Essays: Pounded by psychic energy |
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Pounded by psychic energy

THERE was very little underwater television last week. It was strange to switch on the set and not be able in see the usual programmes featuring a mixed team of Japanese and American divers bowing to each other in flippers before descending to the coral-encrusted hulk of an unheard-of old submarine (‘once the pride of the Japanese Imperial Navy’) and laboriously raising the interred bones of 84 long-dead sailors in order to cremate them with protracted ceremony and lavish expenditure of yen.

Nor was it possible to dwell on the tanned limbs of some sub-Hans and Lotte Haas aquatic couple called Krug and Gaga Bulge cobbling up 30 minutes of fake drama about being the first (in a Race Against Time) to film a manatee at sea — Captain Cousteau having already filmed one in a river, and some marine laboratory in Florida having already filmed one playing a ukulele in a hip-bath.

Instead, there was the Paranormal. Into the Unknown (ATV) and The Ghost Hunters (BBC2) vied with each other in regaling us with inexplicable phenomena. The BBC programme had the less credulous approach, which was lucky, since some of the interviewees would obviously have gone on and on, given the chance. One man was voluble on the subject of how things fell off the wall when he was around. Stuff moved about. It was very strange.

Another dingbat talked with urgent fluency about the ‘negatively charged ions’ of psychic energy emanating from his potato-gun. The show was aswarm with yo-yos doing their number, all of them babbling at top speed to get their story told before the camera, just like people, turned wearily away.

The British Theatre of the Deaf was on 2nd House (BBC2). The Balinese delicacy of the illustrative hand-signals was sufficient to hold the eye, but in time the mind began to moan with thirst. It screamed with anguish at an Aquarius (LWT) featuring Francis Bacon giving an interview — a rare occurrence, and on this showing not rare enough. David Sylvester was his interlocutor. There was a good deal uttered about Death, but the level of speculation was considerably below anything that occurs in the average novel by Thomas Love Peacock, and indeed we might have been listening to Scythrop and Flosky at Nightmare Abbey, except that there were no laughs.

I remember being bowled over by the Bacon retrospective exhibition at the Tate in 1962, and I suppose one should keep faith with one’s early enthusiasms, but really it was remarkable, in my case, how admiration for Bacon’s variations on Velásquez was undermined by subsequent acquaintance with Velásquez — who did, alter all, see a good deal of Death on his own account, but was able to maintain an interest in Life as well. Extremism is a restriction of range rather than an extension of it.

Hell (LWT) was a God-slot extravaganza which lent weight to the case that religious broadcasting ought to be wound up. Illustrated by ponderously juxtaposed visuals of fasting and feasting, it mouthed a cascade of sonorous fatuities about the consequences of Man ‘rejecting a real relationship with his fellow man and with Creation,’ as if such a thing could be posited, let alone rejected. We were warned of the dangers attendant on losing ‘the ground of our being’ and informed that wars occur ‘because people have been arrogant or greedy.’

Plainly the conclusion to draw was that if everybody in the world ceased to be arrogant or greedy and reinforced the ground of his being by establishing a real relationship with his fellow man and with Creation, evil would cease. However unlikely, this would be a desirable event, since Hell would promptly freeze over, thereby removing at least one pretext for silly programmes.

The new Robin Hood (BBC1) is a promising series. Neatly written, well acted, finely dressed and softly filmed like ‘Akenfield,’ it comes over as kind of hip, as if the editors of Time Out had taken to the woods in order to defy the Establishment. Robin himself is a taciturnly introspective Zen archer. Maid Marian looks as if she might be fairly deeply into Dory Previn. King Richard is a pig and our sympathies would be all with Prince John if he were not on such an ego trip. It will take Robin, Little John, Friar Tuck and the rest of the commune many weeks to sort everything out. Tune in and groove.

Only a week after I rained praise on Twiggy (BBC2) for its choice of material, the series came up with practically the bummer of the year. The gracile charmer’s prospective husband, otherwise familiar as the teeth-gritting American troubleshooter from ‘Oil Strike North,’ turned up in a black sombrero to help his future bride croon gems from ‘The Fantasticks,’ while two ballet-dancers dry-humped each other against the cyclorama and a man in white face-powder — always a guarantee of terminal boredom — climbed a ladder and mimed abstractly. It was 30 minutes of the worst television in the world. That one’s love for Twiggy survived unimpaired is a measure of her value, precious beyond rubies.

The chief problem with The Nearly Man (Granada) has been to stay interested in the hero. As a Labour MP inclined towards the high life, he is not really inclined enough to arouse any vertiginous empathy. So far he has strayed no further from the straight and narrow than manifesting a taste for Scotch instead of beer and sliding under the Slumberdown with an actress.

Lounging about in kimonos after manoeuvring on the mattress, the Nearly Man and his bit of spare engage in the kind of sententious dialogue that Arthur Hopcraft customarily spends his time being incapable of, but now needs must, under the pressure of filling up a series, crank out like processed jute. Still, I found this week’s episode sufficient excuse for not watching Through the Night (BBC1), a Trevor Griffiths play about breast cancer which I lacked the nerve to face.

Keep an eye on State of Emergency (BBC1), a new series drafted by the late John Gould which continues the story of his ‘The Donati Conspiracy’ further into Britain’s totalitarian future. I might wax eloquent on this subject at a later date. Bad sight of the week was on Face the Music (BBC2), when Robin Ray, Patrick Moore and Valerie Pitts all pretended to have difficulty identifying ‘The Camptown Races’ as disguised in the style of Schumann by the maniacally smiling Joseph Cooper. The shouts of merriment which invariably greet Robin’s feeble jokes about opus numbers are a disheartening indication of the deadly bonhomie prevailing among music lovers.

The Observer, 7th December 1975