Tag Archives: librarians on TV

Tweed skirt and gun

Last time we discovered how handy librarians might be at protecting themselves and their work if called upon. The heroic and resourceful librarians of The Edge Chronicles with their consummate skill in swordplay and hand to hand combat offer the kind of cautionary tale that should be compulsory reading for all new government ministers with responsibility for libraries so that they understand the extraordinary power of librarians and the terrible retribution they can wreak if they are attacked with malicious intent. Then again most ministers are probably complacent enough to laugh off the idea of a band of paramilitary librarians as just fantasy from some fictional other world; what they might be less blasé about is the fact that the warrior librarians have a rather more realistic looking c21st counterpart.

library-war-manga2When I first came across the name Library War as part of my research I entertained all too brief images of some mighty international battle between the great libraries of the world over who has the oldest Shakespeare Folio or the rarest Gutenberg Bible and then my mind drifted and I though it sounds like a great idea for a more high-minded version of those vapid, life draining Saturday evening reality TV shows that invite members of the public desperate for TV exposure to make fools of themselves in the name of entertainment; the modern version of bear-baiting. The show would have three distinct phases to test all aspects of skill a bit like the Krypton Factor. Teams of librarians from all over the country will be put through their paces first answering questions about their collection; do they know their Gone Girl from Gone with the Wind or The Da Vinci Code from The Highway Code; then the numerical challenge to see who can construct the longest and most convoluted classification number for obscure books on astrophysics so that no one can find them on the shelves and finally their physical strength and agility is tested, taking a wonky trolley of newly returned Mills and Boon and Nora Roberts romances and Wilbur Smith adventures up a steep slippery slope, across a lake avoiding the giant swinging inflatable Finance Directors hoping to save a few bob by dumping them in it, and then the supreme challenge, running the gauntlet of dozens of older borrowers who have spent the past week locked in a secret location away from all reading material and are now desperate for a romance or thriller fix. The winner is the librarian who gets to the end of the assault course with most books still on their trolley or if there aren’t any left with fewest serious injuries. …Sorry got carried away there and anyway Library War isn’t anything like that.

Library War(Toshokan Sensō in Japanese) is a Japanese light books series (books aimed at young adults) and manga comic book and it together with its later spin-off TV series called Library Wars is set in the not too distant future of 2019 where there is a group of armed and trained paramilitary librarians dedicated to the protection of libraries, information and the freedom to use them which isn’t quite as unlikely at the moment as there actually being any libraries left  in 2019 to protect but let’s leave that for the time being.

Right - which of you sent me this demand for an overdue book

Right – which of you sent me this demand for an overdue book

Library Wars, because we will concentrate on the TV series which is more easily accessible than the light novels or manga comics, is as I said set in the not too distant future and is a fantasy so it’s not real, well not yet anyway. The Government, in this case a fictional Japanese government, has decided that the explosion of easily available information has become a threat to a stable society, which as usual is a euphemism for the rich and powerful ruling elite, and has introduced draconian new laws that restrict access to information that they feel is undesirable for ordinary people to get their hands on. They have also created a new government department, The Media Betterment Committee, to manage access to government approved information and to remove critical material and punish those using or protecting it; the job that the The Daily Mail and The Daily Telegraph  usually do here in the UK. They also have agents decked out to look Gestapo-menacing who are sent out to track down and close down any sources of uncontrolled information by any means necessary.   For many local authorities and their librarians however this is in direct conflict with the Freedom of Library Law that outlaws censorship of any kind and they want to uphold that freedom. Yes local authorities wanting to support freedom of information, I told you it’s not real. The premise however is based on an actual real life Statement on Intellectual Freedom in Libraries that is as far as I can see part of the Japanese Constitution and has been since 1954. Many countries and indeed The International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA), a sort of FIFA for libraries but without all the dodgy deals with shady characters and the secret bank accounts, have such statements but as far as I can see Japan’s is the only one that includes as one of its tenets to actively oppose censorship if it is imposed. This is used in the stories as the basis for the creation of local armies of armed “book soldiers” who comprise the Library Defence Force to fight the government’s attempts at censorship and the agents of the Media Betterment Committee.

