Books: Glued to the Box : Woodhouse walkies | clivejames.com
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Woodhouse walkies

Week after week, the most absorbing series on the air continues to be Training Dogs the Woodhouse Way (BBC2). It is no use trying not to watch it, because perfect strangers come up to you in the street and start telling you about it.

In the latest episode Barbara Woodhouse was teaching her team of highly trained dog-owners how to take their dogs for a walk. In the arcane vocabulary of the canine world, going for a walk is known as walkies. If you say this word to the dog it will go for a walk. So would I, by God, but that is a side issue. What matters now is the effect produced by Mrs Woodhouse when she gives instructions to the dog, to its owner, or to both simultaneously. ‘Walkies! WALKIES! Go and... TALK!’

This last order is directed at the owner, who is thereby exhorted to converse with his four-footed companion as a reward for its having gone walkies. If the owner has succeeded in making his dog go walkies, he is home free, and is faced with nothing beyond the mild embarrassment of being obliged to whisper sweet nothings in its hairy ear. But if the dog has declined to go walkies, the owner is in the cart. ‘Your trouble is you’re looking at her! Do you see? I want you to move a bit more naturally. Go on, move! Move! Run! WALKIES!’

The recalcitrant dog who finally agrees to go walkies finds itself the object of as much affection as the one sheep that strayed. Indeed some of the canoodling seems to border on the erotic, but this could be my fevered imagination, what with spring in the air. ‘Now love her! Get down on your knees and love her! And now a tickle between the legs!’ A few more lines like that and I was drinking in Mrs Woodhouse’s sturdy good looks as if she were the Kate Nelligan of the canicular cosmos, but it was no use. Her husband turned up. ‘Now I’ll get my husband Michael to come in because dogs very often hate men. DON’T COME IN TOO FAST!’

A drunkard found salvation at the hands of Charlie’s Angels (Thames), thereby adding himself to the long list of drunkards, reformed or otherwise, who have been featured in recent television programmes. There was another one in Change of Direction (BBC2). What made him different from all the others was that his name was Buzz Aldrin and he had been to the Moon. Having been to the Moon, he found life on Earth relatively unexciting, and so he took to drink. His whole life had been geared to achievement and now there was nothing left to achieve. Buzz is not a very dazzling speaker, as Ludovic Kennedy, who had the task of interviewing him, soon discovered. But he is an honest man and his dilemma made sad listening.

Anybody can stop drinking once he accepts the fact that sobriety is not as much fun as being drunk. Harder drugs are more difficult to deal with. Last weekend I tried to give up Dallas (BBC1). I have seen every episode since the beginning, usually at the time of transmission. On those occasions when I have been unable to watch it as it goes out, I have always made two separate sets of arrangements to tape it, in case of mechanical malfunction. I knew things were getting out of hand when I found myself acting out both sides of a recent bedroom exchange between Bobby and Pamela. ‘Ahm sorry. Ah guess ahm just a little jumpy.’ ‘What is it? Every tahm ah touch you you turn arse cold. Now tail me what it is.’

Obviously this couldn’t go on, so I tried to quit cold turkey by missing an entire episode outright. I went out to dinner and did my best not to think of the hundred different directions in which Sue Ellen can move her mouth. But everybody at the table had a tape running at home and next day I didn’t meet anyone who didn’t want to talk about JR’s reaction to the news that he is, after all, the father of Sue Ellen’s baby. The grim fact is that we live in a Dallas culture. If you try to get off it, people will try to get you back on. They sneak up behind you and start seemingly harmless discussions about whether or not Lucy is the world’s oldest schoolgirl. Before you know where you are, you’re raving.

In Public School (BBC2) they were still training boys the Radley way. The emphasis in the latest episode was on rowing. The rowers form an elite within the school, perhaps in part compensation for being shouted at from the river bank. ‘Length! Length! Take it up! Going up! Oogh! AAGH!’ The Warden took a keen personal interest. We saw him interviewing a prospective rowing coach, billed as the finest oarsman in Britain. The finest oarsman in Britain was taken on as a teacher, despite having no teaching qualifications. With his assistance, Radley is plainly destined to become an even more formidable rowing force than it has been up till now. The boys in the winning eight will have something to remember for the rest of their lives. Perhaps one of them will even become the finest oarsman in Britain, and be asked to come back as a rowing coach, and...

The repeat of The Lost Boys (BBC2) is now over. It looked an even more convincing achievement the second time. Ian Holm brought J. M. Barrie’s neuroses to life with an intensity that made you wish he hadn’t. Obviously it was hell being him. But instead of leaping on small children he wrote stories for them. Usually you can envy the kind of artist who channels his personal unhappiness into creativity, but on this evidence there was no envying Barrie. Retrospectively cherishing the wounded personalities of its perverted artists is one of the things Britain does supremely well. A country is civilised to the extent that it understands human frailty. Everything else is just shouting from the river bank. ‘Length! Length! Take it up! Move! Run! WALKIES!’

In Parting Shots From Animals (BBC2), John Berger, of Ways of Seeing fame, spoke on behalf of animals, who are apparently convinced that we humans are indifferent to their fate. Give or take the odd anatomical discrepancy, John Berger affects me exactly like Jane Fonda — i.e. any opinion of mine which I discover he shares I immediately examine to find out what’s wrong with it. In The Brinsworth Tribute Show (Thames) the ghastly compère and the frantically posturing dancers could not detract from the mighty Lulu. Clad in a Blakes Seven silver space suit with shocking pink epaulettes, she sang a storm. What does she have to do before she gets another big-budget series — impressions?

Merce Cunningham was the subject of an interesting South Bank Show (LWT). You had to admire his uncompromising adventurousness, especially when all the evidence suggested that he and his dancers come fully to life only when the music is the old, melodic kind. On What the Papers Say (Granada) Donald Woods ably analysed Fleet Street’s success in getting everything wrong about Mugabe.

9 March, 1980