Essays: Charlie's brainless angels |
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Charlie’s brainless angels

TO MARK the occasion of a pack of alsatian dogs killing a little boy, Nationwide (BBC1) featured a savant called Brian Lindsay, billing him as ‘Vice Chairman of the Alsatian League.’ Brian explained that the alsatian makes a ‘satisfactory pet.’

Brian’s face would have been the bleak peak of the week if one hadn’t stumbled across a new American import called Charlie’s Angels (Thames). This is a series about three girl cops. Angie Dickinson in ‘Policewoman’ is only one girl cop. Starsky and Hutch are only two guy cops. ‘Charlie’s Angels’ combines these packaging concepts and goes them both at least one better. For example, it has four more breasts than ‘Policewoman’ and six more than ‘Starsky and Hutch’ It has four fewer testicles than ‘Starsky and Hutch,’ but a lot more hair than ‘Kojak.’

In the episode I caught, the three girl cops — Sabrina, Jill and Kelly — were working undercover to defeat corruption in a women’s prison. In accordance with the show’s women’s lib fantasy format, the prison set-up consisted essentially of a small number of horrible males pushing around a large number of sweet females. To balance things out a hit, however, there were a few horrible females, including one sadistic wardress whose character was nearly as bad as her acting.

Sabrina. Jill and Kelly had their work cut out to nix the heavies, mainly because they — Sabrina, Jill and Kelly — were not terrifically bright. In fact they scarcely added up to one brain. They managed to knock out the two warders who were driving them off to be shot, but failed to secure the warders’ guns, on the grounds that the warders were ‘lying on them.’ The unspoken assumption that three girls can’t lift one man was highly revealing.

Heavily dependent on the romance of spit and string, Wings (BBC1) is already two episodes old as I write. The romantic aircraft of WW I zoom and dive before our eyes, while young men grow old before their time. If the Huns don’t get them then the clichés Will. It’s sad to see a TV show so thoroughly obeying James’s First Law of Aviation Movies, which states that the authenticity of the software varies inversely with that of the hardware. Flying films like ‘The Blue Max,’ ‘The Great Waldo Pepper’ and ‘Aces High’ all regaled us with human beings as hollow as the aircraft were solid. Now here comes the first television series with a budget big enough to hire some real aircraft, and lo! suddenly the small screen is full of unreal people, just like a movie.

Written by the kind of scriveners who don’t know the difference between ‘flaunt’ and ‘flout,’ the script is at least direct. An upper-class twit called Gaylion and a humble son of the soil called Farmer both want to be pilots. Needless to say, Gaylion has the easier time getting in, since he has spent his school-days ‘playing the right sort of games’ whereas Farmer has merely wasted his spare time mucking about with engines and aeroplanes. Thus the social issues are pointed up. It’s the way things were, but you could wish for more subtlety. Once at flying school, the two lads come under the influence of their instructor, Captain Triggers — a teeth-gritting neurotic straight out of ‘Goshawk Squadron.’ Triggers wants to tell the youngsters what a cauldron they’re about to fall into, but he has trouble getting his teeth apart. Farmer, with brains rather than breeding, catches on first: the idea is to slaughter the Hun.

Gaylion, with breeding rather than brains, finds this attitude dashed unsporting. ‘One can’t expect chaps of your class,’ he explains, ‘to appreciate matters of honour and chivalry and the proper conduct of gentlemen.’ But they will go on being friends. Over in France the enemy already prowls aloft, waiting to sort out the gentlemen from the players. Will there be a philosophical German pilot like the one in ‘Waldo Pepper’? Soon find out.

But the must series for the next three months is obviously going to be The Age of Uncertainty (BBC2), written and presented by John Kenneth Galbraith. Like many others who read ‘The Affluent Society’ when it first appeared, I have a great respect for Galbraith’s knack of making economics intelligible to the numerically half-witted. (That story about Sir Alec Douglas-Home moving matches about never struck me as funny. At least he knew which matches to move.) In this new block-buster series the same gift of clarity is still there. The only factor threatening to obscure it is the absurd lavishness of the production values.

Nothing Galbraith says is allowed to pass unillustrated, despite the fact that his prose has the virtue of illustrating itself. In the first episode, the line that struck home strongest was the one about the rich having a more acute sense of injustice than the poor. The idea stood out because for once we were allowed to dwell on it, without being shown an actor, dressed up as a rich man, evincing a more acute sense of injustice, while another actor, dressed up as a poor man, evinced a less acute sense of injustice, both actors standing in the middle of a map of Europe decorated with graphs indicating wealth by lit-up rows of bulging money-bags and poverty by lit-up rows of empty grain-sacks, while a flashing arrow bobbled up and down on a scale marked with degrees of injustice, the whole set having been built on the back of a lorry, which a long pull-back by the crane camera revealed to he travelling through outer Mongolia.

Pinter’s The Lover (Yorkshire) was a more substantial revival than the recent ‘The Collection.’ As a married couple supplying fantasy-figures for each other in the afternoons, Vivien Merchant and Patrick Allen coped doggedly with the various levels of unreality. The famous Merchant legs looked good in stilettos and the famous Allen voice was still adding an ‘m’ sound to every word: ‘By the waym’ and ‘Let’s have some brandym.’ It remained doubtful whether Pinter’s agility in switching moods matched the audience’s agility in switching off.

The second instalment of Wildlife on One (BBC1, stupid title) was gripping about sharks, as opposed to the first instalment, which was funny about Midway Island, populated by imbecilic birds with names like gooney, the nodder, the dullard and the dolt. According to Hoyle (BBC2) was an overblown tribute to the famous astronomer, unwatchably eked out by dramatised episodes from his novels. Guilty or Innocent (Thames) was a passable American documentary about a murder case, starring George Peppard. He wasn’t guilty but he wasn’t all that wonderful, either. Ambiguity, etc.

There was an, interesting Lively Arts (BBC2) about the Rupert Foundation conductors’ competition. The young winner gave an eloquent account of Beethoven’s First. But who was Rupert Foundation? ‘Bouquet of Barbed Wire’ is back, now called Another Bouquet (LWT). By my calculations, all done with matches, in three more episodes everybody Will have screwed everybody.

The Observer, 16th January 1977