Essays: Liberating Miss World |
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Liberating Miss World **

The theme (Women’s Liberation) and the pace (stilted but inexorable) were set by the ever-lovely Miss World (BBC-1) which raised its annual kit of Platonic queries, such as — is it better to be Socrates unhappy than a pig happy?

Practically without exception, the faces are null: one searches them despairingly for a flicker of the potential supposedly awaiting release, the female creativity allegedly begging to be liberated. No soap. Just a pack of fair to middling, not unpleasing, impenetrably dopey broads.

They’re the ruck which Michael Aspel exists to electrify, and although it’s true that they find him wonderful because they’ve been told to, it’s by no means true that terminating this cultural programming would result in spontaneous choices being substituted for the mechanical ones. What you would get would be the acrid fizz of overloaded circuits, whereupon the ladies would start walking into walls, sitting down in mid-air or explaining their hobbies to a pillar-box.

So far Women’s Lib has had great difficulty in coping with the idea that the activities of the lumpenproletariat might simply have to be respected for themselves. One of the leading characteristics of the not-quite-bright is their disastrous over-estimation of the role of intellect in political reality. This stricture applies full force to Women’s Lib, which seems intent on supposing that unintelligent behaviour is an aberration, and that naught but a male chauvinist conspiracy stops Miss Australia realising the desirability of being Germaine Greer.

The Women’s Libbers shouldn’t get too impressed by the undoubted truth that Germaine Greer can understand Rosa Luxemburg and Miss Australia can barely understand Michael Aspel: it’s not a crime, it’s just life — and by no means the worst of life, either. I used to see Miss Australia every day on the beaches around Sydney, with zinc cream on her nose. She was all right. Nothing special. Her name always turned out to be something like Gaylene Gunth. While waiting for Michael Aspel to come into her life, she’d sit around for hours on a beach-towel, pining that she had only 10 fingernails to paint. No repressive culture ever made her. She made the culture. She was as free as the ozone, as liberated as the space between the stars.

On Talk-In (BBC-1) Robin Day chaired a discussion of ‘Miss World’ between a handful of Women’s Libbers and the massed forces of darkness. Far from being the natural output of a male chauvinist pig, Day’s arrogance goes beyond sex and indeed the bounds of credibility, to the point where you expected a flying wedge of ravening Maenads to spring from the audience and rip him to bits.

Goaded by Day’s raucous complacency, however, genuine conflict was not slow to emerge, and we were soon regaled with the spectacle of the assembled rhetoricians listening nonplussed to Sally Oppenheim, M.P., who is actually engaged in trying to change a few things for the better now, instead of waiting for the revolution to transmute everything into perfection. Her tough arguments embodied the difference between reality and rhetoric.

But Seriously — It’s Sheila Hancock (BBC-2) featured Germaine Greer being funny, which is something I’m always keen to watch. Some years ago I happened to be present when she pioneered the technique of singing ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ with the lips out of synch with the words — a revelation. Unfortunately there is also a tendency for the vocal cords to get out of phase with the brain, so that on this programme we heard her animadverting on the sexual prowess of her husband. The appropriate reaction to this would have been a brisk lecture on fair play, but the awed Miss Hancock was too busy being overwhelmed by her guest’s intellectual stature to blow the whistle.

Granada’s The Web was written by Alun Owen with the flawless symmetry we normally attribute to a billiard ball. Jenny Twigge’s boyfriend was Michael Kitchen, but her mum was Ann Firbank, and when the boy saw the woman he forgot the girl. ‘I’m what I’ve always wanted to be,’ purred la Firbank, flashing him an azure armpit, ‘severe and free, austere and abandoned.’ She didn’t read that in Eva Figes. ‘I’m a spider called Agnes, and you don’t mind my sticky web. Do you, Barry?’ ‘Sticky?’ quavered our lad, but her flickering tongue was in his ear and there was no reply. An appalling effort.

World in Action (Granada) did a special on the Angry Brigade. Far back in the mind you could hear a giant door thumping hollowly on an era’s end as the earnest Anna Mendelson informed the world that justifying your actions was a middle-class notion and that you had to do something before finding out if it was right or wrong. Make way for the Apocalypse, ladies and gents.

On Midweek (BBC-1) there was more of the same, with Tom Mangold’s report on Black September, in which it was revealed that one of the stated principles of this outfit’s chief ideologues is to steer clear of the politicos and try to knock off the artists. On Man Alive (BBC-2) Harold Williamson interviewed a man who had crippled his own baby boy. As yet unsupplied with an ideology, this character was obliged to admit that he just bashed the kid because he didn’t like him. But enough. In the whispered words of Otto Preminger, delivering a repressively tolerant kiss to Joan Bakewell’s hand at the N.F.T., ‘I tink we should finish now.’

[ The Observer, 10th December 1972 ]

[ ** We don't have a copy of Clive’s original column for December 10th 1972, nor can we confirm its original title. The text above is reproduced from the piece’s re-issue in the Picador collection Visions Before Midnight. It may or may not be complete — typically the versions there have been edited for length and in some cases entire paragraphs have been omitted.

If you have a copy of the ‘Observer’ original, we would be delighted to include it in place of this. Please contact us HERE. ]