BBC Four – dull but worthy?
I seem to remember in the early days of BBC Four (or BBC Knowledge as it then was) being generally referred to as “dull but worthy”. It has tried to “sex up” its image in recent years but I can’t help feeling that it’s a tag that belongs to the recent “gay week”. They had a new drama, generally reviewed as dull but worthy and AA Gill in the Sunday Times praised the attention to detail. ‘Consenting Adults’ was based around the Wolfenden Committee and though it had some accurate details other aspects were plain wrong. For instance, where and when Wolfenden was appointed by the Home Secretary. The major inaccuracy and the one that had me shouting at the TV was the Kinsey visit. This did not take place in Room 101. It was deeply secret. As I commented in an earlier post, academic work is only now being undertaken on this element of the Wolfenden proceedings. What is known so far is that Kinsey met with some members of the group (not all of them, or as the programme suggested, minus one member) and the meetings took place at a private property (we are not clear as to who it belonged to). It’s not even clear that Wolfenden was present. This is therefore significant in terms of the general image the programme presented as to how the committee reached the decision they did.
What depressed me the most was just how dull the programme was. Where was the radical programme in celebration? Think about Queer as Folk just six years ago – that was radical, it pushed boundaries and it was brilliant TV. Why have both the BBC and Channel Four failed to do anything like that? Of course, ITV didn’t even bother and Sky, well say no more. So that’s it. Well done boys, forty years legal but did anyone notice?
The rest of the BBC Four coverage was full of repeats. Lots of interesting programmes on gay men who were never out and led sad and tragic lives – Frankie Howard, Liberache and Joe Orton (murdered by his boyfriend). Gay MPs who spent their time with rent boys and cruising. So happy stuff there…
The best programme was the wonderful Naked Civil Servant – all about the life of Quintin Crisp. I recently read that a sequel is planned that covers his later life. I can’t wait. This was a rather old drama starring John Hurt but it hasn’t been on TV in years. It remained radical, it continued to push boundaries, this was a defiant queer, a self proclaimed ‘stately homo’. It also offered a study of the law and discretionary policing. The court scene is fantastic and explores the issue of soliciting with both warmth and humour. It’s just a shame that the BBC had to turn to a programme made by a rival channel (ITV) and twenty years old.