassing. It even stooped to stealing an anecdote from Mike and Bernie Winters: when they walked off to silence at the Glasgow Empire, the stage manager muttered, "They're starting to like you." Victoria Wood played Eric's mum as a ludicrous, unlikely mixture of Mama Rose and Mother Theresa. And the whole thing was lit like a seaside tourist brochure of the 1950s.
The same sort of inanely decadent production values applied to the dramatisation (to put it far too strongly) of Nigel Slater's autobiography Toast, which I stomached for about half an hour. Nigel's real mum was played with shy indifference by Victoria Hamilton and then, apparently, Helena Bonham-Carter steamed into full gargoyle vein as his nasty step-mum.
A much better way of appreciating Nigel over Christmas was to make his mince(pie)-meat and orange cheesecake, which we did: truly delicious. Thing about Nige, he writes recipes you can actually understand and enjoy following.
Toast, however, sucked as much as the M&W play, which was followed with the deadly announcement that, any moment soon, Ruth Jones (of Gavin & Stacey) would be playing Hattie Jacques in yet another showbiz biodrama. Well, she's fat enough, but that's about all she has in common with the glorious sourpuss of the Eric Sykes and Tony Hancock years. Alison Steadman would be a much better idea...
Our comics today simply don't have the showbiz chops of their precursors. In the case of the genuinely brilliant, this doesn't matter, really (I'm thinking Eddie Izzard and Ross Noble and...can't think of anyone else).
Just how bad current comedy is was catastrophically revealed in the Little Britain duo of David Walliams and Matt Lucas playing a host of airport characters in their new show, Come Fly With Me. It made Benny Hill look like Danny Kaye.
And here's the point. A fairly good documentary celebrating the centenary of the London Palladium was made by Bill Kenwright's daughter, Lucy, featuring a few clips of Kaye at the Palladium just after the war. The man was a genius.
Unfortunately, the documentary also included endless clips of Leslie Garrett, Philip Schofield and Jason Donovan, all saying ad infinitum how gobsmacked they had been to appear at the Palladium with all those ghosts hovering about. Deep shame and contrition would have been more in order.
The story of variety on television, as refracted through Sunday Night at the London Palladium, wasn't sufficently well done; there was a lot of Bruce Forsyth, but I didn't catch any mention of Tommy Trinder (who preceded him as the host), or Norman Vaughan (who succeeded him). Jimmy Tarbuck blazed away for a bit. But even he, too, just ended up in a sort of sentimental wallow about the joys of appearing at the Palladium and what it meant to him.
At least Mark Fox of the Really Useful and Edwin Shaw of box office legend chipped in with hard stories and expert reminiscence, but I don't see why everyone went out of their way to be nasty about Yul Brynner and Mario Lanza.
The people worth being nasty about were clogging up the airwaves with their fatuous self-promotion and mediocrity. And paying soggy obeisance to their elders and betters.