Essays: Margot My Way |
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Margot My Way

AFTER a week spent in northern Italy without TV set or radiogram, I flew home with a severe case of media thirst. Leonardo’s ‘Last Supper’ may be all very well, but can hardly compete with the spiritual complexities of, say, ‘Quiller.’ And Michelangelo’s Rondinini Pietà in the Castello Sforzesco is certainly everything it’s cracked up to be, but after a while one can’t help missing ‘Oil Strike North.’ I mean, something real.

Back in Blighty with a British Airtours in-flight meal still intact in my stomach as if it had never been removed from its plastic container, I switched on Blue Peter (BBC1), turned down the sound, raided my record cabinet and took a music-bath. In quick succession I regaled my parched ears with the first bit of Bach’s BWV 140 Cantata; that last section of Schumann’s ‘Davidsbündlertänze’ which I’m currently crazy about; the new RCA re-issue of the original Elvis Presley Sun singles (it ranks instantly as one of the all-time great LPs); and my fave rave of ’75, the cheapo-cheapo love duet from ‘Andrea Chenier,’ as sung on the old Decca mono set by Tebaldi and del Monaco — transcendental tat. Finally I settled down with a double album anthology called ‘The Great Blues Men,’ a rich collection featuring everybody from Big Bill Broonzy to Homesick James.

It was while the Rev. Gary Davis was socking along in a funky rendition of ‘If I Had My Way’ that I noticed ‘Blue Peter’ was screening footage of Margot Fonteyn dancing a pas seul from ‘Ondine.’ For your reporter it was an epiphany. Her steps matched the music exactly! Fascinated, I watched on, as she was joined by Michael Somes for a sizzling pas de deux danced to ‘Stormy Monday Blues,’ pulsatingly rendered by Junior Wells. You would have sworn that their every movement had been choreographed precisely to the music I was hearing.

Yelling ‘Groove it, baby!’ and ‘Real gone!’ as the prima ballerina assoluta cut a rug, your reporter showed every sign of semiotic narcosis — that lethal condition in which critics, deranged by an overdose of visual and sonic messages, walk off cliffs. Too much, too soon.

These, then, are the thoughts of a mind in turmoil. There are not enough black nurses in Angels (BBC1). Is this because there are not enough black actresses, or is it just that most black actresses can’t act? Surely there can be no Eysenckian genetic reason. Cicily Tyson and Diana Ross and Pearl Bailey and even Ella Fitzgerald can act, so why can’t the girls in ‘Angels’? Perhaps they just don’t get enough practice, or else there are insufficient starters to ensure a good supply of finishers, or both. This doesn’t mean, however, that Equity should be encouraged to negotiate for a token quota. All tokenism achieved in America was Mark pushing Ironside’s wheelchair.

Panorama (BBC1) did a thing about school-leavers on the dole, who at £6.85 each are apparently costing the economy £1 million a week. This sounded like a lot, but judging from those interviewed you couldn’t help thinking that if they were employed it might cost the economy even more. Job applicants tested on elementary arithmetic vouchsafed the opinion that there were 36 inches in 1 ft. A keen girl who had won her first-aid certificate with flying colours had flunked her O-levels and seemed to think that her ambitions to be a nurse were therefore conclusively thwarted. There was no suggestion — from her, from the State, or from ‘Panorama’ — that she might try to sit them again. But another girl, Christine, was a clearer case of frustrated ability. To hear her declare that it had been ‘a waste of time going to school’ was more than enough to make you tremble for the future, in which the oil industries, for example, will provide one new job for every million pounds invested.

Margaret Thatcher was also on ‘Panorama.’ She has been working on her voice. What once was a whine is now a coo. Soon it will be a purr. She will win at the odds.

Germaine Greer and Ned Sherrin were on the Book Programme (BBC2), slugging it out for the Heavyweight Articulacy title. As was inevitable, they came equal second to the referee, Robert Robinson. Sherrin had been reading Lord Reith’s memoirs and pointed out, surely unarguably, that they are enough in themselves to demolish Reith’s pretensions to greatness. Robbie counter-claimed that the BBC wouldn’t have been what it was without Reith. Sherrin interestingly contended that Reith had been destroyed by his star status. Greer said that in the light of Reith’s memoirs it was a miracle the BBC had ever ‘scrambled to its knees.’ Panicking eloquently, Robbie closed the discussion by reminding all present that they were ‘sitting in a little corner of his memorial at this very moment.’ Si monumentum requiris, stay tuned.

Haydn, Mozart, Schubert and Beethoven got one mention each — all in the same sentence — during Whicker’s World: Vienna (Yorkshire). The rest of the show was mainly duff jokes about apfelstrüdel and a protracted close-up of a shivering tit. Whicker is whatchable, but whearyingly whinsome. I’m cracking up. Hold it. What have I got here? Oh yeah. Daft as a Brush (BBC2), a play by Adrian Mitchell, finely acted by Lynn Redgrave and Jonathan Pryce, was directed by Stephen Frears with the cool sensitivity we are learning to recognise as especially his.

The play started in 1947, with a demobbed soldier attaining his ambition — to be a postman. He married the village schoolteacher across the class barrier. It was a portrait of happiness which went to prove that there is still some genuine democratic vision inside Mitchell’s dizzy head, along with the radical goo. I have always thought that being a postman must be a good job and was glad to hear it stated. But as times marched, the postman metamorphosed into an Artist, filling his field with pop sculptures.

Fame sought him out, in the form of a silly arts journalist, perhaps from The Guardian. (Mitchell would know all about that, having himself featured, on occasions, as one of the silliest arts journalists in the Guardian’s history.) Finally the Artist died, leaving the Field as his gift to the world. The final scenes were exquisitely shaped and shot, but all depended on us being able to quell our suspicions that the sculptures had been the ruination of a good piece of land, and Art the undoing of a perfectly sound postman.

Can’t Lynn Redgrave act, though? And so can Francesca Annis, who is Madame Bovary (BBC2) — a four-parter whose first episode was violently overcompressed, the first Mrs Bovary kicking the bucket in a trice. Soms of the moeurs de province seemed awfully English. But the title role is played with a subtlety that goes at least part way to overcoming the crippling loss of Flaubert’s commentary on the action — which, of course, is the action.

The Observer, 28th September 1975