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Hail the BBC

Sallie Satterthwaite's picture

It takes a little time to build up a “must-watch” television listing strong enough to make me say, “I’m sorry, we have plans for that evening.”
Smile, enigmatically.
When my girls were very young, they were allowed to watch television or go to movies only after we had vetted the material and deemed it acceptable for our little dears’ developing taste. They were good about it. “Because I say so” was a reason they didn’t often challenge.

So the shoot-‘em-up westerns or cop shows were usually on the unacceptable list. If today the girls ask me why I like NCIS, where there is enough gun smoke to choke a train, I guess I’ll have to say “Just because.” Just because is A.K.A. Mark Harmon, an actor who rarely says anything suggestive. Well, rarely says anything, period. He has an extensive silent vocabulary, made up of the slightest tip of the head or a firmer jaw-set, usually discernable only to the colleague or bad guy trying to stare him down.

But channels 8 and 30 have nearly warn out our remote. We both love most things British, and the Brits’ sharing of comedic sit-coms with their former subjects is deeply appreciated in our house.
There’s a certain learning curve to watching Brit-coms. Obviously the fact that they talk funny requires a bit of patience, and it takes a while to chase down some of their accent (which they think is good English.)

Eventually you start to catch on, and feel downright bi-lingual, but you still have the Brits’ penchant for speech being natural instead of projected, and little difference between voice and ambient sounds: highway traffic, rushing water, rain, children playing and others. I find it refreshing, but it can certainly be frustrating to the uninitiated.
We started by becoming enthralled with “As Time Goes By” on Saturday evenings, and soon added “Keeping up Appearances” and “Vicar of Dibley” the same days. We’ve seen those so often we really were ready for a change. Voila! Enter Doc Martin and the Brit detective heroes.
I guess it started with well-known characters like Hercule Poirot and Sherlock Holmes.
Then we expanded to include series like the English police detectives. Can’t remember all their names now, but “Foyle’s War” and Inspector Lewis and Inspector Morse caught our attention immediately.

The lead in Foyle’s War makes us think of our Columbo, although there is nothing British about Columbo. Foyle is so sensitive we worry about him. We still hope he falls for his driver, a dear little thing whose off-screen name is Honeysuckle Weeks, but I don’t believe he ever will. He thinks she’s too young for him, or he’s too old for her.
The sheer beauty of the English townscapes is faithfully depicted in the pre-war and postwar days when life was so uncertain. We love Doc Martin, especially the videos filmed in several ruggedly picturesque Cornish towns we visited.
We wonder how they got enough sunny days to ever shoot outdoors. We’ve spent a little time in Great Britain where they consider a half-hour of patchy blue sky a sunny day.

Well, you know where all of this is leading. The BBC Masterpiece series came along and caught our attention. BBC manages to keep running each segment from the last season in such a way that I have often been 20 or more minutes into an episode before I realize I’ve seen it before. It seems that the first episodes of the season were half repeats, until this week. At last, one played that I had not seen before.
Have you ever seen such well-fed TV dramas? There are settings from breakfast to late night suppers, surely filling a half hour of the 50-minute program. The table never appears to be the same, glittering with candles and flowers and silver for late brunch as surely as a state dinner.
And the clothes. Aren’t the dresses and hairstyles pretty? I’m surprised some sharp designer hasn’t put out an American line. This form-skimming cut is flattering to most figures. But does it occur to you that the men – outfitted in full dress with several layers of cloth between his skin and the outermost wool coat and that choke collar – must be soaked with sweat?

The trees have lost their leaves and fireplaces appear to be burning in every room of the house, all suggesting a winter scenario right now – and yet the women are wearing string-dresses and bare shoulders.
You can almost smell the tobacco smoke, but no one ever coughs. And the emission-testing for those stunning early cars? None, of course.

Best of all is the landscape. We haven’t been to Highclere Castle, but the soft hills of England as seen in the BBC series is very like you see elsewhere in that beautiful country. Great casting, that.
I worry about the children in this family. There are only two just now, and each has lost a parent. We don’t know how they are doing and no one seems very concerned about them. They’ll be home schooled, I’m sure, as it wouldn’t be fitting for upper class people to come too close to middle class children.
Ah, yes, the class system. It’s alive and well in the U.K., but at least you know where you stand.
And how else would we know whom to look down on?
[Sallie Satterthwaite of Peachtree City has been writing for The Citizen since our first issue Feb. 10, 1993. Before that she had served as a city councilwoman and as a volunteer emergency medical technician. She is the only columnist we know who has a fire station named for her. Her email is]

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