Simon Hoggart

Leaders of the pack

Two programmes about singing this week, and they could scarcely have been more different.

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Two programmes about singing this week, and they could scarcely have been more different. I’m in a Rock’n’Roll Band! (BBC2, Saturday) was the first in a series about groups, and it kicked off with lead singers. Thank heavens, they skipped most of the ponderous, portentous, pretentious nonsense that is often spouted about rock bands. You can’t get rid of that altogether when Sting is around (he identified the main qualities of the lead singer as ‘arrogance and immense courage’, which is 24-carat luvvie-talk — ‘For God’s sake, the sheer guts it takes to go out in front of an audience gasping for you to be Lady Teazle!’) but for the most part people were pleasingly direct.

Someone asked what frontmen and women were really like, and the answer came back, ‘knobheads’. They were, we learnt, ‘a mixture of arrogance and insecurity’. Someone else said that they were ‘narcissistic bastards’ and described how they would make intolerable demands not because they wanted things but because they could get them. In short, they reminded me of some politicians.

Bob Geldof took time off from fretting about the wretched of the earth to say that when he led the Boomtown Rats, ‘I got shagged a lot [by the most beautiful groupies] but it was sloppy seconds for the other guys.’ Ah, that elfin Irish charm!

I mention this to contrast it with Gareth Malone’s Shanties and Sea Songs (BBC4, Friday). Gareth is the choirmaster from several BBC shows, so he’s a celebrity but, thank heavens, doesn’t act like one. He travelled round Britain, with his earnest charm, meeting the people who keep sea songs alive. They wouldn’t know a groupie from a grouper. There was a hitch: for some reason British folkies tend to sing as if they all have a serious sinus problem. And some shanties, being rhythmic work songs, are extremely dull. ‘Haul away, lads, haul away’ loses some of its fascination after the 19th chorus if you’re not actually hauling away at the time.

But these were good, decent people — the real hardworking families the politicians go on about but rarely meet. You realise that you’d rather spend an hour with them than 20 seconds with any ghastly, self-obsessed, knobhead lead singer.

Lewis is back (ITV, Sunday) and a very smooth production it is, too. It’s a hereditary show. The cerebral and erudite Morse died, or at least John Thaw did, so his gormless sidekick took over, but with a cerebral and erudite assistant, Hathaway (who has a Tintin hairlick). So when Kevin Whately goes, Laurence Fox can get a thicko as his number two, and so on till the end of time or ITV, whichever comes first.

Actually, Whately has made Lewis a more subtle and complex character than he was under Morse (remember Thaw’s catchphrase, the exasperated ‘Lewis!’) though inevitably interest is shifting to Hathaway.

There are now certain clichés, which are to be found in all ITV dramas (BBC dramas are usually about people living hellish lives in tower blocks). Thus, a meaningful glance in the pre-credits sequence probably alerts you to the murderer.

All rich people and aristocrats are rude to policemen. ‘Yet again, inspector, must we?’

Superintendents are bossy numbskulls obsessed with sticking to the rules.

Detectives never acknowledge the end of a conversation; they nod curtly and turn away instead.

If there is a TV report about the case, they pointlessly switch if off halfway through with an exasperated sigh.

The detective’s sidekick is probably involved emotionally with one of the suspects.

Apart from that, it’s as fresh as tomorrow’s milk.