librarywarsWith the wonderful attention to detail that these science fantasy stories inspire the LDF has not only its own insignia which is oddly and for no immediately apparent reason other than it was the favourite flower of the commander’s late wife, the German Chamomile, but also a proper hierarchy of military ranks just like a real army. These include Library Clerks 1st, 2nd and 3rd Class, Librarians with three similar grades and finally Supervising Librarians with at the highest rank Supervising Librarian Special Class. So nothing like an army really more like a real library where grades and titles for years were ridiculously tautological signifiers of importance, seniority and status producing such meaningless but genuine titles as Deputy Under-Assistant Librarian (Periodicals)! At the top of this hierarchy of supposedly military strength is not, as you might imagine, the fighters but the Administration Department responsible for HR, budgeting and presumably Health and Safety so just like real libraries then. So whenever a library (and there are still real librarians in this mythical future by the way just getting on with cataloguing or whatever librarians get up to in the C21st) is threatened by the Media Betterment Committee the Library Defence Force spring into action although they are constrained by rules about what they can and cannot do and where they can and cannot go they are after all they are librarians and  librarians must play fair.

But of course all of this serious stuff about censorship and freedom means nothing without human interest which is provided by the ensemble cast of library soldiers who feature in the books and TV anime series led by young female trainee soldier, Iku Kasahara and her stern instructor Atsushi Dojo. He doesn’t rate his new recruit much; he thinks she is ill prepared and out of her depth and so he gives her a hard time and as she makes mistakes he gets on her back and she gets all upset. Of course you all know how this mismatched-odd-couple-who-can’t-stand-each-other-at-the-start scenario is going to end up and it does. But there are lots of gun battles too just to try and keep all the blokes interested as well.

It is probably a bit unlikely that in the c21st librarians will have to take to the barricades and weapons to defend libraries and freedom of information but just in case I intend to register the copyright for a couple of defiant T-shirt slogans. One features a bespectacled librarian in the turret of an armoured vehicle with the slogan I swapped my tank top for a tank and in a witty play on the old tweed skirt and bun stereotype a matronly librarian with an AK-47 acros her chest and the sloga Tweed skirts and gun. I am sure readers can do much better than that.

And of course before I finish I should wish all of who you have again persevered with all this drivel a Very Merry Christmas and a Very Happy New Year and I will see you after the festivities I hope.

santa

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NO COOKIES, JUST BOOKS, NO COOKIES!!

Sincere apologies for the lengthy delay since the last post but real life will keep breaking through won’t it. Still now we can wrap up our trawl of librarians on TV

As you might expect after 40 years in libraries although the vast majority of people you meet are really excellent I have also come across some pretty unpleasant characters. There were the usual collection of obnoxious, loud, opinionated, entitled and objectionable users but you just had to get used to the fact that this was what professors were like and some of the students could be as bad but I am pretty sure that I have never come across anything in a library that is as quite so terrifyingly unpleasant as Vashta Nerada. No she isn’t a new age folk singer, you’re thinking of Vashti Bunyan, nor is it an unpleasant skin condition; no Vashta Narada appeared in an episode of the celebrated TV sci fi show Doctor Who, one of the few examples I have come across of libraries in science fiction on television.  I should start though by saying that sci fi is not one of my favoured TV genres falling as it does in my watching pecking order someway behind  Made in Chelsea which is a long way behind Homes Under the Hammer  but just in front of any soap you care to mention and all of them well outside the top 50 of anything you will ever find me watching.

I was a big fan, though,  of the early days of Doctor Who and followed all the Doctors for several years even as the stories became more implausible but by the time they felt the need to introduce the tedious K9, a sort of sci fi Lassie with antennae, I had begun to lose interest and the frequent appearance of the equally tiresome Brigadier finally put me off so I never did get round to giving the C21st revival a chance until I caught this episode in one of those bewildering instances of serendipity that happen every now and again. I don’t read much sci-fi as I said and watch even less so have no idea if libraries feature large in the genre but had always imagined not. The brief and unsuccessful attempt at using Jedi Archives in Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones by Obi-Wan Kenobi was the only other example of which I was aware and seemed hardly worth a mention but a Doctor Who series on a library was too good to miss so it was a shame that I never really got to grips with what the hell the story was all about apart from the library but I’ll do my best to explain.

