Music halls, writers, directors, and vicarious pleasure

I am banging on again about the paucity of quality light entertainment that is also humorous. Light entertainment today is more a matter of hysteria, shouting and waving, and poor quality scripting. From the dawn of the cinema, entertainment has been, right up until the 60s, both here and across the pond, in periods when the masses were under stress due to slumps, wars, and post wars. In consequence the films and radio plays tended to be light-hearted, with a very large number of comedians and entertainers, such as Charlie Chaplin, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, and Ronnie Barker. Today we have products like the Bourne series, where impossible technology is at the forefront, the story is dark, and there is little or no humour.

Writing, in my experience, can be a means of solving a problem, and often it is a subconscious urge that cannot be denied. Not all writers write for publication, only for their own amusement and to solve problems. I have written 15 novels, copious short stories, doggerel, and poetry, together with these posts, but when I tried to write humour, that was a stumbling block. Setting aside the technicalities of writing, whodunnits are probably the easiest to write, stories about relationships need to have a problem that requires solving, and then they tend to write themselves. I once started a pantomime, and found it easy, but didn’t finish it. Writing humour of the quality of some of our better television series, such as Open All Hours, is not only difficult, it needs a background of the music halls, that long gone university of the comedian where every other line is a joke. The response to comedy for the individual has not changed, how could it, it is a reflex action? What has changed I believe is the writers, their personal humour, and a background, that is different from the old time comedian. John Cleese and his little band and their own offbeat humour, which most of us learned to appreciate, was a case in point. There are also other gems, like Blackadder, but these are far and few between. Writing for a joke every few minutes, for a weekly half hour series, was mostly founded on a music hall training. Recently, there was a repeat of Love Actually that made me realise that amid all the humour, and drama, there were some interesting social questions being posed to our subconscious. There was however, a level of love in its simplest universal terms that constantly lifted this film out of the ordinary. About five minutes into the story there was a scene at a wedding, within which it raised a social reaction, but above all was of a level that had me not smiling but grinning, and when I looked across at Sophie, she was grinning as well.

What I have quoted here is not a one-off, there are other very clever and funny films, such as Dolly Parton’s 9-to-5, the problem really is that there doesn’t seem to be enough light-hearted humour and amusing stories to go round. Television today seems to be dredging the bottom of the barrel, producing films from as far back as the 30s, few of which have stood the test of time. We are drowned in dark murder and criminality, at a time when the country as a whole could do with a lift.

Categorized as General

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