Victor Lewis-Smith's Evening Standard reviews

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RobinCarmody
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Victor Lewis-Smith's Evening Standard reviews

Post by RobinCarmody »

An extension of a thread from the old board: here is a list of VLS reviews from his first few years in the job, before he'd blatantly got tired of it. I'd be prepared to post any reviews which were requested, as I doubt the ones not featured in his book have surfaced anywhere beyond the microfilms I got them from.

http://www.mediafire.com/file/ah9noppk1 ... -Smith.odt

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Billy Smart
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Re: Victor Lewis-Smith's Evening Standard reviews

Post by Billy Smart »

What did he make of The Lost Steptoes (28 April 1994)?

Did the Standard have any notable television critics before V L-S? Its a paper that its hard to get much of a historical sense of the time before I started to read it in the late 80s and 90s.

RobinCarmody
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Re: Victor Lewis-Smith's Evening Standard reviews

Post by RobinCarmody »

Well, Milton Shulman was certainly notable (whatever you thought of him and his views), although it is said that he saw very little television when pontificating about the medium because, of course, he was also their theatre critic, and most TV output was then broadcast in the evening when he'd have to be at the theatre, and home video and timeshifting were still in the future.

Here's the 'Lost Steptoes' review. Note the "archiving shows that cannot now be shown anyway" moment - not that VLS knew that, of course (the final irony is that the earlier editions of It's a Knockout which could theoretically still be shown have a much worse survival rate). The "unexpected basement discovery" line refers to the then-developing revelations about Fred & Rose West. How many times did he make that Heath joke?

Old gems from the scrapyard

THE MOMENT I read that the satellite channel UK Living was repeating old editions of Good Morning with Anne and Nick was the moment I decided that television had finally shuffled off its metal coil and expired. What future can the medium have when a programme hosted by a couple with more teeth than IQ points is deemed worthy of exhumation? It may be transmitted live, but it's invariably dead on arrival.

Luckily, not only appalling tragedies are being disinterred and re-screened; there are some exceptional comedies too. The dedicated team who dug up the remarkable (and hitherto unseen) footage of Britten and Stravinsky, recently shown as part of Attenborough Night, have now prepared for transmission some forgotten masterpieces created by the one truly outstanding G&S partnership: Ray Galton and Alan Simpson. Twelve long-lost episodes of one of the sitcom greats have been painstakingly reprocessed, and are now being broadcast as The Lost Steptoes (BBC2).

Why were they lost? Because some 20 years ago, desperate for extra space so it could archive vital editions of It's a Knockout, the BBC embarked on its own insane Cultural Revolution, wiping thousands of tapes (works by Potter, Plater, G&S and many more - it doesn't bear thinking about) which, had they survived, would today be paying handsome dividends to the Corporation. But luckily, a dozen dusty Sony Rover tapes from the early 70s (including last night's episode, Tea for Two) were recently unearthed in the cellar of Galton's house: just for once, an unexpected basement discovery we can all celebrate.

Somewhere, a stone's throw from TV Centre, Albert and Harold sat in the living room of their scrapyard-cum-hovel, surrounded by familiar emblems of their trade - the bear's head, the broken wind-up gramophone, the skeleton doubling as a coat hanger, the clock permanently stopped at 4.30. By-election fever was in the air and loyalties were divided in Oildrum Lane.

Albert, so filthy he could grow a herb garden in his undercrackers, was campaigning for the Tories because "I ain't working class ... I'm management", while Harold waxed lyrical about the class struggle, his eloquence far exceeding his grasp of socialist theory. At a time when most writers (Johnny Speight excepted) skirted nervously round issues of racism, G&S tackled it head on, casting the Steptoes as the only remaining whites in an immigrant area, and allowing the bigoted Albert to lay into his son's hypocrisy: "You liberals are all the same. Go out with a bird that looks like Lena Horne and you expect a pat on the back ... At least I talk to them, you just talk about them."

