Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Don't Forget to Write: Favourite TV Programme ever...


I had a very interesting experience over the Christmas period relating to what has been - for more than 35 years - officially My Favourite TV Programme Ever.

This was a BBC comedy drama called Don't Forget to Write, broadcast in two series of six episodes  in 1977 and 1979 - written by Charles Wood, starring George Cole (as Gordon Maple) and Gwen Watford as his wife.

It was never repeated, and has never been available in any format such as video or DVD - so the only thing I had to go on were my memories of the one-off experience. The series was (as can be inferred) not very successful or popular, and I can pretty much guarantee that nobody reading this has watched all twelve episodes as I did.


On that basis and memory, I absolutely loved Don't Forget to Write - for years and years it was a depiction of an ideal dream of how I would like to live.

It had a writer who initially lived in or near Bristol (as I did - although in the second series they moved to a rambling country house), with an attractive and devoted wife, two kids (boy and girl) - and with his best friend (and his family) living within easy walking distance.

What happened was based around the trials and tribulations of being a writer, the financial uncertainties and writing blocks, the writing aids and triumphs, and the petty ambitions and jealousies of having a more successful best friend who was also a writer. There was the cosiness of the family, and an underlying love and dedication; there was also the glamour and status of having an agent, plays put on, reading about yourself in the newspapers, writing movie scripts and attending the shooting...

As a package, for me, for most of my life - this was an ideal thing.


Imagine my excitement when I discovered about three months ago that, for some incomprehensible reason, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation had released both series of Don't Forget to Write on DVD! At last I could see it again!

My brother imported it and gave it to me for Christmas - and on Christmas day and over the period before New Year I watched all twelve, hour long episodes...


To say that I was disappointed does not begin to describe the strange, complex feelings which re-watching DFTW brought to me - I have been brooding on it for the past few weeks. 

It was not so much that DFTW was bad -  although a couple of the episodes were almost unwatchably bad; and one of them deliberately so, since (presumably as a joke/ discipline) ALL the dialogue (for an hour length drama) consisted of questions; while another episode featured a telephone ringing loudly in the background for long periods - but I brooded about the revelation concerning my former self.

The ideal DFTW that I had enjoyed and recalled in the manner described above, did have some very slender basis in fact - but the overwhelming tone was shallow, spiteful, seedy, accepting of sexual corruption and gross dishonesty, full of horrible characters, gratuitous nastiness and hatreds... in sum it looks very much as if the young me was idealizing the selfish shenanigans of a bunch of smug, spoilt pseuds...


So far I have concluded that:

1. My tastes have changed

2. Being a Christian makes a big difference to 'artistic' evaluations.

3. What somebody gets from a work of art may be very different from that which is most obvious in a work of art.

4. The bad, evil aspects of a work of art (the casual acceptance of marital infidelity and promiscuity, for example) can nonetheless be corrupting; by normalizing evil and making it an accepted background to life, such that even when it is not indulged in, it is not effectively resisted.

5. Yet good can come from evil - on the basis that the idyll I manufactured from DFTW does, in many aspects, closely resemble the best and happiest aspects of my own life - and perhaps subliminally guided me toward this life.

It seems that I actually became (pretty much, in the essentials) the 'good' Gordon Maple of my own idealized recollections - but living in the city of my childhood imaginings (ie Newcastle) rather than the city of my actual childhood (Bristol).