Essays: Taming Rod's tiger |
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Taming Rod's tiger

Rod Stewart and his wife, Alana, talked to Russell Harty (BBC1). Although obviously still employing a hair preparation based mainly on epoxy resin, Rod evinced a new maturity.

He let only some of it hang down. Probed by Russell, Rod shyly recounted details of the coup de foudre that had left him united with Alana in an alliance which already bade fair to tame the tiger in his soul. He and Alana had met in the house of the agent ‘Swifty’ Lazar. Then they had gone on to dinner at Robert Stigwood’s. Somewhere around this time Alana had detected the sensitivity underlying Rod’s apparent brashness. He, on the other hand, had at last discovered a woman neither awed by his charisma nor envious of the love borne him by the general people.

Apparently the marriage has gone on being happy week after week. Indeed they are still discovering each other. Rod has discovered that Alana has a natural affinity with the occult. At first Rod ‘was very cynical’ about Alana’s spiritualist proclivities, but by now his native inclination to impatient scorn has been overwhelmed by the sheer weight of evidence. ‘I’m very much a believer in clairvoyancy and psychic phenomena,’ said Alana, but modestly disclaimed any special powers as a seer. ‘I’m not psychic myself.’

The interview — which Russell conducted with a patently genuine sense of inquiry, as one who might ask a child what its latest creation in paints or crayons is meant to represent — was climaxed by a stage performance from Rod. Wearing very tight striped pants, he looked like a bifurcated marrow. He spread his plump legs wide apart and swung the microphone stand like a mace. He hopped along like a pensionable cherub. He sneered and pouted. His career is bigger now than it ever was. He knows all there is to know about being a rock star. The only thing he has left to learn is that although cake might conceivably be both had and eaten, secrets can’t be both given away and kept.

Français, si vous saviez (BBC2) was yet another of those blockbuster documentaries — you will recall ‘Le Chagrin et la Pitié’ — calculated to stir the conscience of Frenchmen on the subject of their recent past. This time the specific topic was the career of de Gaulle. Colonel Antoine Argoud was qualified to speak, albeit with some bitterness, on every phase of the General’s progress to immortality. Argoud was one of the young officers whose longed-for baptism of fire turned out to be the humiliating debacle of the capitulation. Later on he dutifully tortured and shot people in Algeria. After de Gaulle ratted on his promises to the French Algerians, Argoud was prominent in the Secret Army. He had run the whole course, all the way to criminal status, and all in the name of France. 

The original French programme was much longer. The material that was missing from the abridgement presumably included some account of what the Resistance actually achieved at home while de Gaulle was striding around being symbolic in London. You had to take it for granted that de Gaulle’s dismissal of the Resistance-fighters’ hopes for a different society was an act of gross cynicism. With his part of the war allowed to dominate the screen, it became easier than ever to entertain the suspicion that he was merely being realistic when he brushed aside all those gauchiste hopes. 

The programme, though quick to seize on de Gaulle’s notion that the French people were unworthy of France, was slow to notice that it felt pretty much the same way itself. If the French people are really as easily manipulated as the makers of these programmes say they are, de Gaulle would have been very foolish to place any faith in their capacity to bring a new society into being, wouldn’t he?

International Tennis (BBC2) was otherwise known as the Benson and Hedges Championships. The Benson and Hedges Trophy was prominent in the opening titles. Frequent mentions of the munificence shown by Benson and Hedges were also made in the commentary. The cup was won in characteristic style by John McEnroe. With his hair slightly shorter — an innovation which has the unfortunate side-effect of revealing more of his head — he was as charming as always, which means that he was as charming as a dead mouse in a loaf of bread. His petulance touched even Dan Maskell with sorrow, although it needed to be remembered that Dan was already all worn out from mentioning Benson and Hedges. ‘The ladies who serve Benson and Hedges ... the Director of Special Events for Benson and Hedges ...’

The Director of Special Events, or one of his retinue, managed to award the runner-up’s prize to the wrong man. ‘The runner-up — Sandy Mayer! Gene Mayer! Ladies and gentlemen, my apologies to Gene Mayer.’ From the Benson and Hedges angle this was the only screw-up in an otherwise blissfully smooth occasion. A million pounds’-worth of publicity had been racked up for a nugatory outlay, and nobody at any stage had even hinted at the fact that if John McEnroe smoked as many Benson and Hedges cigarettes per day as Benson and Hedges would like the average viewer to, his name would be Sandy Mayer. Gene Mayer.

In The Waterfall (BBC2) the plot is now gradually clarifying itself. Jane married Malcolm the lute-plucker. She drove Malcolm away. Then she fell in love with James. ‘I could not tell if it was a moment of true corruption that united us, or a moment of true love.’ Narrating her own story, she is given to saying could not instead of couldn’t. In character, she permits herself to gush. ‘I think I’m going to die. I want you and I can’t have you ... I’m wicked and I’m mad.’

But now we must go back — back to Malcolm and his lute. Plunk. ‘I know that the fault was partly Malcolm’s.’ He wanted his shirts washed, poor fool. Whether all or any of this would sound especially or even remotely human if it were not so well acted is perhaps not a point begging to be raised, since I would gladly watch Lisa Harrow and Caroline Mortimer playing anything, including soccer.

For reasons best known to psychiatrists, the BBC has joined the tabloid press in the doomed endeavour to catch Lady Diana Spencer off guard. The only thing that can be said for such ill-advised expenditure of the licence-holders’ money is that Lady Diana’s unwilling participation makes for a gentle moment in otherwise brain-curdling news programmes. A typical news item last week was about young Belgian terrorists who kidnapped some school children. ‘Their demands,’ said an official spokesman, ‘were neither clear nor easily met.’ One of the terrorists was President of the local Elvis Presley Fan Club.

At least the Belgian children got out alive. ITN had an even more horrible story about a reckless driver who killed two children and was awarded a three months’ sentence plus two years’ suspension from driving. Two years’ suspension from a gallows would have been the sentence imposed by at least one watching parent, so perhaps it is lucky that he is only a television critic. The reckless driver had been racing another driver when he left the road and wiped out the children who had been feeding some farm animals and ... forget it. Forget it if you can.

The Observer, 23rd November 1980
[ This piece also appears in Glued to the Box ]