Essays: Cash of the Day |
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Cash of the Day

RIDDEN by Harvey Smith, Sanyo Music Centre collected eight faults during the feature event of Showjumping from Hickstead (BBC1).

You might have imagined Harvey was mounted on a piece of stereo equipment, but Sanyo Music Centre, though it has a leg in each corner like certain types of radiogram, is in fact a living creature with no provision for the electronic reproduction of sound.

By now the habit of delivering thinly disguised commercials is well ingrained. The number of BBC programmes involved in flogging products has become something of a wonder, and would by itself constitute a weighty argument for a more realistic system of funding, so that the hucksters could be kept at their proper distance. Sponsoring an event should be enough. When the event itself sprouts billboards and trademarks the sound of the cash-register drowns the roar of the crowd. Match of the Day (BBC1) has now moved to Sunday with no slackening in its determination to use money for a measure. ‘Brown coming in ... cost £300,000 last year ...’ Does that include spares?

Getting back from Italy last weekend just in time for the last episode of The Martian Chronicles (BBC1), I was pleased to see that it lived down to the previous two instalments. Rock Hudson hasn’t worn a look of dismay like that since he had his skull drilled in ‘Seconds.’ Raquel Welch, on the other hand, had a good week. The Legend of Walks Far Woman (BBC1), despite its awful title, proved to be a far from negligible movie about the Red Man, featuring a brilliant performance by Nick Mancuso as a Red Man called Horse’s Ghost. He was a completely believable Red Man who somehow managed to be a very funny straight-faced comedian, like Chevy Chase plus feathers.

The only way you could be sure Raquel was a Red Woman was by her make-up. Not a very good singer or dancer, she is not a very good actress either. But she will take a lot of trouble to set up a serious project and deserves a measure of applause for it. Her chief failing is to introduce an element of décolletage into whatever costume she happens to be wearing. This sartorial quirk was particularly inappropriate in ‘Fantastic Voyage,’ where the costume was a pressure suit, but it didn’t look quite right for ‘Walks Far Woman’ either. She looked like Sticks Out Woman.

Raquel also turned up as guest star in the latest episode of Mork and Mindy (Anglia), a slick imported American comedy series in which the one-line gags pile up in struggling heaps. Raquel wasn’t quite fast enough for the regulars, but she made up for it with her figure. Playing a ruthless invader from space, she was particularly ruthless with the top buttons of her uniform, which had evidently cracked under the strain.

In the first scene of the Elvis Presley movie, Roustabout (BBC1), Raquel, then at the start of her career, was briefly visible as a teenage walk-on. She didn’t say her line particularly well, but her face registered. The best thing she ever did was her small part in ‘Bedazzled’, where clever direction made it look as if that extraordinary shape of hers were light on its feet. Actually she has to march into position and set up camp for the night. She is Walks Awkwardly Woman. But there is something nice about her.

Trevor McDonald’s night-to-night analysis of the Polish crisis on News at Ten (ITN) was consistently the best thing of its kind on television. No doubt the reason for the TUC’s silence on the subject is that their leaders and ideologues are preparing a lengthy, ringing endorsement of the Polish workers’ demand for free trade unions. The only other possible explanation is that the TUC is run by shambling mediocrities who are an insult to their own heritage.

The bravery of those Polish strikers who talked to our television interviewers simply defies belief. It won’t be enough for them to win temporary concessions. If they don’t succeed in changing the social structure of Poland, they are doomed. ‘We must not stop our fighting,’ one of them told the BBC, ‘It’s too late.’

The boys and girls on Newsnight (BBC2) did their best with Poland too, but a more typical item was the investigation of Christine Keeler’s ‘lifestyle’ — their word, not hers. After a hard decade and a half at the bottom of the barrel, Christine is apparently now slated to make a come-back. She has just been appointed an editorial adviser to Men Only. Imagine where she has been, if working for Men Only is a step up. The programme showed Christine in action, giving her expert views to an editorial conference. The assembled brains strove to look impressed while she filled them in on the arcana of her special field, sex.

Christine’s outline is as lissom now as it was then, when Government Ministers dished their careers because they couldn’t keep their hands off it. Also her natural dress-sense — one of the distinguishing marks of the Sixties was that the hookers looked as good as the socialites — has survived her reduced circumstances. But her face is a bitter expression of the emptiness inherent in the whole idea of love as a commodity.

Christine’s reasons for surfacing as an editorial adviser were more negative than positive. ‘I might as well,’ she told the camera, ‘because they won’t leave me alone.’ She meant the Press, but might well have mentioned ‘Newsnight’ in the same indictment. The programme affected a lofty detachment, but in fact had no thoughts on the subject.

Chaos Supersedes Ensa (Southern) was full of good stories about the wartime entertainers telling good stories about each other. Peter Ustinov's contribution should be preserved in a national archive as an example of all his gifts happening at once, like a box of fireworks going off. Barry Norman's series The British Greats (BBC1) ended with Gracie Fields. This, too, consisted mainly of people telling good stories, but was no less interesting for that. It was made clear that she had overwhelming charm. Sir John Betjeman has that too, but in Betjeman’s Britain (Anglia) it was overwhelmed in its turn by a wave of schmaltz.

Worst documentary of the decade was Ladies from Hell (BBC1), all about the role played by the kilt in the history of the highland regiments. This turned out to be roughly the same as the role played by trousers in the history of the lowland regiments. No questions were asked about what must surely be the kilt’s basic drawback, namely the danger to which it exposes the warrior’s vulnerable parts when he is hurdling the hardier varieties of heather.

In Swan Lake (Thames) Makarova was too good for words. As Odette/Odile, she made Odile look worth losing Odette for. Indeed Odile, at the end of a mind-watering pas de deux, threw Siegfried a smile which plainly asked ‘Your place or mine?’ and would have set his tights alight if he had had his eyes open. Here was proof that sex can go public only as art. Anything else is just the vain attempt to transfer a non-transferable asset, but there is no call to despise the other girls merely because they are not Makarova. If Raquel Welch could move like her and Christine Keeler knew a tenth as much about eroticism it would be better for them but worse for us, since the world would be less various, and there would be no Miss United Kingdom (1980) to help remind us that people are not to be despised just because their dreams are cheap.

The Observer, 31st August 1980
[ A shortened version of this piece appears in Glued to the Box ]