WHAT is taught in schools
nowadays is a closed book to me but, from my contact with our youthful
intelligentsia, history either does not figure prominently on the
curriculum or, if it does, often fails to make a lasting impression on
malleable minds. Hands up those who know the dates and reasons for the
Synod of Whitby, the Diet of Worms and the War of Jenkinsís Ear?
people, excepting readers of this newspaper, I would expect a melancholy
recital of ungleaned or faded facts. If you missed any recent report on
the ignorance of history among Britainís youth, donít worry because soon a
new one will come, usually in survey form, revealing that 75 per cent of
school children think Hitler won the Battle of Hastings, that Tony Blair
is president of Britain and that the Picts were a 1960s pop group.
history was becoming a thing of the past are being dispelled by a spate of
TV historical programmes over the past few years. History is
entertainment, and hardly a month passes without some series for
shell-shocked viewers on the First World War, or some new revelation about
the Second World War: the " truth" about the Dunkirk evacuation is to be
revealed by the BBC.
There was the impressively-presented tapestry of
Simon Schamaís History of Britain, and the recently-ended, absorbing,
history-as-popular-journalism of The Sword and the Cross presented by
Standards, however, have slumped in other
productions. BBC1ís Charles II: the Power and the Passion has dropped its
final tawdry curtain and BBC2 showed, last Tuesday night, The Private Life
of Samuel Pepys, a production purporting to be an historical drama but
which, after an hourís screening, mainly consisting of the social
peccadillos and sexual proclivities of the great diarist, secretary to the
Admiralty and reformer of Navy administration, turned out to be a
grotesque mixture of threadbare comedy and grubby sexual romp.
readers know our Pepys - not only a bit of a lad with the ladies and
serving- wenches, man-about-town, bon vivant, but also a keenly-observant
proto-civil servant of high intelligence, wit and industry, lover of books
and the theatre, a friend of Wren, Evelyn (another diarist), Newton and
Dryden, a battler against corruption and debauchery in high places,
especially when they threatened naval administrative efficiency although,
in lower places, he maintained a less rigorous moral stance.
believe the production, Pepys, played by comedian Steve Coogan as a
lubricious lout in a frowsy wig of super- Shirley Temple hairstyle
proportions, spent most of his adult life, lolling, to adapt a
Shakespearean phrase, on lewd love beds with mistresses and maids.
plague-filled air was filled with the sonic turbulences of sexual
athleticism; groan succeeded grunt, moan preceded sigh like steam escaping
from a pipe and there were gurgles suggestive of overflowing gutters and
other crepitations that, in a family column, defy elaboration.
Not a vital
remained unstapped, not a tush unpished in that farrago of historical
codswallop. Stuffed mattress-full with crass sexual and comedy cliches,
the production showed Pepys seeking to demonstrate the concept of the
bawdy beautiful and that lust was a many-splendoured thing.
what of the nation? Not in good shape. "The whole of London is burning,"
observed Sam, eyes alight and heart a-glow after, probably, emerging from
burning passion between the sheets. Red light flickered at the edges of
the screen, but of that conflagration, no more. "Youíll just have to take
my word for it," he observed to viewers. The great plague was verbally
brushed aside, perhaps as inappropriate to pillow talk and around the time
when Dutch fleet guns were heard on the Thames, Pepys was romantically
entangled with a fair craft berthed on a grassy bank. When did he have
time to run the Navy, write his diary and quarrel with his wife?
spared viewers in that scrofulous world of heaving bottoms and bosoms:
Pepysís operation for the removal of a kidney stone - apparently the size
of a small hand-grenade - scatological oaths and dubious factual accuracy.
"History," observed American car maker, Henry Ford, "is more or less
bunk." No qualifying words about that tasteless travesty of a complex and
contradictory character. Such offerings are unadulterated bunk and should,
for the screen, become things of the past.