I think I might be about the second-last person on earth finally to have replaced his squat, bulbous, stone-age TV set with one of those new angled, wide-screen, narrow, HD-ready jobs. My worry is it’s not big enough.
‘No, you can’t have a 50-inch. No way are you having a 50-inch. Not in MY house,’ said the wife, as the kids and I all begged and begged to no avail.
Of course, I understand where the wife is coming from. There was indeed an era when to have a large TV screen dominating your sitting room would have been considered vulgar or nouveau-riche or what we now call chavvy. But that was 20 years ago. Times have changed. Plus, I’m a TV critic — sort of — so I jolly well should.
The other new technology we’ve just acquired is a Virgin box because we’ve just changed our account from Sky so as to get one of those all-in phone, internet and digital TV deals. I’m not yet convinced the service is any better. The Virgin box makes a terrible loud whirring noise, whereas the Sky box was quieter. But it does have one clever feature — a Catch Up TV function — which means you don’t have to worry about videoing stuff any more. You can just scroll through a menu and catch up with all the worthwhile programmes you missed.
This is what I did with The Day of the Triffids (BBC1). Like most of the things you read when you’re 11, John Wyndham’s book had a huge impact on me. The storyline is ingenious but simple: the world is overrun by walking man-eating plants with deadly stingers. How do they get away with it? Why, because there’s been a colourful meteor shower which almost everyone on earth has watched because it was so amazingly good. Unfortunately, this has made everyone go blind. Only the lucky few who didn’t watch the light show have escaped: among them the book’s hero Bill Masen.
Naturally, I spent most of my adolescence imagining I was Bill. Well, you would, wouldn’t you? It’s every boy’s dream: you’re one of the last people on earth, with millions of houses and guns and cars at your disposal. You have two main tasks: to kill stuff and to impregnate as many surviving women as you can find. On your success rides the future of the entire human race. It’s the kind of scenario Brian Aldiss called a ‘cosy catastrophe’.
But this wasn’t enough for the BBC, unfortunately. Almost inevitably, it felt compelled to add a fashionable handwringing eco-theme. Two, in fact. The triffids, we learnt in this revised BBC version, were bioengineered in order to produce the oil which replaced fossil fuel, thus saving the world from ‘global warming’. But they were also, we learnt in the course of a tedious homily delivered in the middle of part two by Masen (a dourly uncharismatic Dougray Scott), an example of just the kind of thing that can go wrong when man genetically modifies nature.
If you could ignore all this unnecessary nonsense, mind, it was pretty good. Perhaps because he’s preparing to become a Labour MP, Eddie Izzard proved especially convincing as the vicious, sinister, ideologically twisted, sexually incontinent, sadistic murderous creep Torrence. And I don’t think Vanessa Redgrave has ever been better cast than she was here as evil-grinning, quasi-communist Mother Superior — ‘We are all equal here’ — whose means of keeping the triffids at bay was tying up redundant members of her human flock and offering them up as plant food.