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No Sacred Cows  
Toby Young
Sunday 10th October 2004

Why Blackpool rocks but Brighton doesn't...

Blackpool, BBC1's new drama serial about the Las Vegas of the North, is chuffing brilliant. When I first heard about it, I thought it was going to be yet another of those light, comedy thrillers that the BBC drama department seems to churn out by the bucket-load. But it's obvious from the very start that there's nothing run-of-the-mill about this programme.

The central character in Blackpool is Ripley Holden, an amusement arcade owner played by David Morrissey, and the opening episode begins with the Holden family preparing for a night out on the town. Nothing unusual about that, you might think, except that the entire brood is singing along to 'Viva Las Vegas' by Elvis Presley.

It's not immediately clear whether this is just a one-off--an arresting way of introducing the principal characters--or these sing-a-longs are going to be a permanent feature of Blackpool. The issue is resolved 15 minutes later when Morrissey breaks into song again, this time to belt out 'You Can Get It If You Really Want' by Jimmy Cliff. Two more numbers follow, including one showstopper in which a succession of chorus girls take it in turn to share Morrissey's bed.

Blackpool, then, is a kind of musical, but with the proviso that none of the actors actually perform any of the songs, they just sing along to them. The most obvious point of comparison is with Dennis Potter's The Singing Detective, except that Blackpool doesn't aspire to the level of serious drama. What makes it so entertaining, in fact, is that the whole thing is anchored in a witty, unpretentious script by Peter Bowker.

The Beeb is taking quite a risk in broadcasting Blackpool on "the One", as its executives call the main channel. There's no telling how the popular audience will respond to the characters' habit of suddenly breaking in to song. It certainly has the feel of something that would be more at home on BBC2.

But the Beeb is right to give Blackpool a shot at the big time. It's a clever, imaginative attempt to breath new life into a shop-worn genre and it deserves to be a huge ratings success.

Rock On

Adding a few song-and-dance numbers isn't always the best way to jazz something up. Last week I went to see Brighton Rock, the new musical based on Graham Greene's classic thriller, and found the experience memorable in all the wrong ways. It's bad enough that the 17-year-old psychopath at the centre of the story is called Pinkie, without making him see even less threatening by having him break into song.

I loved the book and I liked the film, but the musical version of Brighton Rock is an adaptation too far.

Social Outcast

I'm amazed that anyone has taken seriously Renee Zellweger's claims that she's intimidated by the prim and proper Brits. In an interview in Time Out she said that whenever she spends time in London she feels "curt and clumsy" and "obnoxious" compared to her genteel hosts.

The notion that an Oscar-winning actress who earns more than $10 million per movie might be made to feel socially inadequate by a bunch of supercilious Brits is ridiculous. In my limited experience, A-list Hollywood stars have a much more developed sense of propriety than anyone they're likely to encounter on the limo journey between their five-star London hotel and the set of the movie they happening to be working on.

More importantly, Zellweger's concept of what Brits are like is at least 50 years out of date. When was the last time someone looked down their nose at a tourist for not tipping their soup bowl the right way? We actually care much less about the niceties of social etiquette than your average American. Even if Zellweger spent a weekend at Balmoral I don't suppose she'd feel genuinely intimidated by the natives.

Clearly, her remarks are simply a crude attempt to drum up publicity for Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason. The awful thing is, it's worked.

Lost in Translation

Oh dear, boyo. The news that Wales has been left off a map used by EU statisticians to illustrate the front cover of their official yearbook won't go down too well in the valleys. The Welsh tend to be a tad on the sensitive side when it comes to this kind of thing.

Not long ago I gave a radio broadcast in Bangor in which I made the mistake of questioning the country's insistence that all road signs should be in Welsh and English. I pointed out that it was particularly absurd in light of the fact that so few of its citizens actually speak the language.

Afterwards, the station manager approached me in a state of some anxiety.

"I've got some bad news, Mr Young," she said. "One of our listeners took rather an exception to your remarks about the Welsh language and he's come down to the studio to 'ave it out with you, like."

"In that case," I replied, "you better show me out the back way."

"Oh no, Mr Young. There is no back way. You're going to have to face the music I'm afraid."

I peeped through the porthole in the green room door to see a red-faced troll stamping around in the lobby, great plumes of smoke coming out of his ears. It literally took me 45 minutes to get past him and into my car. For the sake of the hapless EU statisticians, let's hope they never find themselves on a rainy night in Bangor.

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