WILL the admission of women destroy its very essence, striking fatally at the root of its identity? No, not yet another re-run of the debate over women’s ordination in the Church of England, but a crisis in the world of morris dancing.
For Folk’s Sake: Morris dancing and me (BBC4, Monday of last week) was no April Fool’s Day spoof, but a serious and surprisingly sensitive portrayal of a climactic moment in the history of the Morris Ring — the pre-eminent association of morris sides — responding, at least partly, to a further characteristic shared with the C of E: catastrophic numerical decline.
There have been, for many years, women’s sides — but not in the Morris Ring, which sees itself as the bearer of the true spirit of morris, handed down in unbroken succession from Cecil Sharp (the founder of the English Folk Dance Society) himself. After much soul-bearing and plain speaking, the reform was carried at the AGM with an overwhelming majority. Would this work out at local level? Would individual sides accept women members to dance alongside the men?
Richard Macer’s film was personal: he decided that to understand the issue properly he must learn to dance himself, and watching him attempt to master the art was excruciating. His attitude was nuanced: he was not simply promoting obvious justice (of course women must be welcome to share in any activity going), but seeking to discern whether there was, in fact, something so very unusual about men dressing and dancing in such a way, so contrary to everything that is usually thought of as appropriately masculine behaviour, as to deserve maintaining and cherishing, like an endangered species worthy of special ring-fencing. Is the truly honourable position to embrace extinction rather than dilute the true faith?
This was an attitude adopted by those featured in The Brexit Storm: Laura Kuenssberg’s inside story (BBC2, Monday of last week). The date was chosen because, by then, we would have left the EU; but, in the event, we watched no hastily assembled retrospective but rather a work-in-progress report, both Kuenssberg and her viewers aware that the situation would change between the programme’s start and its closing credits.
Today, television’s most compelling drama — and, many would say, most extreme combination of tragedy and farce — is played out nightly on the news bulletins, focused on Westminster and Brussels, with as many twists and turns and constant returns to the tired old storylines as, say, EastEnders.
Kuenssberg’s documentary led us behind the scenes, to show the setting up of interviews, the correspondents’ dashing about to catch key figures at just the right moment, and to overhear the unbuttoned comments and despairing confusion of those who are supposed to be in charge. It was just like being in the vestry before and after high mass.