Essays: Super-snookers |
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ALL OF Alban Berg’s 27 fans have written in to say that I should cast no more aspersions on their hero until I have listened to ‘Lulu’. It seems a lot to ask, but all right. Now for God’s sake: no more threatening telephone calls and dead cats.

Screened day after day on BBC2, World Championship Snooker was as addictive as ever, even though David Vine was often to be found standing in front of the players. Actually there was little to be said against David on this occasion. He had adapted his style to the appropriate air of quiet concentration. There was only one lapse into his characteristic habit of double entendre. It occurred in conversation with the brilliant young Welsh player Terry Griffiths. ‘Every time you finish a big match,’ said David, ‘it must sort of drop off a little.’ ‘It doesn’t drop off,’ said Terry. ‘It never really drops off.’ David nodded, satisfied.

It takes a lot of athletic talent and hard practice to become even an average snooker player. To become a champion takes brains and character on top of all that. No wonder the camera loves looking at the finished article. Within a frame of early defeat, the outgoing World Champion Ray Reardon patted his hair — a clear sign of desperation. Hurricane Higgins made a break of 112 in five minutes, but still did not win. The commentary, as always, was pertinent and taciturn. The whole tournament was a feast for the eye and mind.

At the Badminton Horse Trials (BBC2) it was once again demonstrated that you don’t have to have a hyphenated name to be a champion rider, but it helps. Lucinda Prior-Palmer and Jane Holderness-Roddam were well to the fore. ‘Goddam!’ the irreverent viewer would cry, ‘It’s Jane Holderness-Roddam!’ And into the picture Jane would thunder, clearing the spread-eagle shafting fence and plunging bravely down into the right-angle badger splash. But in the end it was Lucinda Prior-Palmer who carried off the trophy. Raymond Brooks-Ward did some of the talking. Dorian Williams did the rest of it, sounding a bit lonely without his hyphen. I found myself falling for the Englishness of it all. Will I end up wearing green wellingtons?

Englishness was a heady distillation in After Julius (Yorkshire). Elizabeth Jane Howard adapted her own novel to the screen as a three-part mini-series running on consecutive nights. ‘After Julius’ is a classically economical and intricate novel which rightly should defy any attempt, even by its author, to turn it into something else. Ms Howard, however, seemed properly aware that she was tinkering with a book which many people consider to be among the best written in recent years.

Playing Esmé, a lady far advanced into autumn, Faith Brook was beautifully preserved to put it at its mildest. Nevertheless it was credible that Felix, her quondam !over, should come back into her life only to fall for her elder daughter, Chrissie, played by the orchidaceous Cyd Hayman, while her younger daughter, Emma, played by Petra Markham, at last finds love in the form of the young proletarian poet Dan Brick, who... But summarising the plot can only make the story sound like ‘Bouquet of Barbed Wire,’ when in fact what was remarkable was the unswerving adherence to psychological truth.

Esmé is the embodiment of upper-middle class concern with getting it right. She is one of those women who convince you, for as long as you are with them, that manners and self-control are everything. Yet she allows herself to believe, when Felix comes back, that he has come back for her. Finding out her mistake, she resumes her apparent serenity. Or so, at any rate, she does in the novel.

On screen she blew her cool slightly, telling Felix to make himself scarce and take Chrissie with him. On screen the characters had a more vivid physical presence, but a less rich interior life, than they have in the book. Television can never be a complete substitute for literature. But it can be a useful complement, as well as doing wonders for sales.

Up until Tuesday I had mistakenly believed that for a science documentary to be really boring it had to be written by Nigel Calder. But Nigel Calder’s name appeared nowhere among the credits for It’s About Time (BBC1), which is the most boring science documentary I have ever seen. What Dudley Moore was doing in it is a question which will remain unanswered after the universe ends. On the day after the heat-death of everything, when there is nothing left except curved silence, a tiny voice will go on echoing near the outside edge of nowhere:—

‘How the Hell did I get into this?’

Dudley’s function in the programme was to sit at the piano, or stand not too far away from the piano, while a succession: of tedious experts told him about Time. This format has been tried on previous occasions and found wanting, although never as wanting as this. Not long ago Nigel Calder and a shambling assemb1y of savants were to be seen and heard telling Peter Ustinov about relativity. Ustinov worked hard to look puzzled and occasionally succeeded, helped by the fact that Calder has the rare gift of explaining a complex subject in a way that makes it less intelligible than ever.

But it was clear that the only thing Dudley didn’t understand about Time was how he had suddenly come to be wasting so much of it. A confident voice-over patronisingly informed him, in terms simple enough for a piano player to understand, that time passes more slowly when you are bored. To this fact Dudley’s face was already living testimony. A man pretending to be Einstein staggered into shot unt spoke at lenks whizz a choke accent.

Things perked up for a few seconds when Dudley demonstrated that Errol Garner’s piano style inhabits two different time scales, one in the right hand, another in the left. Otherwise the show was a prime candidate for the least coveted of all television awards, the Tin Bum of Rangoon.

In The Benny Hill Show (Thames) pretty girls kept lifting their skirts and shoving their bottoms at the camera. Benny’s mistake is to suppose that his own face has as much to offer, even when he equips it with a smirk. His confidence in his own naughty charm have reached the point where he favours worthless material over any other kind. Pee-pee, poo-poo, cock caught in an accordion.

Spike Milligan also tells blue jokes but most of them are funny and he has a million other ideas as well. Q8 (BBC2) once again proves that he is the fons et origo of contemporary British rubbish. Half the sketches get lost in their own entrails, but it doesn’t matter. Spike is at his best when the number is collapsing all around him. He should not, however, make casual jokes about Zyklon B. The time to trivialise such a memory has not yet arrived.

The Observer, 29th April 1979