I had always thought that people who actually liked the sight of enormous metal structures in the previously unspoilt landscape were a slightly eccentric minority. Society needs electrical power but I had assumed that a sensible scientific establishment would be looking for ways to reduce the cost of transmitting energy in underground cables for the sake of our beautiful, if beleaguered countryside, not to mention those who live in it, or enjoy visting it.
Wrong. There are those who love pylons for their own sake. The more beautiful their rural setting, the happier the pylon-fanciers are. There is a Pylon of the Month, and a Pylon Appreciation Society website dedicated to the joy of seeing pylons in the landscape. Jonathan Glancey has written about “the gaunt, skeletal beauty of pylons“. Perhaps somewhere pylon-fanciers drool lasciviously over sexy Page Three Pylons.
How happy they must be right now. There are 22,000 pylons across the countryside and that number is likely to be increased massively over the next few years. Among the landscape under threat are the Dedham Vale, the Stour Valley and the Somerset Levels.
The skewed, metropolitan view that pylons are an adornment wherever they are erected, symbols of mankind’s glorious progress, is about to be endorsed and celebrated by the BBC in a three-part series called The Secret Life of the National Grid. With Liz Jensen, Paul Morley and Tom Sutcliffe, I reviewed this interesting, but ultimately enraging series, for Radio 4’s Saturday Review, to be broadcast tonight, 23 October, at 7.15pm.
Power generation, its history and its future, is a big and important topic right now, but, to judge by its first two programmes, the BBC series will be like a three-hour public service announcement. Avoiding controversy and discussion, it presents a chirpy, uncritical survey of the way our national energy is being handled. The interviewees, who include Will Self and – of course – the great pylon-fancier Jonathan Glancey, express slavering enthusiasm for pylons and power plants. There is not the slightest suggestion that there might possibly be an alternative view.
Pylon-fanciers will love this propaganda. The rest of us, particularly those for whom the landscape is important, should remain profoundly sceptical.