Thursday, 16 December 2010

Bonfire of originality

The success of the reintroduction of Doctor Who to our screens in the last few years seems to be in the vanguard of a rash of other programmes being dusted off, re-worked and introduced to a new audience. Or re-introduced to people already very familiar with them.

Just yesterday I saw that Upstairs Downstairs is to return to our screens after an absence of 35 years. A mini-series will evidently pick up some time after the 70s incarnation left off, even containing one of the original cast members, with Jean Marsh, one of the co-originators of the series, reprising her role as Rose. Doubtless, if it proves popular, a full series could follow.

Then this morning I learn that that scourge of the middle classes, William Brown, is also to return in a new version of Just William. Anybody of my age, even if they're unaware of the original books, will certainly remember Violet Elizabeth's threat to 'scrtheam and scrtheam and scrthream until I'm thick...', coming from the perfectly cast then child actress Bonnie Langford. Given that this will be the fourth time this has been made for television, following series in the 60s, 70s and 90s, there will doubtless be those of other generations who recall their own version of William's nemesis just as clearly.

Now don't get me wrong, if they're done well, it'll be great if these new versions introduce what are viewed as classic characters and tales to a new, wider audience. But it could be said that this re-hashing of existing work is a sign of the paucity of quality of original work available or, worse, a reluctance on the part of those mysterious powers that be to make anything written by new writers or containing new ideas.

Wouldn't it be better to spend at least some of the money going into these on some new work? Just a thought. Or, perhaps, given the frequency with which William in particular seems to crop up on our screens, we're merely going through part of an entirely cyclical phase in which TV endlessly recapitulates its content, and it's always been this way.

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