Essays: It's Carry On Commentator |
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It’s Carry On Commentator

BY a tragic fluke of inattention I missed the immortal moment when Frank Bough said ‘Harry Commentator is your carpenter,’ but otherwise this reporter was in close attendance on most of the week’s detritus, miscalculation and trivia. The only serious omission was one’s failure to watch Ludovic Kennedy conducting The U-Boat War (BBC-1). Usually one likes to be on hand when Kennedy is sinking units of the German Navy, to catch that elegiac stiff lower register when he intones over Scharnhorst’s or Bismarck’s imminent departure for the bottom of the Atlantic. Bubbles of fuel oil come up, mountains of metal go down, and by now the Kriegsmarine is wearing thin. The subs are surely the fag-end of the subject. But the Japanese, be it remembered, had plenty of capital ships: in my recollection Kennedy hasn’t yet sunk a single one of them. There’s no reason why the perennial scenario shouldn’t be trotted out once, or even thrice again.

Anyhow, back to business. On Cup Final (BBC-2) the Duchess of Kent seemed to be rendering her own version, delivered sideways to a companion, of ‘Abide With Me.’ As far as I could tell from reading her enchanting lips, it took the form of an uninterrupted stream of chat. Her rendition of ‘God Save the Queen,’ on the other hand, stuck close to the original.

Among the preliminaries to the match was a foot-race, undoubtedly staged so that the BBC could bring to an apogee of perfection its age-old pretence of traumatised astonishment at David Bedford coming second. The match itself yielded little of interest apart from football. The carpentry was remarkably restrained, only rising to the exalted heights we expect from David Coleman when Leeds’s Madeley ran flat-out into Sunderland’s Guthrie and jolted him sideways out of his jock-strap like a rogue truck uprooting a parking meter. ‘Interesting watching that challenge by Madeley.’

Later in the week, on Sportsnight (BBC-1), the boys were back to form. Some of the Russian gymnasts had been brought over by the British Amateur Gymnastics Association, which concerns itself with amateur gymnastics, and the Daily Mirror, which concerns itself with professional money-making. Considering this disparity, it was remarkable how the Daily Mirror’s name sprang to prominence in both the camera-work and the carpentry.

Tourischeva re-established her ascendancy: her beautiful programme on the asymmetric bars has the mature inevitability we have so far missed in the work of the more spectacular Olga Korbut. Olga was there too, the sound-waves of the BBC’s hysterical build-up still raging around her pretty head. She was on rotten form. The gems from Francis Lai that were emanating from a very bad piano — played, with matching skill, by persons unknown — trickled to a halt when, or perhaps just before, Olga mucked up her back flip on the beam. She also goofed on the asymmetric bars, so it was not surprising to hear Alan Weeks get to the heart of the matter with his usual epigrammatic precision. ‘That,’ he crooned, ‘was Olga Korbut at her best.’ He would have said the same if she’d flown sideways off the bars and landed head first in the carpentry box.

There were no beautiful bodies to be seen on World In Action (Granada), which sent a camera-crew to Saigon to secure further proof, if proof were necessary, that the Americans in Vietnam helped the South Vietnamese Government achieve the normally impossible goal of providing the human race with something worse than Communism. Five years in the cages of Con Son has produced men with legs so utterly lifeless that they have to push themselves along with their hands. A lady who complained about her daughter being tortured was tortured for complaining.

The scale of the cruelty was staggering. Yet there wasn’t a fact in the programme that wasn’t known to students of these events five years ago. Most people who watch ‘World in Action’ are not, of course, students of events. So can they change events? I doubt it. Telling the truth has to be an end in itself, pursued even if it changes nothing. That was the thing to cling to, as these poor ruined people picked up their legs and put them down like stockings full of sand. Interesting watching that challenge by President Thieu.

The Old Grey Whistle Test (BBC-2) has had extra space lately and used it to advantage: this time there was a commendably neat and unpretentious film of the latest American blues tour. Homesick James’s sweet music was something to remember, while the monstro-horrendo, superschlock-diabolical special on McCartney (ATV) burgeoned before the terror-stricken eye like a punctured storage-tank of semolina. Say it isn’t so, Paul.

The Ascent of Man got started on BBC-2 with Dr Bronowski calling the shots. In the first programme he created mankind, endowing him with foresight and imagination. On That Monday Morning Feeling (BBC-2) there was an undertaker who found his work creatively satisfying: he likes working in wood. And loves, presumably, hiding the results in the ground. Capitalism hadn’t alienated this happy character one iota.

Hit line of the week was from Tory Central Office’s top banana, Anthony Barber. In Party Political Broadcast (all channels) he solved the problem of rising prices by announcing: ‘The people who’ve done best of all are those with the lowest pay.’ I tell you, Lew, the guy’s dynamite. You couldn’t follow an act like that with Olga Korbut and Alan Weeks sinking the Bismarck.

The Observer, 13th May 1973

[ An edited version of this piece can be found in Visions Before Midnight ]