9 times out of 10 the servant in question will be tasked with delivering breakfast – on a silver tray, overflowing with Full-English goodies – to the bedroom of someone hideously wealthy (they’re usually hideous in other ways too).
The maid hums cheerfully as she climbs the stairs – perhaps thrilled with how well she’s folded the napkins or boiled the master/mistress’s eggs. She knocks smartly at the door, there’s no answer. Undeterred, she opens the door and walks in. There, inside the dimly-lit room, she discovers a scene of devastation – usually a toff murdered in some hopelessly impractical way, often involving an ancient druid dagger or cursed but priceless jewels.
It’s then that the maid must fulfill her function. There is only one thing she can do. Something she MUST do. Time and again, all maids in murder mysteries act in exactly the same way – it’s as if they’re contractually obliged.
The maid must:
- Repeat the name of the master/mistress/annoying house guest.
- Discover they are deceased.
- Drop the silver tray, allowing it’s entire contents to smash dramatically onto the Axminster.
- Clasp hands to their face and scream.
- This scream must be in two parts, so as to allow the camera to dramatically reframe from a wide shot to a close up of the maid’s face, between exclamations.
This done, the maid’s role in the mystery is over – bar a bit of evidence giving late in the second act.
If you imagine that scream – the two part, full-throat-ed, hands clasped to face, tonsils on display, monster – you’ll have a very near approximation of the reaction shared by siblings and I the day my parents decided to ban TV.
Around 30 years ago, my mum and dad got it into their heads that my family was consuming too much TV. As a result they decided, one memorable day, to completely ban the box.
To be fair to them, we probably did watch a little too much TV. The A-Team, Count Duckula, Knight Rider, Danger Mouse, Grange Hill and many other shows from the period were the soundtrack to much of my childhood – playing in the background as the milestones of life were passed. But was this a bad thing? I’m still not sure. I know what I thought at the time. Banning TV was like my parents had decided to ban fun, to ban laughter, to ban everything I enjoyed. Without TV I felt like my world had retreated to black and white. The colour I lapped up, the excitement, the scope, the catalysts that fired my imagination all came through the machine in the corner.
As a father, I now join many others in wondering how much TV my own son should be allowed to watch. Like my younger self, my little one would watch television all day if he we were allowed. He isn’t. But how much is too much? What type of an influence is TV upon children? Is it good or bad.
I remember his mother and I would discuss, in those oft-remembered (much missed) quiet relaxed evenings before our son was born, television’s role in our household. We’d pretty much decided that our offspring would never be sullied by exposure to the telly. Equally he’d never touch sugar, only eat organic and spend his life with well-thought through educationally relevant play.
What mugs we were!
Our level of naivety still amazes me. It’s amazing how pious prospective parents can be, before the reality of dealing with a little human actually hits. Today I’m sure that my son says ‘Teletubbies’ (at least) as often as he says ‘Mummy’ and definitely more than he shouts ‘Daddy’.
Are they an electronic babysitter?
You bet they are!
Is that a bad thing? I’m not sure. But it’s a reality. You see the thing that I’ve realised is that nobody on this planet has the energy to be focused on the needs of a child, who will ask (at least) 20 questions in every 60 second time period, for 16 hours a day. Anyone who tells you that they have that ability is a liar. Don’t trust them. Don’t lend them money!
I love children’s TV. Why? Primarily because it gives me 15 minutes to recharge my batteries, before the relentlessness of life with a toddler continues.
It reminds me of boxing. Many say it’s a cruel sport, that may well be true. Yet imagine how much crueler it would be if there weren’t breaks between the rounds, where the boxers can get themselves together and summon the energy to carry on. Kids TV is the parenting equivalent of sitting on a stool in the corner and spitting into a bucket – not a sentence I thought I’d ever write.
When people talk about healthy eating, they sweeten the blow by telling us that foods we actually like (all the goodies that are bad for us) can be consumed in small quantities as part of a healthy diet. For me it’s the same with TV, it’s fine as long as it’s part of a smorgasbord of activities for the little ones.
To be frank, I don’t feel TV did me any harm. My parents soon came to the same conclusion – rescinding their ban (I suspect to shut up our moaning). I probably watched more than would currently be recommended, but it fired my imagination. Something which has stayed with me for life. It gave me a strong shared cultural heritage with my peers – I still discuss shows I watched 30 years ago with my friends. It gave me ambition and the sense that anything was possible. In fact, I ended up working in children’s TV – but that’s another story.
One thing I’m very proud of is my son, as much as he loves to watch the telly, also loves books. He really can’t get enough of stories being read to him or studying the amazing pictures on the pages of his favourite titles.
It’s my hope, that in 40 years time, when he explains how maids’ discover bodies in murder mysteries, he’ll be telling the tale with detailed reference to the original Agatha Christie novels, not the TV adaptations.
There’s an ambition to be proud of…