Lockdown: Week 14

The sun has been shining this week (although the Sun isn’t shining as, for the first time in 40 years it isn’t Britain’s best-selling newspaper – not going to even mention which paper is now #1), there are more pupils back in school, there are more staff  back in school, Liverpool have won the Premier League for the first time in 30 years – what’s not to like or enjoy?

At the start of the lockdown period I discussed the thought that we might be dragged down by a whirlpool of doom/disaster/depression (delete as appropriate). I feel now it’s absolutely right to be thinking about and recognising how much better things are after these long weeks of social isolation, social distancing and lockdown. We have seen this week some relaxing of the lockdown legislation. In theory nothing changes until the 4th July but it seems that some people have taken the announcement of earlier this week as the green light to just let go. To a degree, I can understand why so many people have flocked to our nation’s beaches. You will have seen the photographs of Bournemouth yesterday. Partly that’s about the sun shining but it’s probably more about the pent-up desire to get out and about, get some fresh air, do those normal things and reclaim some personal independence.

I just wonder how many people who have been stopped or challenged by the police or local authority officials in Bournemouth yesterday cited the Dominic Cummings furore as their excuse for doing what they felt they wanted to do, rather than what the direction and guidance seem to be suggesting.

In our world; that is in school; we have seen and been able to manage a controlled reopening of our institutions. We’ve left out the reigns somewhat, without completely letting go. We have managed our reintegration into school life by being absolutely clear about what we expect staff and pupils must do to ensure that they are and feel safe and, more widely, that we are and feel safe.

It’s been a long old haul to get to this point but that shaft of light is looking a bit brighter with every day that passes. Let’s hope that there is some sun this weekend to enjoy and that light and brightness is tangible not just metaphorical.

‘A false friend and a shadow attend only while the sun shines.’ Benjamin Franklin

Comedy connections – without a connection, press delete now or don’t.

Having run two rounds of comedy connections I’m going to finish off this term with three more comedies. They aren’t necessarily connected, either to what’s gone before or with each other, but they are personal favourites. To some degree, all of the comedy I’ve discussed has been a journey through British comedy of the late 50s, 60s and into the 1970s. There is certainly over that two and a bit decades a great deal of decent comedy to mine. It seems appropriate then for the last three (ever) comedy discussions (not connections!) that I bring some favourites from the 1980s.

When I’ve been discussing comedy there are a number of themes which seem to have emerged. It’s my view that some of the greatest British sitcoms have, at their heart, some relatively simple concepts: a degree of pain or discomfort, a small cohort of trapped and disappointed individuals, fantastic scripts and a comedy narrative driven by the spoken word, not by slapstick. The exceptions might be the Goodies and Fawlty Towers.

This week’s offering is something significantly simpler in its construct but absolutely wonderful in it’s writing and in its performances. Yes Minister and Yes Prime Minister ran throughout the 1980s. As a child/youth at that time I didn’t really take to this cerebral comedy. More recently, through radio and TV repeats (thank you Dave – the channel not the person), I’ve been able to reappraise this wonderful work of art.

The three main protagonists are trapped. Trapped by their politics, their party, their position and their personal histories. In some ways all three are sad characters. But they certainly aren’t characters which might inhabit the world of Rigsby, in rising Damp or Albert in Steptoe and Son. These people have power and influence -although how much power and how much influence is a common and recurring theme.

It really is all in the wonderful scripts of Jonathan Lyn and Antony Jay. Like many great comedies I’ve discussed Yes Minister and Yes Prime Minister transitions straight to radio. The script doesn’t need to be re-written for radio. All you do is stop watching the pictures and the words, the script and the acting do the rest.

To a degree, like most great comedies, this comedy does not age. Putting aside the fashions of the protagonists and watch. It is as sharp today as it was. It’s as if it was written today not yesterday and it is as relevant today as it was during the 1980s. It shines a very clear spotlight on power, those in power and where real power lies. The issues covered, the outcomes generated and the fighting to get there is powerful and shines a light on power today as it ever did.

I’ve selected an episode from Yes Prime Minister. You’ll understand why. Enjoy ‘The National Education Service’.