Friday, September 17, 2010

Who Is Michael Smith?

Having been silently fuming all week about a BBC4 documentary about Newcastle at the weekend called Michael Smith's Deep North, I was delighted to read Keith Hann's withering comments, published in The Journal on Tuesday and reiterated with even more venom in his blog, where he wrote:

Then I switched channels to BBC4 and also felt compelled to cram in some abuse for “Michael Smith’s Deep North: the novelist returns to his native city of Newcastle upon Tyne.”

First thought: if this bloke is a novelist, how come an eager reader of the literary supplements like myself has never heard of him? Second thought: if he is Geordie, how come he sounds nothing like one? It could be argued that I don’t sound much like one myself, it is true, but this bloke did have some sort of accent, just distinctly not a Newcastle one. He first outed himself as coming from “a small town about 30 miles away” and later apparently confessed that it was Hartlepool. (I had lost interest by that point and was only half-watching the programme, as I indulged in a vigorous debate on Facebook about where this wanker came from and how on earth he had got the gig). I am profoundly sorry that space did not permit me to get the popular description “monkey hanger” into the paper.

(Note for overseas readers: Hartlepool is a port in County Durham famous for capturing and interrogating a monkey that had escaped from the wreck of a French ship during the Napoleonic wars, and hanging it as a spy. Even more bizarrely, the mascot of the local football team, who paraded around in a monkey suit under the name of H’Angus, stood for election as mayor AS A JOKE in 2002, under the slogan “free bananas for schoolchildren” and was not only elected then, but has been re-elected on two subsequent occasions. I know London also has a joke mayor in the shape of Boris Johnson, but surely this must be uniquely absurd in all the annals of representative democracy? And, yes, I do know about the English Democrats in Doncaster.)

Third and final (for now) thought about Michael Smith: if the BBC wanted to make a programme about Newcastle, why couldn’t they have got a genuine Geordie to do it? One with some original ideas, who would not stumble over his lines? I am open to offers. And, failing that, there are undoubtedly several thousand other people on Tyneside who could also have done what Sir John Major would almost certainly describe as a not inconsiderably better job.

Well written, Mr Hann. I gather Michael Smith is some sort of pundit, the sort of chap periodically wheeled out by arts programmes and BBC4 when they need someone with northern roots and a regional accent. I'm sending the BBC a map of our region, so they can see that Hartlepool has no more connection to Newcastle, culturally or geographically, than Southend has to Chelsea. Apparently Michael Smith went to Tynemouth on his holidays: I spent every day of my childhood there.

At least the BBC will have added a few thousand extra shots of the Tyne Bridge to its library (perhaps they could use them again in their coverage of the Great North Run on Sunday), but there wasn't a single image of the real Newcastle. Perhaps that was because the film was made by a London production company?


The Novocastrian said...

What particularly irritated me was the way he seemed to think North Shields was in Newcastle.

The Novocastrian said...

What particularly irritated me was the way he seemed to think North Shields was in Newcastle.

nick s said...

The BBC's framing wasn't helpful, but I think you're being unfair to the programme itself: Smith never Geordified himself, and talked about Newcastle as being the "bright lights, big city" of his childhood, showing all sorts of possibilities to a kid from the sheltered land of the monkey-hangers.

It was part of an evening's programming dedicated to all things Novocastrian, with plenty of genuine Geordies--

It fitted that context as a broader reflection on north-eastern culture, and how the north that Newcastle represents isn't the "north" of Manchester or Leeds. Yeah, there were some daft bits, but more hits than misses.

Anonymous said...

I don't have any idea what all of you are talking about, but I found his narration in a BBC show I just watched on the Wellcome Collection to contain a very agreeable accent, for which reason I subsequently searched to find where it was from, and found this blog.