Run... for God's sake run and stay out of the shadows

Run… for God’s sake run and stay out of the shadows

The Doctor is summoned to a 51st century library, the greatest in the universe containing every book ever published (don’t they all in sci-fi) which was a cue for cheap jokes about Jeffery Archer, and is the size of a planet but complete uninhabited. It transpires that the library has been empty and sealed for the past 100 years and the only message they receive as they enter is a recorded warning message from the Head Librarian warns them “Run…. And please switch off your mobile ‘phones” and the rather sinister “if you want to live, count the shadows”.

They soon become aware that there are life forms running the library, but not as we know them Doctor, that cast shadows without a body and you really should avoid them and their shadows as they are worse than any vindictive librarian; a fine of a few bob and a withering look is nothing compared to Vashta Nerada who have the appetite of a shoal of piranhas and prefer invading your space suit and eating you alive for even being in their library which they claim as their own because they say all the books are made from the wood of their native planet so it’s only right.

But as the Doctor and Donna try to understand what has happened to the library I was astonished not that the library was a sealed and  deserted, it’s probably in a Tory controlled galactic authority but that we still have libraries at all by then. At the present rate of austerity driven vandalism we won’t even have any libraries in Leicestershire by the end of next year never mind in 30,000 years’ time. The plot runs over two episode and in the second we discover that not only does the library hold every book ever published but has saved lots of people too by absorbing their consciousness into the computer memory to save them from those evil little Vashta Nerada that are devouring everyone they can catch. In the end The Doctor does a deal with them and agrees they can have the library if they will allow everyone to leave unharmed. This is the most sense I could make of the story and have left out tricky details like the little girl back in the c21st inside whose head this seems to be happening, the psychologist who doesn’t help by telling her the nightmares about the library are real and anyway she may already be dead, a bunch of inter-galactic archaeologists including the mysterious River Song who knows the Doctor from the future but he hasn’t met her yet and Donna‘s children whom she hasn’t had yet.

Can you help me please I seem to be trapped in some sort of loopy Doctor Who adventure?

Can you help me please I seem to be trapped in some sort of loopy Doctor Who adventure?

You’ll have to watch it won’t you but you’ll understand why I usually give sci fi a wide berth. You can get away with any amount of counter-intuitive, counter-factual twaddle like that because unlike say historical fiction there are no inconveniently recorded facts to limit your fantasies. The same could be said of the continuing and frankly bewildering fascination of popular culture with the undead.

Who would think that one woman’s fight to save America from the undead would dominate our television screens but I want to go back to a more innocent period long before the current US Presidential election campaign to a previous incarnation of that battle.  For a few years either side of the turn of the century one girl’s battle against the undead was one of the most watched TV shows around the world, mainly but not exclusively amongst young adults, a battle which rather surprisingly involved a librarian

Rupert Giles is the Librarian at Sunnydale High School in California and his corny English name is not the only unlikely thing about him. Rather than spend his time issuing books to truculent teenagers and keeping them in order when they are thrown out of the classroom for disruptive behaviour he spends his time watching and spending uncommonly long periods in the company of young people and in particular a very attractive blonde girl called Buffy Summers.

Not only that but he actually encourages and aids and abets her own violent behaviour.  In the UK any middle aged man who spent that much time in the company of a an attractive high school student would soon have rabid mobs calling him unpleasant names and trying to burn his house down but in Planet US TV not only is this acceptable but is actively encouraged with a job title to go with it. Bearing in mind that Buffy is an attractive teenage schoolgirl and Giles is a middle aged librarian in a tweed suit in Buffy: The Vampire Slayer Giles is called, without a hint of irony, Buffy’s Watcher. You see what I mean about a more innocent age.

Anyway for those of you have managed to miss all of this by being on a remote desert island with no means of communication with the outside world back then or maybe not having teenage daughters the central premise of the hugely successful TV show Buffy the Vampire Slayer is that Sunnydale has a bit of a problem. It seems that the best efforts of the surveyors, developers and architects, local school boards and assorted local councillors had all missed the slight snag that the  School has been built over the Hellmouth; a sort of demonic wrinkle in space time where the undead can slip into c21st California to wreak havoc and mayhem or worse . The only thing that stands in their way is young Buffy. Despite any ambitions she may have harboured to become a hairdresser, a derivatives trader or maybe run for President Buffy is stuck with the  job of slaying vampires because apparently she comes from a long line of Slayers so it is fortunate for all sorts of sound marketing reasons that Buffy is an attractive blonde student.

