The nation is horribly split, isn’t it? Christmas is coming and half of us aren’t welcome in the other half’s houses. This is all down to Brexit of course – that idiotic referendum – which in its current state of stalemate has necessitated the appointment of a food control minister in the event of a no-deal outcome. Great – at least someone is going to be in charge of rationing out the roadkill. In years to come, when we’re haggling over our squashed festive squirrel, we’ll look back on the days of boring, slightly dried up turkey and weep.
As with most appalling situations, you’ve got to look hard to find a silver lining – and the one thing binding us together in our hour of need at the moment is telly. Telly has come to the rescue, telly is distracting us from the horrors of politics, telly is giving us something else to talk about so that we don’t start fighting each other on the streets.
A couple of years ago, the rumour was that telly was dead – by this I mean terrestrial telly, communal telly, telly to be discussed around the fictional water cooler that no one in this country has ever discussed telly over, but you know what I mean. The future was going to be entirely online: on Netflix, on Amazon and on a plethora of other subscription-only channels. Old fashioned, sitting down together in front of the telly was over. People would be watching what they liked, when they liked, where they liked.
But then telly started fighting back. All those chaps and chapesses at the BBC and ITV and Channel 4 seemed to get their heads together and decided they weren’t going to go down without a fight. They were going to do something else instead – they were going to give us better telly, telly that we might all want to watch, together, at the same time, because weirdly, it’s quite exciting waiting a whole seven days to find out what happens next!
Almost 11 million people watched the Bodyguard finale the other Sunday night and my 89-year-old mother and I were among that number, gripped, on the sofa. “This is quite tense” my mother, the mistress of the understatement, muttered as David Budd’s exhausted thumb hovered over the detonator that could blow him sky high.
“Very tense”, I agreed, but obviously not quite as tense as helping my mum back her car out of her teeny tiny garage space complete with its stupid concrete pillar, which has become my yard stick of tense. Talk about holding your breath and standing well back, but yes, the Bodyguard was pretty tense.
The last big communal watch before Jed Mercurio’s drama was Harry and Meghan’s wedding day, back at the beginning of our glorious summer, which I think may have set this trend in motion. There was something lovely about being one of millions to catch sight of “the dress” at the same time. It was one of those “where were you?” moments. I was in a hotel room in Nottingham as it happens, weeping in my pants.
Television is at its best when it strikes a collective chord. Meghan’s dress, David Budd and Keeley Hawes’ sexy double act, the opening ice cream scene in Killing Eve – and add to this any number of Strictly routines that have surpassed all expectations and brought people to their slippered feet even when they’re just watching the thing at home in their own front room.
I think we have a tendency to undervalue telly – it has the potential to bring out the best in us, to remind us that actually, we are all human – and this week’s lesson in not underestimating the power of the box in the corner came last Tuesday night. We all know this is Great British Bake Off night – in fact, most Tuesday nights at 8pm you can hear the communal ping of microwaves going off down my road as people settle down with a ready meal to watch a dwindling number of contestants do battle over ever more elaborate and obscure confectionery.
According to my Twitter timeline, we have already lost our Bake Off hearts to Rahul, the unassuming 30-year-old nuclear scientist, who moved here seven years ago to do a PhD and started making cakes to “make friends”. Aaagh, sob.
But this week, the emotional reminder that actually there is still some good left in the world, happened when the departing Terry, one of two losing contestants, a man in his fifties who had made a pig’s ear out of a Christmas biscuit garland, admitted that the programme had helped fill the void left in his life after the death of his wife. He credited the programme with helping him to move forward.
At this point I was a human lake of tears and if this didn’t move you, then you are not human. In fact, you are worse than that wretched concrete pillar in my mum’s garage – so there.