Last night, thanks to a combination of Sky TV's schedule and my slowness of reaction, I saw a few minutes of a Hollywood film 'starring' (if that's the word) Ricky Gervais. Now don't get me wrong: the British had an important, early impact on American film-making and, thanks to the clarity of the voices of the 'Hollywood Raj' of the mid-twenties, this peaked with the introduction of the talkies and, although the number of British in Hollywood has declined, the British influence has continued ever since: from the likes of Ronald Colman, James Mason, Clive Brook and Herbert Marshall; on to George Sanders, David Niven, Stewart Grainger, Olivier, Richardson, Gielgud, Guinness, Roger Moore, Sean Connery, Richards Harris and Burton, Peter O'Toole, Michael Caine - even the Grants, Cary and Hugh. The list is long and strangely male. The British women who went to Hollywood (such as Vivien Leigh) either scarpered back home PDQ after some triumph or, like Greer Garson, stayed on forever - and never went home at all.
Some of these fellows could certainly act in the proper sense; some, such as the Two Grants, can play only themselves but, at least, in doing so, they entertain us, with something at least hovering around professionalism and charisma. I'll even go so far as to admit that watching one episode of Gervais's 'The Office' is an entertaining 'take' on the empty nonsense of much office life; especially the time-wasting and the posturing and the back-stabbing - but its potential is limited and yet no one ever seems to notice that the material is exhausted.
Moreover, now the world is obsessed, it seems, with what Old Blighty has to offer in the way of totally charmless, flabby, jowly, thick-tongued-Cockney, no-neck- monsters; grinning and smirking their way through banal stage appearances, and pointless films, to huge pay cheques.
I really don't mind people receiving fat pay cheques if the basic economics support them; hell, I don't even mind a smattering of the said no-neck-monsters now and again but I do mind the fact that the world has grown so undiscriminating that it will allow the Ricky Gervaises, the Jonathan Wosses, the Jimmy Carrs, the 'Booky Wooky' geek, to push to the head of the queue as properly and exclusively representatives of Britishness, even as they are insulting their audiences and their hosts.
What has happened to charm (to quote Raymond Chandler: "as Keats would understand the word"), and grace and warmth and the true talent to amuse? It seems to me that, in pari passu with the decline in the performers' possession of the true talent to amuse, has come a willingness in audiences to accept any-old-thing that is pushed out as 'entertainment' and it is high time we reclaimed our right to be mightily entertained.
The list of Court Fools should not include (or, at least, should not mainly comprise) British fubsies.