Lyric FM played an instantly recognizable piece, the theme music from the ITV television series This Week, the current affairs programme that went out at peak viewing time in the days when television news was something to be taken seriously and wasn’t a broadcast version of a glossy “celebrity” magazine. The theme tune, the intermezzo from Jean Sibelius’ Karelia Suite, was a statement that this was serious television, this was to be taken as seriously as the composition that introduced it .
Something got lost along the way. ITV said that commercial pressures meant that they could no longer find resources or viewing times for such programmes and raced to produce the lowest and dumbest programmes with which to fill the schedules. (It’s hard to imagine that ITV once produced such series as Brideshead Revisited – if they run a cop programme now, they call it drama). Claiming that they must retain popular approval, the BBC chased their commercial rivals to the bottom of the pond. The news becoming more and more domestic and more and more personality driven.
The decline is not new, embroidering stories, and sometimes just making things up, runs back into the time when the strains of Sibelius filled our living rooms. On 13th July 1967, forty years ago today, British cyclist Tom Simpson died racing in the Tour de France on the slopes of Mont Ventoux. Simpson’s death stunned the sporting world. The reporter from The Sun newspaper was not on the spot, but The Sun has never let the truth get in the way of a good story, so their reporter made up Simpson’s last words.
Forty years on, we seem to be in a permanent downward spiral. Big Brother, which must be the lowest form of television, is now newsworthy, filling broadcast time when major stories are left unmentioned. There is a sense of decay, an end of civilization; if Islamic fundamentalism is gaining ground it is because when snooping sensationalism and celebrity soundbites pass as public discourse, the West has completely lost its way. The days of Sibelius on the telly were maybe not so bad, after all.