Warning : This has a swear word in it.
I remember it quite well – it was an afternoon, a Sunday I think (it has that lazy, family-round-the-box Sunday afternoon feel as I picture it) – watching an episode of It Ain’t ‘Alf ‘Ot Mum, and just at the end they showed a still of Dino Shafeek who played Char Wallah Muhammed in the series. Not the star, not a major role, and the show itself was no longer being made. But still, someone at good old Auntie Beeb had the thoughtfulness to put up a picture of Mr Shafeek and announce, with regret, that he had recently passed away in hospital. “Awww” we chorused as a family – we’d let him into our homes, were happy that he’d been there, and sadly noted that he was off to sit in the corner of that great living room in the sky.
A few seconds was all it took, but those seconds, which allowed Sunday afternoon TV watchers to spare a thought for a man, stuck in my mind as a decent thing to do.
And as with most decent things, it was the right thing.
Thereafter, I always noted these little nods to deceased entertainers – the protocol was generally that if it was an as yet unseen piece and a contributor had died betwixt its production and its broadcast, then something should be said (not always though – Shafeek’s programme had died three years before he did, but they still found the time to pay their dues). When Roy Kinnear was tragically killed filming abroad, the episode of Casualty in which he featured that week was pulled as a mark of “respect to the family” (that’s what they said in the voiceover explaining why tonight’s episode wasn’t the advertised one). A mark of respect.
As with most respectful things, it was the right thing.
Then there was Harold Innocent, whose death was commented on in the newspapers prior to his final TV role in Heartbeat (I never saw the broadcast so don’t know if he got an acknowledgement, but suspect he did, as at around the same time the actress Noel Dyson rightly got a voiceover on the same show under similar circumstances and Innocent was definitely a better known face). The BBC certainly paid their dues on the broadcast of Doctor Who – The Paradise Of Death, which was airing on the radio that same week.
Fast forward some years later and the character actor George Raistrick died. Raistrick was never a household name – not even a minor one like Shafeek (“Oh him, off that”), or indeed, instantly recognisable face like Innocent (“Oh him, off, umm, I’m not sure, but him”) – but he featured heavily in an episode of The Vet shortly after his death, and I noted glumly that the protocol on such things had clearly changed. Not a mention – not even out of respect to the family.
Not long after, Comedy Connections featured John Barron (definitely a “him off that”) who died the very week they broadcast him remembering his iconic role as CJ in The Fall And Rise Of Reginald Perrin. The end credits flew by as they are prone to do nowadays lest the viewing public be confused by the words of the English language those programme makers of old had the naivety to expect people to be able to actually read – and neither a voiceover or a caption appeared. I would have thought that someone who made that programme, who’d been lucky enough to secure Barron’s talents and enjoy the privilege of working with him, would have made sure something happened. Out of, say, respect. But no.
Nowadays, unless it’s someone hugely famous, we’re not expected to be interested in acknowledging someone’s life now it’s gone. We’re no longer expected to respect the wishes of the family. We’re no longer expected to do the decent thing. There are too many advertisements for what’s coming up next to cram in, too many idents and logos and DOGs to fill the screen to expect a tiny sliver of humanity to be allowed into our living rooms.
This week, when Yesterday provided a caption for Edward Hardwicke after one of their timely repeats of Colditz I found myself impressed that a minor repeat channel had someone there with enough nous to give him due credit. It almost made up for the Telgarph obituary describing his Dr Watson as “bumbling”, thus proving that you are allowed to write about things in newspapers even if you know precisely nothing about them. But then of course, that’s the newspapers. TV people obviously know better. Obviously.
BAFTA would know better wouldn’t they? Television is actually one fifth of the acronym that BAFTA actually is. Television is the T in BAFTA. For fuck’s sake.
And so tonight’s ceremony came to the specific, this-is-the-moment- where-we-do-it, orchestrated, researched, lovingly, caringly put together acknowledgement, respectful, decent thing to do.
The “In Memoriam” section.
And Nicholas Courtney, the man who played Brigadier Lethbridge- Stewart, the most enduring character in one of TVs most recognisable, iconic programmes, one that currently resides in peak form at the very forefront of the small screen (that’s Doctor Who, in case you’ve temporarily forgotten whose blog you’re reading), was left off. He’s not the only person to have suffered that ignominy in recent years, as it happens, or even tonight. Lest you think this is disproportionate Whovian fulmination I’ll drop Gerard Kelly’s name into this diatribe. When his post mortem episode of Casualty aired there was ne’er a mention nor postponement despite the fact that his face and name were well enough known in England (“oh him, off Extras”) and definitely household in Scotland (“Oh, Gerard Kelly, off City Lights. And Extras. And, well, … Gerard Kelly!”). In case you’re confused BAFTA, Scotland and England are both bits that make up the B part of the acronym that is your name!
The very best television at the moment is made by people who have a love and knowledge of the medium (and I note with pride that Doctor Who has, in recent years, featured In Memoriam captions for a number of cast and crew – some from days gone by even) and it’s no accident that the men in charge – Davies and Moffat – are self-proclaimed geeks. See that’s what you are if you know and love television, a geek. The same level of love and understanding in any other area and you’d be called an expert.
TV may be disposable, and much of it may be simple, trivial entertainment, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a place in it for a modicum of decency and respect, and if you don’t show those things to the people that came before you, then don’t bother to work in the medium. Find something else.
It’d be the right thing to do.