Tag Archives: Channel 4

A Portrait of An Artist

Today’s blog is a hymn in praise of Grayson Perry, the Turner Prize winner potter,  sublime artist, transvestite and up there for most interesting person alive award.  He is warm, engaging and completely brilliant.

Who are you?  Grayson and his alter-ego Claire is himself  the perfect metaphor for how we all have our different sides to project to the world

Who are you? Grayson and his alter-ego Claire.  A living metaphor for how we all have our different sides to project to the world; that we are all our own works of art

I can not get enough of him, his art and his ideas.  His ability to articulate high concepts to a layperson in his series of Reith Lectures on Contemporary was extraordinary.  He is a natural teacher.   If you didn’t hear the lectures you can download them from the BBC website.

His Channel 4 documentary last year on taste and class was so revelatory.  He looked at working, middle and upper class in turn and through meeting members of the public and observing them in their home environment examined how we use objects to identify which social strata we belong to and why.    That he managed to do this without judgement, his questioning, probing but always with the utmost sensitivity, was remarkable.  We might have moved away from a “know your place society” but those social-economic fault lines run deep in the British psyche still today.    That he was able tackle this fascinating but potentially very tricky subject without putting a foot wrong says everything about Grayson himself.  How he communicates his thoughts and ideas is so thrilling it feels like my mind lights up as I drink in his words.  It may sound a little far-fetched but I can almost feel my synapses buzzing and fizzing with excitement.  The very definition of mind-expanding.

He is now tackling identity in modern Britain with the same humanity.    In the past two episodes he has created portraits of his subjects using several different disciplines. (They are currently being displayed at the National Portrait Gallery until March).  As you would expect from this thought-provoking artist, he is tackling a very broad array of individuals and groups.  From a recently released from prison Chris Hulme; a White British girl who converted to Islam (hers was a tapestry hijab showing her life story); a transsexual depicted as an Peter Pan like African statue in bronze; a Christian collective; a gay couple with a mixed race child;  and last week so movingly he dealt with a couple whose husband was suffering with Alzheimer’s .  How who we are are is so wrapped up in the lives and memories of other people, especially in our nearest and dearest,  and what happens when that starts to disappear.  It was profoundly touching and when the wife saw the pot where Grayson had depicted their lives and memories with the family photos cut into shards she said you have got it exactly right.

It seemed that night the whole of Twitter were in tears, there was an outpouring of admiration, love and praise for Mr Perry.  If he wasn’t already a national treasure before he certainly is now and it delights me that a man of his many abilities and intelligence is curating our multifaceted modern lives for future generations with such empathy.

If you haven’t heard or watched him yet please have a look, I promise time with Grayson Perry will enrich your life in so many ways.  The third episode of Who Are You? is on Channel 4 on Wednesday 10 pm

and if you live in Leeds The Vanity of Small Differences, the set of 6 tapestries he created in conjunction with his look at British aesthetics is being displayed at Temple Newsam until 7 December.

Title Contender

These might be up there for my favourite opening credits ever, witty and so tongue in cheek.  All the old corny cliches for sex, the train going into the tunnel, the champagne popping , the fireworks, they are all there.  The Neon Bingo sign makes me laugh out loud every time.

But what comes after is one of the best, well-written, well- acted dramas I have seen in a long while.  The period styling of the mid 60s puts it on a par with Mad Men and the story they are telling is electrifying.  Masters of Sex (Channel 4 10.00 pm Tuesday) is about the pioneering scientific studies done by Masters and Johnson in the human sexual response.

It is how they then weave the individual stories of the characters to illuminate the research are breath-taking, every issue from the time is there, from the right of a woman to be able to control her own fertility to how homosexuality was still considered deviant behaviour.  A central theme is how does an intelligent woman make her mark in the world and still manage to be a mother.  A theme that still chimes today.  And last week’s episode debunking Freud’s infantile views on female sexuality should be taught as a masterclass in screenwriting classes everywhere.

Michael Sheen is wonderful as the very buttoned up academic Bill Masters and Lizzie Caplan lights up the screen as Virginia Johnson.  If you haven’t tried it already, give it a whirl, I promise it will leave you gasping for more.

How Hip Hop Changed the World

Could there be a bigger irony that whilst David Starkey was on Newsnight accusing “black culture” of causing the recent riots, Channel 4 were showing the most wonderful retrospective of rap.

‘How Hip Hop Changed the World’, headed up very ably by The Wire‘s Stringer Bell himself, Idris Elba, was an entertaining reminder of just how far Hip Hop culture has spread and ingrained itself in all our lives.  From advertising Weetabix, to the 2012 Olympic symbol, we are influenced daily by the power, creativity, imagination and imagery of Hip Hop.

Hip Hop came out of the Bronx, during a time of utter deprivation, (possibly one could argue that the origins of Hip Hop and the riots are the same, not that one was responsible for the other).   It was a totally new and original art form; visceral, exciting and inspirational.

The programme had interviews with many of the great voices, and it was a really positive and wonderful reminder of just how rich Hip Hop culture is, and how far it has influenced the music, the fashion and the art of today.

There were things missing too, there are downsides to Hip Hop. One glaring omission was Hip Hop’s portrayal of women.  Missy Elliot excepted, there are very few talented female artists in Hip Hop.  Women are window dressing – in the background of videos in bikinis or stimulating sex on the floor whilst the rappers throw dollar bills at them.   The message coming out of these promos are that women are secondary, inferior, their function is purely sexual.