That well-known anagram of The Death, Ted Heath, was scheduled to visit the yard, to take tea with a common voter (and voters don't come much more common than Steptoe pere). In preparation, Albert dressed to the nines - medals out, teeth in - but Harold ridiculed the ailing prime minister as "Captain Nemo playing his organ as the boat slowly sinks", and warned "We're on our way back brother", only to be told "Don't call me brother, I'm your father."

Unsurprisingly, Mr Heath never showed, and Harold was left speculating about why a Prime Minister in electoral difficulties should embark on a "Meet the People" trip at all: "Perhaps he wants you in the Cabinet. He could do a lot worse. He often has done." Plus ca change.

As with all great comedy, Steptoe's primary motivation was conflict, but the seamless movement from pathos to Rabelaisian humour gave the show a dramatic depth rarely encountered in sit-coms. When they first appeared, many saw these shabby characters - who can't stand one another but can't leave each other either - as Beckett's Vladimir and Estragon, reworked for television, but the theatre was influenced by them too: without this series, I doubt whether Joe Orton would have written Entertaining Mr Sloane.

True, last night's episode was full of verbal fluffs (only disastrous mishaps were edited in those days), but who wouldn't prefer a warts-and-all performance that's organically funny, over a beautifully-cut modern sitcom, guaranteed humour-free?

Brian Jenkinson of the National Film Archive, and Gerard Barry and Malcolm Dalton of the BBC deserve an award for the remarkable technical improvement they've wrought on such valuable videotapes, which demonstrate yet again what superb writers G&S were. This show hit the ground running in 1962, and it's still sprinting along no. What's more, it's comfortably lapping most of the so-called comedies that scoop the DAFTAs nowadays.

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Billy Smart
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Re: Victor Lewis-Smith's Evening Standard reviews

Post by Billy Smart »

I didn't know that Sculman was their television critic - I'd forgotten about the two books he wrote about television. When I think about critics in the Standard I think of Schulman doing the theatre forever (1953-91) and Alexander Walker doing the films (1960-2003).

I thought that might be an interesting review to look at to see what kind of a feeling V L-S had for an archive programme that's obviously very good. His reading of the episode itself has some thoughtful analysis, but I still find his trademark outragous bon mots rather wearing and puerile.

RobinCarmody
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Re: Victor Lewis-Smith's Evening Standard reviews

Post by RobinCarmody »

I think Shulman wrote a general "Inside TV" column (1964-1973, I believe, after he'd stopped working in the medium - from 1958 to 1962 he combined his journalism with producing at Granada's London end, and when that closed he had an administrative post at A-R from 1962-4) rather than reviews in the sense that VLS did, and then he did a more general weekly column which even continued for several years after his retirement from theatre reviewing (and indeed was often on the same spread as VLS' review on a Friday) which still often contained observations on the medium. The giveaway for me was when he mentioned in one of these columns in 1993 that he had Sky, which does rather confirm that his suspicion of the growth and expansion of the medium (opposing the fourth channel in 1976 and calling for the Toddlers' Truce to be brought back and closedowns at 10.30 pm, as in the three-day week, to become a regular occurrence) had more to do with his distrust of post-war liberals with control of the medium than opposition to it per se. Alexander Walker was another curate's egg - often infuriating, and always very self-conscious about Not Being One Of Those BFI Marxists, but he did a very, very fine job with his book on Rachel Roberts.

I do agree that the insight of that review is rather weighed down by the usual tone, although it was far less tired and predictable at that point than it ultimately became.

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David Boothroyd
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Re: Victor Lewis-Smith's Evening Standard reviews

Post by David Boothroyd »

Milton Shulman was a sort of generic critic - he may have been employed to do TV and then theatre, but the Evening Standard wasn't averse to using him for anything that might make an entertaining read. Including in March 1988, in the middle of Shirley Porter's reign, the Standard sending him to review a meeting of Westminster City Council. (A yellowing clipping remains in a display frame in the Westminster Labour group office to this day)

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