One part smarm, one part aristocrat, three parts bore: Meet Julian Fellowes, front man to a new BBC show called Never Mind The Full Stops, which I’ve just finished watching. I will not be watching it a second time. This show is a panel game that centres on punctuation in the ‘hilarious’ footsteps of such mavens as Lynne Truss. Not since Noel Edmonds has there been a TV presenter I would more happily bludgeon. Libellous? Possibly. In my defence, I offer Exhibit A: Never Mind The Full Stops. Fellowes is (a) the kind of person who holds archaic language practices in high esteem and is unashamedly bullish about enforcing them, and (b) the writer of Gosford Park, a God-awful rehash of half-arsed British class stereotypes that won some Academy Awards a few years back.
This television ‘comedy quiz’ is an unholy alliance of Have I Got News for You and QI — both of which are peerless examples of how to combine comedy with a soupcon of erudition. Never Mind The Full Stops, however, seems to have more in common with The Office in that it is founded on embarrassment; the difference is that the latter is fictional, the former is not. The guests are confused, have no room to manoeuvre around Fellowes’s endearingly lingo-fascistic monologues, and spend the majority of their time trying to avoid looking like total idiots in front of Fellowes.
Why am I writing about this show? Mainly because I don’t have a life. But also because the attitude of Fellowes really gets up my nose. Early on in the show, he introduced a round where contestants had to guess the plural of a word. One word was ‘roof’. Was the correct plural ‘roofs’ or ‘rooves’? Fellowes toyed with them for a long (here’s where the excruciating element of the show kicks in) moment before announcing that the correct answer is ‘roofs’.
“But the avoidance of the rooves form is just a fashion,” he snorted, “and I would have accepted ‘rooves’ just as easily. After all, the plural of ‘hoofs’ is ‘hooves’, isn’t it?”
This is the point at which I’d like to transport to a future where viewers can reach into the television and bludgeon uppity presenters to death.
No, Mr Fellowes. The plural of ‘roofs’ should not be ‘rooves’ in order to make the pluralization consistent with ‘hooves’. If that was a rule of British English, we wouldn’t let ‘I have got my wallet’ and ‘I have forgotten my wallet’ to co-exist. ‘Hoof’ and ‘roof’ are different words.
And what’s this about Fellowes failing to award points because a response is ‘vulgar’. Vulgar? Ever read Shakespeare? Beast with two backs, anyone? What about the wife of Bath?
This kind of thing really irritates. I get the impression that Fellowes has championed his stewardship of this show because he thinks it casts him in an education-tinged limelight. Well, QI might have that effect on Stephen Fry (and, in fact, anything at all that Stephen Fry chooses to do makes him seem ever more brilliant). The effect on Fellowes is less flattering. All this is presented as some kind of drive to get the public to improve their English. A laudable aim. Noble, even. But this hare-brained trawl through linguistic trivia doesn’t strike me as the way to do it. Thank God the tiller of English is steered under a captaincy less puritanical. I shudder to think of a British equivalent of the Academie Francaise headed by someone like Fellowes.
Quite possibly I should sleep on this entry and edit it tomorrow, on Friday.