Essays: Mr Most fires his Revolver |
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Mr Most fires his Revolver

INJUSTICE, repression, torture and death were all lavishly represented on television during the past week. On the few occasions when jollity reared its head, its hair and eyebrows were full of dandruff and its eyes looked bloodshot.

Revolver (ATV) was, however, something new. A one-off presaging a series in the coming summer, this was a rock show roughly along the lines of every other rock show from ‘Ready Steady Go’ through to ‘So It Goes,’ meaning that singers and bands did their numbers while members of the public looked on. Nobody has ever found the sure-fire format for this kind of programme: sometimes you get a series that works, sometimes you get one that doesn’t, and when you get one that doesn’t then somebody ends up paying an enormous bill.

In ‘Revolver’ Peter Cook purports to be the bloody-minded owner of an old-fashioned ballroom. Having no sympathy for the rock acts he is obliged to book, he vents his spleen direct to camera. Meanwhile the large assembly of youthful patrons heckles him from the background, calling for madder music and for stronger wine. The youthful patrons seem to have small trouble pretending that they hate Cook. As a corollary, Cook seems to have small trouble pretending that he hates them.

As the cameras unnervingly reveal, hating them is really all an honest adult can do. Among the teeming congregation of alienated youth which populates the strobe-lit fog, the quieter members are apparently dressed as Goths, Vandals, Hitler Youth and Viet Cong. Children with eyelids sewn to their cheeks and bolts through their necks smile at the lens with bloodless mouths full of filed teeth. Further off in the stygian flux, shapes too random even to be horrible strangle each other with tendrils and tentacles. Here the seventh circle of the ‘Inferno’ meets the sixth book of the ‘Aeneid.’ These are the halls of Dis and the inane kingdoms.

Producer Mickie Most is to be commended for thus owning up as to the true nature of contemporary pop. By comparison, Top of the Pops (BBC1) is made to look sanitised, anodyne, wet and dull, with nothing except Legs and Co. to hint at sex, and nothing except Tony Blackburn’s smile to hint at danger. (The danger being that the strain on his facial muscles will induce the first known medical instance of a heart-attack starting in the head.)

If the series maintains the standard set by this pilot, ‘Revolver’ will be one of the rare rock shows worth following for the quality of its music, quite apart from the attendant social phenomena. I can’t be sure whether Kate Bush is a genius or a head-case, but she is definitely something else. The Tom Robinson Band’s poovy anthem ‘Sing If You’re Glad to be Gay’ is impossible not to sing along with, even for the butch. Minus the revue sketches and plus some better thought-out one-liners from Cook, ‘Revolver’ should have a big future.

There was a very funny Don’t Quote Me (BBC2) about the popular music press. Poor Brian Redhead, hosting the programme, obviously didn’t know what a can of worms he was prising the lid off. Several performers were on hand to express their dislike for papers like Melody Maker and New Musical Express: either too famous to be hurt or too brave to care, they heaped obloquy on the heeds of the rock journalists.

Some journalists, said more than one performer, are working harder than the performers at being stars. As if determined to bear out the truth of this thesis, the NME’s Nick Kent was present in the studio. He looked like a low-budget David Bowie and spoke a brand of calculated insolence which would have been infuriating if it had been comprehensible.

Complaining in reasoned tones about the way the music press praises or slags an album according to no criterion except caprice, Rick Wakeman made an edifying contrast to the frantically posturing Kent, who kept climbing up the back of his own chair in an effort to show us the inside of his nostrils. Arena (BBC2) probably shouldn’t be devoting any of its valuable time to pop, but its documentary about the Tubes on tour showed how much effort and talent have gone into the band’s success. They are an inventive bunch. Pop journalists mostly aren’t: hence the animus.

Hosted amiably by Robert Morley, The Pye Television Awards (Thames) were an opportunity for a lot of gifted people to get together and waste one another’s time. The futility of the proceedings was well rubbed in by a preliminary speech from Max Bygraves, who assailed his captive audience with a string of one-line jokes which must have come from a papyrus gag-book dug up from a tomb in the Valley of the Kings. The mystery of Max’s popular appeal is equalled only by the mystery of Bobby Charlton’s haircut. Providing expert commentary on England v. Scotland (BBC1) he incidentally revealed that he is now parting his hair just above the waist.

Meanwhile the injustice, repression, torture and death are still demanding to be talked about. It would be nice to reach the end of this column without ever having got round to them, but guilt would soon accrue. Guilt about what? If television can’t help much, television criticism can’t help at all. Yet one feels obliged to notice, and to be noticed noticing.

Panorama (BBC1) went to Argentina, where General Divela has things well in hand. Mothers and wives queue up on Thursdays in hope of news — which is rarely forthcoming — about their missing men. Some of the tortures were described. A lady landowner explained that the State’s campaign of terror couldn’t be more welcome. Since State terror largely depends for its effectiveness on making sure that the innocent are in as much peril as the guilty, you couldn’t help wishing that the lady might herself be picked up for a mild interrogation or two. Yes you could. Such things shouldn’t happen even to a bitch like her.

On the news programmes that same night there were reports about the massacres in Zaire. Here was the kind of thing which spurs on the General Divelas to do their kind of thing. Rubbing the same point further home, This Week (Thames), fronted by Jonathan Dimbleby, did a dramatised reconstruction of the Orlov trial in Moscow. Since the court spent most.of its time telling Orlov he was out of order, there was not a lot to reconstruct, so the earlier ‘This Week’ dramatisation of the Biko case was scarcely matched. But there were some real-life Russian dissidents to contribute their terrifying recollections.

Anyone who thinks that the World Cup should not be happening in Argentina ought logically to think that the Olympics ought not to happen in Russia. More logical still would be to realise that disapproval needs to go a lot deeper than that. A plague on both their houses.

The Observer, 28th May 1978