Books: Visions Before Midnight — Earthshrinker | clivejames.com
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Earthshrinker

‘Tonight,’ said the commercial, ‘we’d like to reassure you about the future of coal in this country.’

Since the combined costs of making the commercial and putting it on the screen would have by themselves gone some way towards supplying the miners’ demands, the reassurance wasn’t all that reassuring, and merely added to the air of unreality the tube has for weeks been busily projecting.

The voice-over sounded as if it might be Patrick Allen, of Brett fame — associations there, you see, of entrepreneurial dynamism, and the no-nonsense manliness of such other Allen accounts as Castrol and Wilkinson Sword. He also does Harrods’, whose warmth of tone the Coal Board are obviously eager to share.

It’s all in how you sell it, especially when a dream is all you’ve got to sell. Undaunted by the crisis and plainly not to be abashed by anything short of the Last Judgment, the ad-men were still at it full blast, speeding us the good news about such vital resources as Kleenex Boutique (coffee ’n’ gold soft petals that fold) and Cadbury’s Amazin’ (it’s Amazin’ what raisins can do). Meanwhile, back on BBC1, public service broadcasting was sedulously providing, in the form of a programme called Holiday 74, a vision of the consumer society’s dreams fully as micro-minded as any mad ad ITV could ever offer.

Holiday 74 begins with half a dozen pairs of knockers swaying, rolling or running at you through varying intensities of exotic sunlight. The emphasis on the untrammelled mammary is kept up throughout, handily symbolizing the show’s basic assumption that sex is something which happens on holiday. If the soundtrack, speculating on how computer-chosen holiday companions might get on with each other, uses a word like ‘compatible’, the camera provides a visual reference by panning away abruptly to capture a sun-crazed Aphrodite from Frinton burgeoning wetly from the Aegean, while simultaneously zooming in to snatch a close-up of her flailing barbettes.

Cliff Michelmore, as you might expect, flaunts a grin naughty enough to suit the mood, and adds to the air of spontaneity by reading the autocue as if he had never seen a line of it in his life before. His companion, John Carter, on the other hand, starts off looking very sleepy, perhaps desensitized by a clairvoyance of the trivia to come. ‘We spend a small fortune in fizzy drinks,’ confides a holidaymaker bouncing through Morocco on a bus. The bus is called a Sundecker, to rhyme with the outfit laying the trip on, who call themselves Suntrekker. Apart from the heat — one of the arcana, such as begging, that the alert vacationer must expect to run into in Marrakesh — we could be assured that the Suntrekker Sundecker was the only way to travel. On through dune and wadi it roared, stopping in villages for fizzy drinks: an earth shrinker.

Cilla (BBC1) was involved in a cretinous routine about Women’s Lib, featuring rhymes about women’s demand for status, so that they wouldn’t have to spend their lives peeling potatus. But her guest, Twiggy, was delightful.

10 January, 1974