THIS Is THE season when every publication in the land feels obliged to award gold stars and wet fish to the winners and losers of broadcasting over the past year. Here at The Herald, it has fallen to your correspondent to dish out the gongs for achievement in television, and after a lengthy and scrupulously objective process of consultation and assessment, I am able to report the following: At a glittering ceremony held in the back bar of Oxford's exclusive Rose and Crown the other night, the landlord and I unanimously agreed on the three Top Box Experiences of 1998. But first, The Wooden Spoon. There were many nominees for this coveted award, most of them on Channel 5. But in the end the jury decided that for the sheer grandeur of arrogant folly and wasted budget, Vanity Fair stood head and shoulders above every other turkey in any category. Nathaniel Parker was rather good as Rawdon Crawley, but Natasha Little's Becky failed to develop after a promising start. Otherwise this was a script that wilfully misread the book, and was itself crassly misread by a poorly directed cast. The costumes were lovely, of course, and it will make a fortune in foreign sales.
Third Place. Now for the good stuff. Soon we will have to endure the agonisingly compromised pleasure of cricket with commercial breaks, but at least we have a marvellous memory to cherish from the good old days. England's series triumph over South Africa on August 10 was not just a joy for the cricket partisan, it was also a celebration of sports broadcasting at its best. The BBC has been so good at this that it is easy to take the excellence of its coverage for granted; but anyone who saw what happened when the corporation lost the Grand Prix season to ITV must regard the future with seething sorrow. Runner-Up. Newsnight has done a grand job over the years, but surely there is one segment in the past 12 months which will live in legend and song and be rewound and replayed at parties for generations to me. I refer of course to the moment when Matthew Parris, one of the few journalists who can top Jeremy Paxman as a disrespecter of persons, united millions of viewem in an astonished "Eh? What?" by casually dropping the BBC in the gumbo.
To some of us, Peter Mandelson's sexuality is a tedious irrelevance, and the fuss which followed this so-called revelation was ludicrous, and an embarrassment to all concerned. But as live television, the cool manner in which Paths dropped his bombshell, and Paxman's facial contortions as the Beeb's charter and his own career flashed before his eyes, could hardly be bettered. Media Matter Award for Most Enjoyable Programme of 1998. From an otherwise scarcely noteworthy year in television, the jury had no trouble in selecting Norman Ormal: A Very Political Turtle for the First Prize. Craig Brown is that rare thing. a professional humorist who has not gone off the boil in 20 years. but continues to produce columns and scripts that combine erudition with irresistible silliness. His biopic of the paradigmatic Tory MP was a satirical triumph. and Harry Enfield's performance as the eponymous Orrnal, seasoned with hilarious impressions of the Westminster great and good, was perhaps the best thing he's ever done. This gem from the outstanding TigerAspect company certainly merits a repeat over the holiday, and another one next year.
Next week I shall be observing that other cliché of seasonal media journalism by looking forward to the year ahead.
But meanwhile, as we settle down to watch the Queen's Speech. let us remember the people who work in broadcasting, who have been obliged to abandon their families and turn up to the office. A blessed Christmas to them, and to all.