This article was originally published on Reaction.Life. I wrote a new column each Friday on the site.
The Rise of the Murdoch Dynasty, BBC2
As you will know, if you are a regular reader of this column, I’m a sucker for a person based biographical documentary. So when I saw BBC2 were running a three parter on Rupert Murdoch called ‘The Rise of the Murdoch Dynasty’, I was intrigued. I’ve now watched the first two episodes and although they were enjoyable watch, did I learn a lot about Rupert Murdoch that I didn’t already know? Not a lot to be honest, apart from a bit of detail about the lives of the Murdoch children and heirs.
All the talking heads you’d expect to hear from were on screen giving their recollections and experiences of dealing with Rupert Murdoch - Andrew Neil, Piers Morgan, Nick Davies, Peter Oborne, Alastair Campbell – you get the picture. All very interesting, and at times, a little gossipy, but I keep thinking… WHAT. DID. WE. LEARN? Did we learn anything new about Murdoch’s back story? No. Did we learn anything new about his motivations? No. Did we learn anything new about the extent of his influence in British politics? No. Did we really get an insight into the extent to which he has changed the face of the British print and broadcast media? Not at all.
The first episode concentrates to a large extent on Murdoch’s wooing by Tony Blair and New Labour. The second episode mainly concerns phone hacking and the demise of the News of the World. Again, all very interesting, but hardly ground-breaking stuff.
The producers made interesting use of a family tree type graphic to explain the relationships, not just within the Murdoch family, but also his most trusted confidantes and friends. However, the use of archive footage from Murdoch’s public appearances and rare interviews was pedestrian to say the least, only rescued by a brilliantly dramatic soundtrack and the superb narration of Kate Fleetwood.
The only thing this series has achieved is to remind us of the influence Rupert Murdoch has held over our politicians for four or five decades. It is the kind of influence which will never be held again. Murdoch has been a transformational game-changer. These people are rare in any form of our public life. He changed much of the media for good, both through his strength in standing up to the print unions in Wapping and the creation of Britain’s first 24 hour news channel in 1989.
The phone-hacking scandal showed that his almost omniscient power could be used for ill as well as good, and it was that which started the decline of his influence and power in this country. More generally, the decline of the mainstream media and the rise of new media has meant that media barons are no longer as important to politicians as they once were. Why? Because they can be bypassed. Politicians and political parties can now reach their voters without the filter of a tabloid newspaper. This wasn’t brought out at all in these two episodes. Perhaps Episode 3 might be more informative.
All in all this series is, so far, a bit of a wasted opportunity.
The Last Ship, Amazon Prime
William Brinkley was a far-sighted man. In 1988 he wrote a novel called THE LAST SHIP, which revolved around a virus which spread around the world like wildfire, killing off almost the entire population within a few weeks. In 2014 the book was made into a drama series, lasting 56 episodes over five seasons. Apart from biographical documentaries I also love apocalyptic, end of the world type moves and films, and although I’m only a few episodes into THE LAST SHIP, it’s already got me hooked. Although the virus is rather more lethal than Coronavirus, it brings home to us how fragile our human life really is. Even a relatively weak virus like Coronavirus can bring world economies to their knees, to the extent that I imagine I will probably be dead by the time our economy recovers the ground its lost. And I don’t intend dying in the next twenty years. The virus in THE LAST SHIP not only kills economies it kills almost the entire world population, apart of course from the main characters in the series, who only survive because they are on a ship in the middle of The Antarctic when the virus strikes. Totally coincidentally, they are carrying a female scientist who is capable of developing a vaccine against the virus. There are the usual schmaltzy human interest stories which pepper the plot, but it’s already gripped me. So much so that this weekend will be spent bingeing on finishing at least the first season.