THE heavy burdens of producing a weekly TV review are lightened, I must admit, by a few positives. As you would expect, I’m paid huge fees, and bask in universal celebrity and esteem. But, above all, there is the annual Sandford St Martin Trust Awards ceremony, when generous hospitality is lavished on the fortunate guests at Lambeth Palace.
But, this year, the whole affair was conducted online, streamed live on Thursday of last week and available to all at sandfordawards.org.uk/awards-2020. This is precisely the democratisation possible by means of social media, and the organisation did everything possible to maintain its splendid tradition of occasion, style, and drama.
Surely, for a celebration devoted to media communication, this is an unalloyed improvement, as medium and message are now completely in synch? But, just as some of us query bishops’ and archdeacons’ delight that our current live-streamed, YouTubed, virtual church is their longed-for breakthrough, decisive justification for the closure of fuddy-duddy old church buildings, so I mourn some essential virtues of the traditional format.
I have always found the occasion strangely transforming: seeing celebrities in the flesh gives vital perspective to the judgements that I had formed from watching their programmes. The brief conversations with producers and directors, with other journalists covering the event, with the members of judging panels, even the simple congratulations and commiserations to winners and losers, brings depth and reality to the two-dimensional experience of watching television.
The event creates for a beleaguered niche in a doom-laden industry a sense of fellowship, community, and confidence. Perhaps, after all, the incarnation was really on to something. Of course, Sandford St Martin is wholly aware of all this, and promises that, next year, we will be back at Lambeth, canapés circulating and wine flowing.
The full awards results have already been reported (News, 12 June), comprising categories far wider than mere TV; so I confine myself to the briefest account. The TV/Video award went to For Sama (Channel 4), the most searing, powerful, and ultimately uplifting account of a child’s life in the hell of Aleppo.
I was particularly pleased that the Radio Times Readers Award went to BBC2’s lavish dramatisation of Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman’s Good Omens, as it gives me an opportunity to recant. My account of the first episode was decidedly sniffy, but the series grew in depth and moral stature. Its climax, as the innocent child hero renounced his satanic blandishments of power and accepted loss and mortality, was a profound, funny, and moving retelling (whatever the authors intended) of the Christian story.