Down and Out on TV and Radio

I watched an interesting film last night: called ‘Treacle Jr’ about a man who walks out on his family and disappears to live rough in London.  He clearly has mental health problems but remains fairly lucid in spite of them, and in London he is befriended by a wild and chaotic Irishman who takes him back to his flat.  At first he tries to escape the Irishman, Aidan, who lives with an aggressive and thieving prostitute, but the guy follows him around, trying to make a living by cutting hedges with a pair of scissors or by going to cafes with his cat, Treacle and offering to chase mice from the premises.  After walkout-guy Tom saves his life, they become friends and Tom moves in with him.  It’s a low-key film but it draws you in with some interesting camera-angles and a narrative which stands back and observes the characters.

It fits in quite well with the current Orwell-fest on radio 4, and in particular the serialisation of ‘Down and Out in Paris and London.’  I read this in my twenties and it made a deep impression on me: Orwell went more than the extra mile to research his pieces; he actually lived incognito as a homeless man and experienced what life was like for them.  I will never forget his description of men sleeping on a line – if you didn’t have the money for a bed (a bug-ridden bed in a room full of other men) you could choose a room where men slept with their arms folded over a washing-line.  God only knows what that would feel like in the morning.  Men in London were also moved on after three nights, so that there was a tribe of wandering men tramping from one doss to another.

Another interesting prog I watched over the weekend was a bio of Bob Monkhouse.

Although I found his slick persona repellent, there’s no doubt that Bob was an interesting bloke: far more intelligent than he let on and, as this programme explores, with an obsessive-compulsive collecting habit.  One thing I found disappointing though was that the sexism and racism wasn’t commented on – yes I know it was another age but how can you let a joke like ‘she has to lift her blouse to count to two’ pass without comment?  I mean, this is offensive on so many levels I can’t count them without – oh, I don’t know, lifting my cranium to count my many millions of brain-cells.  Not to mention Lenny Henry’s first appearance: this was a real find for the producers as Bob had obsessively collected every script, every recording and every copy of the Radio or TV Times for every programme in which he had ever featured.  So Lenny Henry’s first TV appearance on New Faces at age 16 was discovered and is remarkable for two things – his stunning talent and the deep dodginess of his jokes (‘it’s only dirt – it’ll come off’).  Again, offensive in the extreme – and yet the programme let it pass without comment.  Yes, I know the guy is dead and yes, I know, the past is like another country – but to let these things go by with just a nod and a wink is not on.

Kirk out