Imagine if you were a mate of Thomas Hardy’s and he couldn’t wait to tell you about his forthcoming novel, Tess of the d’Urbervilles. So he tapped you on the shoulder and held forth about it in the ale house.
Yes, Tom you’d say, kindly, even though The Mayor of Casterbridge bored you to sobs. Sounds great, Tom, looking forward to it. A wronged farm girl whose deluded dad has pretentions to greatness? Forbidden love? Murder? Blood dripping through a ceiling? A crucial scene at Stonehenge? Sounds a corker, Tom, can’t wait, you’ve really piqued my interest.
Then half an hour later he tells you about Tess of the d’Urbervilles again as you are trying to eat a meat pie in the chop house. Yes, honestly Tom, it’s on my must-read list, I haven’t forgotten. Then the next day, as you are bringing in your crops, he buttonholes you for another big sell. Now you’re really starting to get annoyed. “Tom, I KNOW, it’s about a farm girl who’s been wronged again and again, I GET IT. Now push off, I need to till some soil.”
Any teasing promise of excitement and engagement can become a repeated brick to the temple if it’s overplayed. I’ve come to feel this way about BBC trails. I’d been looking forward to The Driver, a big, thrilling- sounding BBC1 three-parter starring one of my favourites, David Morrissey. I was on holiday and could thus watch it with the rest of you, like any normal person, rather than weeks in advance.
But the big burning candle of my interest eventually fizzled after I’d seen the same montage of clips, accompanied by a howling ballad, for what seemed like the 339th time. In the end, I didn’t watch. I’d been bludgeoned into boredom and indifference. (PS I fully intend to catch up with it on iPlayer though, never fear.)
Now, not even the promise of a daily cream tea for the rest of my life would induce me, ever, to watch EastEnders again. I had enough of it when I wrote the RT soap column back in the Bronze Age. When my nearest and dearest began to complain I was testy and miserable, I put my feelings of unspecified unhappiness down to the blanketing gloom of Easties, and stopped watching for ever.
But once again I have become emotionally enfeebled by EastEnders thanks to those endlessly repeated trailers where female characters, mascara reduced to wet soot by their tears, sing along brokenly to a dreadful version of REM’s paean to sadness, Everybody Hurts. Over and over and over and over again.
Then there’s Our Girl, where Lacey Turner’s worried little face has so many, many times stared out at me from beneath her camouflaged helmet as a potted version of her torrid romantic life is shown again and again, until what seems like the last syllable of recorded time.
This is all so counter-productive. Of course dramas are big business and the interest of an audience has to be piqued, but does it have to be piqued so often in such a gruelling, repetitive manner? Over-familiarity eventually breeds contempt or worse, indifference, as well as the feeling that you’ve probably seen the best bits anyway, so what’s the point?
The use of trails has to be more judicious, or at least more varied. Give us another version if you must, just don’t let the promise of a treat feel more like a chore.
Talking of Our Girl (today BBC1) I can’t help but wonder what it does for the image of women soldiers. By this soapy account they are weepy, emotional scatter-guns who allow romantic feelings to fog their duties. Though I’m sure in real life real women soldiers aren’t followed everywhere by wet ballads warbled on the soundtrack.
Inevitably too, as this is a BBC1 drama, it is burdened by class conflict. Molly (Lacey Turner) is a plucky working-class girl who’s had a rotten start in life but who through sheer hard work has become an Army medic on the front line in Afghanistan.
Naturally she falls for a handsome Sandhurst- educated captain (and he falls for her unvarnished personality), who learns more from Molly about war than he ever did during his posh training. Yeah, right. Before you know it he’s talking about her spending Christmas with him at the family home in Bath, which is “perfect”.
But of course our little sparrow “don’t do perfect [sic]”. Note to Bath: block the A36 on Christmas Eve. You don’t want this woman anywhere near you.
Our Girl is on BBC1 tonight at 9.00pm