Anthony Clavane: Just like junk email, spoilers are getting harder to avoid

The BBC's Nick Robinson asked people not to spill the beans about the finale of the  TV series Bodyguard while presenting the Today programme. (PA).The BBC's Nick Robinson asked people not to spill the beans about the finale of the  TV series Bodyguard while presenting the Today programme. (PA).
The BBC's Nick Robinson asked people not to spill the beans about the finale of the TV series Bodyguard while presenting the Today programme. (PA).
For those of you who don't want to know what this column is about, please look away now. Turn over the page and read a review or an interview with an actor. Or something.

Right. It’s about spoilers.

This warning is, I accept, a tad ridiculous. But no more ridiculous than the Saturday night ritual at the end of the BBC news, just before Match Of The Day begins. This is when the news reader, about to reveal the key football results, gravely intones in time-honoured fashion: “If you don’t want to know the scores, please look away now.” Sometimes the announcer urges viewers to pop out of the room. My favourite is when they say: “If you don’t want to know the scores, you know what to do.”

There is a classic episode of the 1970s sitcom Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads? where our two heroes, Terry and Bob, go to great lengths to avoid finding out the outcome of England’s afternoon encounter with Bulgaria. This is because they want to watch the highlights in the evening – back in that dark decade, internationals weren’t televised live – without knowing the score. It’s the same principle when watching a TV drama.

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If you missed last Sunday’s Bodyguard finale because you were down the pub, say, or – like Keir Starmer – at a Labour Party eve-of-conference composite meeting on Brexit (what fun) it would have been best to avoid Twitter or, indeed, any social media.

Indeed, Labour’s Brexit Secretary made a plea to delegates in Liverpool, during his Monday speech, not to spill the beans about the Bodyguard ending. As did Nick Robinson whilst presenting that morning’s Today programme on Radio 4. In fact, according to the BBC, around five million people watched the final episode of its hit drama on an online catchup service of some kind. That’s five million people trying to avoid the digital age’s equivalent of Brian Glover, the Barnsley blabbermouth who pursued Terry and Bob with the England score during that famous 1973 episode.

My point is that all this panicking about spoilers is getting, well, a tad ridiculous. Lots of viewers complained to the Radio Times about its “Why She Had To Die” cover after a bomb killed Home Secretary Julie Montague – played by the wonderful Keeley Hawes – in an earlier Bodyguard episode. But, like junk e-mail, Bradley Walsh and Labour U-turns on Brexit, spoilers are getting harder to avoid.

For example, when I re-watch that Likely Lads episode, my enjoyment is not spoiled by knowing that (please look away now etc) the match is postponed because of a waterlogged pitch. When I re-read a favourite novel, my memory of its plot twists does not affect my appreciation of its brilliance. I saw a 20th anniversary screening of The Big Lebowski on Monday night and laughed at The Dude just as heartily as I did back in 1998.

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Films like Sixth Sense, Planet of the Apes and Pyscho have entered popular consciousness, which means it is unlikely their big reveals will be unknown to new viewers. At the end of each performance of Mousetrap, audiences have been traditionally asked not to reveal the identity of the killer to anyone outside the theatre. But, in the digital age, this is simply no longer possible.

As Bodyguard’s creator Jed Mercurio wrote on Twitter. “It’s impossible to manage what’s discussed on social media. Users need to employ common sense and avoid it. If you still haven’t watched the match, don’t go looking up the results.”

I greatly admire Mercurio. Line of Duty was fantastic and, as a fan of water cooler TV moments, I was pleased Bodyguard became one of the most watched dramas on television.

But all the excitement about spoilers couldn’t divert attention away from the implausible, leaden, Scooby Doo ending to the series.

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There was far too much telling and not enough showing. I half-expected the “inside man” to say: “And I would have gotten away with it, too, if it weren’t for you meddling kids.”

The inside man, of course, turned out to be a woman. Apologies if you haven’t watched it back on iPlayer yet. But I did warn you.