Books: Glued to the Box : Idi in exile |
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Idi in exile

As if to demonstrate that the tangles democracies get into count as nothing beside the horrors of tyranny, Idi Amin made an appearance on the Nine O’Clock News (BBC1). Exclusively interviewed by Brian Barron, Idi spoke from his mysterious hideout, which nobody except everybody knows to be the Sands Hotel, Jeddah. That the BBC agreed with Idi to keep his whereabouts secret bespeaks a certain old-world charm, like the punctiliousness with which, during the Second World War, they are reputed to have paid Hitler’s royalties into a Swiss bank account. Idi’s phone number at the Sands, incidentally, is Jeddah 692020. Give him a bell in the middle of the night and tell him you’re the voice of retribution. God knows he’s got it coming.

But Idi looked as innocent as a chocolate Easter egg as he faced up to Brian Barron’s exotic vowels. ‘Hay,’ asked Barron, ‘did you get eight of Uganda?’ Idi earned some marks for understanding the question, even if his answer left something to be desired in the area of veracity. He called his precipitate flight a Tactical Withdrawal. There was a lot of emphasis on his determination to regroup and stage a comeback. Soon his country would call him. At this point the viewer was assailed by a profound sense of familiarity. Where had we heard it before, this talk of answering the people’s summons? Of course! Oswald Mosley!

Idi stood revealed as a black Blackshirt. His rather pleasant dial, however, showed you just how little you can judge by appearances. A sinister buffoon whose idea of a good time is to make innocent people bash each other’s heads in with sledgehammers, Idi has all the self-righteousness of the truly dedicated nut. ‘I am fresh, strong, and I am concerned with the question in Uganda.’ Uganda had better sort itself out pronto before Idi checks out of the Sands and comes back to look after his adoring flock. ‘Most of them love me... they want me to save them from the chaos situation that is now happening in Uganda.’ What made this last utterance particularly horrible was the element of truth in it. Apparently Uganda is now in such a mess that half the population would welcome Idi back just so as to have a maniac they could rely on.

With that degree of unintentional humour available, the intentional kind had little chance of snaring the viewer’s allegiance. Nevertheless Victoria Wood’s play Nearly a Happy Ending (Granada) made its intended impact on the benumbed funny-bone. Written by Victoria Wood and with lyrics by Victoria Wood, the play starred Julie Walters and Victoria Wood. The lady’s credits gang up on you in a way that was once reserved for Orson Welles, to whom, in her own self-awarely self-conscious mind, Victoria bears a certain physical resemblance. She’s got herself pegged for a fatty. Even the slim version of Victoria Wood thinks like the fat one, with nervously defensive but almost invariably funny results.

In this play Victoria had slimmed down to find love. Unfortunately nobody wanted her body even in its narrow form. She discovered this fact while out on the town with her hopeless friend, engagingly played by Julie Walters. Julie was a scruff with an X-certificate kitchen you couldn’t have cleaned with a skip. The exaggerations are Victoria’s: she has a knack for them. Her jokes fall into shape as naturally as her figure doesn’t. Witness her midnight emergency telephone calls to the Weightwatchers’ duty officer. ‘I‘m on the kitchen extension staring full-face at a Marks & Spencer‘s Individual Spotted Dick.‘ Spotting that word ‘Individual’ as the indispensable comic element is a gift that can’t be taught: you’ve either got it or you haven’t, and Victoria’s got it. Next time, however, she might care to go deeper.

8 June, 1980