The spirit of Channel 4’s late 80s/early 90s on-the-hoof marvel As It Happens has been reborn in the unlikely guise of BBC News 24’s flood coverage.
The channel’s usual problem of how to fill up endless news coverage when there’s no news has been solved, temporarily at least, thanks to its battery of reporter-presenters making the most of their undignified and damp surroundings with a portable microphone and cameras with the longest leads in the world.
Day after day they have been on air just, well, wandering aimlessly. They go wherever their feet take them. The camera dutifully follows. The anchors back in the studio let them get on with it. And viewers get to see whatever, well, happens.
Down streets, in and out of shops, along pavements, through fields – it just goes on and on and on. Whomever gets in their way they stop and interview. If someone drifts by in the background on a dinghy they turn and hail them for a chat.
They pop into Tesco to see if bottled water is still on sale. They knock on people’s front doors to have a peek at the debris. And if anything goes wrong, if someone falls over, or someone swears, or someone doesn’t want to have a microphone shoved into their face and asked ‘how are you feeling’ when it’s quite fucking obvious to the entire world, It Doesn’t Matter. For this is a Crisis. And when a Crisis happens, things inevitably go wrong, but it’s forgivable, because it’s all part of The Blitz Spirit, and a sign that Britain Is Pulling Together.
As It Happens was a fantastic idea, both in its low-key daytime incarnation (Paddy strolling round central London talking to tourists, hawkers and street urchins) and its Friday night grown-up version (Andy Kershaw and Pete McCarthy beamed live from foreign cities being forever stood up by local contacts and harangued by passing malcontents).
It’s utterly bizarre that its low-cost public-as-celebrities unscripted unpredictable content is not back in Channel 4’s schedules. For one thing it’d be cheaper than paying for repeats of How Clean Is Your House and A Place In the Sun.
Besides, a sane mind can only take so much of Chris Eakin in galoshes or Rajesh Mirchandani standing in the deepest puddle he can find. Send Paddy Haycocks to Tewkesbury – NOW!