I have to say that Brian Sewell is usually good value. I hardly ever agree with him, he makes me cross -- but it's usually an encounter I quite enjoy. That goes for his broadside today in an Observer interview about BBC factual programmes -- in which (to summarise crudely) he has a go at the ways serious content is dumbed down into entertaining travelogues, and presented for the most part by the ignorant.
There are some things on which Sewell and I would seem to agree. It's not exactly a travelogue, but I have never quite understood why, whenever we have a piece of news about the Prime Minister, it has to be delivered to us by some poor reporter who has been sent to stand outside Number 10 (even though the PM himself may be 2000 miles away). And while I may have affection for an old-fashioned "swingometer", the multicouloured all-singing and dancing graphics that we now get at almost every election look like the kind of things people do in my business when they've been on too many "make the most of your powerpoint" courses.
But Sewell's main focus is on documentaries and their tropes. You would have thought that he didn't have much of a leg to stand on after some of his own television work. So far as I recall his Channel 5 The Naked Pilgrim series, it did most of the things he is criticising in this interview. Click here for Nancy Banks Smith memorably recalling the sight of Sewell getting sea sick in the Bay of Biscay, and here for the Scotsman querying the sexing up of the title. Ok, you might say, given that it was about pilgrimage it was allowed to be a travelogue; but "Naked Pilgrim"? (Sewell himself seems to let commercial channels off the hook in the interview: "I'm not criticising the commercial channels. They all have obligations to shareholders and advertisers." ...so that's alright then?)
Almost everyone (except David Attenborough) who has recenty presented a BBC documentary gets a ticking off (or their producers and directors do). I come off fairly lightly: "Poor Mary Beard, trundling around the ruins of Rome on a bicycle. Why?"