ONE of the oldest clichés around is that politics is entertainment for ugly people. Well, we may have to rethink that hoary old one-liner.

Last week the televised committee hearings of the US House of Representatives, which are investigating the attack on January 6, 2021, on the US Capitol, spiced up the prime-time ratings.

More than 20 million people watched the televised hearings, and big traditional networks, reeling from the impact of new streaming companies, had an encouraging night, ABC and SNBC registering the highest viewing figures for the live proceedings.

The hearings follow the findings of an 11-month investigation which found that former President Donald Trump was at the centre of a “multistep conspiracy aimed at overturning the presidential election”.

“We will tell the story of how Donald Trump lost an election and knew he lost an election and, as a result of his loss, decided to wage an attack on our democracy -- an attack on the American people by trying to rob you of your voice in our democracy,” said chairman Bennie Thompson last Monday.

The National: Donald Trump

We know the consequences. The Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers, choreographed from hotel suites by Rudy Giuliani and his acolytes, stormed the Capitol building and threatened a modern coup d’etat to overthrow the duly elected Biden administration.

Historically, special hearings on Capitol Hill have attracted their own media buzz. American modern history can be told through events that captured the imagination whilst becoming milestones in the development of the media.

In the mid-1950s, when the House UnAmerican Activities Committee (HUAC) and the infamous McCarthy hearings were at their height, television programming was in transition.

Most television was initially broadcast live from New York and tended to replicate the theatrical traditions of Broadway, mostly variety shows. But within a few years, most of television’s signature genres – sitcoms, westerns, soap operas, quiz shows, and police and medical dramas – were spreading across the network schedules as the centre of the television production industry was moving to Los Angeles. The live theatrical style was giving way to shows recorded on film in the traditions of Hollywood. McCarthy was filmed but his pernicious influence on American life was in short-form coverage.

The big bang came with the McClellan Committee Senate hearings in 1957 to investigate corruption, criminal infiltration, and illegal activities in the nation’s labour unions.

TV had arrived in earnest. No new invention had entered American homes faster than black-and-white television sets. By 1955, half of all US homes had one. Suddenly gangsters and mobsters who had previously appeared only as the “bad guys” in Hollywood movies were menacingly visible in front rooms across America.

Since then numerous hearings broadcast live across America have captured the political imagination, among them the Watergate hearings, and famously, the joint hearings of House Select Committee to investigate covert arms transactions with Iran and the Senate Select Committee on secret military assistance to Iran and the Nicaraguan opposition – better known as the Iran-Contra hearings.

Pop and rock have played their part too. It was at the senate hearings on rock censorship in 1985 that Frank Zappa (above) advanced his own unique defence of the first amendment protecting freedom of speech when he appeared before hearings. Zappa described the assault on rock and rap lyrics as trying to treat “dandruff by decapitation”.

One of my own personal favourites, and one that resonated for many Scots, came in 2005 when George Galloway accused US senators of manufacturing “the mother of all smokescreens” when he defended himself from charges that he profited from Iraqi oil sales.

It was vintage Galloway, brazenly self-confident, fearless in the face of power and unmissable media. I listened on a live broadcast on Radio 5 Live captivated by Galloway’s spell-binding rhetoric and gallus self-assurance. It remains a matter of some disappointment that such a great orator could burn so brightly and then self-extinguish as a self-destructive populist in later life.

Mindful of public interest, the current hearings have been directed for TV by a veteran CBS producer with shades of the NBC coverage of the PMRC hearings which investigated the idea of placing warning stickers on pop records with profane and sexual lyrics.

The January 6 hearings have had half an eye on entertainment and unfolding procedural drama. Two of the video tapes shown to senators were straight from an HBO thriller. One was Vice-President Mike Pence and his family being hurried away from an avenging mob as if they are being taken into protective custody or the witness protection programme like the Byrde family in Ozark.

A second film was pure reconnaissance. A group of visitors, some wearing the red caps of Trump’s MAGA Movement, were being taken through the capital building filming security check points, exit doors, and elevator points. Even the tapes have a vaguely dramatic name – Loudermilk named after the Georgia politician who was leading the tour.

I have racked up subscriptions to most of the major streamers: Netflix, Amazon Prime, Apple Plus and even HBO via a circuitous route. No one can question the role they have played in commissioning and curating popular drama, but a bit of me still yearns for live coverage of political hearings, where compelling edge-of-the-seat testimony casts a light on a historic drama of the state.

Lorna Guthrie Campbell

IN a previous column praising the Scottish education system and the unique importance of modern studies within our curriculum, I wrote about my debt of gratitude to a former teacher at Perth Academy, Miss Lorna Campbell.

My search for her nudged many people to get in touch, to pay tribute to a teacher who had inspired them and to give me an update on Miss Campbell’s career after she left the Perth school system.

My old schoolfriend Mike Lawrence, now living in Glasgow, reminded me that it was Miss Campbell who had organised our class trip to London to visit Parliament and the Old Bailey. She had the decency to turn a blind eye to youthful bacchanalia throughout the trip.

It was Miss Campbell who encouraged me as a teenager to immerse myself in the politics of racial justice and to dig deeper into my love of soul music. In some ways she was an influence on my forthcoming book Hey America: Black Music And The White House.

Sadly, Lorna Guthrie Campbell passed away in Ninewells Hospital in 2016. She was by then a retired teacher, having taught at Morgan Academy in Dundee and finally at Monifeith High School. A graduate of St Andrews University, she had not ventured far from home, living all of her life in Angus and commuting to university and to her first job in Perth. She had no siblings and in later life cared for her mother and father Margaret and Archie Campbell.

I missed the opportunity to thank her when she was alive but what greater ­accolade can there be in life to teach and to care, values that we are duty-bound to defend on the way to a new Scotland.