Essays: Fleeing and surviving |
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Fleeing and surviving

‘NO lessons should be drawn by der enemies of our friends from der ... experiences in Vietnam,’ warned Kissinger. Meanwhile, back at der experiences, helicopters flopped into the sea like gassed locusts as our friends baled out and swam for safety aboard the crowded American flat-tops. The lovely Marshal Ky was reported to be among them.

The unpurged images of day recede. Setting aside the immortal footage of the pilotless choppers cartwheeling into the drink, not much film found its way back from the Apocalypse. Nor are der enemies of our friends likely to favour extensive coverage once the dust clears, apart from the inevitable revelations about the kind of regime our friends were running. Correspondents from both BBC and ITN are still in Saigon and doubtless will be given a ring-side seat when some of the human wreckage is put on display.

‘I want to watch television!’ shrieked Brian of The Brothers (BBC1). This demand being rightly construed as evidence of incipient breakdown, he was bundled off to the bin forthwith, while Edward and Jennifer — in ski-clothes of matching unsuitability — had it away up an Alp. A marriage has been arranged, to rival in splendour anything laid on for Meg Richardson in ‘Crossroads.’ Brian will probably attend, in a strait-jacket.

The Survivors (BBC1) has turned out to be a desperate struggle by the last half-dozen actors in Britain to get their mouths around Terry Nation’s dialogue before they die of hunger. ‘Perhaps we do need a powerful, even brutal, force to lead us, unite us,’ a girl said in a voice full of wonder, as if considering the desirability of trying the same line backwards. ‘Us unite, us lead to force, brutal even, powerful a need do we perhaps.’ Pretty good: not much loss in semantic content and a notable gain in rhythm.

Mr Nation has been otherwise responsible for ‘Dr Who,’ a show considerably more adult in its approach than ‘The Survivors,’ which betrays not a hint of evidence that the ostensible subject — how people would actually survive in the aftermath of an abundant technology they lacked the power to reproduce — has been thought about at all. Just as Dr Who, when chased by marauding Daleks, will gather his witless assistants around him for a time-wasting conversation, so the Survivors, while being pursued by a ravening car-load of hooligans with guns, pause for a metaphysical interchange rivalling the ‘Symposium’ in duration. There is no logic to what goes on, so it is no surprise that everyone concerned has lost heart — including the special effects man, who does not seem able to make the noise of a gun going off. Instead you hear the sound of an egg falling on the floor.

Why is Spy Trap (BBC1) the best series of any kind on television? Answer: because it is plotted with iron logic. Apart from one recent episode, which aberrantly sent Ryan into the field (only in real life would a British counter-intelligence chief be presented to the other side on a plate), the series has been relentlessly consistent, with satisfyingly complicated stories and decent attention paid to the continuity of the leading characters. Carson (Michael Gwynn) is the grey eminence: a clubbable patrician smoothie. Commander Ryan (Paul Daneman) shares the same educational background and could one day replace him at the top of the hierarchy. But keep an eye on the outsider coming through on the rails: though Sullivan (Tom Adams) might not have been to Oxbridge, his capable hands are free of nervous sweat.

In ‘Spy Trap’ it is not assumed that our lot are nicer than der enemies of our friends. It is assumed that they behave better. Both these assumptions seem to me quite tenable: all depends on what the law permits, and our intelligence organisations are still a long way short of being allowed to rewrite the encyclopedias. If Sullivan gains ascendancy over Ryan, however, we could be in for a more ruthless future. There’s something about his voice ... which can also be heard, incidentally, plugging the Reliant Robin on ITV.

The mini-series Six Days of Justice (Thames) featured a play called ‘Angelica’ written by Eleanor Bron. This was a thoughtful piece, well acted all round. Angelica was an adolescent out of control. The court uncovered the reasons — mother a moral cipher, stepfather a pious jerk — but there was no easy solution. Also on Thames, but a lot less gripping, was a ‘World at War’ spin-off called The Two Deaths of Adolf Hitler. All the old ashes were sifted yet again, proving to the satisfaction of the normal viewer that (a) the mad bastard offed himself somewhere about the time advertised, and that (b) one of his testicles escaped and could be living in Argentina.

Prepare to Meet Thy Boom (BBC2) was a king-size documentary emanating from Scotland on the subject of North Sea oil. Thorough legwork yielded some interesting interviews and on-site film, but the music was apparently selected from the producer’s exiguous record collection and the writing lacked point, not to mention grammar. (‘Credence’ was confused with ‘credibility’ — a much worse lapse than ‘Nationwide’s’ habit of mixing up ‘disinterested’ and ‘uninterested.’ It’s high time the BBC put out a handbook to all departments.)

The Seven Black Years (BBC1) was a Tuesday Documentary about Greece under the Colonels, narrated by Peter Levi There was some rare film of the Polytechnic siege in 1973. I was a bit unfair to A Portrait of Katherine Mansfield (BBC2) the first time round, having been too easily put off by its early episodes, in which Vanessa Redgrave reproduced the heroine’s young affectations with off-putting intensity. In the later chapters she gave the sort of subtle performance which reminds you that an actress’s talent can have a mind of its own, quite separate from whatever is going on in her alleged intellect. Jeremy Brett as Middleton Murry was good too.

There was a Twiggy repeat on BBC1: she’s wonderful. On News at Ten (ITN) Tony Benn showed increasing mastery of the reaction shot when Callaghan was speaking at the Labour Party’s Common Market debate. Nothing too broad: just quiet little pursings of the lips and abbreviated shakings of the head, indicating tactful but heart-felt sympathy for Jim’s mental condition. Bogus to the roots.

David Niven’s introductory remarks to A Wartime Screen (BBC1) have been very civilised, and the films themselves very interesting. The Scott Trial (BBC2) covered the annual motorcycling event in which dedicated riders wrestle their machines o’er dale and hill, struggling up rock-filled streams which would leave even a salmon quivering with despair. The commentator asked the Mad Question of the Week. ‘What’s the trick of handling these highly-bred two-stroke bikes at low speed in deep water?’

The Observer, 4th May 1975