Books: Glued to the Box : Heavenly pink light | clivejames.com
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Heavenly pink light

Police Commissioner McNee appeared briefly on Close (Thames), to put in a sensible bid for a respectful attitude towards the hard-pressed constabulary. Unfortunately he was appearing on the same night as a lot of pictures, liberally screened on both channels, which persuasively conveyed the impression that the hard-pressed constabulary’s methods of searching houses in Brixton are likely to leave the householder wishing he had been looted instead. The most telling appearance of the week, though, was of a Brixton woman whose small shop had been obliterated. There wasn’t enough left of the business to sell up and get out of. ‘If anybody wants it,’ she said bitterly, ‘I’ll give it away.’ Here was a capitalist exploiter for the Left to make of what they could. Here, on the other hand, was an example of entrepreneurial initiative receiving its due reward under the shining aegis of Thatcherite monetarism. Here was a vote going begging.

At Warrington a great stack of begging votes found a patron in Roy Jenkins, thereby providing the biggest turn-up for the books since 1945. Back in the studio, Roy Hattersley nobly strove to dismiss the whole event as nothing but ‘a media by-election’. There may have been something to this contention: certainly the narrowly successful Labour candidate, Douglas Hoyle, looked as if he had been drawn by a particularly vicious caricaturist, while the Tory candidate had apparently been fielded in a cynical attempt to snare the sympathetic allegiance of all those still weeping at Meg Mortimer’s departure from Crossroads. But whoofle and snort as Hatters might, the fact was as glaring as the oil on Bill Rodger’s hair — the Social Democrats had arrived. What was more, they were expanding into a vacuum.

Meanwhile, back in the universe, Cosmos (BBC1) continued to show how even Carl Sagan can make himself comparatively uninteresting if he has enough help. Visiting us once upon a time for a series of BBC lectures delivered to schoolchildren, Sagan proved himself the best extempore speaker on science ever to have appeared on television. Given a bench, a Bunsen burner, and a steady relay of eager young assistants from the audience, he was unbeatable. But Cosmos is a multi-national launch-vehicle with so many hands on the controls that it travels in a tight spiral.

In the latest episode Sagan reached Mars, which he pronounces Murruz. The planet Murruz is inhabited by Morsians. Behind the Beeb’s bench, Sagan had to stand still while he spoke. At large in the Cosmos, he is free to accompany speech with action, but all too apparently he has not grasped that beyond the trick of talking on television there is a further trick of talking and walking simultaneously, and that this trick must be mastered, not ignored. He fills the screen with distracting gestures. He mugs something fierce, often while standing on the bridge of a cut-budget version of starship Enterprise, wherein his face is lit by the boudoir-pink light of the heavens.

Nevertheless Sagan, though he has been more fascinating about Murruz on previous occasions, managed to be fascinating about Murruz all over again. We saw pictures of the doons of Murruz. The unlikelihood was pointed out of any yoomans suddenly appearing from behind the doons. As this series proves, Sagan himself is only yooman, and yoomans make mistakes. But few yoomans as clever as he share his gift of exposition. Next time he should refuse all visual assistance except the barely necessary and let his voice do the evocation. On television one good sentence is worth a thousand dull pictures.

Introduced as being presented by Candice Bergen, Rush (Thames) had only a brief intro from her and no presentation from anybody. Instead you were supposed to draw your own conclusions about what was allegedly going on during Rush Week at the University of Mississippi. During Rush Week each new girl finds her ideal sorority, or soworty as it is known locally. Magically each soworty also finds the girl it wants. ‘She noo that one of the biggest factors in me bein’ happy was bein’ in a soworty.’

Under the same pressure experienced by Party functionaries attempting to please Stalin, the girls progressed from test to test. Everyone, we were led to believe, ended up happy. Nobody looked sad except fat Angie, who will, one could not help hoping, develop a healthy neurosis out of her sense of rejection and write a scathing novel in which she shows up her contemporaries as a mindless pack of prestige-crazy jerks.

19 July, 1981