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False assumptions

24 July 2015

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MOST clergy have experienced a baptism from hell — one where the family assume that the sacred rite is basically an excuse for a massive party, and the content and style of the service is essentially theirs to determine, and are disconcerted by the concept that, on the contrary, the Church will tell them, gently but firmly, what is to take place; or where it is treated as a way of resolving long-standing feuds.

Most of these elements were on display in little Angel’s baptism (or Christianising, as they preferred to term it), the subject of People Just Do Nothing (BBC3, Wednesday of last week). This sitcom is supposedly a TV documentary being made about a pirate radio station whose perpetrators raise the definition of hapless to new levels.

The father assumed that the ceremony would give him the opportunity to take the mic and perform in front of a slightly larger audience than usual; and the mother, who considered herself a Christian because she took Christmas so very seriously (the shopping, the presents, the food), made proper preparations by designing a T-shirt and teaching her daughter a celebratory dance.

Much of the plot revolved around choosing a godfather; who would be announced as the winner as they gathered at the font? It teeters on the edge of a patronising guffaw at the hopelessness of the no-longer-working class. Only their overwhelming self-importance defines this as comedy instead of leaving a rather nasty taste in the mouth.

Another sitcom skewering a different segment of today’s British society, Not Safe For Work (Channel 4, Tuesdays), portrays young government employees whose work is so compromised by their entangled social life — characterised by partying, drugs, alcohol, and sex — that it is far-fetched to accept that they would actually keep their jobs for a week. If you are prepared to swallow that (and the constant bad language), it is sharply written, brilliantly acted, and very funny.

Melvyn Bragg: Wigton to Westminster (BBC2, Saturday) was, of course, classier altogether. We have had TV programmes about Lord Bragg before, but this film, by Olivia Lichtenstein, was more revealing and more touching than anything I had seen previously, digging beneath the groundbreaking South Bank Show determination to treat pop culture with the same seriousness as established genres to reveal, for example, his mother’s illegitimacy, his teenage breakdown, and, above all, the constant shadow caused by his first wife’s suicide.

I relished the social context: Lord Bragg epitomises the meritocratic storming of bastions of public-school privilege by working-class aspirants who took up the post-war opportunities, largely taking over the media and eventually defining contemporary Britain.

Most admirable is what seemed genuine about Bragg’s continuing engagement with his roots: the final scene showed him singing bass in the town choral society. “Keep the home fires burning,” they sang — not exactly cutting-edge music, but possibly a sentiment that lies more deeply within his life’s achievement than might be immediately apparent.

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