Buffy and Giles look surprised to be discovered together in the Library! At least the book is the right way up, that would have given the game away wouldn't it?

Buffy and Giles look surprised to be discovered together in the Library! At least the book is the right way up, that would have given the game away wouldn’t it?

Giles’s role is to watch after her, offering help and support as she goes about her mission of …well slaying. The support role does not require him to be involved in any actually hand to hand grappling with the un-dead he isn’t allowed by his bosses apparently, something to do with health and safety and anyway only Buffy has the right licence from whomever it is who dishes out slaying licences. No, whenever Buffy comes up against a new threat to Western civilization Giles has an encyclopaedic knowledge of creatures from the dark side and if he doesn’t know it he will have just the right, suitably old book to hand in his rather idiosyncratic library that he can share with Buffy, which sounds suspiciously like inviting her up to see his etchings but never mind.

Despite the obvious potential for a sub text involving the clearly unattached and surprisingly handsome Giles in a real or imagined relationship with the attractive and very sexy Buffy it never happens and  one of the reasons it appears that there is no obvious chemistry between the handsome librarian and the sexy serial assassin is that Buffy clearly has the hots for dead people. Her two love interests in the series are the tragic and damaged Angel, a Good Vampire and after the screenwriters grow tired of him, in the final series, Buffy falls ludicrously for the vampire version of Lex Luthor who has been a running enemy of hers for the past several years; Spike the Bad Vampire! Quite how a story of a wholesome blonde West Coast school girl trying to get her rocks off with the forces of darkness survived in the home of evangelical Christianity is beyond me. But is no more unbelievable than the strikingly urbane and handsome Anthony Head being cast as the Librarian rather than someone short and fat like Bob Hoskins for example and for this I am sure all those librarians who moan about the librarian stereotype are eternally grateful.

To finish this thankfully brief trawl of librarians on TV a couple of lighter comic examples. Jerry Seinfeld produced a very entertaining take on libraries merging the crime of the late return of a library book with the hard boiled film noir cop trope. A Bogartish Library cop chasing late books is full of amusing nods in the direction of just about every tough cop cliché somehow made not entirely inappropriate to the most common library misdemeanour. “That little stamp that says New York Public Library may not mean lot to you but it means a hell of a lot to me”. Absolutely finally, though, something cosy and silly and a librarian with whom we can all sympathise. Our librarian straight out of librarian central casting, balding, bespectacled, suited, purple furry face.; well perhaps not the last bit is confronted with one of those annoying customers who just don’t seem to get it. Having explained that this is a library and asking for quiet the librarian enquires what he can do to help his blue furry customer. “I’d like a box of cookies please” and being told they don’t do cookies he thinks again and seeming to get the idea asks. “I would like a book on Little Red Riding Hood.” “Good we can do that” says the librarian only to be interrupted by the customer who adds “….and a box of cookies”.  “Sorry” the librarian replies indulgently “perhaps you didn’t understand we only have books no cookies.” “Oh” replies the customer who thinks a second and then asks for a book on nursery rhymes…and a box of cookies. The librarian explains again, more firmly this time, that libraries don’t do cookies, just books. After several iterations as the librarians gets more and more agitated with the requests for cookies the librarian finally throws his toys out the pram shouting at the top of his voice “NO COOKIES, JUST BOOKS, NO COOKIES”.

No cookies, just books...!

No cookies, just books…!

Eventually the slow-on-the-uptake customer says “Now I get it. I would like a book on cookies…”, “Good” says the librarian to the Cookie Monster from Sesame Street adding as the librarian collapses“….and a glass of milk.”

 

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“I am a librarian and an Englishman”

Given the plentiful raw material that many people think librarians offer for casual humour you would think that proper comedians would be able to make something genuinely amusing out of that raw material especially if you applied the talents of some of Britain’s best comic scriptwriters to the task. Sadly you would be wrong. The results can charitably be described as uneven, even after you have eliminated the abysmal Sorry! about which more later. If you include Sorry! the results are pretty lamentable.

