Hoodlums in the Playground: Rebels of Oz

July 9, 2014

No place for objectivity this, everyone concerned with Rebels of Oz: Germaine, Clive, Barry and Bob (BBC Four), from the titular subjects to its presenter, Howard Jacobson, are among my most admired literary heroes and cultural influences; thus, for me, this two-part documentary was so enjoyable it was almost indecent. I am too young to remember the days when this honourable gang of four dominated television, as guests or presenters, and certainly too young to have contemporaneously read Clive James at his height as a television critic, so I am grateful to YouTube and second-hand bookshops for providing access to their unique Australian brilliance.

Six books by James rest within arms reach of where I write now, well-thumbed and clumsily aped. Indeed, this blog would not exist were it not for his insistence that television criticism is worth doing, and worth doing well, because popular culture can be as literate as high.

Jacobson’s interest comes from switching places, almost literally with Greer, in the fifties, and traveling to Sydney to teach at its university. One can quite easily imagine how Australia would seem like a boon to a lad from post-war Manchester; as easily as one can see why many Australians felt they had to get out. London was still the world’s capital of culture in those days, instead of the capital of foreign capital. The class society was on the way out and the money society was yet to win (and, appearing as a talking head, Martin Amis really does have a bug in his rug about this point. See also: Martin Amis’s England).

Making themselves at home in Britain, Barry Humphries worked with a stone until he had the sharpest knife in satire; Bob Hughes grappled the art world in a much-needed headlock; Greer gave feminism a voice that couldn’t be shushed (and garnered all the condescension, all the resentment, that came, still comes, with voicing the unpopular); and James tapped out an empire of criticism, poetry and memoirs – whilst still finding time to host twenty years of television. Right place, right time? Cliché? Yes, but – naturally – true.

Perhaps the point about just how much they changed British culture seems overblown to those who have experienced it secondhand, but I know my own life would be impoverished without their voices. Jacobson, who has fronted other documentaries, is an engaging, considered presenter – his own voice rich with gently ironed-out northern tones (like a sotto voce version of Anthony Burgess’s sonic boom) – and I will be hopeful to see him take to the cultural screen more often. (It can’t all be left to Yentob et al.)

4 out of 100So, that was the high culture, now here’s the popular (I hesitate to say low, gentle reader): The 100 (E4) is a post-apocalyptic drama – and if the natural attraction of apocalypse doesn’t engage you perhaps the cast of attractive teens will – all one hundred of them (though we saw about twelve in the first episode). I couldn’t help being a bit more interested in the machinations of the Evil Adults up on the space station – but, perhaps, the excitement will sneak up when the kids have to face whatever killed one of them with a spear at the end. ‘We’re not alone!’ shouts Clarke, the female lead, played by Eliza Taylor – last seen, by my eyes at least, as Janae in Neighbours (and the only member of Toadie’s extended family who could act, let alone carry a storyline) – yes, another Aussie – surely this amounts to nothing more than cultural imperialism.

Jacob Knowles-Smith

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