I read Alexander Master’s book Stuart: A Life Backwards a year ago. Moved by what I read, I then bought copies as presents for at least four friends. Masters’ book contains a measured but overwhelming critique of …well, pretty much every institution in this country: the NHS; the Police; the Judiciary; the Prison system; the education system; the government. All done through the example of one homeless man. The protagonist, Stuart Shorter, directs the telling of his life story, and by the end of the book we see his humanity emerge from the murk and squalor of abuse, violence, poverty and addiction. He is reborn at the biography’s close, and his dignity, fire and wit are branded on my memory. The institutions that failed him are the ones that seem scrambled, broken, filthy: they are life–backwards.
So imagine my hopes, then, when I waited to watch the BBC’s adaptation of the book for TV. Especially as Masters himself wrote the screenplay. I envisaged, somehow, that this televisual Stuart would have the same political heat. And indeed, there were moments where it was suggested prison officers might be violent, police might be stifling dissent, Jack Straw might not care much about the ‘Cambridge Two.’ But somehow, despite the fact that Stuart’s wit and raging sadness both came across powerfully, the political critique was limp, muted, timid. Another example, then, I fear, of the BBC losing its conscience, its courage, its inwit. So not only is Climate Change the cause that, for the BBC, dare not speak its name, but the Corporation’s will to be dangerous, intelligent and essential to our cultural life is dribbling away. A sign that the Beeb is numbing itself to the world, apparently in the face of pressure from its faceless, lifeless masters.