The legendary Two Ronnies had a couple of goes at librarians although given their overall brilliance neither was amongst their best sketches. One, the Confusing Library sketch, opted for a favourite fantasy of librarians themselves.. The Library is confusing because all the books on different subjects are mixed up and, unable to find the book he needs Corbett seeks help from the only half bothered librarian (Barker of course) who explains that it’s easy to find the books because they are all arranged by colour “all the blue ones over

Its a big green book. They're upstairs

Its a big green book. They’re upstairs

here all the red ones over there it was the architect’s idea”. Slightly bewildered and still unhappy Corbett is assured to hear that that they are of course subdivided …into small ones on the top, large ones on the bottom. Badgered by Corbett the librarian slowly and resentfully looks up the elusive book in the catalogue and tells him he’s found it…  “it’s a big green book. They’re upstairs!”  Ronnie Barker does a wonderful job as the superior and dismissive librarian doing an early version of Norman Stanley Fletcher’s accent and attitude but the ending is not one of their best but if you are really interested it is still available on the internet. Their other effort also still available played on the traditional silence of the old public library here complete with harassed female librarian, bun, wire-rimmed glasses cardigan the whole lot. Enter Corbett standing in front of the prominent SILENCE sign very loudly announcing he wants to join the library and told of course by the librarian to speak quietly, only he can’t that’s why he wants to join the library, to borrow a book called How to Stop Shouting. When the other library users complain and Corbett persists at the top of his voice the librarian calls for the Chief Librarian, Barker obviously, who when told the problem, tells Shouting LibraryCorbett the book is out and anyway its useless because he read it and it didn’t work and of course does this at the top of his voice only for another reader to announce he is reading it and it useless as he is now shouting too and so on until they are all shouting. It’s not up there with Fork Handles but its better by a very long way that some of the others.

Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie have long since gone their separate ways, Laurie to be a US TV superstar and Fry to become a sort of latter day Oscar Wilde impressionist but early in their career they were a double act but were awfully uneven. Laurie after some stereotypical behaviour from an obstructive librarian finds a copy of the book that he is looking for on the last ten years of test matches between England and the West Indies only to find that it has been almost completely gutted except for a few strips of text. Complaining that the book is incomplete the librarian responds with the best line of the sketch; “have you read it before… then how do you know there are bits missing?”.

The male librarian (Stephen Fry playing the role of Stephen Fry) appears to support his colleague explaining that although the book includes only the words ”The West indies are not very good at cricket” that was how it was delivered to them.  Laurie’s claim that the statement isn’t true anyway and that England hasn’t beaten the West indies for 14 years is met by the belligerent Fry claiming that that England has won every test match since the war and offers copies of Wisden to prove his point, Wisden that is a single sheet of cut and paste that says “England is great and better than everyone else at cricket” and lambasts Laurie’s as one of those people who will insist on running down the English “I am a librarian and an Englishman, or rather an Englishman who just happens to be a librarian. If the day should come when I have to choose between being a librarian and an Englishman…” I told you they could be uneven but it is way better than a much later attempt to extract dubious humour from librarians.

England is great and better than everyone else at cricket...official, Wisden

England is great and better than everyone else at cricket…official, Wisden

Robert Webb provides one of the most uncomfortable if not deeply disturbing portrayals of a librarian that I can recall in his sketch series with David Mitchell. Openly mocking the lowbrow book that the female reader wishes to lend he then goes on to mock her taste, lifestyle and everything about her until she is reduce to a hopeless self-pitying wreck, at which point Webb says “How about a date”. I think I am too old to grasp the humour of Mitchell and Webb but even so this was just misogynist rubbish quite apart from its offensive calumny of librarians. It is a world away from what must be one of the best uses ever of libraries as a premise for a comedy programme.

