This tape opens with the end of an episode of Birds of a Feather. I’m a horrible snob, so I always disliked this show, mostly without watching it.
At one time, quite a long time ago now I had to give a fellow programmer a lift from the local station to take him into work. I grew to resent this, and it wasn’t helped by the fact that I just didn’t like this guy. I’m not proud of this dislike, and I grew to realise that I was becoming a bit of a bully with him, which is a shocking thing to learn about yourself when you normally pride yourself on being fair-minded and reasonable. But at the time, a combination of things, including my enforced chauffeuring, meant I didn’t like him. So that ten minutes or so driving to and from the station was often spent in silence, as we rarely had any common conversation subjects.
But he was, I think, a nice guy, and obviously would have liked to make polite small talk. So once, we were driving to the station, and I could tell that he was mulling over an opening conversational gambit.
“Oh good, Birds of a Feather is on tonight.”
I think this one sentence proves that he had no chance whatsoever of winning me over. It’s as if someone had studied all my likes and dislikes and had come up with the one thing that was guaranteed to alienate me even more.
I mean, I love TV, and I love loads of different things, but he managed to home in, laser-like, on the one programme then running which I would actively avoid watching if I had to.
He left the company after a while, which was probably for the best, as his reputation in general wasn’t high. We had a rather strong group of developers, and he was quite a way out of his depth (my main reason for the antipathy). There’s an idea in managing technical teams called ‘Don’t flip the Bozo Bit.’ The idea is that if you screw up once too often in a team, the rest of the team ‘flip the Bozo Bit’ on you from false to true, and from then on don’t expect much from you. And experience shows that it’s much, much harder to flip the bit back and prove to a team that you can do the work. He had definitely flipped his Bozo bit, and finding a different place to work was really the best thing he could do.
Months later, we were exhibiting at a big Computer show in London, and he came to see us on our stand, to say hello. He had got a job in a smaller company, where he was basically their only technical expert, and as a result, they loved him there. Given a new start, the Bozo bit is off by default, and because he knew more about his stuff than the rest of the company, it was a perfect place for him. I was happy to hear this, given my guilt at having become a bully. It’s not something I’m proud of.
Which brings us back to Birds of a Feather. It’s the last few minutes of an episode. Sharon and Tracy are talking to someone called Dave, who has just learned that Sharon is pregnant, I presume with his baby, and he’s quite happy about it. Not perhaps very romantic.
Then Sharon leaves, upset that Tracy has told him, and the two of them talk in the bathroom, where we learn (without it actually being stated) that Sharon’s had an abortion. And the episode ends on that bombshell.
I have to admit, this isn’t the kind of cheeky chirpy cockney comedy I was expecting. And this wasn’t several series into its run, when the programme is pushing boundaries, this is an episode in the first series. So perhaps I also misjudged BOAF.
After this there’s a trailer for Friday Night on BBC1
Then, we have The Mission. A film which isn’t embarrassed to blow its own trumpet buy having this in its opening credits.
But it soon makes amends by opening the film with the wonderful Ray MacAnally as the cardinal who begins to tell the story.
I still feel like the world was robbed of so much when he died, only three years after this film was made, at the relatively young age of 63.
The film takes place in South America in 1750 and concerns catholic missionaries, the indigenous people, the Guarani, and, of course, slavers.
After the first missionary to a remote village at the top of a set of waterfalls is crucified and put onto the river, in the first of many beautiful, horrible images, another priest decides he has to go up there to win over the Guarani living there.
The priest is Jeremy Irons, who does, indeed, win the trust of the Guarani, partly, it seems, by playing Ennio Morricone’s rather beautiful music on his oboe.
He’s intent on starting a new mission above the falls, but there might be trouble from Robert DeNiro as a Spanish slave trader, who has come up there to trap people for his ‘business’.
But DeNiro’s homelife isn’t happy. His fiancee is Cheri Lunghi, not in itself a cause for unhappiness.
But Lunghi talls him that she is in love with his younger brother, Aiden Quinn.
DeNiro can’t take this humiliation, duels with his brother, and kills him. Then he goes into seclusion, consumed with his guilt. He asks to speak to Irons, whom he knows from their oppostion over his slaving, and Irons tells him that he can work his penance by working with him building the new mission up on the falls.
It certainly seems to suit him, and he even becomes a Jesuit, like Irons.
Also among Irons’ missionaries is a young Liam Neeson.
Cardinal MacAnally is there as the Pope’s emissary. Spain and Portugal have carved up the territory in a treaty, and the Portuguese, who allow slavery, have taken ‘ownership’ of the land above the falls. The Spanish and Portuguese want to know what the Church is going to do about the mission territories. If the Church gives up its missions, the Guarani would be at the mercy of the Portuguese slavers. But the Church, in particular the Jesuits, are mistrusted by the Spanish and Portuguese officials, so there’s pressure to withdraw the sanctuary status of the missions.
Ronald Pickup plays the Portuguese delegate. Here he is with a pet sloth.
The Spanish delegate is played rather brilliantly and horribly, by Chuck Low, a man with surprisingly few film credits. He’s worked a lot with DeNiro, so I wonder if he is a friend of the actor, who has a proper job, and only occasionally acts. Wikipedia claims he was once DeNiro’s landlord.
MacAnally makes his decision, that the Church will give up the mission territories, and the Guarani will have to return to the jungle. Which leads to the climax of the film, where DeNiro and Neeson lead a doomed fight against the Spanish and Portuguese soliders, and Irons does the only thing he knows how – he says mass. It’s a joke from Father Ted, rendered both noble and pathetic against the brutal slaughter on show.
My memory of this film, from having watched it at the time, was that it was well-intentioned but a bit pompous.
My reaction to it today is that I’m in pieces at the end of it. Literally sitting here sobbing.
Not helped by the very last shot of the movie, after the credits have rolled, of MacAnally finishing his letter to the Pope, then looking straight at the camera as if to say “You’re as guilty as I am.” Well that’s how I’m reading it.
BBC Genome: BBC One – 19th April 1990 – 22:00
And as if that’s not bad enough, following this is a trailer for Roland Joffe’s previous heartwrencher The Killing Fields.
There’s some weather, followed by Ramadan: A Month to Remember, a look at what happens during Ramadan in London.
BBC Genome: BBC One – 20th April 1990 – 00:05
Then BBC1 closes down.