We may hate it, but advertising slogans can often linger. ‘Say it with Flowers’ said Interflora; and, as it happens, whenever I think of Interflora, I think of Interpol. Perhaps the association stems from an obvious gag on something like ‘The Two Ronnies’; many of their gags were obvious, but the obviousness of them was overridden by the comic charm of the performers. Anyway, where was I? Ah, yes, flowers – delivered to the doors of the consummated as well as the unrequited, sometimes motivated by guilt, sometimes by the need to remind someone you love them. They make an ideal house-warming gift, for example, when it comes to a new residence, being as they are the most potent symbols of rebirth and regeneration when love is in the air.
No, I’m NOT going to write about that shameless exhibitionist’s manual known as ‘Love Island’; besides, Nigel Kneale beat me to it by half-a-century with his unnervingly accurate satire on lowest-common-denominator twenty-first century television, 1968’s ‘The Year of the Sex Olympics’. This remarkable example of cultural soothsaying is one of the most uncanny crystal balls in TV history. If you haven’t seen it, do; once you get over the occasionally theatrical acting and groovy 60s aesthetic impression of the future, the way in which it predicts the worst our goggle-box can offer today will evoke associations with everything from ‘Castaway’ and ‘Big Brother’ to the aforementioned STD-through-the-keyhole voyeur-fest on ITV2 and even the grotesque Smartphone suicide-watch trend. The dialogue – short, snappy and uncomfortably familiar in its irritating abbreviations – mirrors Orwell’s belief in how language will eventually be narrowed and compressed into simple sound-bites. The ominous first words on-screen are ‘Sooner than you think…’
The play’s oft-stated division between the privileged and the rest (‘High Drives’ and ‘Low Drives’) inevitably evokes the Us and Them gap that the Brexit vote exposed; but to me it also anticipates the downgrading of one particular demographic in this country – one that is firmly rock bottom on the social scale fifty years later. A recent ‘initiative’ by a leading publisher that sought the input of unpublished authors made it clear who they were looking for. London-based, Oxbridge-educated chattering-class warriors burdened by the unbearable baggage of box-ticking have their preferred minorities to pat on the head and patronise, as novelist Lionel Shriver has bravely pointed out (much to her predictable Twitter crucifixion); and if you happen to emanate from a white working-class background free of further education, forget it. You are very much Low Drive – or ‘Gammon’, if you prefer; it’s the insult it’s OK to eat between meals without ruining your appetite.
For some, it matters not how many Sikhs are photographed with their arms round him, as Tommy Robinson’s EDL past will always brand him a white supremacist; but both sides of the barricades have their own version of the truth and never the twain shall meet. Like similar headline-grabbing stunts by Peter Tatchell, the amateur agent-provocateur tactics of Robinson could be said to be looking for trouble and inviting arrest along with accompanying publicity. But maybe the climate requires such actions in order to receive any acknowledgment within media circles whose contempt for ‘the Gammon’ is evident to anyone bereft of blinkers. Somebody once proclaimed the face of Tommy Robinson will one day feature on a far-flung future bank-note. Another agitator called Thomas – the late Mr Paine – was similarly derided and demonised in his day, yet is viewed rather differently two-hundred years later, so who knows what criteria the Bank of England will employ when it comes to its cover stars of the twenty-second century? A shame Nigel Kneale isn’t around anymore. He probably would.
Another fortune-teller called Karl Marx apparently said ‘The more you have, the less you are’ – a good point if applied to those who measure their worth by the number of material goods they possess; but how is that statement interpreted by the collectivism that contemporary Marx disciples espouse, especially in the Labour Party? I’ve always been averse to collectives, instinctively recoiling from their ‘block vote’ rhetoric; I‘m too much of an individual, never a team player. If I’d been gifted with sporting prowess, I’d have been at home on the tennis court rather than the football pitch. The problem with collectivism is the compulsory sacrifice of the individual voice to the consensus, and that’s just not me, Jeremy.
Jonathan Meades in his recent excellent BBC4 treatise on the uses and abuses of the English language spent a section dissecting the collectivist clichés that arise when eleven men play eleven more; but he primarily focused on the jargon employed by the Law, politics and business to mask true intentions in a tsunami of verbal diarrhoea that is deliberately intended to leave the Gammon crying ‘My brain hurts!’, therefore throwing him back into the primordial embrace of ‘Love Island’. The sad fact is that this works because we allow it to, just as we allow one knee-jerk response to a pair of tits on a lifeboat-man’s mug to damage the public standing of the RNLI, or we allow consensual sex to be reclassified as rape. Makes you proud to be British, doesn’t it – whatever that means.
At one time, it could mean Noel Coward or Anthony Burgess; Margaret Rutherford or Terry Thomas; Tony Hancock or John Arlott; John Osborne or Quentin Crisp; Peter Sellers or Peter Cook; John Betjeman or John Lennon; Ian Nairn or Oliver Postgate. The Great British manufacturing industry wasn’t merely about economics; it was also about individual voices – all lost now to revisionist market forces. We don’t make ‘em like that anymore because we’ve been absorbed into the global village chain-store, flogged at half-price by a new breed of national shopkeepers.
Another neglected gem from the pen of the man who gave us ‘The Year of the Sex Olympics’ was an obscure anthology series produced by ATV called ‘Beasts’; it’s creepy in that unique way only 70s TV can be, set in a Britain when the moribund and the macabre meet. One story concerned a poltergeist in a supermarket, though not the kind of supermarkets we have now; it was a store owned by one of those small regional chains that no longer exist, like Hillard’s or Vivo. Viewing this time capsule recently, I experienced a strange sensation of warmth as childhood brand names flew off the shelf at the height of the petulant spirit’s rage. Rows of Ricicles probably wouldn’t be within the poltergeist’s sights today, no doubt censored by finger-wagging government guidelines on sugar intake – let alone a version featuring Florence and Dougal on the front of the box.
And so, restlessness forced me outdoors a month ago; I went for a meandering walk – and if you’ve made it to this paragraph you’ll know by now I’m good at meandering. Unfortunately, simple exercise (physical or mental) no longer seems a valid enough reason to stroll alone. When I ended up on a local park, my aversion to collectives worked against me; I felt increasingly self-conscious re my sore thumb solo status, surrounded as I was by women and dogs. I had neither with me, though I came home to the ghosts of both. And cats. But I end where I began, thinking of flowers as potent symbols of rebirth and regeneration. Maybe I should get some. Life may now be a silver medal, but at least I can make it smell nice for a few days.
© The Editor