Essays: Some Final thoughts |
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Some Final thoughts

ALREADY a week back in history, the Cup Final is an ailing memory. A few moments still stand out. Eddie Waring on Cup Final Knock-Out (BBC1) said ‘He’s really having to belt it to get it up’ as some poor wight swung a giant mallet in the rain. Ken Dodd was there, bedraggled.

Further preliminaries ensued. Peter Shilton, dressed for the occasion in his goalie outfit, pretended to find the winning card from a huge pile of Goal of the Season entries. Mr C. F. Palmer of Bristol won £300 in premium bonds. At Wembley itself, the band of the Royal Marines School of Music marched around to the usual complete indifference of the crowd. Mike Yarwood once again pretended to be Brian Clough. Jimmy Hill asked him a good question: ‘Where do you think the managers of these two teams went wrong?’ There was a 3,000 metre foot race, demonstrating that athletes are of virtually no interest compared to men who run just as fast for 10 times as long and play football while doing it.

Bruce Forsyth raced on to preside over the traditionally disastrous rendition of ‘Abide With Me.’ Half the crowd wanted to sing ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ instead — surely the most boring song since ‘Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.’ Anne was there, in her hat. Bill Shankly was in his hit-man’s outfit. As the teams lined up for a lengthy interview with Anne, Liverpool looked like glamour-boys, Newcastle like a pack of Spotty Herberts. ‘These perhaps the lengthiest introductions before a Cup Final...’ mused David Coleman speculatively. You couldn’t wait for the scruffy, nobbly lot to crucify the handsome lot — poncing mob of Alain Delons and Robert Redfords. The whistle blew and it didn’t happen. After the match you could button-punch and find that the BBC were interviewing Shankly and ITV were interviewing Malcolm Macdonald simultaneously. Smooth to the smooth, spotty to the spotty. Viewers in Scotland, we were reminded, were seeing their own Cup Final. The patronising tone of the reminder should have been enough in itself to start a nationalist rebellion.

There was another good instalment of Success Story (BBC1) which dealt this time with ‘Look Back in Anger.’ Once again the programme’s appeal resided in the naked play it made towards one’s latent (or indeed, overt) ambitions, and it was thereby reminiscent of Norman Podhoretz’s enticingly corrupt book ‘Making It,’ which I find myself reading far too often. John Osborne Made It in a highly satisfactory way, against tho odds and speaking for his generation. This show got more out of him than any previous one; he is famous for giving interviewers a rotten time, and once went through half an hour with Sheridan Morley without saying anything except Yes and No.

This time Osborne was moderately informative and more than moderately funny. We saw some pages from his working notebooks: bits and pieces joined up with arrows and alternative titles for ‘Look Back in Anger’ all crossed out. Osborne read out the contemporary notices, including Tynan’s, which is of course now an historic piece of writing in itself. Tynan was interviewed, talking with fluency and point. Each man gave his side of their feud, but you felt that some of Osborne’s comments had been quietly elided. Osborne said ‘I don’t think I’ve been overpraised, ever.’ A bit steep, maybe, but understandable. The focus was all on his vituperative rhetoric, with little said about his gift — insufficiently exploited, alas — for lyrical evocation: the declaration of love in ‘The Hotel in Amsterdam,’ for example. Still, good show. How he stays sane working in the theatre is another question.

Full Circle (Granada) was a glorified ‘World In Action’ dealing with a Czech family called the Slings, who have been going regularly to prison for the last two generations. For some reason (a reason which the programme might well have taken it upon itself to explore) the family remains faithfully Communist, unshaken in its loyalty by the proven fact that it is always the Party which locks them up. You’d think by now they’d be catching on. Some of the family played themselves, others were played by actors. The mother, an impressive woman, described her arrest under the Stalinist terror in the early fifties. ‘I began to think, in my ignorance, there had been a takeover by some anti-Socialist group.’

While being sympathetic, one couldn’t help thinking that the true subject was her ignorance: the wife of a man who until then had been in charge of a third of Czechoslovakia, she must have been practically worn out from turning a blind eye during all the years he had been pressurising the innocent on his own account. News travelled slowly behind the Iron Curtain, but surely not as slowly as that.

The latest head man of the family, young Jan, is a different breed of cat, a Dubčekian iconoclast seemingly as quick to disbelieve as his mother and murdered father were to believe. He is certainly very brave, and equally certainly, one fears, doomed.

Alastair Burnet chaired a Panorama (BBC1) devoted to Watergate. The other participants were mainly cardboard cut-outs of Nixon and his motley crew, The cut-outs read out their bits of the tape transcripts. Nixon was given the voice of Bugsy Siegel, or it could have been Joe Bananas. It would have been nicer if the cut-outs had been given articulated lower jaws, like Alastair Burnet. I’m starting to worry about who edits the Economist while he’s away. It was interesting to see that wherever Ron Ziegler stands to be interviewed, his face is always in shadow, like Eagle-Eye Fleagle in Li’l Abner.

The BBC Nine O’Clock News carried the decade’s most incomprehensible news item, warning us that the change kept for the balance of the sequestered Con-Mech funds would be insufficient to satisfy the judgment creditors of the unfrozen overdraft. The presenters might as well have been reading out the Rosetta Stone. On Dear Love (Granada) Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett read out their letters to each other, attaining a markedly higher standard of lucidity. Keith Michell was Robert Browning and Geraldine McEwan was Elizabeth Barrett. The budget was tiny, so Florence had to be a set of blow-ups. The dog, Flush, was, unfortunately, real. Nasty old Mr Barrett was oft mentioned but never appeared, thereby trimming the outlay still further. For a Derek Granger production this one was exiguous, but typically bold. One of the chief reasons the Brownings loved each other, you reflected, was that they both had other things to do. It helps.

World War II came to an end on Thames: we won. Shoulder to Shoulder finished on BBC2: they won. This series had everything against it, but still lived. It was not, however, ‘created’ by Verity Lambert, Midge McKenzie and Georgia Brown. Shakespeare created ‘Hamlet.’ Mozart created K.516. All the girls did was devise an interesting series.

The Observer, 12th May 1974