HOW might we expect BBC1, the world’s greatest TV station, to bid farewell
to Bleak House, its classic series, realisation of one of the greatest
English works of fiction, exemplar of its global superiority in producing
costume drama? As the closing credit rolled into oblivion the most appropriate
encomium the continuity girl could manage was: "Well, well. There you go."
If only this bathetic apostrophe contrasted with the delights of the
production itself! But no: episode followed episode, glumly confirming my
initial suspicions. This adaptation consistently missed the mark, upsetting
Dickens’s delicate balance of character and situation, with interpolated
scenes, and diction, phrases, and concepts clunkingly out of period.
Why does this matter? It might be fiction, but it’s about serious stuff. In
a world of false and self-seeking charity, Esther Summerson is the moving
embodiment of true Christian virtue. Her self-abnegation and ability quietly to
bring harmony and peace to those around her are the essence of goodness.
Suffering and scarred, she attains happiness and true love. It’s a resolution
that matters, that helps us to reflect on our own moral standing — or lack of
The best thing about the adaptation is that it drove us back to the novel
itself, to rediscover there a world infinitely richer, more complex, more
grotesque, fiercer in its condemnation of corruption and evil — and far, far
A bit of Radio 3’s glorious Bachfest has leeched into TV, with some more in
the 21st-Century Bach (BBC2) series of the master’s organ works played
by John Scott Whitely on historic German instruments. Finding it requires some
detective work, but the effort is well repaid.
As in the first series, the camera shows us lots of mechanical gubbins:
trackers, springs, and pallets slide and move as the music is played. Behind
the glorious Baroque façade is revealed the no-less-important Baroque
technology. This earths the music — and somehow helps it speak more clearly of
In Advent we are actually allowed to see a real act of worship on TV.
Unfortunately, I discerned little of Advent in Stranger in the Manger?
(BBC1, Sunday). At St Mark’s, Tollington Park, the music all belonged to
Christmas. The tree was decorated, the John Prologue was read. Cannot these
people cope with deferred gratification?
Contrary to Canon Law, the clergy officiated in lay dress. The "special
prayer for today" was not the Advent 4 collect from BCP, ASB or CW. Luckily,
the time spared by avoiding all liturgical and sacramental action enabled us to
have two addresses, including a plug for the Alpha course. It was absolutely