Well, wouldn’t you…?

https://i1.wp.com/www.supollard.co.uk/hiscrapbook5.jpgJust a quick one before I slope off to bed…

It’s all related to a ‘notification’ that flashed on to my computer screen while I was at work this afternoon — but we’ll get to that bit a little lower down. First — as a kind of preparation — here are five whole minutes of unyieldingly intense and fabulously well-composed orchestral music from the end of a very long symphony… (Yes, I really am dropping you into an extract one and a quarter hours after the start of the piece. So, shoot me…)

[[Insert: I suddenly realise that I posted a discussion of some of this same music way back in January 2015: if you want to see what that was all about, click here.]]

Here’s today’s first clip:

And now today’s second clip: an extract from a 1983 film that actually includes the last couple of minutes of the music heard in our first clip, used for a purpose that has always made me rather angry…

I don’t want to divert this posting into a long detour — especially with my Horlicks and melatonin so close — but if you want to know why I’ve always hated this filmic employment of that bit of Mahler, it’s partly because it shows one of the greatest works of one of the greatest composers being used as a mere prop to underline a combination of selfish, bubble-headed pretentiousness and (if you watch the rest of the film) desperate emotional inadequacy — and partly because the film itself is one that strikes me as false, nasty, insightless, misjudged and cheap in practically every respect. (If anyone wants to know more about my opinion of this much-loved and multiply-award-winning piece of cinematic dreck — and its truly appalling score — then we can come back to it when I’m not so tired…)

Anyway, here’s the main bit of this posting. What I saw on my ‘on-screen notification’ this afternoon was a Twitter message sent by Neil Clark — who, so far as I can see, is one of our nation’s more valuable journalistic talents, and a man whose role in our media would be significantly more prominent if only he would agree to be ‘Aaronovitched’; i.e. to undergo the voluntary surgical removal of his intelligence, memory and integrity. Here’s what he tweeted:


Now, as it happens, ‘Hi-de-Hi!‘ (1980-88) was a comedy series to which I never paid all that much attention. It started while I was still a schoolboy; and even though it won awards and made careers, the simple fact is that I never found it particularly funny. As a result, I didn’t follow it through its — ye gods! — nine series and 60 episodes … and therefore I had no idea at all that anyone in it ever made any reference to Gustav Mahler or his music. I sent an appropriately uncomprehending reply to Mr Clark — who kindly responded with a baffling torrent of character and plot information…


So, I looked into this when I had a free moment — and it turns out that the episode shown on BBC Two this afternoon was ‘Empty Saddles‘, the third number of the fifth series, originally aired on Sunday, 11 December 1983. And, now that I’ve forced myself to sit through it — yes, 28 whole minutes of my life spent biting down on a stick — I can affirm that there are in fact two places in it where Mahler’s music is mentioned…

Here is the first:

And here is the second:

Well, by the time this hilarious outpouring of madcap comic creativity was over, doctors were fighting to restore me to consciousness; but it’s not this particular circumstance which makes me want to write about my little adventure in the world of 1980s milk-and-water sitcom. (Nor is the fact that Neil Clark’s now proven ability to submit a truthful report about the show’s ‘nice mention of Mahler’ places him on a higher plane of journalistic veracity than has ever been reached by, say, Laura Kuenssberg of the BBC’s Anti-Corbyn Unit, or Shaun Walker of the Guardian’s Visceral Russophobe Squad.) My reasons for bringing this up are different entirely; and they are two.

russelllpmahlerFirst, there’s the way that this long-gone prime-time show’s brief and passing mentions of two of our history’s greatest composers — Wagner and Mahler — bring home to us that such ‘classical’ figures are no longer within the referential ‘reach’ of popular light entertainment: if you can show me a contemporary TV programme that feels sufficiently confident about its audience’s familiarity with the names Mahler and — as I discussed back in February! — Bruckner to be able to use either of them as the foundation for a gag or a piece of character or plot development, then I’ll eat my words in public. (Otherwise, you can go on eating them in private.)

Secondly, note that the reference to Mahler in a story set in 1959 (the date is made clear in the course of an exchange between two of the show’s characters) actually demonstrates a good deal of historical awareness. After decades of relative (not ‘total’!) neglect, Mahler’s music was indeed looming larger and larger in British musical life at the end of the 1950s: as you can see in this discography, by 1959 every Mahler symphony was available on record — and Deryck Cooke’s revelatory exploration of the draft of the unfinished Tenth was only a year in the future. In other words, I’m happy to pay a little compliment to writers Jimmy Perry and David Croft — creators of the wonderful ‘Dad’s Army‘ (1968-77) — for having got a small detail spotlessly correct with no detectable strain or effort.

But, of course, they had the profound good sense to have been around at the time: for them, that golden age was a reality


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4 thoughts on “Well, wouldn’t you…?

  1. Your point about so-called ‘classical’ composers now no longer being within the referential reach of popular light entertainment is well taken. But may I perhaps be permitted a shy mention of the wonderful ‘Frasier’ – possibly as an exception that might prove the rule? I realize, of course, that this peerless show no longer counts, strictly speaking, as ‘contemporary’, having aired its series finale – after an eleven year run – back in 2004, but it’s worth mentioning that this was a sitcom that trusted its viewership’s familiarity with ‘high culture’ enough that it felt able to deliver a joke as subtle as the following:

    “There’s a stunning woman who comes to the opera on the same nights we do… We’ve flirted a bit from a distance. I have laughed with her during ‘Figaro’, cried with her during ‘Tosca’ – I even had a dream about her during ‘Einstein on the Beach’.”

    Ok, no mentions of either Bruckner or Mahler in there – but I think it’s a gag that might be relevant to your point all the same, as the punchline doesn’t even include the composer’s name, and therefore the payoff of the joke assumes of its audience a depth of ‘high cultural’ awareness that few other TV shows would dare to take for granted.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. If 2005 counts as vaguely current, an episode of The Simpsons in which Springfield gets a Frank Gehry-designed concert hall includes the line “We could use a new HQ for the Springfield Philharmonic. They’re playing Gustav Mahler in abject squalor!” .

    Liked by 1 person

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