Speak English

Copyright BBCOne 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.

Screw it.

Author: Ian Hocking

Writer and psychologist.

9 thoughts on “Speak English”

  1. I didn’t see it — the title would have put me off even if I’d noticed it in the list­ings — but it sounds like exactly the sort of pro­gramme that would wind me up too. I now know to avoid it in future!

  2. Julian Fellowes used to write speeches for Iain Duncan Smith. (Remember him?)

    See, it all falls into place now.

  3. It’s funny, Carla. I also though I wouldn’t like it — but I went ahead any­way. It’s this atti­tude that gets me hooked on Big Brother. A coupel nights of “Oh, Christ, they’re all mor­ons!” soon segues into “Hmm, I won­der what the mor­ons are up to?” Hours pass…

  4. I think you’re right, Tim. I won­der if he came up with the “Never under­es­tim­ate a quiet man” bit. Quite excru­ci­at­ing. Him and Ricky Gervais have ‘embar­rass­ment com­edy’ in com­mon; the only dif­fer­ence is that Gervais intends it, Fellowes does not.

  5. I’ve nev­er watched Big Brother so I can’t com­ment, but it’s cer­tainly true that there’s some­thing mes­mer­ising about activ­ity on a screen, whatever the activ­ity is. I know noth­ing about foot­ball and care less, but if someone else is watch­ing a match on the TV it will hook my atten­tion too, even though I’ve no idea what’s going on. I think it’s the same brain pro­cess that’s fas­cin­ated by a tank of trop­ic­al fish.

  6. I don’t have a life either, Ian, but one thing is for sure, I don’t spend my non-life watch­ing live TV. I only watch films or drama that I’ve recor­ded or bought.
    I’ve nev­er watched big broth­er, or, in fact, any live TV for about 15 years. My god, a dino­saur­ess. (I admit I got sucked into a bit of the test match series last sum­mer via help­ing to build some flat­pack fur­niture in the room where it was on).
    Interesting that about Fellowes writ­ing speeches for Iain Duncan Smith, whom I do dimly recall 😉
    Wonder who writes the Lib Dem’s?

    This may be a non-sequit­ur, but I went onto a blog earli­er today which con­tained this post­ing: “I am going away for the week. Please will someone tape the Internet for me while I am away, I don’t want to miss any­thing?”

  7. I think you’re right about the telly; I like the idea of just watch­ing DVDs — would cer­tainly free up some time. One day per series of 24!

  8. I am going to ignore any deep intel­lec­tu­al thoughts you may have thrown us and ask you what you think of The Office.
    We get the US ver­sion here in Canada. Some people think it’s the stu­pid­est thing they’ve ever seen. My 13yo son thinks it’s one of the fun­ni­est things he’s ever seen. I just watch the show with my jaw on the floor because these idi­ot­ic actions are mirrored every day in real life by real life idi­ots. It takes that uncom­fort­able factor to the highest extent. BUT! Usually it’s not at the embar­rass­ment of one per­son — one per­son made to be the vic­tim. It’s the embar­rass­ment of the col­lect­ive at the actions of one per­son. This again mir­rors the unwill­ing­ness of people, who have power in num­bers, to stand up to the idi­ots around them, but don’t have the cour­age. I think it’s a great poke at soci­ety in gen­er­al.

    Anyone? Anyone?

  9. I must say that I haven’t seen the US ver­sion of The Office, but I’m a big fan of the ori­gin­al, BBC ver­sion. It cer­tainly thrives on embar­rass­ment. Sometimes, it’s almost too much and I have to switch over…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *