Tune in, switch off - From Schama to Smithy

6th February 2009 at 00:00

Confession time. A terrible fidget like me desperately needs a decent TV fix to keep me in my chair. So, wearying of my Fawlty Towers and Alan Partridge videos, I have only just discovered the delights of BBC3's cult comedy Gavin and Stacey.

How did I miss it the first time round? Was I such a snob that their very names sent me scuttling to switch channels for something uplifting like Simon Schama? Probably, but I also know I snored through every episode of his worthy history series, much as I love the distinguished professor.

Now Monday nights are transformed. Dishwasher stacked and feet up by 9pm, I have to be on the sofa and ready for the charms of Alison Steadman playing Gavin's phoney vegetarian mum, whose overbearing bosoms leave me gasping. What a woman she is.

I still remember Steadman as the pure, virginal, dandelion-eating, green prototype, Candice-Marie in Mike Leigh's Seventies TV play, Nuts in May. Candice was a vegetarian in the days when it was deeply unfashionable.

The programme was even screened in black and white. How old does that make me? It pre-dated her jarring hostess character Beverley in Abigail's Party, a part she now seems to be reprising. Her Charles and Camilla sexual fantasy role-play: "He's always first on with the ears," has me reaching for the scart lead. Dream on.

I watched the stag night and wedding episodes with laptop in one hand and whisky glass (I have a bad head cold) in another, desperately trying to catch up on the 3,000 emails in my inbox. I told you I was a fidget. Who said men can't multi-task?

Smithy and his mates remind me of some of the teenagers in my school. In fact, it's the only way I can begin to understand what many of them are saying to me. It's so useful to know, for example, that his use of "shit-faced" is youth culture colloquial. Now I might not need to exclude so many pupils for swearing.

I try it out on my leadership team. "Anybody get shit-faced at the weekend then?" I say in mock-cool style. Stunned silence. Perhaps language doesn't transfer so easily.

I've had second thoughts about using it in assembly though. You can take trying to appear modern too far. Ever since my run in with the Equal Opportunities Commission for that sexist comment some mother objected to, I have tried to avoid being sued.

Stacey's uncle, brilliantly portrayed by Rob Brydon, reminds me of my chair of governors. His childlike belief in the accuracy of his sat-nav ("Let me just show you how it works, Gavin") reminds me of the chair of governors' fixation with performance tables. Sad, isn't it?

So, I'm with Gavin and Stacey during the proposal, engagement and marriage. Who cares if I've accidentally deleted all those emails? For this is television that will remain new, fresh and hold me in my seat. Fellow fidgets, come and join me in a toast to a great "new" comedy.

Ray Tarleton is principal at South Dartmoor Community College in Ashburton, Devon.

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