Thursday, 28 June 2018


I wish a television channel — or at least a programme — existed, in which almost nothing happened.

I love costume drama; but it's the costumes I love, not the drama. I look wistfully at the pictures of Poldark and wish I could face actually watching it. But the sadness, the adulteries, the intrigues, the betrayals — I hate them, and they are the stuff of the unfolding story.

I started watching The Crown and got on quite well with it at first, but gave up. I couldn't keep company with its descent into exploration of marital strife, school bullying, promiscuity, spitefulness and family rows.

No story seems complete without bitter arguments, people storming out, terrible revelations, suffering and tension. I can't cope with it.

I wish there could be a programme where elegant people in Edwardian clothing, living marvellous lives in country chateaux and superb town houses, had tea with each other and drove about in their beautiful cars. They could go to the opera and open imposing black umbrellas against the rain and travel on steam trains and enjoy picnics in idyllic countryside. We could see their lovely china and crystal and beautiful décor, their silk and linen and lace, their noble horses and their dogs and farm animals. Which is to say, we would see the farm animals doing their work, or being brushed or fed, but not lengthy close-ups of copulation and shit.

We could see them going to church, and singing the hymns in all four parts, with a sensible and intelligent clergyman who actually had something to say worth hearing, with a wise and kind face and the ability to speak thoughtfully without pontificating or making a fool of himself. Not all the clergy are idiots.

There could be problems — characters could get sick and die or do something they were ashamed of or make a mistake; but they would explain what had happened and it would be received with kindness. They would support one another in pain or distress, hear each other's trouble with understanding, and together work towards putting it right.

They could identify social evil and set about making things better. The wealthy landowning people could be kind and generous to their servants, and they could all behave with dignity and restraint, speaking courteously — even about people who weren't there.

The servants of the big houses could have their own cottages with gardens and chickens, and we could enjoy seeing the simplicity of their lives — the humble homes and the grand palaces, equally beautiful in different ways; the skills of working men and women and the responsibility of wise and trustworthy landowners, working together with mutual respect.

And the women wouldn't all have to be thin; they could be plump but still beautiful and interesting. And the children could be quiet and studious, and polite to their parents, not always bullying each other or flouncing about complaining. 

The interest in it would come from seeing realistic problems constructively overcome — illnesses of humans, animals, plants; the challenges of development and change as industry alters the landscape and new skills are required; the domestic challenges of managing conflict well and communicating with people who aren't very bright. Everyday life has so much to think about and overcome: learning how to be a parent, the struggle of being shy or lonely, looking after bees and roses and new lambs, cooking complicated meals and planning banquets, training puppies and making friends with wild birds, the experience of growing old or of caring for a family member with a disability . . .

Why not? Is that unrealistic? Is it boring? I didn't think so. I think there have always been such people. Life isn't one great big slanging match of corruption and cruelty and people taking advantage of one another. Some people are good, and happy, and content. Life is difficult and funny and interesting all by itself.

I tell you what, I could watch it all day.

Picture: William McGregor Paxton, Tea Leaves, oil on canvas, 1909, Metropolitan Museum of Art — public domain


Anonymous said...

Yes, bring back ‘Little House on the Prairie’ and ‘ The Waltons’. Sigh.
I can only cope with Gardeners World these days.

Ganeida said...

All Creatures Great & Small, maybe...? I always found that rather soothing for the most part & animals are never anything but themselves. There's a reason I don't watch much t.v. ♥

Rebecca said...

It sounds like Amish life. At least as we observe it from the car as we take our slow evening drives through the countryside outside our small town... SO restive/restorative.

Elizabeth @ The Garden Window said...

Well said! Why **can't** we see and enjoy things of truth and beauty and love, instead of violence, anger, jealousy and ugliness of mind, body and spirit? Why does television have to be so, so grim?

Pen Wilcock said...

Okay, let's make that a whole television channel, then, not just a programme! With Gardeners' Worlds, The Waltons. Little House On The Prairie, All Creatures Great And Small, and a series about Amish life. Obviously it would have to be those Amish people who don't object to filming and photography, but there are some. And maybe some of Ruth Goodman's re-enactment things like Tales From The Green Valley and Edwardian Farm.
And a regular programme from Sarah Chrisman.
In case you haven't come across her —
A channel for courtesy and kindness, for beauty and craftsmanship, for homes and the natural world. Nothing worse than Miss Marple for crime and violence.
Let's dream it into being!!

Anonymous said...

Why not write such a book? I prefer reading to watching TV :-)

Elin Hagberg said...

