Classics of literary world (and telly)

John Simm: Just because it's on TV doesn't mean it's not a classic...
John Simm: Just because it's on TV doesn't mean it's not a classic...
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OCCASIONALLY, mainly at social gatherings where girls can be found, a friend of mine will announce he does not own a TV.

It is a statement he lobs out like a grenade, and then stands back to survey the resulting carnage; to see the shell-shocked grapple with the concept which has just exploded among them.

“But...what do you watch Big Brother on?” someone might eventually ask, through the haze of incomprehension.

And my friend will explain, not in so many words though with definite hints, that he is a man of refined intellectual pursuits and, for him, it is the arts – literature, photography, Led Zeppelin – which hold the key to fulfilment.

And, then, the hot arty girl, who he’s been trying to impress all night, might nod.

“I get that,” she’ll say. “But, seriously... how do you keep up with I’m A Celebrity?”

And then there’ll be a moment of deflation, before someone else pipes up that they don’t own some other piece of technology like an egg-beater or something. But that never quite resonates because, let’s be honest, no-one ever interior designed their living room around where the egg-beater should go.

Or at least that’s what sometimes happens.

On one occasion, a recipient simply nodded non-plussed before asking my friend what he does when he wants to keep the wife quiet for an hour or two.

In any case, I thought of my friend recently when I discovered (while watching TV as it goes) it is 75 years this month since the first ever broadcast by the BBC.

I thought of him because I noted there were a surprising number of commentators who apparently agreed with his way of thinking: that TV has become a decidedly malign influence on our lives; that it is killing culture and conversation; that it is – let’s get to the nuts and bolts – a load of codswallop.

And I thought, well, yeah, obviously it is.

But, it’s also, absolutely, the single greatest thing ever invented.

Better than the wheel. Better than fire. Better than that egg-beater.

I could easily offer three reasons why this is so but, really, all I need is three words: Hancock’s Half Hour.

For sure, there’s 1,000 channels and often not a single decent thing on one of them; for sure air time is one vast commercial canvas where the weak-of-will are sold things they can’t afford by the weak-of-principle; and for sure, now Jimmy Savile is dead, it’s perfectly reasonable to question popular culture’s entire existence.

But for all those faults TV remains the definitive, most liberating medium of our time; more revolutionary than the internet, more unifying than the cinema, and more educational than a book.

For every The Only Way Is Essex there is Educating Essex; for every Bill there is Porridge; for every Green Green Grass there is a Red Riding or Blue Planet; ultimately for every Britain’s Got Talent there is a British director out there with talent.

In short, buried within that box is 21st century brilliance on a par with, for instance, a 19th century soap writer like Dickens

“Perhaps we should celebrate the 75th anniversary,” said one broadsheet writer, “by switching off and reading Crime And Punishment.”

Aye, perhaps we should.

My friend would agree and it’s an awesome book.

But afterwards, perhaps we should switch back on, and watch John Simm in the equally awesome BBC adaptation.