TV COLUMN: Tony Warren, Grantchester, Stag

James Waller-Davies
James Waller-Davies

Columnist James Waller-Davies gives his view of some of the recent events on television.

If you’re a fan of soap, then you’ve a lot to thank Tony Warren for. The creator of TV longest-running soap, Coronation Street, died this week.

People can get a bit sniffy about soaps, but as a daily listener of The Archers, I’m in the wrong glasshouse to be chucky sniffy stones about. Soaps have huge cultural significance and top the list of ‘most watched’ television over an extended period of time. Yes, some reality TV formats are temporarily more popular, but they come and go – soaps go on and on and on.

I’ve not watched Corrie since the days when Ena Sharples and Albert Tatlock sat a muttering in the corner of the Rovers. But even if you don’t watch it, you can’t ignore it.

Coronation Street has probably been responsible for more sales of tabloid newspapers than anything else, including the royal family. It has such a cultural gravity that its storylines, characters and the real-life actors have an existence that extends beyond the small screen.

In an age when a TV drama is doing well to make it into a third season, anything which can sustain and entertain an audience for nearly 60 years has got to have something going for it. Whilst I may not watch it, Coronation Street is one of those institutions I’m happy is there, part of the fabric of British life. If it ever ceases, you know the world has ended.

‘Stands the Church clock at ten to three? And is there disinfectant still for tea?’ is what Rupert Brooke might have written had he been penning his poem on the old vicarage after watching the return of Grantchester (ITV).

The latest series of the vicar-cum-sleuth has returned with more a gritty edge to it. Sexual assaults, a bit of light pornography and disinfectant drinking death were enough to remove the rather whimsical ecstatic grin of parish vicar, Sidney Chambers (James Norton).

Episode one was always going to be about sex from the moment Norton emerged from the River Cam in ‘Darcy moment’. The wet no-T-shirt moment is all the rage for young hunk heartthrobs and the vanity-pants vicar duly obliged.

Still support by his policeman pal, Geordie (Robson Green), the pair have a comfortable chemistry which can carry Grantchester for some time to come. The writing remains plausible and pacey, proving that good writing can achieve more in an hour than stodge can in the more common two-hour detective slot.

It’s also beautifully shot, evoking a bygone age of the memory. And there’s no better England than the England of nostalgia. As Brooke said more eloquently: “God! I will pack, and take a train, And get me to England once again! For England’s the one land, I know, Where men with Splendid Hearts may go.”

Absolutely lacking in poetry, subtlety and any sense of nostalgia is Stag (BBC2). The semi-comic grotesque tale of a bunch of easy-to-hate blokes on a stag-party stag hunting in Scotland set off into the wilds this week.

Having loudly and drunkenly alienated themselves from the locals, in a pub scene which could have come straight out of the Slaughtered Lamb in American Werewolf in London, they set themselves up to be both abandoned and easy meat for a sadistic killer.

Stag begs, borrows and steals unashamedly from a whole host of classic 1970s and 1980s ‘men together’ movies, echoing elements of Deliverance, Southern Comfort, Dog Soldiers, even Porkies. Its bantering script at times a Simon Pegg rip-off.

Not surprisingly, Stag has proved to be the ‘Marmite TV’ of the week for critics and viewers alike. It’s been panned as inane, vacuous, shallow, drivel. And it is. All of those things, and more. I loved it.

It’s got a snappy script, with crass blokish banter and jokes that are funny with no hint of a nod to the PC brigade, which in this post-whatever epoch we’re now in, where everyone is supposed to be reconstructed this or that, is very refreshing and not done nearly enough.

If you’re a man who’s been on a stag weekend only to find out when coming back through customs that rubber gloves aren’t just for doing the dishes, then Stag is for you. If you’re a woman who needs reminding just how inept a gang of blokes on their own are, then it’s for you too.

If you’re looking for depth and sophistication, don’t like gore and are easily offended, then perhaps give it a miss.