Richard Warren

20thc British art and poetry (mainly), plus bits of my own – "Clearly I tap to you clearly along the plumbing of the world" (W S Graham)

“British Masters”, presented by James Fox, BBC 4, Monday 18 July, episode 2: Fields of Corn

Dear Dr Fox

Having watched episode 2 of “British Masters” last night, I thought I would send you a write-up of my notes from the programme, in case you might like to pass them on to anyone who missed it. The bits in brackets are my own comments. Here they are, then:

A mysterious lone figure crosses a cornfield. It is John Nash, “searching for inspiration”.

More mysterious lone figures criss-cross the cornfields. They are the British Masters, “in search of England”. [Er – British or English? The Scots, Irish and Welsh wish to know …]

Cookham’s importance for Stanley Spencer is only in its particularity. [His version of Christianity appears to be shared by the BNP.] Dr Fox declares SS’s painting of the resurrection to be “uplifting”. But Spencer’s fragile English identity takes a bit of a knock when Patricia Preece won’t have sex with him.

Alfred Munnings painted British horses and got very drunk. His “gloriously sentimental” paintings are very good, “simply because of what he painted”. [The equally gloriously sentimental paintings of Alma-Tadema are very bad, because they show classical chicks taking their kit off, and not British horses.]

The “British People” send a message to Bill Coldstream. They demand Reality!

No one except Paul Nash had the idea of being both British and Modern at the same time. [Not even Henry Moore. Not even Ben Nicholson. Not even etc etc.]

Dr Fox points to a small tree stump. “I think Paul Nash had a revelation here.”

Judging by the archive film clips, the very same bus in which Paul Nash was taken poorly was immediately afterwards strafed by Jerry fighter planes.

There is absolutely NO connection between Piper’s abstract paintings of the ‘thirties [series of coloured rectangles] and his towers and ruins of the ‘forties [series of coloured rectangles]. The former are Modernist. The latter are “traditional British painting”.

We won the War. Hurray! Cue Churchill: “… shall fight ‘em on the beaches …” Cue Elgar. Cue Dr Fox, striding into the sunset across fields of corn.

Huge fields of corn.

Hope this helps.

Best etc,
Richard Warren

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5 responses to ““British Masters”, presented by James Fox, BBC 4, Monday 18 July, episode 2: Fields of Corn

  1. Vanessa Frost July 22, 2011 at 2:32 am

    I’m relieved I’m not the only person who got frustrated with the presenting style of JamesFox. I found this week’s episode of the ‘British Masters’ series exceedingly frustrating as there were hardly any decent views of the actual art! Scene-setting and historical film seem to be given preference to the paintings/sculpture and when we did see anything we hardly ever panned out to see the whole painting or if you blinked you’d miss it! I watched some of the programme about the Cornwall painters afterwards but gave up because yet again the cameraman and editor seem to think we prefer to look at Dr Fox instead of the art. It was more like a holiday programme!
    I know TV presenters are a vain bunch but this is ridiculous! I understand that the programme is meant to aimed at the layman but surely giving the viewer as long a view as possible of as wide a variety as possible of each artist’s work is the way to go in terms of educating people. I refuse to indulge this man’s vanity – I tuned in for the art and if the programme won’t show it properly I’d rather look it up online.
    The ‘cult of personality’ has RUINED this series. Please get someone like Matthew Collings in next time – he is far more knowledgeable and doesn’t consider himself more fascinating than the art!

  2. john walker July 26, 2011 at 3:35 am

    @Vanessa Frost

    Matthew Collings snivels and slavers like a rabid bulldog all the way through his shows, whilst trying to be consistently ‘arch’ and ‘ironic’ in a ‘clever clever’ yet totally boring way. I’ll take Fox anyday!

  3. Vanessa Frost July 26, 2011 at 12:57 pm

    Matthew Collings is the most pleasant, mild mannered and modest presenter you’ll ever find; he’s so far from rabid I’m wondering if we’re talking about the same person!
    He has an individual style of talking that makes you look at things from a new angle, which is what is needed. He’s most certainly not over-bearing and arrogant like James Fox; we spend far more time looking at and appreciating the art. With James Fox it appears to be all about him – time how long any piece of art is actually on the screen as opposed to shots of James pretending to be Mr Darcy – I think you’ll be surprised.

    A presenter has to bring something new and dynamic otherwise a person might as well walk round a gallery on their own or read a book. Sister Wendy Beckett is another person I’d have preferred – I bet you don’t like her either 😉

  4. Steven Taylor June 2, 2013 at 9:40 am

    Just watched Part 3 – James Fox claims Keith Vaughan killed himself because he felt painting was a dead end and in response to the YBAs. Vaughan had cancer. He killed himself in 1977. The YBAs first exhibited in 1988.

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