The Penguin TV Companion by Jeff Evans
|The Penguin TV Companion by Jeff Evans|
|Reviewer: Paul Harrop|
|Summary: Updated reference book with nearly 4,000 entries covering shows, personalities and terminology of the medium. Ideal for TV addicts, nostalgia buffs and trivia fans alike.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 944||Date: October 2006|
|Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd|
I can thank this book for restoring one small part of my sanity. After many years, I had given up trying to convince people that I remembered a stripey-legged TV puppet from my early childhood. He was, I had insisted, called Twizzle. Surely someone else had seen him? No-one ever had, and I gradually accepted that he was the broadcast equivalent of an imaginary friend. But there he is, only nine pages in to The Penguin TV Companion: "The Adventures of Twizzle. Puppet tales of a toy with elastic arms and legs."
For viewers seeking to confirm similar memories of prehistoric programmes, the TV Companion is a great comfort. Among the staggering 2,200 programmes listed in its 929 pages are scores of long-forgotten 1960s soaps, ill-conceived 1970s sitcoms and the names of every Mastermind winner from 1972 to 2005.
An astounding solo labour of love by freelance journalist Jeff Evans, this edition updates and expands two previous versions. First appearing in 2001, it is essentially an encyclopaedia of everything notable in British television's history. It contains plot, format or character outlines for home-grown and imported shows, with transmission dates and details of DVD release where appropriate. Brief biographical entries cover hundreds of TV personalities from both sides of the camera. It also explains telly jargon - from Chroma Key to Ofcom.
The entries are generally written in a pithy, economical style. Although it is, as befits a reference book, almost totally objective, there are flashes of sardonic wit. Charlie Dimmock's biog, for instance, refers to "her famously relaxed approach to upper-body support."
Snippets of trivia also lighten the tone, an acknowledgement of - let's face it - the ephemeral nature of much TV. Or, as Evans describes them in his introduction "the sort of facts you could easily live without, but would prefer not to." So you can impress friends by revealing that Paul Daniels's real name is Newton Edward Daniels, or that the parochial house on Father Ted is in fact near Ennistymon, County Clare.
Restricted space, and the need to compress convoluted or heavily-populated shows, means that Evans is often reduced merely to listing characters and catchphrases. And I missed the spice and interest which comes from less objective appraisals.
That lack of critical judgement is all the more apparent in this edition, as for the first time, it introduces star ratings (out of four) for each show. This is where the objectivity of the text is less helpful. Inevitably, when you see that a favourite show merits only two stars, you look to the text for an explanation of the programme's deficiencies, but it's rarely there.
That said, the ratings do reflect what Evans judges as the consensus, and they usually conform to generally-accepted perceptions of shows' quality. Fans of Blue Peter or Gardener's World may be surprised that their favourite programmes merit only two and three stars respectively. But the ratings are in line with accepted critical opinion of the gold standard of current programming (ie four stars for The Simpsons, The Sopranos and The West Wing).
Some fans will gripe at the inevitable omissions. Evans justifies his selection criteria in his introduction, citing "general acclaim, historical significance, biggest audiences, cult status and nostalgia value". Given that, I was surprised to see no entries for recent acclaimed cult shows such as Fifteen Storeys High, or Peep Show, although he does mention them in passing in other entries. More obscure US imports like Everybody Loves Raymond are also notable by their absence.
Such deficiencies are all the more irksome given the longer than normal treatments of Evans's favourite shows. Both M*A*S*H and Doctor Who receive more than a page each. Annoyance at such occasional indulgence is more than outweighed by gratitude about missing past turkeys. Does anyone recall Plaza Patrol (1991 sitcom starring Tommy Cannon and Bobby Ball as bungling shopping centre security men), or The Squirrels (1975-77 Bernard Hepton vehicle based on petty squabbles within a TV rental company)?
For me, the mark of a great reference book is that, searching for an entry, you become so absorbed in others along the way that you forget what you were looking for. So it is with this book. It makes even someone like me, who watches little current broadcasting, realise how pervasive and influential TV is, and how much of my childhood revolved around the box. (Did I really sit, week after week, through programmes as flimsy as The Golden Shot?)
Given the ever-changing nature of the medium, and TV's vast and often obscure history, Evans has done a remarkable job. This book will be a godsend to future cultural historians, media studies students and trivia quiz setters. Its price (£22.50, but usually discounted by Amazon) and bulk may consign it to reference libraries more often than domestic bookshelves. But it's a highly creditable attempt to codify a cornerstone of contemporary culture.
You can read more book reviews or buy The Penguin TV Companion by Jeff Evans at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy The Penguin TV Companion by Jeff Evans at Amazon.com.
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Well done!! I think I should buy this book.