(Imaginary Television Script #1)
Who is Jonathan Meades?
Titles: A man is sitting reading a book. Sometimes he smiles to himself or scratches his head as if confused. Occasionally he shakes his head vigorously. Eventually he puts the book down and looks up at the camera. It is your Icon Reviewer (IR). He leans forward and speaks:
Who is Jonathan Meades? Is he an architecture critic? Or a historian? A novelist? Or a TV presenter? Does this (IR waves book at camera) – which includes short essays, opinion pieces and scripts from his numerous television programmes – offer any answers?
A police identity line-up: the camera pans past a motley collection of individuals including Iain Sinclair, Nikolaus Pevsner, Ian Nairn and a man dressed in a dark suit and sunglasses. The camera does a “double-take” and tracks back to the man in shades. It is Jonathan Meades (JM).
His style draws on some of the encyclopaedic knowledge of Pevsner, the righteous passion of Nairn and the mannered despair of Sinclair. He adds a certain sardonic wit and a very postmodern self-awareness.
Westfield Shopping Centre: JM is hanging out. He is wearing a T-shirt with an “I’ve been to Westfield” logo on it and Ugg boots and is carrying at least a dozen shopping bags. He is playing very loud and very tinny music on an MP3 player.
Meades dislikes a lot of things. He makes long lists of them including: Tony Blair, the picturesque, urban regeneration, the infantilising effects of popular culture, neo-Georgianism, God, the Nazis and most architects. His list of likes is shorter and includes: brutalism, Edwin Lutyens and Birmingham.
A vast titanium object sits in a bleak plaza. It is unmistakably reminiscent of an enormous metallic turd. A plastic banner flaps beside it bearing the legend “Art Dump”, written in Comic Sans. The camera pans back to reveal JM repeatedly hitting the object with a hammer.
He rails against suburban expansion, rural nostalgia and inner-city redevelopment. He is as furious about noughties urban regeneration as he is about eighties urban degeneration, although not without good reason.
The English countryside: the cast of Downton Abbey driving blacked-out Range Rovers have encircled a peasant family and are shooting at them. Nearby, Rolf Harris has set up his easel in order to catch the charming scene. Enter JM, this time wearing a hard hat and carrying a large blueprint for a Grand Designs-style gaff.
His TV programmes subvert the tradition of the pompous “man of culture” talking to camera. Like Adam Curtis, Meades plays with the rules and traditions of the medium. Visual gags, allusions to our collective TV memory bank and a sense of the absurd cut across the more straightforward verbal polemic.
The camera pans along an arterial road, possibly the North Circular. Houses covered in brake dust shake as articulated lorries transporting garden ornaments hurtle by. “All this,” JM is shouting, “is the fault of just one man: William Morris.”
He has a tendency towards the sweeping generalisation.
JM is driving through a city street of crumbling terraces and burned-out cars. “Only in the UK,” he says, “is the term inner-city synonymous with poverty and decay.” As he talks, he passes himself coming the other way making the same point.
And he repeats himself.
JM is now sitting in the reviewer’s chair reading his own book. IR leans into view, wearing a pair of dark glasses. He speaks to camera:
Meades is an old-fashioned critic in disguise. Reading his book is a bit like being repeatedly shouted at. Which is why the TV scripts, with their playful absurdity and self-awareness, are the most enjoyable thing here, ironically enough.
JM throws book away in exasperation and switches on telly.
Museum without Walls, by Jonathan Meades, Unbound Books, £20