Television

Resonances from the 70s

Mrs America is a mini-series charting the battles in the 1970s between the rising feminist movement in the United States and its enemies over the Equal Rights Amendment (an amendment to the Constitution which still hasn’t been ratified by enough states to become law). It shows us well-known figures from the American women’s movement at that time, like Gloria Steinem (played by Rose Byrne) and Betty Friedan (Tracey Ullman), but focuses also on the woman who set out to defeat them, Phyllis Schlafly (Cate Blanchett). Steinem herself, and others, have criticised the series for overstating this...

"I May Destroy You"

The big hit of the summer, in the gloom of the pandemic, and coincidentally amid a global wave of inspiring Black Lives Matters protests, is a show about rape, consent and justice. It is described by the BBC as a comedy-drama. Race, gender and class are central themes. Drugs and alcohol flow freely and social media acts as judge and jury on matters small and large. Every episode is written to challenge and take you out of your comfort zone. Like your friends, all the characters you get to know are neither all good nor all bad. They make some good decisions and some real shit ones, some that...

The Labour War

As trade union struggles re-emerge, we need to bring forward the idea of solidarity too. One of the greatest historical lessons in solidarity in the English-speaking world was the 1913-14 “Labour War” in Dublin. The story is told in the RTE series Strumpet City, part 1 here. At the time James Connolly wrote: “As ships came into the Port of Dublin each ship was held up by the dockers until its crew joined the [seafarers’] union, and signed on under union conditions and rates of pay. The Union up and down the docks preached most energetically the doctrine of the sympathetic strike, and the...

The media and ethnic prejudice in the 1960s and 1970s

Clips and episodes from TV shows in the 1960s and 70s show that they featured terms like “uppity nigger”, “darkies”, “my little mammy”, “nig-nog”, “sambo”, “wog”, “wog bird”, and “wog land”, as well as talk of civility.

A hard-hitting fable

When I started watching the new BBC drama Noughts & Crosses I was pretty sure I’d seen something like it before. A society where racial oppression holds sway in much the same way as it did in apartheid South Africa except the twist is that the roles are flipped, black African-heritage people are the oppressors and the white population of a fictitious England the oppressed? Then I remembered my cockney working-class father being more than a little outraged at the self-same premise of another play by the BBC. It was called Fable, written by John Hopkins for the groundbreaking Wednesday Play slot...

After 12 years of Tory misrule

Prolonged periods of Tory rule have a habit of ending in a tide of sleaze and scandal. John Major gained the largest Tory vote in history in 1992, but his party was brought to a historic low five years later, with their worst election result in 90 years. A similar set of circumstances faced the Tories in 1964, after what Labour Party leader Harold Wilson famously called “thirteen years of Tory misrule”. On that occasion the most infamous scandal besetting them was “the Profumo Affair”. Today we are in a third long period of continuous Tory rule (from 2010), so BBC’s The Trial of Christine...

Species under threat

David Attenborough returned to our screens on Sunday 27 October with his latest documentary Seven Worlds, One Planet. The series devotes an episode to each continent and the wildlife they support. In the introduction, Attenborough states that climate change is the most significant event to affect the planet since continental drift began 200 million years ago. Most of the stories relate to how climate change is affecting the featured animals. Episode one focuses on Antarctica, 98% of which is covered in ice and largely uninhabitable for humans. We see stunning footage of St Andrew’s Bay on...

Labour and antisemitism: yes, it’s a real problem

The BBC Panorama programme (10 July) about Labour’s antisemitism problem has intensified the Party’s internal row. Unfortunately, because the programme was not well done, and because Labour’s response has been to “shoot the messenger” as Emily Thornberry rightly put it when criticising that reaction, the renewed row has brought very little light so far. Thornberry said: “I think that we shouldn’t be going for the messengers, we should be looking at the message. I think that is what is important. “Nobody can pretend that there isn’t an ongoing problem within the Labour Party about antisemitism...

HBO’s Chernobyl: a service to us all

Chernobyl was a disaster — there is no doubt about that — but what lessons should we learn from it? Though the catastrophic meltdown and explosion of the RBMK Reactor No 4 happened almost half a lifetime ago, when police states claiming to serve the workers ruled eastern Europe, the recent HBO mini-series Chernobyl has brought that time back to life. Though partly fictionalised and sometimes wrong (according to survivors and experts), the basic facts are correct. During an “experiment” aimed at improving safety procedures, Reactor No 4 responded erratically and attempts to bring it under...

A British counter-revolution

The current BBC2 documentary series Thatcher: A Very British Revolution is worth watching for the film footage — interviews with Thatcher, old news reports of events, and other rarer clips. Beyond that, it won’t tell you much more than Wikipedia does. Most of the talking heads are Tory ex-MPs and civil servants who served under Thatcher. Also Bernard Ingham, Thatcher’s press secretary, who proves that reactionary pomposity does not fade with age. After three instalments, I can say the first episode was the most interesting. It explained how Thatcher came to be leader of the Tory Party in 1975...

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