Essays: Thalassa pottahs |
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Thalassa pottahs

THE Beeb has fielded a triumphantly successful substitute for Percy Thrower. The star of A Small City Garden (BBC2), she is called Thalassa Cruso.

Though her fingers be ever so green, her elocution attests that the blood flowing in them must be some shade of blue. Speaking of how the soil is formed by the gradual breakdown of awganic mattah, she pottahs about in pink trousahs. If you add to all this the fact that she is prone to quoting Shakespeare, it will be appreciated that Thalassa Cruso is a gardenah out of the common run. Don’t miss her.

Did you know that Toshiru Mifune means ‘No smoking’ in Japanese? Such jokes are treated as the merest throwaways on The Muppet Show (ATV), which crams more good writing into an episode than the average sit-com can boast in a whole series. ‘Sez you.’ ‘Sez who?’ ‘Sez-you-ay Hayakawa.’ How can children possibly get a joke like that? Yet even if they don’t, they will pretend to. A tot who knows nothing of the tones of voice parodied by Kermit can still understand his problems. ‘These are command decisions. It’s lonely at the top.’

The British Open (BBC1 and 2) attained its tremendous climax too late for me to catch the last issue. Being the same age as I am and pretty nearly invincible, Jack Nicklaus is my personal sporting hero. I would like to see him go on wiping out the younger players until the end of time. The commentary was, as always, excellent, but I did not like the way Nicklaus was referred to as ‘getting on a bit.’ Nor did ‘eyesight going’ seem an appropriate remark. Nicklaus himself, of course, said nothing. There were no excuses for the fluffed short putts that cost him the prize. Fangio used to be the same when his car broke down on the last lap. Not a whimper.

Other golfers said plenty. The directional microphones picked some of it up. It seemed to be fairly clean. I heard ‘Damn it!’ and ‘Knickers!’ In the Test Cricket (BBC2) I caught Rodney Marsh shouting ‘Ar, fuck!’ when the umpire turned down an appeal. But my lip-reading could have been faulty. He might have been saying ‘How frustrating.’

Capably fronted by Olivier Todd, A Day in the Life of the World (BBC1) compared television news items from all over the planet. The day chosen happened to feature a military takeover in Thailand. The BBC’s response to this event was scarcely all-comprehending, but at least it tried. Taiwan referred to ‘the puppet regime of mainland China,’ while China sensationally announced that ‘the cultural revolution of the proletariat class has resulted in year by year increase of the agricultural output.’

In Uganda, the newsreader informed a grateful populace that ‘President Amin has received a sword and an accordion.’ Most countries ran an item on the Lebanon for the simple reason that everyone had cameras there. In the recent ITN Story it was suggested that it will not be long before anything that happens anywhere in the world will be available as television news on the same day. Todd’s main conclusion — that there will he more uniformity rather than less — was the necessary corrective to this heady prospect.

Thatcher made a hit on Panorama (BBC1). Interviewed by three journalists and David Dimbleby, she pulled every debating trick in the book. She called the Grunwick pickets ‘wreckers in society,’ but when asked her opinion of Grunwick as an employer she hid behind the law and said she couldn’t comment. So once again she had managed to indulge herself in moral certitude without facing up to the issue.

The journalists got nowhere with her. Her range of put-downs makes her a hard woman to interrupt, but getting the occasional awkward word in edgeways ought not to he impossible. Until somebody finds a way of checking her flow of rhetoric, television will go on working to her entire advantage. A rotten platform speaker, she is dynamite on the box. The camera loves the way she looks. She is the woman who should have replaced Googie Withers as the prison governess in ‘Within These Walls.’ She will win at the odds.

In the first episode of These 25 Years (BBC1), billed as a series of conversations between ‘eminent Elizabethans,’ Robin Day invited Lord Longford and John Mortimer to discuss sex and morality. Unquestionably an eminent Elizabethan, John Mortimer put the permissive case fairly, admitting that there was an aesthetic price to be paid, but declining to accept that there had been a lapse in standards — the law had merely come into line with the way people had always behaved.

Lord Longford, the other eminent Elizabethan, put the contrary case. He welcomed ‘free discussion’ as long as it didn’t lead to free action. Sex outside marriage had weakened the family. To Mortimer’s contention that the lack of sexual experience before marriage was an important cause of marital breakdown, Lord Longford replied that sex outside marriage had weakened the family. Lord Longford is like Margaret Thatcher in being disinclined to talk to the point. Nevertheless he is becoming increasingly good at sounding rational. You would never guess, from looking at him, that he suffers from an incurable mental disease — the overwhelming urge to go on television.

The impulse can strike him at any time. There he will be, peering about as peers are wont to do, when suddenly the compulsion will come upon him: he must either go on television or die. Knocking over anyone who stands in his path, he races straight to the nearest studio, joins any programme which happens to be on, and sits down to be interviewed. He has been interviewed on ‘Keep Up With Yoga,’ ‘The Woody Woodpecker Show,’ ‘International Show Jumping,’ ‘Nai Zindagi Naya Jeevan,’ and ‘Erica on Embroidery.’ Yet surely there is no case for keeping him locked up. I believe he is truly repentant and should he allowed out. He needs watching, of course. Nobody ever needed it more. The BBC is making sure that millions of people watch him every day.

The current Philpott File (BBC2) is all about drink. The first episode dealt with the people who make it. Every day in the brewery the executives taste the beer. ‘Have we all reached the position where we can comment?’ Commendably, none of them had reached the position where they couldn’t. The Young Man and the Lion (BBC2), scripted by Jean Anouilh, was a sub-Bresson epic about Charlemagne and Roland wielding broad swords and screwing sore broads. It was awful beyond description.

The Observer, 17th July 1977