Cartoon – Beatles 1967



Cartoon – Vivian Stanshall


Cartoon – The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring


Cartoon – The Rolling Stones


Film Poster – Fight Club


Film Poster – The Empire Strikes Back


TV Review and Illustration – Wheeler On America, The Fast Show, The State, Roseanne, The Cricket World Cup

Wheeler’s World

(Originally published in L:Scene magazine, March 1996)

The Scott Inquiry has been well served on television, the Inquiry itself having served the people of this country to a much lesser degree. On programmes like Half the Picture and Scott of the Arms Antics, actors played the parts of ministers, civil servants et al with greater assurance than we know the people being portrayed could manage themselves. But the reporting of the Inquiry, and the subsequent lack of resignations, left one important question unasked: Why did Richard Scott not recommend legislation to prevent this sort of thing happening again? Clearly, Charles Wheeler should be reporting on his own country.

‘The BBC’s longest serving correspondent’ got a chance to put the record straight in Wheeler On America (BBC2). In the first episode he attempted the almost impossible task of defending Lyndon Johnson’s role in the Vietnam War. Almost impossibly, he succeeded. If one ignores the uncomfortable fact that Johnson was entirely guilty.

Charles Wheeler is one of those decent old coves at the beeb, forever standing outside the White House in a woolly pully and sensible overcoat, analysing in a manner that is entirely trustworthy. Here he managed to undermine that image; he freely admitted that he was wrong about Johnson and his aides. It only made you trust the old dear more. Clearly it should be Wheeler and his plummy tones for President by now; I’ll bet he has inhaled at some point.

After escalating the Vietnam War because he thought he could win it (Wheeler, at the time, quite correctly saw through that old gag) the Tet Offensive finally made Johnson and his gaggle of Ralph Bellamy-looking Wise Men see sense. He abdicated. Wheeler accused him of “moral cowardice” at the time but now regrets it. “Reporters should avoid looking into other people’s heads.” For, while anti-War demonstrations were extending into the Democratic convention itself, Johnson tried to sue for peace with the North Vietnamese. It was already too late for America.

This is where Wheeler dropped his bombshell, at last justifying this potted history of a show. Richard Nixon put the kibosh on Johnson’s plans with the aid of a Chinese Republican in contact with the South Vietnamese. Admittedly, it was hard-done-by Democrats making this accusation but you only had to watch Nixon lying through his fat head about how sorry he was to see the peace talks falter. “I’ll do anything to help President Johnson to end this war.”

Wheeler offers another rare opinion. “Vintage Nixon – what a hypocrite he was.”

This is already proving to be an essential programme; Wheeler isn’t telling the whole story here, he just homes in on the relevant points like a tenacious Scud missile and provides factual television at his best. Jeremy Paxman and the rest have got a lot yet to learn; the reporter as statesman.

The new series of The Fast Show (BBC2) started, delighting and baffling in its turn with a lot of sketches seeming to have been written in as much time as it took to perform them. There is nothing much you can do with the format of the sketch show – Monty Python having pushed the format as far as it would go nearly thirty years ago – except be funny, and The Fast Show must ultimately fail on this score. If you want a sketch show that actually takes the trouble to be hilarious, try The State (MTV). Here they take no chances: there are 11 (!) main actors and their comedy is filtered into the finest half hour I’ve seen in a long time.

This week’s episode of Roseanne (C4) was a clever parody of fifties American television, complete with ‘commercial messages’ every five minutes (“My brand of cigarettes are tickling my throat, maybe I should give up smoking?” “No dear, you should just change your brand.”) and closet racism (“Tell me Mose, how are all the coloured people doing on your side of town?”). Like the best humour, it was almost unbearable in its knowing awfulness, reminding us Brits how lucky we are to have avoided having a TV system like the Americans at the time.

But if you need reminding, it’s all there on Sky: adverts that seem to last longer than the programmes, endless puffs/plugs for other shows, crappy sit-coms 24 hours a day, tacky so-called ‘news’ programmes… And it’s spreading. The BBC’s various deals with Mr. Murdoch can only be detrimental to our TV system and the investigation into Sky’s deals regarding football rights will not deflect this course one iota. Whither Charles Wheeler and his plummy tones?

We may have to make do with Geoffrey Boycott, who continues to behave like a drunken uncle telling embarrassing family secrets at a party. In The Cricket World Cup (Sky Sports, BBC2) he has been unnecessarily merciless to the smaller nations. They may give the impression of being particularly asthmatic Davids playing against Goliaths wielding telegraph poles, but there’s no need for “They’ve played some poor shots but that was horribule.”

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