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Strictly Downton

Autumn has truly arrived, and
more or less on time.

I know this, not because of the ever-expanding
vortex of dead leaves swirling aimlessly outside my back door, nor from the late-afternoon
chill in the air (actually the weather has been unusually warm), but because M
is showing the predictable signs of seasonal angst about missing certain
television programmes. 

“What’s the time?” she asks, for
the third time in an hour on Saturday.  “I
must get out to the shops and be back by seven.”

“You’ve got an hour and a half,”
I reassure her.

“Okay, but before we go, let’s
make sure we’ve set them on record.”

“I’ve already done that twice,” I
protest.

Yes, it’s a new season: not of mists
and mellow fruitfulness, but of Strictly
Come Dancing
and Downton Abbey, each
prodigally returned, reinvigorated, to our television screens after a one-year
hiatus that seems to me no more than a few weeks.  Strictly
(as it’s now recognizably known) inconveniently consumes Saturday evenings,
threatening to create a seasonal lacuna in our social calendar.  Downton,
occupying a late slot on Sunday evenings, is less restricting, but no less
irritating.

Thank heavens for the video
recording device; without it, we might be reduced to an annual period of hibernation. 

While the appeal of these shows
baffles me on an intellectual level, on a more visceral plane I find myself being
drawn into them, no doubt artificially enthused by the cheers, curses and
chortles emanating from the transfixed figure in the adjoining armchair. 

In Strictly the viscera are stimulated, I suspect, by the engaging
spectacle of the scantily-clad professional dancers; in my case those of the
female gender, though my gay friends are equally attracted to the unclothed
male dancers, and in one case to the unending cavalcade of tastelessly bespangled
dresses.  I’m particularly taken with a
Venezuelan dancer named Karen, who unfortunately has drawn a fat, hairy
non-dancing sleb, or slob – a motor-cycling chef, apparently – who won’t last
more than a couple of weeks.  Drat!  My wife can’t stand her.

It is all too easy to mock Strictly, and so, of course, one
does. 

The cheesy quiz-show ambience,
the sequined glitter, the contrived tension, and the corny auto-cued jokes written
for an octogenarian host whose half-century in show-business has yet to reveal
a single talent beyond that of formulating pointless catch-phrases, all invite
mockery.  The master of ceremonies, of
course, is once again Bruce Forsyth – knighted last year after a blatant
campaign by telly-obsessed mums who somehow persuaded the powers-that-be to add
his name to the awards list – surely no more than an attempt to silence the
lobbyists, or to garner votes from millions of grateful viewers (nine million
of them last Saturday, I’ve read).

Brucie’s manifest inability to do
the job is what, perversely, represents his appeal.  His pratfalls, some surely deliberate, are
now part and parcel of the show’s shtick. 
Strictly, it is universally
agreed, at least by the triumphant army of lobbyists, simply wouldn’t be the
same without the missed cues and Brucie turning laboured one-liners into
mangled ten-liners.   The same might be said of the judges,
particularly of Clive Revell-Horwood, who delights himself and infuriates the
audience with his blunt put-downs.  Clive
Revell Wormwood, more like it.  Boo,
hiss!        

There have been complaints that
this year’s crop of competing celebrities lacks star quality.  I can’t for the life of me see that it’s any
different from those of previous years, most of the guests having been culled
as usual from television series I’ve never seen.  There does seem to be this time round a
higher quotient of ‘duds’, meaning, older, fatter people who’ve been invited
more for their comic value than for their ability, though from what I’ve seen
few of them will have us rolling on the carpet in mirth.  Anyway, the ‘celebrity’ of the celebrities
tends to grow organically from their appearances on the dance floor. 

The new Downton series, the fourth, seems calculated to restore the format
to the one that first attracted its now global audience: a scenario in which
nothing much happens, other than Carson, the butler, asking His Lordship for a
quiet word.  The previous series attracted
discontent by dispatching, through violent death, two of the principal
characters, and the one before that was consumed by the impact of the First
World War.  In this new one, set in the
Twenties, the trivial round and the common task are the order of the day. 

The dour but dependable Carson,
we learn, once had a life in the theatre, as a song-and-dance man no less, and
lost the love of his life to his stage partner. 
This scoundrel makes a brief appearance before he’s bundled onto a train
and, presumably, out of the show.

Lady Mary, slowly emerging from
mourning the death of her husband, killed in a car crash in last year’s
Christmas episode  – “How could they?”
cried the viewers – will be taking a greater interest in managing the estate,
aided and abetted by her sister’s widower. 
No prizes for predicting where that
relationship is heading, wink, wink. 
Lord Grantham will no doubt be fighting back to assert his hegemony over
Downton’s financial affairs.  Let battle commence.  Meanwhile, Mary’s surviving sister is in love
with a married man, who, in order to be granted a divorce from his wife, who‘s conveniently
locked up in a lunatic asylum, but inconveniently still his legal spouse, may
have to become a German citizen.  Gott in
Himmel!

After two episodes, though, not
much else has happened – and that, apparently, is just how Downton devotees seem to like it. 

Before you know it, a dozen tangos
and episodes on, Christmas will be upon us. 
I’m almost tempted to say I can hardly wait.    

 

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