It’s an unholy trinity that stretches back to the moment of creation. From the dawn of time there has been one television constant that NEVER changes … and never will. As the weekend putters out and you realise that work or school are the price you’ll soon be paying for your fun, this trilogy of programmes hammers the point home. They are Britain’s weekend full-stop – a televisual “That’s yer lot!” helpfully supplied by the BBC to emphasise that the time for frivolity is over. They are, of course, Songs of Praise, Last of the Summer Wine, and The Antiques Roadshow …. uuuuuuuuur.
For the benefit of foreigners and the 2% of the population that hasn’t seen these shows (and how you’ve managed to escape frankly beggars belief), a brief explanation of their singular characteristics is necessary. Songs of Praise is a Christian sing-a-long show where liars who haven’t been in a church since they got married forty years ago show up to sing Nearer My God To Thee for the cameras. Presented by Aled Jones, a grinning goodie two shoes, Songs of Praise follows a formula written in stone – hymn, prayer, hymn, sermon, outside report, hymn, prayer, Aled Jones solo, hymn, hymn, hymn, the end.
The Antiques Roadshow is the well-deserved sit down and nice cup of tea of British television. Members of the public gather at a lovely country house or interesting municipal building and have the antiques they’ve brought along valued by a team of experts. The show’s formula is written in stone – quite expensive antique, cheap tat, antique, tat, gun, antique, antique, tat, antique, haughty woman who thought vase was priceless gets comeuppance, antique, tat, jumble sale purchase turns out to be worth more than GDP of Tanzania, the end.
Last of the Summer Wine is the bitter pill you have to swallow to atone for the sins of having fun, having sex, having a wank … whatever it was you did on Saturday that you must now be punished for. It is a situation comedy that centres around a collection of Northern stereotypes doing stuff in a picturesque village in the Peaks. The show’s formula is written in stone – three old men sit on bench and observe minor character doing something which they will inevitably join in with, four old women congregate to discuss what idiots men are, the three old men join in with whatever the minor character was doing, the old women continue to gossip, an old woman tries ripping off a customer in her shop full of litter and rags, Howard’s plans to put mangy old tart Marina to the sword are foiled once again, one of the old men slides down hill in a bath, the end.
The formula never changes. It never has. Recently unearthed cave paintings in Southern France depict three old men on a hillside, one of whom is sliding down it in a bath. Hieroglyphics on the walls of the Great Pyramid at Gizeh speak of a line of slaves, dutifully queuing up to have their rice bowls valued by the Pharoah. It is said that what did for King Edward II was not a red-hot poker up the arse, but a surfeit of hymns on a Sunday afternoon that caused his inner organs to relax to the point they ceased to work. T’was ever thus, t’will ever be.
As the dying sun consumes the inner planets and Earth is consigned to a footnote in the history of the cosmos, the last words that will escape into the stars will be “Two thousand pounds? As much as that? I’d better get onto the insurance company.”
You don’t actually have to watch these shows to know how they’ll go. The formula for each is so imprinted in your mind that you can, in fact, miss them entirely and still think you’ve watched them. This is a particularly British trick. “How was your Sunday?” someone will ask. “Oh, you know,” you’ll reply, “Songs of Praise, Antiques Roadshow, Last of the Summer Wine, suicide attempt, bed … the usual.” But the thing is, your Sunday contained none of these shows. You din’t see them, you just assume you did. It’s Sunday therefore, ergo, Songs of Praise, Antiques Roadshow, Last of the Summer Wine have been watched … haven’t they? You know them so well that, even if you’ve not seen them in twenty years, a niggling trick of the mind makes you think you’ve watched them every Sunday since the dawn of man. “Well I certainly have a memory of an old man going hell-for-leather down a hill in a bath, so I must have watched it,” you reason.
They are the only shows in the history of the world that do not need to be watched to be watched.