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Television: Mr Marr unmarred

by
16 January 2008

by Gillean Craig

OF ALL THE excuses I have heard for missing one’s turn to read the Old Testament lesson, “having to appear on The Andrew Marr Show” (BBC1, Sunday) is pretty unassailable. But just to check that Mr Cameron — or Dave, as we know him — had not simply funked out of his responsibilities to the rest of the congregation, I thought I had better record and watch the programme, just to be sure.

My verdict is that, for a start, it is a huge improvement on David Frost’s effort. Yes, it is clearly set out as a star vehicle, opening with footage of Mr Marr driving his car through the streets of London, and checking a few minor details with the studio staff. Yet this is all done good-naturedly, even ironically, setting the informal tone of the whole programme. No self-importance here — Mr Marr is enjoying himself, and seems eager to ensure that his guests do, too.

If, like me, you have something else to do on a Sunday morning and have never watched it, you will need to be told that it is an hour-long magazine programme with news, weather forecast, and studio guests discussing the day’s papers. There are three extended interviews, which are more like discussions.

If there is a fault, it is cosiness: there is a sense of politico-journalist insiders allowing us to eavesdrop on their informed conversation. But I reckon that, overall, it struck a pretty perfect balance: the newspaper analysis lightweight; the discussion about Kenya, Zimbabwe, and Pakistan with Lord Malloch-Brown appropriately sombre; the piece with Simon Callow far more than a nod to culture; the centrepiece interview with Mr Cameron (he was indeed there) serious and just a little probing.

For those who cannot be bothered to go to church, and thus encounter directly the life-and-death issues that really matter, this seems to be an admirable way of giving a Sunday-morning flavour to the events of the day. And the Old Testament lesson? The Conservative MP Michael Gove read it instead. The future of my Labour Party membership appears more and more in jeopardy.

BBC1 advertises its new series on Thursday evening as a modern update of Fairy Tales. As updating fairy tales is precisely what our critics castigate us for doing each Sunday, we should have some fellow-feeling for those who created this series. We ought to take this attempt seriously, and see whether it can teach us any new tricks.

The first episode (Thursday of last week) retold the Rapunzel narrative in terms of championship tennis — or, rather, used elements of that story to weave a hilarious riff on the theme of the prince character, a Balkan tennis player so incompetent and unmanly that the only way he could achieve success, and win the heart of Rapunzel (a very long-haired international star), was by pretending to be a woman and cleaning up the distaff tournaments.

It had cod-Balkan accents and every conceivable gender stereotype — and was extremely funny. Farce played with this level of commitment is a rare delight, highlighting how mediocre is the standard of most TV comedy. Laughter is of God, surely, and not of t’other fellow. Let us see if the rest of the series comes anywhere near this standard.

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