Books: Visions Before Midnight — Eddie Waring Communicates | clivejames.com
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Eddie Waring Communicates

On Z Cars (BBC 1) a lady answered all our prayers by crowning Sgt Haggar with a bottle. Hip Warboys nailed straight-arrow Taylor on the ITV tennis series, a disguised cigarette ad calling itself the JOHN PLAYER TROPHY. The BBC, not to be outdone, faithfully telecast cricket results in the JOHN PLAYER LEAGUE.

If TV channels are going to make programmes from sponsored events, they might as well just allow sponsored programmes and quit being coy. Direct sponsorship is less corrupting, if cornier. In Australia once a commentator described how a famous batsman had just been run out, promised that the batsman was on his way to the microphone to have a chat, and filled the intervening half-minute with an hysterical encomium for the sponsor, Turf cigarettes. When the batsman finally arrived the commentator said loudly: ‘Have a Turf.’ The batsman said, equally loudly: ‘No, thanks, they hurt my throat.’

World in Action (Granada) featured a multi-millionaire with a joke moustache who gave two of his millions to the Nixon campaign because he wanted to be a Part of a Great Man’s Life — the bad buy of the century. With its first episode screened out of synch and sliced into optical salami by pre-prepared fadeouts for American commercials, the new Kenneth Clark art series, Romantic v. Classic Art (ATV) nevertheless lost no time in revealing itself to be one of the best things yet from television’s premier talking head. His elegant, perspicuous sentences proved all over again that telly talk need not necessarily slobber the English language to death with its big, dumb, toothless mouth. Out of the screen and into your living-room rode horsemen by Delacroix. ‘Having conquered the civilized world,’ Clark enunciated evenly, ‘they have no idea of what to do with it: they will destroy it out of sheer embarrassment.’ Written like a gentleman. An ad for Dulux managed to worm its way in while Clark was plugging Géricault, but it didn’t much confuse the issue. Dulux doesn’t sound like a painter — although Géricault, when you think about it, does sound like a paint.

Every week I watch Stuart Hall on It’s A Knock-Out (BBC 1) and realise with renewed despair that the most foolish thing I ever did was to turn in my double-O licence and hand back that Walther PPK with the short silencer. Some poor klutz running flat out on a rolling log with a bucket of Géricault in each hand is trying to spit greased ping-pong balls into a basket held between the knees of a girl team-mate bouncing on a trampoline with her wrists tied behind her back, and Hall is shouting: ‘The seconds count, Robert. Are you going to do it? Are you going to do it? Ten seconds to go, Robert! Yes, YOU MUST DO IT NOW, because if you don’t, you.... OOH! Will you make it? AAAGH!’

As trained attendants scoop Robert’s remains on to a stretcher, Stuart goes through the adding-up ritual with the dreaded Arthur. ‘That’s four points from before and two points now,’ Arthur announces, supported in his cogitations by Stuart’s arm around his shoulders, ‘and four and two make... ’ — ‘Yes, Arthur?’ ‘Six.’

Cut to Eddie blaring at the marathon, Knock-Out’s Augean Stables. ‘Ahn eeh ahm da whey,’ bellows Eddie, rocking from foot to foot like a man in the early stages of the hully-gully: ‘Oom wah hoom there’s still one more go to game.’ Behind him, on a beam over a tank full of water, two shivering comptometer operators slug each other with pillows. The rain pours down.

I, you and millions upon millions of others watch on. Panem et circenses for the last Romans. But the divertimenti, thank God, are gladiatorial only in the metaphorical sense: bursting a balloon full of orangeade with your teeth before falling head-first into a barrel of flour is a lot better than a poke in the eye with a burnt strident.

17 June, 1973