At times like these, in the thick of a major football tournament, television becomes one great big Haworth Parsonage. The women are Emily, Charlotte and Anne Brontë, sitting in front of the fire sewing tassels on to hearthrugs, while the men are Patrick and Branwell, leaning on the fireplace and looking important as they twist their moustaches and dominate the living room.
We, the ladies, might occasionally go out on to the moors in our big dresses as we rail against the patriarchy before spitting consumptive blood into our hankies and returning home to write bleak, brilliant and enduringly successful novels. Yes, that’s why the Brontë sisters wrote Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall; because there was nothing on the telly that they wanted to watch. Meanwhile Patrick and Branwell were toasting their toes by the fire as England drew one-all with France.
Of course there are women who like football, but it’s a predominantly male pursuit and interest. That’s fine, no one would argue with that. Though if it was a predominantly female interest, I doubt it would be given so many acres of TV coverage. Indeed, it would probably be scoffed at and dismissed as something girly and daft and barely worthy of serious consideration. Imagine, if you will, three weeks of new Downton Abbey episodes every day, at peak time, with women rushing home from work early to see Mrs Patmore’s new glasses. Audience research shows that several episodes of the last series of Downton were watched by twice as many women as men.
Anyway, yes, Euro 2012 is a big deal and millions of people want to watch (that England match against Ukraine secured 18.6 million). But millions of people don’t want to watch and we are poorly served. No television channel will schedule anything halfway decent against a football match because it’s considered a waste. It’s obvious, too, that as these refuseniks are seen as being mainly women, we are covered in the TV version of perfumed talcum powder – wet romantic movies, repeats of Call the Midwife and The Hairy Bikers: Mums Know Best and re-runs of ancient crime dramas Lewis, Poirot, Midsomer Murders, which all have audiences of just under two-thirds women. Even the long-defunct Inspector Lynley Mysteries are getting another airing.
The Lynley dramas creaked like a cracked load-bearing wall even when they were first broadcast; years later they are just insulting (he’s an earl, you know, but he doesn’t want anyone to mention it because he’s just like you and me). Maybe TV channels – or even the Government – should simply issue all football-hating women with a goodie bag of eau de cologne, fizzy pink wine, After Eights, a pair of slipper-socks and a boxed set of Miss Marple and just get it over with.
Admittedly gobbets of new drama – the five brief True Love stories – did go out last week, though not in direct competition with the football. But the implication was clear: the word “love” in the title always means: “This one’s for you, ladies, a present to keep you going that you can store up like a romance-starved camel to see you through the next blighted weeks.”
Come on, we are worth more than this. We are a mighty constituency of citizens and television-watchers and we are being fobbed off and badly served. Weeks of dusty repeats (and we haven’t even reached the Olympics yet) just don’t cut it. In fact, it’s offensive that the major channels aren’t even thinking of a decent alternative; they are serving us cold scrambled eggs while everyone else gets smoked salmon.