Sunday, 13 July 2008

Government by sit-com

The essence of situation comedy is exactly what the description "situation comedy" dictates. Characters between whom there are conflicts are brought together in situations which amuse. One of the secrets of good situation comedy is that the writers know when to stop. The time to stop is when the natural situations that can arise between the characters have been exhausted. If they do not stop at that stage there are only two ways the show can go; it can repeat situations which have already been exploited or it can descend into the absurd and become a parody of itself. Either course results in damage to the brand.

It was desperately sad to see Steptoe & Son extended beyond its natural life by the use of increasingly far-fetched scenarios. When it started it had a point, it exposed the relationship of the two main characters and made clever and incisive observations about both the characters and the situation in which they found themselves. In later series we found Albert and Harold dressing up in silly costumes and getting involved in situations which simply could not happen in real life. It was still amusing, but it was not its old brilliant self. Like watching a favourite aunt succumb to Alzheimer's disease we saw a slow and irreversible decline. Much though we loved her we hoped she will soon be put out of her misery because we knew there was no way back. Those who never enjoyed the show might have taken pleasure from the decline but for those who relied on it for their entertainment the hurt ran deep.

Today we learn that a House of Commons committee is to propose a nationwide 9pm curfew for children with a whole series of penalties available to be used against the children themselves and their parents. The reasoning behind it is that a spate of stabbings of teenagers by teenagers has occurred during the evening and at night in public places, so to prevent this happening again all teenagers must be kept off the street. It seems to have received a warm reception from the government and we can expect a ministerial announcement imminently. Curfews are for true emergencies, to be imposed for a short time to combat the risk of looting or the spread of disease. They have no part to play in normal everyday life and are fundamentally inconsistent with government and policing by consent.

It is the type of authoritarian knee-jerk reaction we can expect from a government which has run out of steam. No longer able to inspire confidence through sensible measures it is donning fruit-adorned hats, flowery taffeta frocks and pink handbags and is mincing down the road hoping to raise a giggle. And let us not forget that this is not the first sign of terminal decline. We had a Prime Ministerial decree against plastic carrier bags (on goes the fruity hat), the u-turn over the 10p tax rate (zip-up the flowery frock), £100billion is to be spent on windmills (pick-up the pink handbag), Harriet Harman introduces a law to allow employers to do something they can do already (are my stocking seams straight?), the Prime Minister says we must not waste food (look, I'm wearing suspenders) and now a curfew (whoops dear, see how I walk ... mince, mince mince).

I hate to think what they will come up with next but it won't be The Office or Frasier, it will be Mr Humphreys dressed as Mrs Slocombe's pussy.

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