Essays: Bamber's Gospel |
[Invisible line of text as temporary way to expand content column justified text width to hit margins on most viewports, simply for improved display stability in the interval between column creation and loading]

Bamber’s Gospel

FROM the same tradition that brought you ‘The Professionals,’ ‘The Comancheros’ and ‘The Liquidators’ comes Bamber Gascoigne’s towering epic The Christians (Granada), written by Bamber Gascoigne. Based on the book by Bamber Gascoigne. Starring, in alphabetical order, Bamber Gascoigne.

Divided into 13 parts, filmed in 30 countries, stretching over 2,000 years of history, ‘The Christians’ is bigger than ‘The Big Sky,’ longer than ‘The Longest Day,’ more tender than ‘Tender is the Night,’ less repulsive than ‘Repulsion.’ It is a story of compassion, faith, violence, love, sand. But above all it is the story of one man. A man whose rebellious vision stunned the world with its impact. Dressed in a lightweight suit and often wearing no tie because of the heat, he came out of the desert of ‘University Challenge’ — a man who had asked all the questions and was now in search of the answers.

‘Verily, verily I say unto you,’ he would address the multitude, ‘here is thy starter for 10.’ And they would press their buzzers. But often they would press their buzzers too early. And Bamber Gascoigne would smile upon them, saying: ‘Bad luck, Pharisees...’ But enough of this. For although Bamber is firmly in the centre of the screen whenever it is not occupied by the Christians themselves, it can scarcely be said that he is asserting his personality.

On the contrary he seems determined to keep his own views out of it. His presentation is tentative, diffident, subjunctive. ‘Whether He was God, or Man, or myth, one thing is certain about Jesus Christ...’ That He was with the Woolwich? No, that He ‘affected history.’ Well, He certainly did that. No two ways about it. That was what He did to history. He affected it. Whether He was God, man, myth or a thaumaturge in an ornithopter.

Bamber insists that whether you believe the stuff or not need have no bearing on how you view the series. The implication is that the same uncertainty had no bearing on how the series was made. But the script’s tone of voice demonstrates at all points that a passionate unbelief would have a better chance of conveying the subject’s inherent dignity. ‘Little Palestine was in the limelight.’ Gascoigne’s prose is too fastidious to be called vulgar, but in this first episode nothing could save him from sounding vaporous.

For all those suffering from ‘Brothers’ starvation I can recommend Rough Justice (BBC1). It is a bit like foisting methadone on a heroin addict, but it is better than nothing. We are being given, in six parts, the heart-warming, unbelievable story of a radical young lawyer up in arms against the values represented by the stuffy boss of his law firm, whose daughter he has married.

The radical young lawyer is identifiable as a radical by his turtle-neck sweater and propensity to shout. A sort of anti-David Maine, he is ready to eschew Success. Since the script is equally ready to eschew credibility, a certain degree of interest is assured. If you half close your eyes, you might almost be trucking with the Hammonds ... No, let’s not fool ourselves.

‘A variety-packed Saturday night’ was promised last weekend on BBC1. Its centre-piece was the dreaded Cannon, in which the fat man once again outmanoeuvred the heavies in a car chase. Since even with the driving seat lowered to the floor the bottom half of the steering wheel must be lost in the folds of Cannon’s stomach, it remains something of a mystery that he always manages to win these encounters. But ours not to reason why, ours merely to enjoy the variety-packed Saturday night.

Other items of the variety-packed Saturday night were The Glory Guys, ‘a rousing tale of Cavalry versus Indians during the roaring seventies’; a Seaside Special starring Val Doonican and hosted by Tony Blackburn; and Supernatural, the seventh of eight indescribably soporific stories from the Club of the Damned.

One interesting item in BBC1’s variety-packed Saturday night was the News, which was itself packed with variety. It was not quite as packed with variety as the ITN bulletin, which had some marvellous footage of Fred Mulley falling asleep while the Queen and the Duke watched aeroplanes, but it still had quite a lot of variety packed into it. For example, it had an item called ‘The Weather Situation.’ Until recently the weather situation had been often mentioned, but never actually written down. Now here it was, as bold as brass on a caption. And after the caption faded away, a man came on to explain how the weather situation had ‘eased the potato-blight situation.’

But there was a week-long sequence of programmes, collectively entitled Festival 77 (BBC2), to prove that Auntie is still certain of her past, even if she dithers in the present. ‘Thanks for the Memory’ gave us viewers’ memories of television. Fragments of old programmes illustrated their reminiscences, some of which stretched back beyond my time in this country.

Muffin the Mule and the Flower-pot Men looked pretty awkward beside today’s Muppets, but people remembered them with rapture. The vox pops were not always unanimous. ‘My son and husband absolutely adore Westerns’ contrasted neatly with ‘For me, too much cowboys.’ A lady fondly recalled a programme she called ‘Steady, Ready and Go.’ There was somebody to remember anything: nothing went unloved. You longed to hear a shaping opinion. Bring on René Cutforth!

In later programmes he duly appeared. Introducing a re-run of the original Nineteen Eighty-Four, he warned that it ‘creaks a bit,’ but usefully pointed out that in 1954 it was a technical wonder. Considering that it was a live transmission, the performances were indeed extraordinary. The mass howl of protests is easy enough to understand in retrospect. There was only the one channel, so a quarter of the country’s population were plugged in when Winston was being tortured. The scene is hard enough to take now and must have seemed intolerable then.

Speaking of intolerable scenes, Trevor Griffiths’s play about breast cancer, Through the Night, was repeated on BBC1. This time I nerved myself to watch it. Gruelling but finely done. If you were wondering what happened to Uri Geller, he turned up in Santo Domingo as one of the judges in Miss Universe (Thames). He was billed as being capable of ‘bending metals solely with his mind.’ Since some of the girls were capable of stopping clocks solely with their faces, it was scarcely a top-notch occasion, but it was nice to see Uri still getting work.

The Observer, 7th August 1977