Essays: Here is the tennis situation |
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Here is the tennis situation

READ it and weep, wage-slaves! All week long while the rest of you were out hustling for bread or shifting grease around the kitchen with a J-cloth, your intrepid television critic was reclining on a divan like the Rokeby Venus (in formal arrangement, that is: otherwise the resemblance was fleeting) being lulled to dreamland by the proceedings at Wimbledon.

The departure of Jack Kramer from the commentary box has removed the last hint of interest from the voice-overs, leaving us with Harry Carpenter, Dan Maskell, Billy Knight, Ann Jones and a handful of others even less riveting. Deprived of the mental stimulation attendant on the necessity for substituting the word ‘error’ every time Kramer said ‘er’ (‘Dan, I think Kenny Rosewall realises that he’s made an er’), we had perforce to be content with merely counting up the number of times the various commentators used the word ‘situation.’ On the eve of the tournament David Vine had tried to start a craze for ‘operation,’ inviting us to get excited at the prospect of Wimbledon featuring ‘a full-scale betting and book-making operation.’ But by the time the first tennis balls came out of the refrigerator, ‘operation’ had been superseded and ‘situation’ was clearly marked as the vogue-word of the magic fortnight.

As the rain douched down on the opening day and the water-beaded lens did a slow pan across the covered courts, Harry Carpenter was constantly on hand to keep us up to date with ‘the weather situation.’ Just as in 1974, it was once again not permissible to have a tie-break: instead, there was ‘a tie-break situation.’ But brand new for 1975 was ‘score situation.’ Harry found himself unable to tell you the score. What he had to impart was the score situation. (‘OK baby,’ grated Marlowe, what’s the score situation?’) This compulsive repetition situation led in short order, I found, to a pain in the arse situation, and after several days of it I was in a throwing cushions at the screen situation.

Impatience was somewhat alleviated by the early dismissal of Nastase, an event to be greeted, by the normally constituted human being, with a purr of delight. Nastase is a Hamlet who wants to play a clown, but he is no good at it: his gags are bad, his timing is terrible, and he never knows how he’s going over — which last drawback is the kiss of death for a comic. In the process of being wiped out by Stewart, Nastase at one point found himself in a lying on the ground situation. He wiggled his legs to indicate that he was lying on the ground, thereby drawing a laugh from his female fans, who are loyal to him through thick and thin, principally because they have the brains of midges. Stewart was walking back to serve and didn’t catch Nastase’s act, so Nastase stayed on the deck until Stewart turned around, lest Stewart miss out on this prime example of what the commentators are wont to call Nastase’s ‘little bits of humour’ or ‘clowning and antics.’

This year the commentators are full of the notion that Nastase has gone too far and turned himself into a tragedy, but their portentous shakings of the head are an impertinence, since it was always the commentators themselves who invited us to crack our sides at his alleged drollery in previous years. Even now, with the passing bell ringing like a fire-alarm, Harry Carpenter takes it for granted that Nastase is ‘a great crowd entertainer.’ ‘Whatever you think of Nastase,’ came the confident valedictory, ‘he’s compulsive viewing.’ Not in a million years situation.

Grim sight of the decade was Barbara Cartland making a guest appearance on Read All About It (BBC1), Melvyn Bragg’s Paperback Book-Bang of the Air. I dipped my nose into a Barbara Cartland novel once and found it to be the verbal equivalent of pellagra. An article in Cosmopolitan tells me that she has written 150 such epics and consumes 90 vitamin pills a day. More prolific than Balzac and rattling like a broken kaleidoscope, she is undeniably a phenomenon, although it is not easy to decide what kind. Her indefatigable garrulity reduced everyone else on the programme to an open-mouthed-in-awe situation.

A miracle in diamonds, white fur, electric blue eye-shadow and lavishly deployed talcum, Miss Cartland volubly peddled a Weltanschauung which would have been considered over-Romantic by Mary Pickford. ‘We have sex, sex, sex, sex, sex,’ she asserted. ‘Now sex is part of life, I quite agree. But...’ And it turned out that sex could be part of life only on condition that life was an impossible dream. Anna Raeburn tried to counter by facially registering disbelief. A few pointed arguments would have worked better, but perhaps there was no opportunity to prepare them and get them in, Miss Cartland’s flood of rhetoric being what it was — a foaming tidal wave of eau de cologne dotted with old powder-puffs.

On Don’t Ask Me (Yorkshire), Magnus Pike was charged with static electricity. It made an unpleasant change from looking at his fellow pundit Miriam Stoppard. Meanwhile, back at The Poisoning of Charles Bravo (BBC2), Florence was very deeply into booze and looking narrow-eyed at her importunate husband, who promptly sickened, and then very slowly died, with many a gruesome yodel from the actor concerned (‘Yaach! Hrerch! Blaagh!’) and showers of tears from Florence herself, the lying minx. Maureen O’Brien equals brainy sex — she is an actress fated to set the more academically qualified male viewer moaning low.

Looking for Clancy (BBC2) ended. Worthy, but uninspired. Authenticity was the most it tried to achieve, with the result that authenticity was not achieved. On The Mangling of the Middle Class (ATV), Gillian Tindall talked very cogently, pointing out that there is always an ex-middle class on its way down. In Edward the Seventh (ATV) everyone talked abominably: as the series nears its end, the writing falls apart. ‘Confrontation,’ ‘conditioned’ and ‘critical of’ all fell anachronistically from the actors’ lips, after first having been placed there by a writer with no ear for time. In The Brothers (BBC1) Edward learned how to tie a nappy. Jennifer said he didn’t have to, but he said he thought he should. Perhaps he’ll be able to get a job as baby-minder after Paul fires him from the board.

The Observer, 29th June 1975