In a tv world that relies on pretty boy/girl presenters to ‘do culture/history’ progamming, Jonathan Meades is refreshingly ugly. Meades’s shtick is pretty formulaic; stick a posh cunt in front of a camera and allow him/her to pontificate on all manner of things they like/hate. This is tiresome when the posh cunt in question has nothing interesting or original to say but never in the case of Meades who is always value for money, always has an angle. You may not agree with his mix of polemic and historical critique, but you have to admire his skill as an academic, writer and broadcaster. His last two series, ‘Magnetic North’ and ‘Off Kilter’ both focused mainly on architecture as a symbol of cultural and economic progress or decline. Meades is often insulting in a way only public school radicals can be but atleast he’s funny with it. Off Kilter especially presented a vision of Scotland that jarred with the soft focus idealism of the Scottish Tourist Board adverts. Is there anything more depressing than the stadiums of lower league Scottish football clubs? If there is, Meades has yet to film them. What also raises a typical Meades series, apart from the quality of the narrative, is the stunning cinematography. Even at its bleakest, the shots of downtrodden Fife council estates and empty football terraces have a lyrical beauty that isn’t simply middle class sneering but appears to be a genuine howl of outrage at the state of the nation in the 21st century.
In a TV age filled with two bob controversialists and third rate ‘celebrities’ Meades is a welcome throwback to an age when the likes of Clarke and Bronowsky were given free reign to their intellect and allowed to instruct and admonish in equal measure.
Off Kilter episode 1