Essays: Enoch's answer |
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Enoch’s answer

‘I WANT to pull the nation together,’ Enoch Powell told Robin Day in the latest instalment of The Parliamentarians (BBC2). This was a pretty cool statement, considering what he has done to pull it apart.

‘I want to see Nationhood reasserted,’ Enoch announced. Since nobody has ever been able to define exactly what Nationhood is, it was a safe announcement. The viewer was left free to go on wondering which transparent material Enoch’s head is carved out of. It can’t he wax, because that would melt under the lights. Perhaps it’s amber. There could be a fly trapped in that right cheek.

‘I shall use whatever forces I can command or persuade.’ Whoever it is that Enoch Powell thinks he is, it is someone of enormous sagacity, rectitude and physical strength. Themistocles? Fabius Cunctator? Gustavus Adolphus? Prince Valiant? There is no telling. All you can be sure of is that he is a rhetorician to the roots. Take away those high-flown metaphors and you are left with low-flown metaphors.

A well-cast blast from the past, Granville-Barker’s The Voysey Inheritance (BBC1) made an excellent ‘Play of the Month.’ Brewster Mason played the head of an old family firm of solicitors. Jeremy Irons played his son Edward. Passing on the inheritance, old Voysey told young Voysey that the clients’ incomes were no longer backed up by any capital. Edward was left With the choice of keeping the whole thing going or letting it go smash.

Since the arguments for both courses of action were equally strong, the play had a built-in conflict, and since Edward was obliged to grow in moral stature as he grappled with his problem, it also had a built-in progression. As a bonus, there were Shavian aphorisms. ‘Fine feelings are as much a luxury as clean gloves.’ As a further bonus, there were Wildean epigrams. ‘One should never let one’s happiness depend on other people.’

Jeremy Child played brother Booth. a self-confident idiot who said everything very loudly: ‘LET ME SPEAK!’ was a typical line. The play was full of sure-fire hit moments. But it was more than just well made. The female characters, especially, had real depth to them — a fact which the actresses assigned to the roles were glad to demonstrate. Emma Piper was very good at falling in love with Edward and Julie Covington was equally good at getting tired of one of his brothers.

A lot went on in a small space. The ladies knitted and tatted imperturbably while the arguments raged. The middle class was anatomised with both rigour and sympathy — a feat of imagination not uncommon in Granville-Barker’s time, when it was generally agreed that those who wished to condemn the social order should first of all become acquainted with its workings. But the real driving force of the play was the story of its hero growing up.

Jeremy Irons put on maturity with the solid assurance of a knight putting on armour. Usually Irons is saddled with Bertie Wooster roles. He does commercials in which he is asked to wear a monocle and bray through his nose. But he is an actor of resource and here was a chance to prove it. The gradations of his performance were precisely judged. On film he would probably not have been able to manage it, since the scenes would have been shot out of sequence. But on television he was able to keep the continuity.

David Jones, the man behind ‘Play of the Month,’ had done a lot in the past year to back up his claims for the importance of television drama. He would like to see it reviewed seriously. I agree, but only on the understanding that often the best way of reviewing it seriously is to ignore it, or else point out that on television the best drama frequently happens in formats that are not, in the strict sense, plays. The Rockford Files (BBC1) is a case in point.

‘The Rockford Files’ is a standard American private-eye series with a car chase in almost every episode. But it has two things going for it. The first thing is James Garner, who ranks high on a very short list — leading men who have a way with a line. The second thing is the way that every sixth or seventh episode turns out to have been written with real flair and point.

As an intermediate stage between churning out gags for ‘National Lampoon’ and collaborating on the script of his very first movie, ‘Star-Jaws III,’ a clever young writer might knock off one or two episodes of ‘The Rockford Files.’ Freed by the rigid story-board from the necessity of thinking, up a plot, he devotes his energy to characterisation and dialogue. The results can sometimes be extraordinary.

In the latest episode, Rockford found himself lumbered with a hippie lady left over from the sixties. Calling herself Sky Aquarian, she was unable to eat a hamburger without first delivering a pious speech in memory of the animal who had died to provide it. Her dialogue was a precise echo of what happened when the Greening of America turned brown. ‘My consciousness doesn’t lend itself to problem-solving like yours does, OK? I’m into an alternative attitude.’ Rockford pointed out that consciousness was a large thing to lay claim to for someone who was unconscious 24 hours a day, but Sky wasn’t listening.

The reunion programme isn’t usually a bad idea. It is always a bad idea. Twenty Years On (BBC2) provided yet another mountain of evidence for this contention. Half a dozen people who had been RADA students in the late fifties were brought back together. One of them was Susannah York. The others weren’t.

‘I don’t know what you do at all,’ said somebody. ‘Still acting’ was somebody else’s understandably defensive reply. To have given up acting is one thing. To have gone on acting, but with such limited success that your contemporaries are not even aware that you have gone on acting, another.

At the still centre of this hurricane of embarrassment stood Susannah York, bravely pretending to be just like everybody else. Acting is a life in which success is tough and failure is tougher. I hope you will never hear me insulting an actor. But if I get caught battering a producer into unconsciousness with a sock full of pennies, try to understand.

Rebecca (BBC2) came to an end. Joanna David moped sweetly as the heroine; Anna Massey was even creepier than Judith Anderson in the movie; Jeremy Brett suavely brooded; and Julian Holloway was a rat fink. Production values were high. What else is there to say about a concoction which is really just ‘Jane Eyre’ on the rocks?

The Observer, 11th February 1979