Slow TV is a thing: but a historic verison could be great. For example follow a character for a day in their life and then another one and you can see how their lives connect at different times.

Buzzfloyd said...

You could have the Historical Farm series. And maybe a new adaptation of Little Women.

Pen Wilcock said...

Elin — I love the idea of following a character for a day in their life! We have slow TV here in England; two particular favourite examples, for me, were a Christmas Day film of a Sami sleigh ride, and a bus journey through the Yorkshire Dales. Magical!

Buzzfloyd — yes, the whole historical farm series would be great. There has recently been a new Little Women, hasn't;t there? Have you seen it? Is it good?

Anonymous — I like both. I have some good stories on my Kindle. The novels I have written are what I have described — chronicles of kindness, really. As William Penn put it, "Let us then try what Love will do." That's been the essence of my fiction, an exploration of what happens when you do your best and focus on what is good.

Anonymous said...

You should definitely write it...although probably nobody would buy it.
What about Mapp and Lucia? Do you get on with those books? The first of the two TV adaptations is more tranquil.

Pen Wilcock said...

Me? I was imagining you would be having a go — I've done mine, and quite a lot of people do buy them. I think more readers enjoy gentle fiction than is often supposed. I have read Mapp and Lucia and find the endless sniping and jealousy and pretence a little wearing; in the TV adaptation also.

Julie B. said...

I am feeling more jarred by television the older I get, yet I did push through The Crown and felt the healing and love portrayed at the end was worth it. I loved it. I watched the first episode of The Detectorists and was puzzled -- should I keep at it?

Pen Wilcock said...

Oh, my goodness — the Detectorists! Yes! Persevere! Unless you hate it, of course. Just the best programme ever — an unfolding story of friendship, kindness, vulnerability, modesty, dignity and understanding. It completely captivated me. It's very, very English, though. I *think* it would travel across the Atlantic successfully, but I'm not 100% sure.

Anonymous said...

I have the same problem! I love the costumes and settings but do not appreciate the excessive and often inappropriate drama. Have you seen Masterpiece's recent adaptation of Little Women? I found it to be quite refreshing. :)

Anonymous said...

I loved every minute of The Detectorists. And I'm from Minnesota! It is one of the few "comedy" type things I can get into. Although it's more of a character study, very gentle and insightful, great writing and acting. I love mysteries and police procedurals. But I think it's more about loving justice, and observing human behavior. Don't like all the violence and victimization in a lot of them. So, it's hard to find something to watch! The good ones are so few and far between, the kind that are one (intelligent, where there's depth to all characters) and not the other (where helpless victims, often women and/or children, are shown suffering for the length of the program before the dramatic end). Setting is also important to me. Because it establishes a place and atmosphere. Like Broadchurch.

Pen Wilcock said...

Hi Anonymous — Oddly (because I was so looking forward to it) I didn't enjoy the recent version of Little Women as much as I'd thought I would.

Hi DMW — I saw most of the first series of Broadchurch, and found it a bit hard work. I like "Vera", and I used to enjoy "Morse".

Rapunzel said...

Oh, it's not just me then with the new Little Women. Middle Child messaged me from Germany to tell me PBS had it (I don't own a tv)
I found it online and made it through the first episode one evening, but apparently haven't cared enough to go back and look for the second part. Odd, since I love the book.

I quite agree with you about beauty and interest without the drama and mean-spiritedness.
I'd watch your channel for sure!

Anekha said...

I have always delighted in L.M Montgomery for that.... not banal, but not melodramatic. I guess i’m A simple person and so it’s easier to relate to. Most tv dramas are so far from my reality. Have you read the Emily books? They are my favourites. More so than Anne. Maybe you will have to write it Pen!

Pen Wilcock said...

Hi, Rapunzel — waving! x

Hi Anekha — no, I don't believe I have read the Emily books — thank you, I'll check them out.

Hey, here in the UK we have a new TV drama called The Bletchley Circle. So far I've seen the three episodes that make up the first story. Wow, it's good! Terrifyingly tense, but honest and human, a story of friendship and kindness and women helping each other. It's about 4 friends who were code-breakers during WWI using their skills after the war to solve crimes. It's brilliant!

BLD in MT said...

"...but not lengthy close-ups of copulation and shit." Ha! I didn't see that one coming! :) You're fantastic and so is this idea on so many levels. I don't even really try to watch much these days. Once upon a time I ate it and breathed it, but really, it is no good for a person to swirl in that much drama all the time.

Pen Wilcock said...

Exactly so! x