Essays: The main thing about Main |
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The main thing about Main

THE Main Chance (Yorkshire) restarted with a massacre, as did ‘The Brothers’ a few weeks previously. David Main’s wife and child were totalled in a Mini. It all happened so suddenly they couldn’t have felt, etc. That’s the way it is with write-outs. Instead of clunk-click, zonk. Bring a bag, boys.

At first glance, David — still played by John Stride with a pampered rotundity of jowl — took the grim tidings well. He had just been telling his partners how much bread he had earned in the previous financial year: somewhere in the region of 22 grand. Margaret Castleton looked peeved at this. In her view, David had been hustling on his own account in office time. Her distinguished father Henry did his usual impersonation of the Albert Memorial. Just then the telephone rang, to be answered by David. ‘Dead? How? It can’t be!’

Unmanned by grief, David endorsed a questionable scheme hatched by his boy assistant — the dogged ex-flatfoot Clegg — to nail the culpable truck-driver. The scheme went awry, landing David in shtuck with the Law and jeopardising his lucrative future. At this point Henry Castleton abandoned his impersonation of the Albert Memorial, moved a few steps forward, resumed his impersonation of the Albert Memorial, and informed David that although as a friend he, Henry, might feel such-and-such, as a professional colleague he, still Henry, could only feel such-and-such. Things looked bleak for David as the titles rolled.

Now it should be obvious — and would be obvious to everyone except senior production staff who have worked on a series too long — that a television hero like David Main is nothing if he is not in command of himself. He is not a human being, who can do something out of character and still be in character. He is an ideal type, whose subtleties must be contained within the limits of what we believe him to be. To forget this is to bring on the fidgets, inviting a format to self-destruct. The same thing happened recently in ‘Z-Cars,’ when Lynch, of all people, was asked to run his police station carelessly instead of carefully, and then, at the subsequent inquiry, be off-hand instead of concerned.

James Ellis is a good actor but he would have had to be Garrick and Irving standing in the same pair of pants to get away with such a turn-up for the books. Lynch’s air of competence has been built up over years and won’t brook being fiddled with. A series can absorb any number of write-outs, but when the central characters start losing shape it’s time for a re-think.

Sadie It’s Cold Outside (Thames) is a clumsily named new sitcom starring Bernard Hepton as a telly addict and Rosemary Leach as his long-suffering wife. It is Miss Leach’s fate to play long-suffering wives, because she has the knack of making long-suffering look charming. The show is written by Jack Rosenthal and could prove amusing. ‘Andrew Gardiner thought you were ignoring him,’ says Sadie when Norman nods off during ‘News at Ten’: ‘Mr Bosanquet had to gave him a toffee.’ Apparently Norman once promised to change the world, but Sadie now realises that life holds less than she was led to expect. It is taken as axiomatic that watching television must be less fulfilling than changing the world.

A comparable show on BBC1 is The Good Life, in which Richard Briers and Felicity Kendal go back to nature. They are an attractive couple. John Alderton and Pauline Collins, stars of Wodehouse Playhouse (BBC1) are also an attractive couple. Statistics prove that any two television people of different sexes are likely to be an attractive couple. What makes Bernard Hepton an unusual component of an attractive couple is that he was previously Kommandant of Colditz.

He was also, in the latest episode of the ill-received Churchill’s People (BBC1), Kromwell — er, Cromwell. Earlier instalments of this series had been heaped with critical scorn, but the name Don Taylor on the writing credits belatedly promised a degree of innovation. Apart from its largish cast, the Cromwell episode betrayed the same budget limitations as its predecessors, but this time they mattered not at all: that there were only two sets redounded to the show’s advantage. The religious and political themes were argued out sharply in the claustrophobic gloom, the actors being amply supplied with turns of speech as well as points of view. Hepton wore his warts with an air. The piece could be studied with profit as an example of how cheapo-cheapo television can be made to work.

World In Action (Granada) lumbered us with a marathon Special on the so-called Psychic Surgeons of the Philippines. The enquiry was fronted by Mike Scott, ran longer than the rough-cut of ‘Exodus,’ and frequently put me in mind of Whistler’s crack about Henry James — that be was always chewing more than he could bite off. Scott was admirably reluctant to insult the feelings of the stricken British wights who were ploughing their life-savings into a last attempt to get cured. He wasn’t going to call them fools out of hand. He was going to fly out there with them and get the facts.

The facts, though, were an unconscionable time emerging. There were solemn action-replays as part of a supererogatory attempt to establish what was instantly self-evident to the unaided eye — that the surgeons were engaged in sleight-of-hand of a very elementary kind. The racket wasn’t even on the same level as Uri’s spoons, which are currently cropping up throughout Britain as kids delightedly realise that their parents are suckers. In the case of the sick visitors to Manila, credulousness obviously springs from desperation, but why otherwise healthy people should behave like yokels is something of a puzzle.

In Edward the Seventh (ATV), Albert (Robert Hardy) passed on to zer grade beyont. It was a regrettably early departure: Hardy’s performance, though broad, had real finesse. But Timothy West, due to appear as the mature Bertie, should fill the gap. The Italian Way (BBC1) was once again tactful and searching. Watch out for a deadly import called The Little House on the Prairie (BBC1), lit like a Babycham commercial and full of child actresses with names like Melissa Sue Anderson and Lindsay Sidney Green Bush. It’s a fungus sandwich.

The Observer, 27th April 1975