In a cul­ture of ex­cess, what did we ex­pect from Ross and Brand?

Daily Express - - NEWS - David Rob­son Daily Ex­press colum­nist

AS AN ac­tor his most un­for­get­table ut­ter­ance was a whim­pered, “I’m from Barcelona, I know noth­ing” as he was beaten over the head by John Cleese. He was the most fa­mously abused per­son in Bri­tain.

Now, once again, An­drew Sachs is the most fa­mously abused per­son in Bri­tain – re­cip­i­ent of the most no­to­ri­ous recorded phone mes­sage ever. And him a grand­fa­ther!

This time he’s from north Lon­don. He seems to know some­thing quite im­por­tant and he puts it rather well.

“Ev­ery­body goes for the ex­treme nowa­days,” he says. “The mid­dle road is dif­fi­cult to tread. You want to drive in a faster car or climb a higher moun­tain or use swear words to ex­cess. Ev­ery­thing’s ex­treme and no­body seems to re­strict them­selves.”

You don’t have to be at the re­ceiv­ing end of Messrs Ross and Brand to see the truth of it.

Never mind in­fa­mous co­me­di­ans, even our most fa­mous tele­vi­sion chefs use swear words and not only as sea­son­ing but as their main course.

Ev­ery­thing must be newer, flasher, wilder, more amaz­ing, more shock­ing, more de­li­cious, more dis­gust­ing, more dis­turb­ing, more ex­pen­sive, more ground­break­ing, big­ger, louder or cruder sim­ply to get our at­ten­tion th­ese days.

Yes­ter­day West­field, Europe’s big­gest city cen­tre shop­ping mall, opened in west Lon­don, in the teeth of what may well be the big­gest re­ces­sion of mod­ern times. WEST­FIELD

is there to sup­ply our ad­dic­tion to ex­treme shop­ping – or­di­nary shops, or­di­nary high streets, even or­di­nary malls don’t do the trick any longer. The mon­ster re­ces­sion is the legacy of what made ex­treme shop­ping pos­si­ble – our ex­ces­sive bor­row­ing to fi­nance our ex­treme de­sire to have more and to have it now.

In the past cou­ple of decades the very rich have been over­taken by the su­per-rich – mul­ti­mil­lion-pound bonus types, the Mas­ters of the Uni­verse who have be­come mas­ters of dis­as­ter. Read­ing about them in the high days pro­voked a com­bi­na­tion of lust and envy. There was some­thing sexy in the glint­ing flash of it all. Now we know what looked like an end­less as­cent was ac­tu­ally a dance on the edge of a precipice.

Premier League foot­ball long since moved into the fi­nan­cial strato­sphere; tele­vi­sion and mer­ci­less mer­chan­dis­ing of the big­gest clubs has cru­elly cur­tailed youngsters’ sup­port of the lesser lo­cal teams which would have claimed their fathers’ loy­alty. David Beck­ham’s fame long ago reached di­men­sions no other player in his­tory ever reached.

Even our crick­eters, tra­di­tion­ally mod­er­ately paid par­tic­i­pants in a long, slow, sub­tle game, are cur­rently in the West Indies play­ing in a wham­bam, $20mil­lion win­ner-take­sall con­test, fi­nanced by a ty­coon who flirts with the play­ers’ wives and even sits them on his knee.

We live in a loud world of crude sen­sa­tion­al­ism, cor­ro­sive im­pa­tience and in­stant anger. Road rage, check-out rage, plane rage, youth rage, age rage – new names for ex­treme new syn­dromes. Street fights have moved on from fists to knives and guns. In­stead of hurt­ing each other, they kill each other.

Life has be­come a sort of jeu sans fron­tieres. With eti­quette out of the win­dow and re­straint old-fash­ioned, we only know some­thing has gone wrong when some­one gets hurt and some­times not even then.

How much of a philoso­pher An­drew Sachs is we do not know, nor whether he spoke in sor­row or in anger. But sud­denly, thanks to a tele­phone mes­sage which has be­come a to­tally out-of-pro­por­tion (if pass­ing) na­tional ob­ses­sion, he too has been moved from the mid­dle road of el­derly, well-known ac­tor to be­come the na­tion’s best-known grand­fa­ther.

Even by the stan­dards of to­day’s co­me­di­ans, Messrs Ross and Brand seemed li­censed to show no re­straint or at least pre­tend to. Dar­ing and dan­ger was their game.

But the fur­ther you are from the mid­dle of the road, the closer you are to the gut­ter. Be­hind what seemed to be end­less pub­lic ap­petite for smut, cheek and sen­sa­tion lay a pu­ri­tan­i­cal back­lash. Like the big-bonus bankers, the two co­me­di­ans know that the mid­dle road led to nowhere (Brand never knew where the mid­dle of the road was; Ross has got ruder as he got richer).

JUS­Tas mad bor­row­ing has led to re­ces­sion, so their mad­ness has led to dis­grace. What some thought of as edgy is now called pa­thetic, child­ish and spite­ful. Sud­denly for­got­ten words such as “in­ap­pro­pri­ate” and “un­ac­cept­able” crack like whips. Some peo­ple al­ways hated bloated bankers, some al­ways hated swear­ing co­me­di­ans, but rather more have de­cided that per­haps they were al­ways ap­palled yet only fully re­alise it now.

“Ev­ery­body” goes for the ex­treme nowa­days be­cause so­ci­ety has lost sen­si­tiv­ity. There is so much on of­fer, so much as­sault on the senses that only the flashy, de­li­cious and dis­grace­ful re­ally im­pinges. There’s a ten­dency for every­one to do their worst, even when they think they are do­ing their best. Some­times they don’t seem to know the dif­fer­ence.

The mid­dle road may of­fer steadi­ness and safety; on the other hand, it may prom­ise only me­di­ocrity and bore­dom. Artists, poets, re­li­gious leaders and, I sus­pect, Mr Sachs know that. Christo­pher Logue’s poem ex­presses beau­ti­fully what the edge can of­fer and the mid­dle road does not. Come to the edge, he said They said: We are afraid. Come to the edge, he said. They came He pushed them and they flew.

What the poem didn’t say is that for ev­ery one who flew, there were sev­eral oth­ers who al­most cer­tainly fell.

david.rob­son@ex­press.co.uk

VIC­TIM: An­drew Sachs, our most fa­mously abused grandad

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