May I exaggerate, just a bit? Has everyone in the lavishly praised BBC TV police drama Happy Valley been a) a habitual drunk or drug abuser, b) raped, c) suffered from the suicide of a close family member, d) kidnapped, e) blackmailed, f) been taking ‘antidepressants’ for years, or g) committed or suffered from violent spousal abuse?
I am myself an Olympic-standard pessimist but even I balk at this picture of modern Britain. Things are bad but surely not that bad. There are still a few people who are not like this.
I think I may have totally invented the bit about ‘antidepressants’ but if you asked the corrupt pharmacist who controls all the prescriptions in Happy Pill Valley, I’m sure he’d tell you that half the town was taking Prozac and most of the children at its horrible comprehensive school were on Ritalin.
And then there’s the basic plot. Sarah Lancashire plays (admittedly very well) a tough, northern female copper. She is a ‘strong woman’, in the jargon of the feminist movement. She is brave, wise, witty and amazingly fit for her age. Yet, like so many police heroes and heroines, she is not recognised by her superiors and is planning to take her pension as soon as she can.
Sarah Lancashire plays (admittedly very well) a tough, northern female copper
She is a ‘strong woman’, in the jargon of the feminist movement. She is brave, wise, witty and amazingly fit for her age
I would say she has not treated her body as a temple, though modern police gear is not flattering to the female figure, is it?
In one scene we watched her, despite a continuing smoking habit, chase and catch a lithe young criminal, pull down his trousers and then punch him hard in the face with the force and power of, say, the late Henry Cooper. Then she arrested him for… money laundering. At least it wasn’t modern slavery.
All the men, without exception, are either thick, feeble, wet and weedy, or corrupt and brutal. The opinions of the scriptwriters are slipped in with references to The Guardian, a newspaper which I suspect is not much noted in the Pennine region in which this is drama is set, and in denunciations of Donald Trump.
There’s a ready resort to modish babble about ‘psychological deformity’. And some pretty horrible violence.
Maybe this is some kind of fashionable drama thing, deliberately inserted to turn our assumptions upside down, but I am also struck by the fact that the most violent and unpleasant character in the whole series is played by the public schoolboy and Cambridge graduate James Norton. The hair and make-up people try hard to make him look villainous – his face is adorned with stitches which look as if they have been done by a Russian Army sergeant after a night on the vodka. But it doesn’t work for me.
The more I watch, the more I see a lot of actors pretending to be real people in a Yorkshire town.
If you asked the corrupt pharmacist who controls all the prescriptions in Happy Pill Valley, I’m sure he’d tell you that half the town was taking Prozac and most of the children at its horrible comprehensive school were on Ritalin
The other thing I notice is that the small town has at least eight uniformed officers available, in a large well-appointed police station – about as unlikely as an alien visitation in Todmorden, but there you are. But I’ve yet to see any of them just walking along the streets, deterring crime and anti-social behaviour. In fact, I don’t think it occurs to them to do so.
I believe it’s beyond doubt that the depiction of police officers on TV influences police behaviour. Once staid old Dixon of Dock Green was edged out by Z-Cars, there was no end to it. The race was on to portray the police as rough, cynical and car-borne.
Violence, swearing, everyone driving everywhere, blue lights and sirens, became everyone’s idea about what police work was like.
I can still recall the embarrassing attempt by Dixon’s scriptwriters, in the early 1960s, to introduce violence into what had been a gentle and reassuring drama. How impossibly distant it all seems but if Dixon’s methods (which never failed) were still used, real towns in northern England would not have the horrible problems of unchecked crime, especially epidemic shoplifting, and streets where the law-abiding are afraid of the lawless.
I refuse to like Happy Valley. Like so much else on the BBC, it is insidious propaganda for a society and a moral system which have failed. A new elite, including the Corporation, pressed for years to dismantle the old-fashioned family, to undermine the authority of parents, to pretend that crime came out of ‘deprivation’ rather than out of unrestrained human evil. And what they got was mass divorce, fatherless families, legal and illegal drugs, and more criminals than our prisons can hold, however fast we build them.
And many Unhappy Valleys, too.
Will the web censor tank critics?
Elsewhere in this newspaper I discuss the extraordinary discoveries by the excellent Big Brother Watch (BBW) organisation, showing what looks very much like British Government involvement in policing opinion during the Great British Covid Mistake.
I’m pretty sure that the big internet companies did not stand up very bravely for free speech when this happened. These things are well-hidden and I suspect that BBW’s boss, Silkie Carlo, has discovered only a tiny part of what went on.
Those of us who are deeply worried by the decision to send tanks – such as the British Challenger 2, pictured – to Ukraine should be watching carefully to see whether our opinions get a fair hearing, especially on the internet
There are two issues here. The first is whether speech should be free at all at such times, which in my view it absolutely should. If your policy is wrong, which it was, how will you find out if you forbid debate? The second is direct government involvement. In Britain, I think the state crossed a dangerous line during Covid and I believe it has not retreated.
This week, there’s an even more important issue, the future of the planet. Those of us who are deeply worried by the decision to send tanks – such as the British Challenger 2, pictured – to Ukraine should be watching carefully to see whether our opinions get a fair hearing, especially on the internet.
Readers of The Mail on Sunday, which believes profoundly in free speech, are lucky. They get to hear both sides. But in the wider world of the web, are dissenting voices heard? Or is there no sound except the grinding of tank engines and shouts for more war?
Lost for ever, the bloody beauty of my butcher
I am very lucky to live in Oxford, a beautiful, prosperous city. One of its best features is a handsome 18th Century covered market. But it is slowly turning into a tourist attraction.
Last year, almost certainly finished off by the Covid panic, the baker’s closed. Now our favourite butcher’s shop is closing, too, because fewer and fewer people can be bothered to go to proper shops when the supermarkets can deliver.
The next generation will never see such a place in all its carnivorous splendour, nor be able to watch the skilled butchers at work. Nor will they see the shop in the week before Christmas, its outside walls hung with dozens of turkeys and geese and whole wild boar and deer, dripping blood on the pavement, like something out of Dickens.
And we’ll never again join the long, happy queue on Christmas Eve, winding round the market alleyways and avenues.
I’m sure some people now disapprove of this sort of thing anyway. But I am sorry to see it go and I am glad that I saw it when it was still there. Because within 20 years or so, the way of life I knew will be defamed and misrepresented, to make the modern age look good. I have this feeling a lot, nowadays.
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