I actually have a copy of Joyce’s book, and I’m happy to say that it belongs in the part of my collection that I never intend to read, along with War And Peace, Frankenstein, and a book I bought in New York while making a film called How To Make People Like You In 60 Seconds Or Less (I’m pretty certain the first thirty seconds are “burn this book”).
The cartoon, however, I have fond memories of (refreshed of course by listening to the theme tune at TV Cream). Its playful adventures, with some vague moral dimension, were a lot more enjoyable than, say, Tom and Jerry. Plus, the nerd inside me kind of liked the not-terribly-subtle naming rip-offs.
Of course, by comparison with some of the stuff around now – indeed, most of the stuff around ever – Ulysses 31 is crap. But then so are most books, and perhaps this is where the BBC ultimately went wrong – who cares what books people like? Most of what’s read is rubbish, because most of what’s written is rubbish. The only way of feeling in the slightest bit proud of mankind’s artistic outpouring is to consider all of it, not just one medium. For every bad, there is a good – Henry Moore balances the Sistene Chapel, the Flumps makes up for Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Titch, and for every Mills and Boon novel used to build a motorway, we’ve got another bar of Bach’s St Matthew Passion. Is Lord Of The Rings truly the best book of all time? Of course not – but it’s useful, because otherwise we’d have to spend more time thinking about Universal Soldier III: Unfinished Business.