Essays: One minute of irrelevant silence |
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One minute of irrelevant silence

INDUSTRIAL ACTION combined with the rain to give the BBC a tricky week. Strikers pulled the plugs just when the Rosewall/Tanner thriller was coming up to a crucial tie-break. If the aim was to irritate, the timing couldn’t have been better.

The rain had duller tactics but limitless resources. It just kept on coming down. It precipitated copiously all over the World Cup, reducing the Poland v West Germany match to water polo. The Holland v Brazil contest was drier but dirtier, with the Brazilians using everything except land-mines to stop the Dutch getting through.

An additional hazard in these two matches, as if the rain wasn’t enough, was a minute’s silence for our old friend Peron, — observed, for reasons known only to psychiatrists, after the match had started. Agreeing with Brecht that any country is in a bad way which has need of heroes, I couldn’t help being sorry for Argentina, but to be sorry for Peron for more than 10 seconds on the trot seemed excessive. In the middle of a World Cup football match it was a zany irrelevance, engendering that same awkward train of thought which often haunts the viewer during the Olympics — the subversive suspicion that the show has been organised by fools.

Rain aside, Wimbledon was of some interest. There was the continuing fascination of Harry Carpenter’s smile, which he invariably flashes while rapidly enunciating his first sentence in vision — a deadly, credibility-eroding device which he shares with David Coleman. Dan Maskell’s lyricism was unabated by Borg’s departure: he simply transferred his encomiastic dithyrambs to Rosewall. Nor had Dan seen Virginia Wade play so well since the middle sixties as she did in her first set against Olga Morozova. There was a minute’s silence on the subject of how Virginia, one set and two love up, heroically contrived to be defeated. Then the first of 365 days of speculation began.

There was good news about Nastase. For a while it looked as if he might work his way through to the final stages, but providentially he was matched against Stockton, who had his number. Nastase’s famous ‘clowning and antics’ were thereby eliminated from the singles. My objection to Nastase is not that he is a clown, but that he is a bad clown, who makes people with no sense of humour laugh. When it rains, Nastase walks on with an umbrella, pursing his lips in narcissistic facetiousness. If you gave him a false nose, he would put it on. He puts things on his head. Truly Wimbledon is a glass-fronted, teeming ant-hill of character.

Meanwhile, back in the real world, the non-sporting programmes, although careless of the rain, were not immune from strikes. Panorama was not allowed on, being replaced by a rerun of Parkinson interviewing John Wayne. This was not quite a fair trade. Elsewhere on the schedules, one tended to encounter Star Trek in unexpected places. Perhaps this the moment to mention The 1,000 Plane Raid, a Z-grade American film which was screened in all seriousness by BBC1. When films are bought in package deals, the trash should be dumped: there is no slot in the schedules so obscure that a mucky picture can be hidden in it without stinking the place out, like a dead cat. ‘Gaby, this will be the worst raid we’ve ever had.’ ‘Will it be that bad?’

The Broken Bridge (BBC2) [actually BBC1] was a follow-up to a programme made in 1968 about some autistic children being treated by a therapist with new ideas. The therapist, Irene Kassorla, has now moved on — she’s out in California helping normal people get happy. Meanwhile the autistic children are still here, and have either stopped progressing or else reverted. Little Iris is no longer little, but she is just as affecting, and the programme, as it was meant to, kept the viewer wondering what he would do if she was his to look after. It was hard not to condemn Irene Kassorla for having chosen the fantasy-land of happiness instead of the unsortable reality of genetic accident. Yet there is no rule to say that somebody with her talents has to go on for ever helping those who can’t really be helped all that much.

Man Alive (BBC2) was less convincing. This week’s episode was called ‘Young — and Drifting.’ It dealt with young people who had come to London to seek their fortunes and had ended up destitute. Having been broke in London myself in my early days, I could recognise the dilemma some of the hopeful youngsters were on the horns of. But generally things had moved on since my time: the price of lodgings, for example. The interviewer was judiciously slow to accept that the young strugglers were victims of society. Under his probings, the topic threatened to become a non-topic, and perhaps the show would have done better to explore the unrealities inside the children’s heads, rather than the realities in front of their noses. Who are they, and what are they after?

Hail to the chief. Robert Erskine, supreme among the post-Clark generation of aesthetic talking heads, fronted a superb programme on Masada called The Glory that Remains (BBC2). The Zealots squatted on the rock in AD66 and stayed put for six years (Erskine had a low opinion of their housekeeping) before the Tenth Legion of the Roman Army arrived to lay siege. The siege-works are still all there: three miles of wall around the rock and a colossal earth ramp leading to the top. Faced with certain defeat, the Zealots all suicided in an immortal gesture of defiance. Erskine told the story with economy and force, proving all over again that while the pictures are important, the script is everything.

With muted cries of rapture let me recommend Sprout (LWT). The situation is Likely Lads minus the fanatical accuracy of ear and observation, but the main character, a bird-fancying no-hoper, is just the job for John Alderton. After leaving ‘Please, Sir,’ Alderton wasted his gift on a lumbering series called ‘My Wife Next Door,’ which won prizes only because the prizes concerned were handed out by nitwits. This time he is called upon to invent, and his powers of invention are considerable. At a time when the screen is crawling with unfunny young comedians, John Alderton is a man to value.

On What the Papers Say (Granada) I found myself being imitated, wretchedly. The subject was Idi Amin. The man discussing it was Godfrey Hodgson. Godfrey was keen to prove that Alan Coren didn’t care about Idi’s atrocities. The proof being that Coren found Idi funny. ‘I don’t like to say such a thing about a colleague, but Alan Coren and Idi Amin deserve each other.’ After a good deal more in the same inspired vein, Godfrey said goodnight. The ITV linkman came on and said ‘Goodnight. Geoffrey.’

The Observer, 7th July 1974