Having regularly watched the output of UK TV for some 40 years or so, I find in the list of the top 50 worst UK TV programmes chosen by the TV critic John Naughton for this week’s edition of the Radio Times something worth thinking about.
To each of his 50 choices, John has appended a condensed, and occasionally acerbic,summary of how he would defend the selection.
The seventies sitcom Love Thy Neighbour, about a racist trade unionist living in an uneasy relationship with a black couple who have moved in next door, he describes as “cruder and less funny Till Death Do Us Part” and “a low point in British comedy”, which “never slipped out of the top ten in fun-loving, multicultural, early 70s Britain. Few us who have seen that programme would disagree with that assessment.
The Black and White Minstrel Show, which featured white performers “blacked up” to sing songs from America’s Deep South and which ran from 1958-1978, he calls “an anachronistic obscenity that still occupied a place in British primetime schedules as late as 1978”. There was no doubt of its being an obscenity, but the seekers of the obscene were too busy with other more obvious forms of obscenity to care.
“The homegrown programmes I’ve picked here all represent moments when television went that extra mile to create something memorably rotten – whether it was an inspirationally flawed concept, a supremely botched execution, or suffered from an unusually irritating presenter,” he writes.
However, there are some programmes on his list which, when they first appeared on our screens, seemed to be so innocuous as to hardly appear worthy of serious attention, let alone being considered for inclusion on anybody’s “worst of” list.
People, for instance, are already openly asking why Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends, which John describes as portraying ” a workplace riven by class envy and where bitching, brown-nosing and backstabbing are the norm” is on the list.
Of course, those of us now think the Thomas inoffensive are probably those very same people who never gave the series a second thought, or a second’s thought, when it was first aired. I know that children, my own included, were allowed to watch it without their parents ever asking themselves whether it might be good or bad for them. It was after all just another charming children’s programme with what seemed to be inoffensive storylines. Harmless enough, we maintained and probably go on maintaining.
But now that it’s on John’s list, I, for one, have to ask myself whether it really was as harmless as it looked, or whether it was, as he suggests, much more insidious than that. And that of course is the point such a list. It asks us to to look again and think again.
There will probably never be a “the worst of” or indeed “the best of” list on which we could all agree, and a good thing there isn’t. But that does not mean that the list has no value. The very existence of a list, a list complied by someone who has given some thought to what’s to be included or excluded, encourages us examine our presumptions, and prods us into providing some rationally worked out, rather than subjective, reasons for holding the opinions we hold. Of course, we’re by no means duty bound heed the encouragement or prodding, but that’s another story.
1 Naked Jungle (2000)
2 Minipops (1983)
3 Triangle (1981-1983)
4 Quickfire Balls (2006)
5 Annie`s Bar (1996)
6 Wright Here, Wright Now (2002)
7 Love Thy Neighbour (1972-1976)
8 Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends (1984-1991)
9 Through The Keyhole (1983-)
10 A Year In Provence (1993)
11 Heil Honey I`m Home! (1990)
12 The Black and White Minstrel Show (1958-1978)
13 The Borgias (1981)
14 The Good Old Days (1953-1983)
15 Breakfast Time (1983-1989)
16 Thompson (1988)
17 OTT (1982)
18 George and Mildred (1976-1979)
19 Dream Team (1997-2006)
20 Ross Kemp: Alive In Alaska (1999)
21 Kirsty`s Home Videos (2000-2004)
22 Clive Anderson All Talk (1996-1999)
23 Celeb (2002)
24 Diana: Her True Story (1993)
25 Eurovision Song Contest (1956-)
26 Celebrity Wresting (2005)
27 Babes In The Wood (1998)
28 The Edinburgh Military Tattoo (1952-)
29 The Girlie Show (1996)
30 That`s Life! (1973-1994)
31 Family Fortunes (1980-2002)
32 Littlejohn: Live and Unleashed (1998)
33 Lock, Stock… (2000)
34 French and Saunders (1987-2004)
35 Alastair Burnet`s Royal Interviews (1980s)
36 Eldorado (1992-1993)
37 LA Pool Party (2001-2002)
38 Heartbeat (1992-now)
39 Going For Gold (1987-1996)
40 3-2-1 (1978-1987)
41 Origami (1968)
42 The Gaby Roslin Show (1996)
43 Clive James` Postcard from… (1990-1999)
44 Davina (2006)
45 Kilroy (1987-2004)
46 Wacaday (1985-1992)
47 Fort Boyard (1998-2002)
48 Popstars: The Rivals (2002)
49 Flog It! (2002-)
50 Crossroads (1964-1988, 2001-2003)