John Boyle, writer, presenter and author of Gallway Street and Laff, is a long-standing member of the writers workshop I attend on Monday evenings. Last night he read out the following as his "literary exercise." I invited him to let me post it here and he kindly agreed.
It's been silly season on BBC Television recently, especially on Strictly Come Dancing. The genial, tubby John Sergeant was being kept alive in the competition only by massive public vote, at the expense of contestants who were much better dancers. Not that that's any claim to fame, for John was a truly awful dancer. Nor should his age - 64 - be any excuse: I'm older than that and even I could have made a better fist of it.
Last week, about 2 weeks overdue in my opinion, he finally did the decent thing and bowed out, having understood that his continued presence was making a nonsense of the contest. To my mind, nothing he did in the show became him like the manner of his leaving it - but I'm in a minority. Ever since, the Great British Public has been baying for the BBC's blood, and for the heads of the hapless judges. I find internet forums a depressing experience at the best of times: like turning over a smooth stone and discovering all the nasty creepy crawlies underneath. On this issue, the comments verge on hysteria. 'Who do these jumped-up judges think they are? How dare they make rude comments about our John? They seem to think this is a dance competition' - well it is, actually, but mention that at your peril - 'when all it is entertainment, a bit of harmless fun. And we like John, in fact we love John, and we want John to win, so we'll keep voting for him if only to stick two fingers up to those bloody judges'. Yes, the public in their wisdom decided this was not a dance competition, but a popularity contest. By that logic, Mr Blobby could have won it, and in my view - sorry, John - he very nearly did.
All this is depressingly instructive about the psyche of the Great British Public. It reveals a deep suspicion, tinged with envy, of elites of any kind: a pathological unease with excellence or indeed any aspiration in that direction. Instinctive support for the underdog is no bad thing in itself, and quite touching in its way. But when it leads on to the glorification of bumbling mediocrity, it makes me question just how British I really am.