Hancock’s Half Hour back in 1960 featured an typically manic visit to his local public library with Hugh Lloyd as the world weary librarian sneering at Hancock’s pursuit of a cheap thriller until he requests The History of the Holy Byzantine Empire, the Complete HancockRoman Law, Plato’s Republic and Homer’s Illiad and thinks he may have misjudged Hancock who of course promptly puts the books on the floor to help him reach the lurid thriller on the top shelf. The mime that Hancock is forced to perform to explain to his mate Sid the plot of another thriller to avoid all the shushing from the readers is worth the effort to find it on YouTube on its own*.

Finally if we absolutely must I will return to Sorry!.   For almost 20 years through the 1970’s and 80’s the Ronnie Corbett and Ronnie Barker were the undisputed kings of TV comedy with their celebrated series The Two Ronnies. When their hugely successful partnership ended in 1989 the two went on to solo projects. Ronnie Barker went on to even more fame and acclaim as the legendary Fletcher in the magnificent Porridge one of the most popular comedies of all time Corbett went on to a solo vehicle called Sorry!. There has never been a more appropriate title for a TV show.  Sorry! demonstrated just where the comic talent lay in their partnership despite the fact that the scripts were from the duo who had fed the Two Ronnies partnership so effectively.  In the so called comedy Corbett plays a hapless, helpless overgrown middle aged schoolboy, Timothy Lumsden, terrified of his domineering mother and despite his desperation to get away from her utterly incapable of sorting out his life and particularly finding a girlfriend. He is of course a librarian. Somehow or other, presumably to justify the king’s ransom they paid Corbett to stay with the BBC, it ran to seven series which is at least seven too many. It is so irredeemably awful I am astonished that it has not been indicted at the relevant international court for crimes against light entertainment but it has at least thankfully sunk into well-deserved obscurity although clips are available on the internet but I advise you not to watch it alone or when you are depressed or in fact at all…..ever.

Still to come to complete librarians on TV we still have Dr Who, Buffy and The Cookie Monster but that’s for next time

*Thanks for reminding me Phil.

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“I’ve had it with libraries, they are full of wierdos”

From this week I have decided to change the blog a bit because the posts were frankly getting a bit long and presumably tedious for followers given our modern digital attention span. So the posts will be a bit shorter in future which I hope will meet with the approval of all of you with busy lives including those of you who think I should go and get any sort of life at all instead of doing this. Also for those of you bored now with librarians in film we will turn our jaundiced attention to how librarians have fared on television.

UK Television has been far less liberal in its depiction of librarians than Hollywood but you will still over the next couple of weeks find Inspector Morse, Miss Marple, The Two Ronnies, Fry and Laurie, Doctor Who, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Tony Hancock and even the Cookie monster featuring in libraries. There are even fewer appearances of libraries on TV but then there is no British equivalent  of that magnificent icon The New York Public Library but libraries do have their moments on British TV even if

The Library at Keele University which masqueraded as the Vice Chancellor's Suite in A Very Peculiar Practice. For any real VC's reading this a Library is the heart of academic life; its that big building full of books computers and students that you keep meaning to visit

The Library at Keele University which masqueraded as the Vice Chancellor’s Suite in A Very Peculiar Practice. For any real VC’s reading this a Library is the heart of academic life; its that big building full of books computers and students that you keep meaning to visit

sometimes they are incognito. The excellent TV series A Very Peculiar Practice was an enormously enjoyable black comedy from the second half of the 1980’s set in the medical practice of a modern UK university and featured an idealistic but naive young doctor, a self-important doctor with no absooutely no self-awareness and a cynical and wasted old doctor and if all that sounds familiar it could indeed be a template for Father Ted  with the important difference that the woman who makes up the cast is not as in the Irish classic a witless housekeeper but a worldly doctor whose brazen bisexual appetite would make Mrs Doyle drop her tea tray and reaching for her rosary beads in horror.

Anyway the only reason for mentioning this at all is because the imposing building with its Italianate steps and impressive clock tower that features prominently in the series is not as you are led to believe the Vice Chancellor’s residence but actually the unattributed library at Keele University. Probably the nearest most Vice Chancellors will ever get to a library.

