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Pillar of the Community

Posted 9th June 2015

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If I can tear myself away from the latest opus from Sam Wollaston, my current favourite piece about television is this absolutely magnificent post by Jason Hazeley: is there a missing episode of Ever Decreasing Circles?

“For many years, British television series were produced in runs of six, seven or thirteen weekly episodes. There was a good reason for this: a 52-week year divides nicely into thirteens, and thirteens split into sixes and sevens. Often, that seventh episode was a bonus – say, a Christmas special. Currently, series length is more fluid: fours are common, and there have been some very good (and shout-about funny) series that have only run for three episodes: Cowards, for instance, the first series of Getting On, and the first two series of The Thick Of It.

Series one of Ever Decreasing Circles (1984) has five episodes. That’s odd. (And not just literally.) It’s one short. The second series has eight. That’s one over (even with its bonus Christmas episode). Was one programme lost from the first series and cashed in on re-commission to make up the shortfall? And if so, why?”

It’s a tale which will take you through half-remembered actor’s recollections, to cold hard facts with scanned scripts and programme numbers. Crucially, however, it also sheds some light on what the show was perhaps intended to be… and how differently it turned out. What looks at first to just be about an unproduced script actually turns out to be about the entire heart of the series. It’s one of the best investigative pieces on sitcom I have ever read.

All of which reminds me of this piece I wrote for Noise to Signal back in 2006. (Very much not in terms of quality, mind.)

“Where’s something decent about The Young Ones? The Fast Show? Rutland Weekend Television? Spitting Image? Look Around You? Alexei Sayle’s Stuff? Sure, there’s stuff about those programmes – but not the in-depth, nitty-gritty stuff. No proper reviews of episodes, for starters.

That’s just TV comedy shows. Just imagine the same thing applied across every single topic imaginable, and you can see why the myth that “the internet contains everything” is just that: a myth. And yet, time and time again, I hear things like “Oh, I’d start a website, but I don’t know what I’d talk about/all the stuff I’d do has been done/my dog ate my web browser, miss.”

So, here’s a challenge. If you don’t run a website – pick a topic you like. It could be a TV programme, it could be a band you love, it could be an old computer game from 1982. Hell, it could be Red Dwarf, if you want. Have a look round on the net, and see if the kind of stuff you would have written about the subject has been done. If not: write it. Stick it on the net somewhere. Send it in to us perhaps, but if you want something of your own, it’s not hard to start a website – you could even just get a free blog somewhere, and start posting on it. If you decide later that you want to restructure it into a different kind of website, fine – you can do that. But just get out there and start writing, start researching, start doing something. It doesn’t take long – it’s amazing what you can get done if you just put aside a couple of hours a week.

Start off simple, if you like. Take The Fast Show, for instance – build up an episode guide. Then write some reviews. Look around for interviews in papers. Or, heaven help us, try and get some interviews yourself. (Another thing I’ve learnt from G&T: getting interviews is a lot easier than you’d think.) Before you know it, you could be researching contemporary reactions from the show in a pile of old Radio Times listings, and have a website to be proud of, packed with stuff that’s nowhere else on the web. It’s just so gratifying to have people mail you and say “love what you’re doing”. Before you know it, you’ll end with with a knightmare.com on your hands.

The web is a wonderful place. Go on – help make it even more wonderful, for all of us.”

Patronising tone aside, I stand by most of that, bar one thing: it paints the idea that whilst you can start off small, inevitably you will end up having to update some huge, daunting site. Which isn’t the case at all.

Jason’s Ever Decreasing Circles site currently has seven articles, covering such topics as Hiccups, the stage play Ever Decreasing Circles was based on, to a bizarre advert for the Nottingham Evening Post based on the series.1 That’s seven articles over a period of nine months. The site could stop now and it would be an invaluable resource. (But please don’t. I don’t want to die not knowing what really happened to that missing episode.)

The point is: yes, you could start a website and have it blow up into something you feel you have to update every week. But there’s really no reason to. Pick a topic, do the occasional post, and before you know it you have a valuable resource with unique material. And it’s fascinating how little information there is about many shows online. Take the the six shows I mentioned back in 2006: The Young Ones, The Fast Show, Rutland Weekend Television, Spitting Image, Look Around You, and Alexei Sayle’s Stuff. Eight years on, there is very little online for those six shows which is of the in-depth nature Jason has managed. (In fact, there’s a dearth for comedy full stop.)

You don’t need grand plans for a constantly-updating website. It doesn’t need a huge commitment. Just the inclination to do a good post every couple of months. Dedicating huge chunks of your life to it is very much not required.

  1. It also contains the explanation for the title of this post. 

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