Essays: Harry's Wmbldn |
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Harry’s Wmbldn

PROSPECTIVE correspondents please note that I don’t say all Englishmen, and no Australians, leave out the vowels when they pronounce the word ‘Wimbledon.’ I just say that that’s how Harry Carpenter pronounces it.

Anyway, in what Harry Carpenter calls Wmbldn, but other people refer to as Wimbledon (BBC1 and 2), the gifted nutter Nastase once again blew his ego all over the court. Bits of his personality were left hanging from the grandstands, the net posts, the umpire’s nose. It was a spectacle more to be rued than scorned. Nastase would be a man of genius if he had command of himself, but as things are he seems doomed to remain merely talented.

‘Nastase, will you come here a minute, please?’ called the umpire after the petulant star had tried to drill a tennis-ball-sized hole through Borg. ‘What I do to heem?’ whined the rebarbative Romanian, coyly dragging a toe. ‘I’m reporting you to the referee for calling me Nastase.’ Doubtless mentally rehearsing some of the other things Nastase might usefully be called, the umpire stayed cool. Borg stayed even cooler, profiting from the hiatus to regain some of the strength expended in the top-spin duels and frantic chasing after lobs and drop-shots that any opponent of Nastase is bound to find himself involved in. Nastase is a winner everywhere except inside his fat head.

Borg went on to meet Gerulaitis — the man with the looks of Apollo and the name of a skin-disease — in a five-set thriller that had your reporter rolling off his lilo in excitement. Dan Maskell was more excited still. He has seen every great tennis match in history. He was ball-boy for Henry VIII and Cardinal Wolsey at Hampton Court. But he had never seen anything like this. Unfortunately his range of encomiastic outbursts is somewhat limited, rarely extending beyond a polite cry of ‘Well played! Well played indeed!’ In the end this did not matter, since even the Borg – Gerulaitis nailbiter could only he regarded as marginal compared to the uproar aroused by Virginia Wade reaching the final.

As you would have had to be dead not to notice, the media experienced a collective sexual climax at the thought of Ginny the Loser finally getting a crack at the big prize. The Press, in particular, went insane. Even before the final, the newspapers were already in a state of total hysteria. After it, they went berserk. In view of these patriotic caperings, it is hard to see how anybody could think the British Press deficient in positive spirit.

Sir James Goldsmith, however, apparently does think it that. Forcefully interviewed by Ludovic Kennedy on Tonight (BBC1), Goldsmith showed an admirable keenness to own newspapers, but rather odd ideas about what ought to go into them. ‘What happens,’ asked Ludo, ‘if you want to say something and the editor wants to say something else?’ Where once he would have frankly declared an intention to impose his views, Goldsmith now burbled about policy at board level, followed by delegation.

At least he has learned something about the necessity of treading softly. But when quizzed about the policies a board headed by himself might conceivably come up with, he vigorously outlined a set of attitudes which were hard to distinguish from the jingoist philistinism which has been plentifully available in Fleet Street since the year dot.

Most book-reviewers, announced Goldsmith, write for other book-reviewers. Properly suspicious, Ludo closed in, but Goldsmith veered away, declaring that newspapers ought to reflect more of the wonderful Jubilee spirit the nation had lately been generating. He had heard people singing ‘Land of Hope and Glory.’ Why couldn’t newspapers do that?

Apparently unaware that it has been months since they have done anything else, he forged on, claiming that newspapers were too full of in-jokes about London, unintelligible to ‘a lusty fellow in Yorkshire.’ Harold Ross of the New Yorker invented an imaginary reader called the Little Lady from Dubuque. Groucho Marx aimed his material at the Barber in Peru. (Meaning Peru, Indiana.) The Little Lady from Dubuque and the Barber in Peru have now been joined by the Lusty Fellow in Yorkshire.

As things turned out, Goldsmith’s bid for Beaverbrook did not come off. A misfortune, because he might have brightened the scene up a bit. In his tone of voice he might be reminiscent of a long line of tub-thumping patriots running back to Horatio Bottomley and beyond, but he has a kind of naïve zest which is not to be despised.

And in a way, of course, he’s right. Britain should be more positive about itself. But the things to be proud of are things like justice and decency, not the vestiges of a power that was always illusory. The Hunting of Force Z (Thames), an otherwise unremarkable documentary about the loss of the battleships Prince of Wales and Repulse, had the merit of placing the blame squarely where it belonged — on Churchill, whose lingering dreams of naval omnipotence resulted in a lot of good men being burned and drowned.

The Story of Ruth Ellis (Thames) was pitifully sordid, but to some purpose. Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be hanged in Britain, was a tart with a refeened accent who loved and killed across the class-gap. The class-gap is still there, but at least nobody is getting hanged because of it. The hangman was actually in the programme, telling us that he could tell how long a drop Ruth Ellis needed just by looking at her. That this frighteningly commonplace man was eventually obliged to take up another line of work seems to me a genuine cause for pride.

On The Frost Programme (BBC1), Yasser Arafat spoke ‘from his closely guarded secret HQ in Beirut.’ He didn’t reveal much, beyond the already well-known fact that he is no oil-painting. Speaking of which, Robert Hughes was good on Rubens (BBC2). Australia-bashing is rapidly becoming a form of licensed race prejudice, which I wouldn’t want to react to by praising my compatriots inordinately, but really Hughes, despite his verbal extravagance, is showing something of Lord Clark’s gift for making simple sense of a painter’s life.

Maggie Pinhorn of the new community action show Grapevine (BBC2) is an acquisition. A dedicated girl who has spent years as a den-mother in the East End, she is probably suspicious of stardom, but I fear that it will he forced upon her. Vanya Kewley did her usual good job with an Everyman (BBC1) about the Rastafarians in Jamaica. The Rastas worship Haile Selassie and smoke pot like a house on fire. Two seconds after lighting up, they’re invisible. All you can see is feet.

The Observer, 3rd July 1977