The London Library is a public subscription library that in its own was is perhaps as well known in certain circles as the NYPL but for all its wonderful collections it lacks the magnificence of the NY building as it is tucked, slightly apologetically  into a corner of St James Square but it did feature in a 2011 edition of BBC’s New Tricks. The light drama where three retired cops are invited to re-examine case only they are old enough to remember and solve them mainly by bickering amongst themselves, features in one episode a cold case of a dead academic in a modern university. Someone has apparently jumped off the university library roof and an open verdict was returned but suicide was the most likely suspect.  Now new evidence has emerged that suggests he may not have jumped in desperate frustration at the fact that like many libraries the lifts weren’t working again but he may have been pushed. Our heroes uncover a sorry tale of academic skulduggery in which we meet a familiar cast of academic characters; the oleaginous but ruthless Vice Chancellor, a handyman who might as well wear a big sign saying “Dodgy Character” as soon as he reveals his Eastern European accent and a couple of instantly untrustworthy researchers. They are all after a very rare book worth millions and certainly worth enough to throw someone off the library roof and make it look as if he couldn’t wait for the lift engineer.  The clue that sets our team bickering towards a solution are found when the cerebral one from the geriatric detective trio follows up a lead in the London Library. Brian has already had a run in with libraries at beginning of the show being escorted from his local branch library after screaming “SILENCE” at the now familiar lively noise of the modern library.

New Tricks's investigator Brian decides libraries are not for him after the Vice Chancellor tries to kill him

New Tricks’s investigator Brian decides libraries are not for him after the Vice Chancellor tries to kill him

He welcomes the chance to sample a research library naively anticipating a peaceful and reflective world where researchers are all virtuously absorbed in their esoteric study only to discover to his cost when he is mugged and almost killed in the library what everyone in academia already knows that the best researchers are the most cynical and ruthless . Eventually though they get their man…and woman. Satisfyingly for anyone who has ever worked in higher education or indeed libraries it is the slippery and arrogant Vice Chancellor who wants to do away with the library who dunnit with help from the female librarian whom you just knew was up to no good looking that attractive. And Brian well he now understands libraries a lot better. “I’ve had it with libraries he says. They are full of wierdos”

Whilst we are talking about policemen blundering around in libraries we can’t ignore the ITV series Morse featuring the lugubrious eponymous Chief Inspector which ran for 33 episodes so it is unsurprising that libraries should feature in the Oxford set series as the city is virtually one big university. Surprisingly though libraries  only featured in a few episodes although shots of the Radcliffe Camera, part of the Bodleian Library and Oxford’s most iconic building is often used as the stock anchor shot to just to make sure you know where you are.

The Radcliffe Camera, part of the Bodleian Library used to remind the cast that they are supposed to be in Oxford despite the fct that the filming is done in St Albans

The Radcliffe Camera, part of the Bodleian Library but mainly used to remind the cast of Morse that they are supposed to be in Oxford despite the fact that the filming is done in St Albans

You may recall that this sort of opening shot was a staple of series like The Saint whose trip to Paris always started with a shot of the Arc de Triomphe and he could never go to Rome without a quick car trip past the Coliseum specially included to sell it to an American audience surprised to discover so many countries beyond Idaho. The Bodleian is used for research and a little light flirting and possibly much more in The Wench is Dead and there is a library scene in Twilight of the Gods where a Library is used as a convenient vantage point for an attempted assassination completely unrelated to the Bodleian’s draconian overdue book fines policy . Finally the Bodleian also featured in the  follow up to Morse named after his former Sergeant Lewis, in an episode that actually did feature a body in the Library (well in the basement anyway) but the series was so unmemorable I couldn’t be bothered to watch it.

There is also of course the obligatory body in the library in episodes of the glossy Agatha Christie adaptations for television. The makers of the Miss Marple series featuring a roll call of differently excellent actors in the title role have tried to stay more faithful to the books than Margaret Rutherford’s early big screen versions even if Rutherford does have a librarian for a sidekick that had nothing whatever to do with Christie. But you are still stuck with those creaking plots. So in the denouement to The Body in the Library, Miss Marple points to scratch marks on the floor which she alone has spotted and deduced they must be where the secret door swings open to lead to a secret passage as she reveals the solution to the  library murder riddle. The solution is greeted with general astonishment by the cast but for regular Christie readers and watchers this was already so blindingly obvious you might just as well have put up a sign reading SECRET PASSAGE –Only to be used when all other plausible explanations have been exhausted.

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