Friday, 30 December 2011

The murder in the library

I'm guessing that most of you don't watch New Tricks, the BBC's apparently lame comedy-drama set in a police office staffed by weird old retirees chasing cold cases. It's got Dennis Waterman in it, for a start.

But one of the fun things about popular culture is the way it can very quickly deal with pressing social issues without lecturing people. The most popular example was Melrose Place: unknown to the directors, the art producer was sneaking naughty references into the scenes via the scenery: a watercolour of the Manson murder house, a postal worker's satchel with a fabric ammunition clip sewn underneath ('going postal', get it?), and a duvet cover printed with the chemical formula for the morning-after pill.

This episode of New Tricks is called 'It Smells of Books', which is why I started watching it. The opening scene was of a slightly autistic ex-cop becoming rather upset by the students using their mobile phones, children singing, teens using iPods… all in the library. The show then moves on to investigate the murder of an academic frozen out of an ex-polytechnic university as his department is closed down by a business-school, money-obsessed, jargon-spouting Vice-Chancellor named Jeremy Ventham, suspiciously similar to Jeremy Bentham, inspiration for University College London, famous philosopher and who is still mummified in a public display case. There's lots of plagiarism, suspicion, autistic-academic jealousy, bad essays and all the other aspects of my life. It's very obvious why so many academics write campus novels: all human life is there.

OK, the dead man who spoke up for humanist values turns out to be a book thief (the plot revolves around a stolen book by Henri Duhamel), but the satire is broad and all the better for it: humanism killed by business-oriented ideology. This show's worth 20 demonstrations, and it's a welcome return to the 1970s, when committed lefty television makers inserted political points at every opportunity: even Dr Who!

Very satisfyingly, the humanist academic's murderer turns out to be the evil Vice-Chancellor. Let's hope my new VC (whom I'm told is an avid reader of Plashing Vole) isn't taking notes

Well worth looking up on iPlayer.


Anonymous said...

I'd seen it before and watched it again! I particularly like the bit when the prof says of her student: "he is making progress, at least this time he did not write: "for further info click on the link"!!!!


Benjamin Judge said...

I genuinely love New Tricks.