Just to close the loop on the last couple of weeks, I found myself on Saturday evening just before seven o’clock shouting at the radio to urge Shrewsbury Town to prevent Walsall from scoring a goal, which they successfully managed to do. This allowed AFC Wimbledon to stay in League One by the narrow margin of having a better goal difference (-21) than Plymouth Argyle (-24). Some might argue that this is a strange issue to worry about, but I’m guessing such people are unappreciative of the drama that sport can generate – just ask a Liverpool or Spurs supporter this week!
Moving on, as we must do, Albert Einstein defined madness as doing the same thing over and over again while expecting a different outcome. I have used this repeatedly during my many years in education, either to highlight to colleagues the need to apply some different ways of thinking or to pupils to encourage them to change the way they approach their work.
For variety, I also like the words of John Foster Dulles, the U.S. Secretary of State in the 1950s, who said, ‘The measure of success is not whether you have a tough problem to deal with, but whether it is the same problem you had last year.’ Or, if you want something a bit more up to date, the BBC Arts Editor Will Gompertz, when he was plugging his excellent book ‘Think Like an Artist’, who offered, ‘If at first you don't succeed, don't try exactly the same thing again. You won't succeed, again. Instead, have a think, evaluate, correct, modify and then try again. Creativity is an iterative process.’
Despite knowing these words of wisdom, I find myself week in, week out falling into the same trap of thinking that a television drama in several episodes will end with a feeling of fulfilment and satisfaction that I have been both entertained and intellectually challenged. It happened again this week, along with millions of others who shared the experience of the most watched drama this year, as ‘Line of Duty’ reached its conclusion.
You will be familiar with the story of the emperor’s new clothes, where a rich and powerful ruler is swindled by two conmen into parading through the city naked because he has been persuaded that he was wearing the finest clothes. His hubris is enhanced by the collective conspiracy of his people, who have been told they must not ruin the conceit, but a small boy in the crowd uses his intelligent naivety to point out that it is all an illusion.
I feel the same way with the work of Jed Mercurio, who seems to be hailed as a genius by everyone else, but whose work I confess I find deeply frustrating. To be fair to a man who has far more creative gifts than me, I do enjoy the programmes while they are on, being surprised by the twists as they happen and intrigued about how it all fits together. However, it is after it has finished that I end up feeling that something is somehow not right.
Being careful not to spoil it for anyone who wants to watch it later, the twist at the end on Sunday night was, frankly, nonsense, as were most of the assumptions built in to making the final episode hang together while setting it up for two more series. Was ‘H’ Ted Hastings? Would you give your villainous alter ego your own initial? If one day we manage to convert the tower at the top of Radnor House into the office I think it could be, where I can spend my days stroking a white cat and reminding everyone, ‘This organisation does not tolerate failure, Number Four’, I think I’d manage to come up with a rather more convincing code name than ‘W’!
When ‘The Bodyguard’ was on last year, the same thing happened. It felt like everyone was raving about how good it all was, when I spent most of my time thinking it was mostly drivel, particularly the ending, which as usual seemed to serve only to set it all up for another five or six hours of my life that I will never get back watching a second series. But I have no one to blame but myself. I know it’s madness to keep watching these programmes, but I keep doing it, only to end up disappointed. Perhaps the only answer is to stop being a critic and write my own. Now all I need is a plausible villain with a clever code name – any suggestions?