The Song of Lunch (BBC2) was a rum old go. Christopher Reid’s poem, about a publisher half-hoping to rekindle a past love affair over an Italian meal, was read out by Alan Rickman, who acted the publisher and recreated the lines on film.
The Song of Lunch (BBC2) was a rum old go. Christopher Reid’s poem, about a publisher half-hoping to rekindle a past love affair over an Italian meal, was read out by Alan Rickman, who acted the publisher and recreated the lines on film. Thus, when the poet wrote, ‘he drinks until the ice rests on his upper lip’, you see the ice, actually resting on his upper lip! Or, ‘the menu slices into their conversation, like a sweetly swung axe’, you see the menu there, in colour, slicing into their conversation like a sweetly swung axe. Only television can do this! It was a rare modern example of ‘Lord Privy Seal’ television, invented by TW3, in which the job title was accompanied by pictures of a peer, a toilet and a sea mammal.
Now, as I understand it, this brief drama was supposed to be about lost love, ageing, and the impossibility of reclaiming the past — which looked fairly fruity, as Alan Rickman’s mind kept returning to being with Emma Thompson in bed, where it appears they had a terrific time. Which we also saw. In case there was a single viewer who didn’t realise this was all about sex, the voice-over reminded us: ‘the pepper mill is a wooden phallus, scattering seed’. Whoop, whoop! Cliché alert!
The trouble with the non-existent plot is that the man got drunk. He was in a bad mood anyway, because the restaurant they frequented during their affair had changed, and largely sold pizza, which is certainly a disappointment if you have your tummy ready for a nice osso buco. He ploughed through two bottles of Chianti, while she had one glass, then he slurped a grappa. His eyes started rolling, unhappy grunts emerged like a sow giving birth, he began shouting at her. Not surprisingly, she was peeved, since she had come all the way from Paris for this. ‘You’re out to lunch at your own lunch,’ she told him. Finally, he disappeared to the gents, fantasised about shagging the waitress, then climbed to the roof where blissful unconsciousness intervened. When he came down she had gone, but had paid the bill. Result!
I suppose it was a comedy, and certainly Rickman does a fine comedy drunk. But drunks are boring when they’re at the next table, and even more boring on television. What a waste: to assemble such terrific talent and come up with a music-hall turn.
While we’re on sex and food, it’s marvellous to have Nigella back in Nigella Kitchen (BBC2). I used to know Nigella a bit before she became jaw-droppingly famous, and she is lovely. She once hugged me, tightly, and I can tell you that hug is lodged in my brain as firmly as anything Alan Rickman recalled from his nights with Emma Thompson. Even though a hug is all it was. And her recipes really work at home, which is more than you can say for Heston Blumenthal, at least if you haven’t got a domestic Hadron Collider to make your porridge in.
When Britain Went Wild (BBC4) was about the way the country became conscious of wild animals, as described on television. Astonishing how simple, and how dull, the early programmes were. On Look, Peter Scott drew a duck on a piece of paper. The nearest they came to nature red in tooth and claw was when someone brought a chimpanzee and plonked it on the table.
Scott was an interesting fellow, the son of Captain Scott, naturalist, writer, painter, in his youth a hunter and, for one brief glorious moment, the man who discovered the Loch Ness monster. Or at least used computer enhancement to make a vague diamond shape into a whole aquatic dinosaur, which he then painted. A nice man — earnest, well-meaning, talented but slightly bonkers.
David Attenborough was on hand to show us the incredible extent to which nature programmes have improved. On safari in Kenya I noticed how old grizzled men with years of experience in the field knew exactly how to find the lions lurking — they followed the BBC crew. Animals are now like our own home-grown celebrities. They expect to be on television almost all the time, and know exactly how to attract maximum coverage, like starlets in low-cut gowns at a première.
We also learnt that in the past television was staffed by people who desperately wanted to improve television. Now it’s run by people who want to make it worse, with programmes such as Strictly Come Dancing (BBC1). Bruce Forsyth had a joke. ‘Did you know one of your forefathers had two wives? Never mind the two wives, I didn’t know I had four fathers!’ Why are BBC executives being paid not to remove such dross?