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CULTURE SHOCK: with Anita Butler

By NDJJournal2  |  Posted: March 04, 2014

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1. Ever Decreasing Circles

Originally broadcast by the BBC between 1984–1989, EDC was a sit-com I remember watching when I was a kid (I was 15 when it came to an end). I’ve been enjoying the current BBC 4 repeats on Thursdays so much I couldn’t resist looking to see if there were more on Youtube. Thanks to a kind soul having uploaded every episode ever broadcast I’ve been able to catch up with them all – and I’ve been in Heaven.

Less brazen in its bid for laughs than other sit-coms of its time (Keeping Up Appearances or Terry and June, for example), this low-key, understated ensemble piece featuring middle class characters living lives of quiet desperation in beige suburbia speaks of a simpler time when telephones sat in the hallway, shops were closed on Sundays and people had the same job for life.

Yet its presentation of its main character Martin, whose OCD, clumsy social interactions, inability to appreciate silly jokes and obsession with rules, order and repetition would nowadays would be considered autistic, pitches it somewhat ahead of its own time. Martin’s loyal friends, the slightly strange, other-worldly Howard and Hilda – with their implacable moral standards and matching hand-knitted sweaters – share some of these traits, ensuring Martin is not totally isolated.

Dramatic contrast comes not only from Martin’s bored and exasperated wife Ann, but also in the shape of Paul, whose arrival in the close sets off a jealousy in Martin from which much of the humour emanates. Handsome and charming, with friends in high places and seemingly able easily to achieve success in everything, Paul is the main counterpoint to Martin and an anchor for the audience’s reactions. Often the target of Martin’s frustration and resentment, Paul is always magnanimous and gracious in his responses, revealing an implicit understanding of Martin’s issues, and ensuring sympathy from the audience: we do not laugh at Martin, but with him.

With its tasteful opening graphics, slower pace and gentler tone, EDC is seemingly innocuous and inoffensive. Yet it soon reveals itself to be a subversive comedy-drama for grown-ups. Not only is its theme music possibly the most interesting in sit-com history – Shostakovich’s manic Prelude No. 15 in D Flat Major, op. 34, no less – but its characters are also arguably the most atypical. As a main character Martin is not instantly likeable. Middle-aged and apparently child-free, the whole cast too resists cliché (no surly teenagers or ditzy blondes here).

Call me old, but they don’t make ‘em like this anymore. Not that they ever really did. EDC is a one-off. Having watched the entire Youtube cache, I am left wanting more, and with a strange compulsion to visit Kidderminster.

2. A plea for more sleeves

I don’t claim to be a fashion expert, but I am interested to see what people wear to things like the Oscars, particularly the women. Scanning the red carpet fashions I can appreciate the tasteful, well-fitting, clean lines and perfect silhouettes of dresses worn by actresses like Cate Blanchett and Sandra Bullock, as seen here:


Classy and elegant, they are personifications of style and grace, almost flawless, and the dresses themselves are always marvels in design, tailoring, and needlework. From heavy velvet and shiny satin, to delicate confections and shimmering miasmas of metallic lace and tiny beads that almost look unreal, there is usually something for everyone.

But one thing bothers me about all these dresses, and most dresses in general. It took me a while to work out what it was, but I think I’ve pinpointed the source of my frustration: sleeves. Or more precisely, the lack of them.

The humble sleeve seems to be a rare spectacle in general these days, especially when it comes to red carpets and wedding dresses (royal wedding dresses excepted). But it’s not just about special occasions. Many ordinary dresses bought on the high street lack adequate arm coverage. Is it a way of saving fabric? Do designers find them difficult to render, as artists do when it comes to drawing hands? Are they difficult to sew? Or is it a matter of demand? Do people just not want sleeves anymore?

It’s got to the stage where I find myself looking at fashion pages purely to see if there are any sleeves out there at all, like a twitcher in a hide looking for an endangered bird. At the Oscars there are a few, although not that many. Glenn Close, Sally Hawkins, Angelina Jolie and Julie Delpy were all wearing dresses with sleeves that covered the whole arm. This is truly a radical thing in an age when the armless silhouette continues to dominate. Corsetry, bustiers and boning are still the thing, with the skin on the arms, décolletage and cleavage seeming almost to be factored into dress design as a sort of fabric in itself.

While I’m not wholly against corsets and sleeveless dresses (I own a few myself), I’d like to see more dresses that have proper sleeves, as they are difficult to find. Most wedding dresses leave me cold, but one of my favourite dresses of recent years shows that you don’t have to sacrifice arms – even for a wedding dress. This one happens to be the one Kate Shillingford wore at her wedding, designed by Gareth Pugh. As wedding dresses go, it breaks with many a convention, but it works.

I’d like a dress like that one, please: www.anothermag.com/gallery/1262/alex-dromgoole-katie-shillingfords-wedding/1

3. Cate Le Bon: I Can't Help You

I can’t stop listening to this.

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