In what seems to have become an annual tradition, BBC4 recently screened a new two-part Jonathan Meades documentary (although the word fails to do it justice). I've written previously with frothy enthusiasm about the man's work, and he shows no sign of mellowing or capitulating, thank god. Bunkers, Brutalism and Bloodymindedness followed 2013's The Joy of Essex, 2012's Jonathan Meades on France and 2009's Off-Kilter (for my money the best television programmes about Scotland, real Scotland, not some shortbread-tin fantasy, in recent memory) as a where-the-hell-did-that-come-from blast of blistering polemic, attention-grabbing and unapologetically intelligent opinion and fact, shot through with a biting yet playful wit.
As usual, it's not so much thought-provoking as thought-detonating, unwilling to accommodate the lazy, the half-paying-attention, the easily offended. Utterly compelling, whether you agree with the views or find them contentious bunkum. Not only that, the soundtrack is sharp as fuck, the filming startlingly inventive (some of the shot compositions are stunning), and on top of all that it's educational in the best possible way. When it comes to contemporary television, only Waldemar Januszczak comes remotely close - his recent Rococo three-parter was a hoot.
'Bunkers...' has just moved on from the iPlayer, which hopefully means it'll make it's way into the MeadesShrine on YouTube, one of the most blessed corners of that bottomless AV pit. But there's mo' Meades to come this year, in the form of his autobiography An Encyclopedia of Myself. You can read an excerpt here:
This coincided with my leaving Holmwood School. My parents had been asked to remove me: they pleaded on my behalf, to no avail. The school had had enough of my unwitting disruptiveness. I hadn’t meant to projectile vomit melted butter in class: I had requested half a pound for breakfast and The Third German Girl had obliged me. I hadn’t meant to yelp every time I was pinched by Janet Wheelwright who lived in a house with its own squash court. I hadn’t meant to step in dog shit and trail it through the school. But I had. I was castigated too for my persistent lateness and my reveries. It was at Holmwood that I first suffered the intermittent hallucinations which have visited me all my life. Then, like my dreams, they often involved malevolent sheep. I was sitting on a bench outside the windowless room where we hung our coats. A flock ascended the staircase towards me. I gasped with delight. This was a secret world which, instinctively, I knew not to tell my parents about. Rather, then, like masturbation, but without RSI.
In anticipation, here's a decent interview from the Independent published ahead of Brutalism's broadcast:
"To think of an audience in terms of A-to-Bs, I find unbelievably patronising. It's one of the reasons that television is so terrible, so lowest common denominator. Everyone is trying to be accessible. But accessible to who? If it's going to be accessible to everyone, it has to be unbelievably low level, which means more intelligent people won't watch it. The whole idea of populism is inherently flawed."