Edinburgh Fringe 2012
Right, you have sixty minutes to speak on The Complete History Of The BBC without hesitation, deviation or repeition ..
The BBC are one of the most respected and admired brands on the planet, even when it’s having to cope with blows to its image such as the Hutton Inquiry and, say,My Family. This is a love letter to the iconic TV station that gave us Listen With Mother, Doctor Who,Eastenders, and Bleak House.But not Downton Abbey …
It’s not exactly what it says it is on the tin. Complete History … is listed in the ‘theatre’ section of the Fringe 2012 programme, and it’s not that. It could be described as a comedy lecture, but the jokes aren’t quite strong enough for that. And, fatally, they appear not to have enough faith in their own product. It’s a fair bet that if you call your show The Complete History Of The BBC, then your audience are going to be pretty pre-disposed to have affection for the corporation, and be able to cope with a couple of obscure references to say, Quatermass or the 1950s adapatation of 1984 that was complained about in the House Of Lords then saved by the new and young Queen Elizabeth’s approval. Even the name of the company – Five Rounds Rapid – is a cute reference to an early-ish episode of Doctor Who.
But Five Rounds Rapid appear not to have the strength of their convictions, and enough faith that their audiences will have watched enough BBC – a gag referencing Just A Minute is immediately followed by a line telling us that it’s referencing Just A Minute. Some time later, a joke about Call My Bluff suffers the same fate. It’s as if the pair are concerned that some audience members get left behind, like a iplayer with a faulty internet connection. The set up is two 1940s styles TV presenters taking us through the history of the BBC, but it’s a format that quite quickly strait-jackets the show, which is a pity, since there’s a lot of research and genuine affection bubbling around the place.
Obviously, not every iconic BBC figure can be mentioned, and there’s an understandable – if not quite forgivable – bias towards what’s presumably the writer/performer’s formative years – hence, nearly five minutes of ‘GhostWatch’, but not a whisper of Dame Joan Bakewell or even the selling of BBC Television Centre. This is clearly a labour of love, but it’s not yet past the labour pains, and isn’t yet fully committed to their hope that the audience themselves might already regard the BBC with genuine affection. Indeed, why else would you go? Therefore, most revelations made within the lecture are going to be already known to most who choose to go to see this, including the puz quiz trivia points on whether the classic serial dramas we remember are actually BBC or not. If they can stand it, this hour would benefit hugely from a massive overhaul, and more theatrically and character work – a cute cameo from Mary Whitehouse promises, but does not deliver on this.
If we judge this show on Riethian principles (and, frankly, it seems we must) then Five Rounds Rapid just about inform, educate and entertain. But – to use their own example, Complete History .. is more like 1990s BBC, and not quite 1960s. There’s even a hesitant deviation towards the end that seems to smack of soap opera, and risks fatally undermining the affection that’sbeen stored up in the previous fifty minutes. There’s the germ of a great show here. Ironically, it needs to be a little more commercial. And that’s not always as easy as BBC.