Essays: Desperate about Dan |
[Invisible line of text as temporary way to expand content column justified text width to hit margins on most viewports, simply for improved display stability in the interval between column creation and loading]

Desperate about Dan

DURING the course of Wimbledon 78 (BBC1 and 2), commentator Dan Maskell said ‘Ooh I say’ a total of 1,358 times. The trouble with Dan’s style is that it’s so infectious. Ooh I say, it’s a really infectious style.

And that’s all I’ll be saying about Dan this week. I only wish there was a way of saying just as little about Nastase. I have a letter on my desk from Mr Colin Cooper of 25 Warner Road, London N8 7HB. He accuses me of plagiarism, saying that when I called Nastase ‘the rebarbative Romanian’ last week, I was copying the Guardian’s Frank Keating, who called him that last year. Look Colin, I’ve been calling Nastase ‘the rebarbative Romanian’ since the first day he ever rolled on the Centre Court and spat his dummy at the umpire. If anybody is copying anybody, somebody is copying me.

What is there about Nastase that puts me in such a temper? Ooh I say, I’m in a frightful temper. Perhaps it is because the crowd loves him. The same sort of crowd used to love public executions. The chief characteristic of people without a sense of humour is that they will laugh at anything. ‘Ilie Nastase,’ said one of the commentators, ‘who has been delighting us here for so long.’ Another commentator was closer to the mark. ‘Unfortunately the crowd loves it.’

I am in receipt of a letter from Mr J. E. Murphy, of Harford House, Stogursey, Somerset TA5 1TQ, accusing me of being insufficiently respectful to Dan Maskell, ‘the doyen of commentators.’ Mr Murphy points out that Dan Maskell ‘was a leading tennis professional for many years.’ Listen Mr Murphy, you’ve caught me at an awkward moment, because I’ve made a vow to say no more about Dan Maskell this week. But let me just suggest that there comes a time, after about the hundredth occasion of hearing one man burble ‘Ooh I say, that’s a sweet drop volleh!’, when you want to listen to some other man, burbling something else.

John Barrett filled the bill nicely. Everything he said was not just informed, but informative. Unlike a certain doyen who shall remain nameless, Barrett does not get Vitas mixed up with Vilas or make gnomic statements about the wind being welcome because it keeps the wind away. But not even Barrett seems fully cognisant of what ought to be the obvious fact that Nastase’s behaviour can’t be called disingenuous, since it screws his opponent’s chances almost as often as it screws his own.

Okker was up to dealing with him, but the match with Tanner might have turned out differently if Nastase had not broken off during the last game to stage a vaudeville routine wherein he pretended to mistake a paper cup for his racket. The crowd loved it. If he had snuck up on Tanner and given him a hot-foot, or dropped a live crab down his shorts, they would have loved that too.

Putting your opponent off is legitimate up to a point. One is allowed to move about, for example, while one’s opponent is serving. It is instructive to note just how much moving about the various players do. Sue Barker, cruelly burdened by the kiss-of-death tag ‘British hope,’ is the champion in this respect. Preparing to receive service, she does a rock n’ roll number, shifting her shapely weight from foot to foot. As the server throws the ball into the air, Sue stops moving from side to side and starts bouncing straight up and down, as if on a trampoline. The performance would be even more effective if she stuck her thumbs in her ears and waggled her fingers, but this would involve dropping her racket. Which wouldn’t necessarily make a hell of lot of difference.

Ooh I say, I’m in a really bitchy mood. Seeing the whole tournament turn into one enormous commercial for Coca-Cola didn’t help. During change-overs the players took turns at what looked like a Coke machine. Actually it was a water-cooler — a fact you could deduce from the way some players diluted a jigger of cordial at its spigot. Unless they were concocting a mixture of fruit juice and Cola, what the machine dispensed had to be water. But to look at it (and you had to look at it about 10,000 times during Wimbledon fortnight) the machine was a cornucopia of Coke and Tab.

Still starring lovely Lynette Davies, The Foundation (ATV) has returned. Lynette, you will remember, plays Davinia Prince, female mogul. It was already apparent even during the first series that ITV had at last come up with an answer to the Beeb’s perennial sudser ‘The Brothers.’ Here, in the second series, is further confirmation. Davinia is lovelier than ever. Her soft glossy lips surrounding serried multitudes of tiny teeth, Davinia relaxes for the evening in a Ted Lapidus shirt with no bra. She is passionate but indomitable, like Catherine the Great.

Only her son can defeat her. Tortured by his punk rock records, she erupts, ‘The time has come, young man, for you to pull yourself together.’ The time has come, you would have thought, for her to buy him a pair of earphones, but perhaps the obvious has not occurred to her, so bewildered is she by his ingratitude. She has bought him a public school education, and he is wasting it. ‘If you don’t work hard and behave yourself properly I will send you to a Comprehensive.’ Both mother and son seem agreed that this would be the same as sending him to Borstal.

Meanwhile Davinia’s dreaded fellow director, smoothychops Clive, lurks suavely on the periphery. Is he in love with her? Everybody else is. The possible permutations and combinations are without limits, always the first requirement of a long-running soap formula. This is the reason any serial about British kings must perforce come to an end, even when it promises to go on for ever. The facts catch up with the plot.

Alas, even The Devil’s Crown (BBC2) is now approaching its conclusion. Here comes old Eleanor of Aquitaine, played by Jane Lapotaire under half a pound of make-up. ‘Bring me some wine. We’d better pray. If Arthur should win Anjou...’ ‘And I?’ ‘No, not and you, Anjou.’ ‘She’s gone to Poitiers.’ ‘I made love in the ruins of Aleppo.’ ‘Recreants! Traitors! Oath-breakers!’ ‘You have broken your oath of fealty and homage. Your lands are forfeited for ever. Your fealties are forfeit and your forfelties are feafelt: raise what strife you can,’ ‘It would be madness, madness!’ And so on. You will never find an actor or an actress being attacked in this column. Acting is too hard a life.

In Spaceships of the Mind (BBC2), Nigel Calder has been telling us how the universe will eventually be colonised by ‘billions of people like you and me.’ Nigel probably thinks he is being graphic when he lends definition to such a vague term as ‘people’ by pointing out that the people will be ‘like you and me.’ Perhaps he also wants to obviate the possibility that we might start thinking about another kind of people who are more like armadillos. But what seems to have left out of account is the sheer torpor aroused by the prospect of a universe crawling with billions of people like him, all busy explaining things to one another in words that fly on wings of lead.

The Observer, 9th July 1978