Essays: Chaos situations |
[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]

Chaos situations

‘THE THING about our father was that he didn’t have enough to do. It made him bad-tempered.’ Thus one of the Mitford girls in Nancy Mitford (BBC2), a programme I should have mentioned last week but didn’t, probably because I was still stunned by the effrontery of Nancy’s sister Diana Mosley, who goes on claiming that her husband Oswald was never an anti-Semite.

‘I sink you are too pessimistic about zer views of zer people at larch,’ Friedrich Hayek told his host in the latest of the Levin Interviews (BBC2). The admonition rang true. Ordinary people can’t be depended on for political sophistication but all other things being equal they can usually recognise an hysterical bigot when they hear one. As a life-long loather of racism in all its forms I think the National Front is asking a lot when it applies for permission to march through the streets. But disgust is tempered by the knowledge that most people feel equally revolted. Whether we need the far Left to defend us from the far Right seems to me very doubtful. On the evidence provided by Germany in the early Thirties, the only certain loser in such a show-down is democracy itself.

All this as a preliminary to noticing the latest instalment of World in Action (Granada), which was devoted to the Blair Peach case. There can’t be much doubt that the police have nothing to be proud of in the matter of Peach’s death. I have met Blair Peach’s widow and can’t remember ever being sorrier for anybody. But the far Left is making a mistake if it thinks that ordinary people will ever come to view the police force as an instrument of capitalist oppression. The far Left is no better liked than the far Right.

A National Front march is a small fire if left alone. Far Left opposition hoses it with petrol. If the police crack Left-wing heads during the battle, most people are bound to conclude that the victims were asking for it. Undoubtedly there are some unsavoury characters in the police force but it is a long step from saying that to saying that the police force is an instrument of oppression. People on the Left are often very reluctant to admit that there is such a thing as original sin.

As if to demonstrate that the tangles democracies get into count as nothing beside the horrors of tyranny, Idi Amin made an appearance on the Nine O’Clock News (BBC1). Exclusively interviewed by Brian Barron, Idi spoke from his mysterious hideout, which nobody except everybody knows to be the Sands Hotel, Jeddah. That the BBC agreed with Idi to keep his whereabouts secret bespeaks a certain old-world charm, like the punctiliousness with which, during World War II, they are reputed to have paid Hitler’s royalties into a Swiss bank account. Idi’s phone number at the Sands, incidentally, is Jeddah 692020. Give him a bell in the middle of the night and tell him you’re the voice of retribution. God knows he’s got it coming.

But Idi looked as innocent as a chocolate Easter egg as he faced up to Brian Barron’s exotic vowels. ‘Hay,’ asked Barron, ‘did you get eight of Uganda?’ Idi earned some marks for understanding the question, even if his answer left something to be desired in the area of veracity. He called his precipitate flight a Tactical Withdrawal. There was a lot of emphasis on his determination to regroup and stage a comeback. Soon his country would call him. At this point the viewer was assailed by a profound sense of familiarity. Where had we heard it before, this talk of answering the people’s summons? Of course! Oswald Mosley!

Idi stood revealed as a black Blackshirt. His rather pleasant dial, however, showed you just how little you can judge by appearances. A sinister buffoon whose idea of a good time is to make innocent people bash each other’s heads in with sledgehammers, Idi has all the self-righteousness of the truly dedicated nut. ‘I am fresh, strong, and I am concerned with the question in Uganda.’ Uganda had better sort itself out pronto before Idi checks out of the Sands and comes back to look after his adoring flock. ‘Most of them love me ... they want me to save them from the chaos situation that is now happening in Uganda.’ What made this last utterance particularly horrible was the element of truth in it. Apparently Uganda is now in such a mess that half the population would welcome Idi back just so as to have a maniac they could rely on.

With that degree of unintentional humour available, the intentional kind had little chance of snaring the viewer’s allegiance. Nevertheless Victoria Wood’s play Nearly a Happy Ending (Granada) made its intended impact on the benumbed funny-bone. Written by Victoria Wood and with lyrics by Victoria Wood, the play starred Julie Walters and Victoria Wood. The lady’s credits gang up on you in a way that was once reserved for Orson Welles, to whom, in her own self-awarely self-conscious mind, Victoria bears a certain physical resemblance. She’s got herself pegged for a fatty. Even the slim version of Victoria Wood thinks like the fat one, with nervously defensive but almost invariably funny results.

In this play Victoria had slimmed down to find love. Unfortunately nobody wanted her body even in its narrow form. She discovered this fact while out on the town with her hopeless friend, engagingly played by Julie Walters. Julie was a scruff with an X-certificate kitchen you couldn’t have cleaned with a skip. The exaggerations are Victoria’s: she has a knack for them. Her jokes fall into shape as naturally as her figure doesn’t. Witness her midnight emergency telephone calls to the Weightwatchers’ duty officer. ‘I‘m on the kitchen extension staring full-face at a Marks & Spencer‘s Individual Spotted Dick.‘ Spotting that word ‘Individual’ as the indispensable comic element is a gift that can’t be taught: you’ve either got it or you haven’t, and Victoria’s got it. Next time, however, she might care to go deeper.

An ITV link-man invented an award called the Silver Rose of Montrow. Such incidental felicities helped keep you normal while watching brain-stiffening programmes like the Panorama (BBC1) devoted to nerve gas. Together with all the evidence that our Government is manufacturing the stuff by the gallon, there was even more disturbing evidence that the Soviet Union is churning it out a tanker-load at a time. Meanwhile Coronation Street (Granada) clocked up its two-thousandth episode, still billing itself as a look at reality. If only it were so.

Dunkirk (BBC1) turned up some nasty memories from under the myth, but the myth still emerged as more true than not. The BEF really did get away, even if it was at the expense of the French, who were lied to with a consistency that we are still paying for now. In World of Sport (LWT) Johnny Rutherford won again at Indianapolis but the edited telecast was too truncated to be intelligible. A summary of the missing bits would have helped the viewer follow the action, which looked as thrilling as always even though the cars were artificially restricted to a lap-speed in the 180 mph range. The year I saw the race they were lapping at the full two hundred and the sight is with me yet.

The Observer, 8th June 1980
[ An excerpt from this piece appears in Glued to the Box ]