Watching music channels used to be fun, but they have become so x-rated these days I will not let my children watch them.   You can see the influence spreading too, Rihanna and Christina Aguilera both performed unnecessarily provocative dances on the X-Factor last year, before the 9.00pm watershed.  I watched with my children and wondered what my daughter would think.  Why were the girls in their underwear, whilst Robbie Williams who was also performing but fully dressed in a suit?

But on the whole it was a very timely reminder that Hip Hop culture has given us much, and there has been some really fantastic music.  I think this one, Sugarhill Gang is still my favourite:

On Monday Channel 4 continued their Street Summer with ‘Concrete Circus’.  This was an incredible programme, following four young men who excelled in urban sports.  Sports that didn’t really exist 30 years ago.  There was an urban trial biker, Danny McAskill, skateboarder Kilian Martin, parkourist “Blue” and BMX flatlander Keelan Philips.  The names of these sports seem so ordinary they belie the almost super-human abilities of the participants.

These athletes rose to prominence because of You Tube.  Short films of their gravity-defying jumps, their jaw-dropping daring and incredible tricks have added up to over 50 million hits.  It was a wonderful twist having another Wire alumnus, Dominic West, describing the urban terms of these activities in his Etonian modulated tones.  A beautiful juxtaposition of cultures.

‘Concrete Circus’ followed the sportsmen as they practiced to make new films to be debuted that night on the programme.  Could they actually better their first films, jump higher, longer, further.  Injuries of course were the biggest concern.  As Blue, the parkourist, said of his first film, there wasn’t a jump on there that didn’t frighten him.  Watching him somersaulting over railings and landing vertically on walls like a real life Spiderman, you could see exactly why.

Danny McAskill, the trial biker could cycle along a length of rope that he was unable to walk down. I still can’t get my head around that.

The Skateboarder and the flatlander BMX-er were like ballet dancers or figure skaters, pirouetting with unbelievable grace and agility.

I taped the programme and let the children watch the next day.  They were in as much awe as I was.  My son has been launching himself at every wall he can find since.  I am fearing the inevitable trip to A&E but I am not surprised at his actions, the programme was so inspiring.

Words of course cannot do just to the skill, bravery and ability so here’s my favourite film from the night, Danny Mcaskill’s ‘Industrial Revolutions’.  Watch and marvel.

It’s not just the rush rush rush and the money money money…

Today I want to sing the praises of the best programme on television at the moment. It was up against that business juggernaut ‘The Apprentice’ so I will forgive you if you haven’t seen it yet.

’24 Hours in A&E’ on Channel 4 (every Wednesday 9.00 pm) is the best hospital drama I have ever seen, and it’s a fly on the wall documentary.  It’s filmed at King’s College Hospital London, one of the busiest in London. All the action in each episode is filmed over a 24 hour period, Jack Bauer style.

’24 Hours in A&E’ does get close up and it does get the gory details, but they are the details of humanity.  Of life and love and death, and what it  means to be a human being.

The first episode hooked me in following the story of Theo, a Greek Student student at the LSE who had been knocked over by a double-decker bus.  “He was kissing his toes” said the consultant when the paramedics got to him.  His pelvis was so fractured it resembled a map of the world.  He came in unconscious, clamped, bound and confined to the stretcher.

Every second was critical.  A camera gave us an elevated overview.  I watched spell-bound, humbled and in awe.  They worked as a team, it was balletic and beautiful to watch.  Everyone knew what to do, and slowly minute by minute they were saving his life.

As I watched, I realised why this was so moving.  This was the very best of human nature, a need and desire to mend people, to put profoundly broken people back together.

They found his phone and managed to call his brother in Greece.  “Will he walk again?” asked his brother.  “We are just trying to save his life for now” came the stark reply.  The story is relayed to us by interviews with the medical team that worked on Theo.  The brother is also interviewed but we are given no indication as to whether Theo lived or died.

In the final shots of the programme we see Theo, sitting down in a wheelchair.  I was so delighted just to see that he was alive, so when he stood up and walked towards the camera I couldn’t see anything for the tears streaming down my face.

Subsequent programmes have dealt with the devastation of alcoholism.  The human and medical costs of gang warfare, young black men coming in every week to be patched up after gun or knife attacks. In one chilling episode Sister Jen had to prevent rival gangs from continuing the fight in the wards.

They look at the old and vulnerable in our society too.  An 86-year-old lady was admitted. She had always lived alone.  She would have liked to have a family she said, but everyone was away at war and when they got back it was too late.  Yet another sacrifice that her generation suffered.

There have also been the more mundane incidents and accidents, the drunks, the broken bones, the cuts and scrapes, there were moments of humour and light relief.  You feel the love and concern of the families, and the hard work and dedication of the always caring staff.  Good humoured and professional despite the incredible physical and mental demands made of them.  I do have favourites, the no messing Sister Jen, who used to work in Heaven for 8 years, patrolling the dance floor for party casualties, to Porter Kevin who prides himself on being the quickest response to the blood call, when stocks are needed for an urgent transfusion.  You realise every one of them is important to the team.

As the consultant says at the beginning of every show, everyone should come through A&E once in their lives to make you realise what your priorities are, it’s not just the rush rush rush and the money money money, it’s the people you love, and the fact that one minute they might be there and then next minute they might be gone.

There is no other show that can make you understand that so completely.   I hope ’24 Hours in A&E’ wins every award next year.  They certainly deserve it.