Essays: Blood, Bron and black-outs |
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Blood, Bron and black-outs

IN The World in a Box (BBC2), a global roundup of television, a seven-year-old child in a Japanese talent-spotting contest ate a razor blade — the bad sound of the week.

Which brings us naturally to the re-run of The Blood Donor (BBC2), Tony Hancock’s classic 1961 performance of the script by Galton and Simpson. This was still pretty funny, but Hancock gave one line near the end such a thunderous misreading that you could see why, when they reminisce about him, the two doughty wordsmiths don’t exactly burst out cheering. ‘D’you get tea and biscuits after getting blood as well?’ Hancock asked. But it’s only a joke if the emphasis is on ‘getting,’ not on ‘after.’ Still, perhaps it was a fluff. In those days the fluffs tended to stay in, because it was so expensive to edit tape. It had to be done by a man with a razor bl... No, I don’t want to think about it.

As of now, there is no longer any particular reason to think of This Is Waugh (ATV), which clocked up its third and last episode and went spinning back into the null-space of memory. I have to admit that I watched all three episodes, so Bron’s mini-series certainly succeeded as an attention-grabber. Indeed it got more coverage than any telly project in some time, being despised not only by the Left, but by some sections of the Right who would have preferred to see their case less embarrassingly put. A man who can get up the nose of his own side has to be given credit for independence.

I’ve always found it hard to dislike Bron, although I’m working on it. But what can you do except cluck affectionately when he announces one of ‘the soundest of our political thinkers’ and wheels forward ‘my old friend Peregrine Worsthorne’? The two philosophers set about tapping croquet balls while they pooled their giant intellects. Perry, one of the soundest of our political thinkers, was of the opinion that nobody wants to work. Bron, a political thinker of almost equal stature, swung his mallet in discreet agreement. It was a wonder they weren’t holding flamingoes.

To alleviate the excitement of the game and illustrate the vision of its players, filmed interviews were inserted, featuring enemies of freedom, the majority of them idiots. One lady was under the impression that personal liberty reigns in the USSR, all dissident elements being bourgeois and therefore fair game. A lady reporter from the Morning Star said that when the revolution arrived here, it would be up to the opposition not to resist: if they had to be wiped out it would be their fault. Tariq Ali contributed a few tawny thoughts.

All Bron had to do was sit there and let his interviewees reveal themselves as either feather-brained or homicidal, usually both. But the threat these people represent to the way of life Bron is bent on defending must be close to zero. In other words, he was interviewing the wrong people. Anyway, back to the croquet game, where both players were agreed that even the Tory party is no longer hospitable to people such as themselves. While superior brains like Perry and Bron must perforce languish in ‘fringe activities’ instead of ‘real politics,’ the working class saps the country’s energy with arrogant inertia. ‘They’re frightened of nobody,’ Perry explained. ‘So people are idle.’ Balls, balls and more balls went clicking around the lawn.

A programme about dyslexia called If You Knew Susie (BBC1) was capably fronted by Susan Hampshire, herself a sufferer from that strange handicap — to the extent that she must learn her scripts by having them read to her, which in the case of ‘The Pallisers’ must have meant protracted agony for others beside herself. Miss Hampshire left us in no doubt that dyslexia is really something wrong, not just laziness or stupidity.

At school she got out of difficulties by putting a hamster on the desk when it was her turn to read aloud. (Here, incidentally, was a hint at another fruitful theme for a programme — how performers start off.) Try as she might, she could never get the little signs on the paper to make sense, or even get them in the right order. Nowadays there is remedial teaching available, but it has to he fearsomely painstaking, since a dyslexic has to put as much effort into deciphering one page as you and I put into a hundred. Our famous mentor showed us how the new treatment works. No doubt there are already cases of parents calling dyslexia what is really stupidity, but that’s the price of giving things a name.

Inside Medicine (BBC2) was the same sort of show, except that it was about epileptics. A sufferer called Judy Smith spoke very informatively about the results of having ‘absences’ while doing her make-up — sometimes she completes the job perfectly without being able to remember how, and other times her face is all mascara. She blacks out during conversations. So do I, but now I can call it epilepsy.

In Don’t Shoot the Ref! (BBC1) we were given some idea of what being a League football referee involves. It involves an awful lot. The programme concentrated on one referee, Jack Taylor, following him on his crowded itinerary. ‘What happens to senior referees,’ he explained, ‘is the hobby takes over from the living ... I might be a part-time butcher, but I’m a full-time referee.’ It’s hard to see how there could be any choice, there’s so much to do. Referees spend hours taking exams, assessing one another, briefing linesmen. It takes 12 years of working your way up before you get a chance to be shouted at by Billy Bremner.

One of the programme’s many revelations was the fruitiness of what the referees shout back. Directional microphones picked up Taylor’s brisk exhortations to histrionically injured players and tardy trainers. ‘Bring him round. We haven’t got time to bury him.’ This was the stuff that ‘Match of the Day’ never brings you. It was comforting to find that the referees are more armoured against aggro than they look.

The Observer, 29th August 1976