The once-popular soap ‘Downing Street’, having taken a backseat of late, has recaptured the public’s imagination in recent weeks. The dramatic downfall of Dominic Cummings – the JR Ewing/Nick Cotton/Alan Bradley bad guy of the series ever since his unforgettable entrance as the Vote Leave villain of 2016 – has been one notable ratings-grabber; the sudden rebranding of Carrie Symonds as the Lady Macbeth of No.10 (a role so memorably defined by the legendary Cherie Blair back in the 90s) is another – and her character’s life-affirming ‘journey’ has come a long way since she was portrayed as being in an abusive relationship; the arrival of another privately-educated metropolitan posh girl character in the shape of ex-‘Newsnight’ hack Allegra Stratton as Boris’s new press secretary means Carrie now has an ally she can go riding and discuss pressing Woke issues with. The introduction of fresh faces into a long-running series is vital to its survival and to keep the audience interested.
Thankfully, we can still thrill to the ongoing saga of the programme’s resident Alexis Carrington-like power-bitch Priti Patel kickin’ ass at the Home Office for a bit of old-school excitement, even if it now has the strong scent of just another desperate plotline designed to win back audiences wooed away by the new kid on the block, ‘Covidnation Street’. This gate-crasher has also affected that other never-ending soap set in and around the inner-M25 intrigues of the wealthy political class called ‘Champagne Socialist Street’; that show even had to scrape the anti-Semitic barrel in order to get viewers interested again. Alas, the departure of the cult character Jezza and the arrival of bland new leading-man Keir Starmer has seen a loss of student viewers and the series is struggling in the ratings.
There’s a degree of competition from US imports like ‘Pennsylvania Avenue’, though the imminent exit of that show’s most popular villain, Donald Trump, and the return of veteran character Joe ‘Blake Carrington’ Biden, just seems like an uninspired move by producers to rekindle some of the old magic. North of the border, STV provides its own serial called ‘Holyrood’, in which a comedy Minister proposes people should be arrested for something offensive they said out loud in the privacy of their own homes, whereas the long-running Welsh language soap with the unpronounceable name on S4C now features a country sealed off from its neighbours, reduced to an extreme Royston Vasey where not only will you never leave, but you’ll never get in either. The lockdown plotline has run through all these shows this year, but the Welsh one has taken it and run with it to the point whereby bored viewers have begun switching off in their droves.
It’s a curious form of escapism, this; because it doesn’t venture into the fantastical or supernatural, it could almost pass for reality – if reality itself hadn’t become so removed from what we’ve always recognised as such. Perhaps we’re receiving a revival of the Westminster soap opera because the MSM senses there could be a nostalgic desire to reconnect with the memory of reality now that what passes for reality feels closer to a Dystopian JG Ballard novel as Chernobyl ensembles dominate the urban catwalk. According to the current headlines, Westminster is apparently an exciting powder-keg of old-fashioned melodrama that isn’t dominated by those depressing real world totems of 2020 such as mask-wearing, social distancing, social isolation, shop closures and suicides; it looks like life used to be, albeit slightly heightened. As if to maintain this theme, the prospect of the annual ‘Worst Winter Since 1963’ (along with the similarly recurring favourite, ‘Crisis Christmas for the NHS’) promises the traditional seasonal plot in which several outcomes have been filmed and the audience is left wondering which leading character might meet an untimely end; it should keep the country distracted and the broadcasters happy.
After all, ‘Downing Street’ ratings have plummeted ever since the heights of the BAFTA-winning Brexit narrative, a slow-burning plot which gathered pace over three years and reached a climax with the classic ‘Proroguing Parliament’ episode last year. Even the drama of a leading character on his potential deathbed a few months ago failed to win back the audiences of old. However, enough time has passed and enough brows have been beaten to ensure these audiences are now far more pliable and trained to respond in a Pavlovian manner to whatever morsels of rationed fun the PM deigns to throw in their direction. As astonishing a revelation as this may be, quite a few people actually spend Christmas alone most years and consequently aren’t especially concerned with the festive season and the nonexistent flood of family and friends into their chilly homes. These folk might not be overwhelmed with gratitude that they’ve been given permission to breathe for a couple of weeks in December, knowing full well the drawbridge will come crashing down on life again as soon as we enter January. Not everyone has yet to succumb to the Stockholm syndrome symptoms that render our leaders benign captors in whose hands our lives gratefully reside.
Let’s not spoil the show by focusing on those antisocial saddoes, though. They received enough attention before, back when we were reliably informed that loneliness and social isolation were more damaging to an individual’s health than smoking, excessive drinking or a bad diet. We don’t hear that so much now, do we? No, suddenly being afflicted with alienation from one’s fellow man is a design for a healthy life and staying safe. Don’t love, don’t touch, and stay away from everybody just in case you kill them. Even if your granny’s already dead, you could still kill her, so steer clear of her grave. You are King Midas with the Plague and must never come into contact with anyone ever again. Lock your door, save the NHS and go back to the Westminster soaps; boo and hiss Priti; cheer Carrie; and count down the days to Christmas as though you’re sharing a mulled wine with Noddy Holder.
And, lest we forget, there’s a Happy New Year hovering on the horizon in the shape of The Vaccine! That’ll sort out the men from the boys – or the rams from the ewes. A rushed-released serum injected into the bloodstream of a grateful nation without the due development and testing that any successful antidote to a virus has traditionally required; sounds sound. And, of course, it will henceforth be the badge of honour that grants its wearers access to the life they’d previously been able to access quite easily without the need for a Government-sponsored syringe stuck in their arm; those who express reservations as well as those who are vehemently opposed – file alongside Brexiteers, Tory Scum, Nazis and assorted racists, naturally – will be blacklisted and excluded from the Christmas party.
The vaccine stamp of approval looks set to be the American Express of inoculations, guaranteeing unlimited entry to everywhere for those eagerly volunteering to be drugged into obedience – a drug administered by yet another private company owned by someone who went to school with Matt Hancock or is married to a member of his family instead of being handled by the GPs who once saw their patients as people rather than numbers. Those who refuse shall henceforth be cast out into the wilderness; they shall be barred from patronising the corporate chain-stores that will be the sole retail outlets mysteriously still standing in the dust-settled, curve-flattened future. Not to worry, though – ‘Downing Street’ will keep our spirits up in the same way Gracie Fields did in WWII; stay tuned.
© The Editor