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Sunday, August 05, 2012

On Poldark and Privatisation: How George Warleggan struck back

This piece of mine appears in the Morning Star

I was very sad to wake up a couple of Sundays ago and read on Teletext that Angharad Rees, star of the 1970s drama series Poldark, had died aged just 63.

Earlier in the year my wife and I bought a video box set of Poldark at a charity shop.

The series was hugely popular when first broadcast in the 1970s, attracting around 15 million viewers.

Watching it again today, I can understand why. There's gripping storylines, great acting and characterisation. Not only that but it has a profound message too. The anti-greed, pro-worker values which the series promoted reflected the progressive values of Britain's most left-wing decade.

You can read the whole article here.


Robin Carmody said...

These were all quite good, but 'Penda's Fen' and quite a number of other Plays for Today (especially those by Trevor Griffiths) were better.

Virtually everything you say is true, but I can't see anyone being *inspired* by it, least of all the people you need on your side; laments, however eloquent, don't start revolutions.

Robin Carmody said...

(btw, Teletext no longer exists.)

Neil Clark said...

Robin, I think we can be inspired by it as it reminds us that things don't have to be like they are today. I think you'll agree with me that neoliberals have made an attempt to portray pre-1979 Britain as a terrible place, and that there's nothing from that period worth recreating. Fighting that dominant neoliberal narrative and showing that it simply isn't true is about the most important thing we can do.

Robin Carmody said...

Indeed, but in tone your piece is somewhat redolent of a lachrymose 1974 'This England' article about how Britain Was Going To The Dogs, and the only reason why the Right were able to fight back so successfully - from, we can agree, a highly marginalised position - was that they stopped lamenting and started confronting, stopped crying and started attacking. They stopped longing for feudal certainties and started dealing with the lives of the more urbanised masses.

If the Right had stuck to this sort of lament, the Left could well have permanently reshaped Britain in their image. Now the Left is in the position the Right was then - a 30-year decline in its standing potentially turning to final apocalypse - and to regain dominance it needs to engage with the present aggressively in the way Keith Joseph's axis did. The lesson is there for the 2012 Left to learn; that longing for a Golden Age is not enough, you also need to engage with the present and its culture. There is music and TV being made now that the Left can make its own in the way the Right did with, say, Dire Straits and post-Gabriel Genesis.

Neil Clark said...

Robin, I don't disagree with that.
Of course the left has to engage with the present, but that still doesn't stop us challenging the dominant neoliberal narrative about pre-1979 Britain and making the case for a return to the progressive policies we had in the 70s. Things were going far too well for working people in the 70s- and not well enough for capital, which is why the neoliberal-right (or the Keith Joseph axis to use yr phrase) became very aggressive.

Robin Carmody said...

Indeed so.

That doesn't, however, answer the question of why you *only* seem to write melancholy laments. Part of being on the Left is that you trust oppressed classes to create their own narratives without moaning about them.

Neil Clark said...

Hi Robin,
"you *only* seem to write melancholy laments"
Come off it, you know that's not true! I always try and finish off my pieces with saying what I think needs to be done NOW-. I co-founded the CPO because I'm not content with merely saying 'things were better before 1979'- I want to see practical, achievable changes.
A lot of the time I've been accused of being too optimistic about what can be achieved-whether its getting Blair arrested for war crimes or getting Labour to adopt public ownership again; now you're accusing me of being too melancholy!
Can I ask you- and please don't be offended by this- what anti-neoliberal activism you are involved with at present?

Robin Carmody said...


you didn't respond to my comment that "part of being on the Left is that you trust oppressed classes to create their own narratives without moaning about them."

I don't think you'd accept the anti-neoliberal activism I am involved with as such, because it involves what for you is "the wrong kind" of popular art.

Neil Clark said...

Robin: Why don't you try me first before saying that I wouldn't approve of the anti-neoliberal activism you're engaged in?
Im very pleased to hear that you are involved in some anti-neoliberal activism and don't just spend your days trying to find fault with other anti-neoliberals who don't agree 100% with you.

Levantine said...

If I may inject my own comments:

Campaign for Public Ownership is absent from this list

I have a strong sense that the whole discourse about "Left" and "Right" is a blind alley. Radical social and political changes start from the visceral level, they don't start from -isms... Not even from 'activism,' a word which implies that thinking and feeling have been assigned a second-rate importance.

I think there is a widespread neglect of that first basic element of social change, the atomic role of the individual. An individual understood as a complex, self-conflicting yet idealistic being, whose personal struggle is inherently creative; not someone who sees apparent "movements" left and right and simply chooses her side.

tyce jones said...

You should see this:

Anonymous said...

Hello Neil. I love your blog, which I discovered recently in the context of your comments regarding the untimely death of actor Angharad Rhees, who starred as Demelza along with Robin Ellis in the first rendition of Poldark 40 years ago.
On a brighter note, a fine new production of Poldark (of the first two novels) has been made. It is different and yet just as inspiring and gripping, presenting bold characters with the courage to challenge flawed established "traditions," as well as greedy land-grabbers who would fence in the commons. Besides providing excellent entertainment, perhaps the new Poldark will help us regain and resume progress towards a more peaceful, vibrant and shared world, without chronic war and that we might recover the frayed commons of our society...Here's to the return of Poldark!