Essays: To hell with him |
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To hell with him

ALBERT SPEER, the only top Nazi to make it all the way through into the television era, died of old age practically on camera. He was making a programme for the BBC when he finally gave up the Geist, leaving one with some curiosity to see the as-yet unscreened tape, in order to ascertain how long his expression of innocent bewilderment stayed in place after his canny soul had departed.

Speer never made the mistake of saying there were no extermination camps. He said he didn’t know about them. He impressed the gullible by declaring himself willing to accept responsibility for Nazi crimes even though he was not aware of their full scope. But as the man better informed about the Reich’s industrial resources than anybody else including Hitler, Speer was in fact fully aware of the purpose and extent of the Final Solution and by pretending he was not he did the opposite of accepting responsibility.

Speer cheated the rope, cheated the world and yet further insulted the shades of innocent millions. Those of us who live by our brains should remember his example, which serves to prove that intellect confers no automatic moral superiority. Otherwise we will meet him again in the Infernal Regions, and be once more confronted with that look of puzzled concern, as if there were something difficult, ponderable and equivocal about the rights and wrongs of tearing children from their mothers’ arms, piling their little shoes in heaps and pushing their twisted corpses into ovens.

To hell with him and back to the now-crowded schedules, which include a richly rewarding nonsense crafted by John Braine, Stay With Me Till Morning (Yorkshire). The luxuriously sensual title instantly evokes a milieu far from common experience, which might conceivably give rise to a series called ‘Shouldn’t You Be Going or You’ll Miss the Last Tube?’ We are in the North, but it is the North of rich wool-merchants driving Porsche 928 sports cars towards silk-sheeted appointments with vampy mistresses. Paul Daneman plays Clive. Handsome, powerful, wealthy, sophisticated Clive. Wearing a snakeskin shirt to indicate relaxation, Clive throws the kind of party at which vamps slide up the lapels of handsome, powerful, wealthy and sophisticated men. ‘I do what I want and I say what I want and I never feel guilty.’ Decadence is indicated by dancing very slowly with your hands on the lady’s bottom.

But Clive’s beautiful wife Robin, played by Nanette Newman, is upstairs being pinned to the quilt by her erstwhile admirer Stephen (Keith Barron), a media star who has come back from the South specifically in order to throw her about tempestuously amongst her hideous furniture. A tight head-shot of Robin must be intended to indicate either that she is having an orgasm or else that she has accidentally stuck a toe into a light-socket. A similar shot of Stephen suggests that he has just been bitten on the behind by a large dog. ‘Yes! Yes! Don’t be too kind!’ cries Robin. ‘Don’t ever be too kind! Yes! I don’t care!’

Meanwhile Clive is being vamped solid by a siren whose name I didn’t catch, but whose dimpled chin vaguely evokes Kirk Douglas in a wig. With a roar from the Porsche they are off to her place and in bed together amongst décor outdoing even Robin’s in its transcendental horror. As the camera zooms in on Clive’s sophisticated features, Kirk’s head drops meaningfully out of shot, perhaps signalling her vampish intention to make a meal of his pyjama bottoms. A symbolic champagne bottle gushes virile foam. Spume at the top.

Still on the subject of adultery, but subtracting the ludicrous and adding the terrifying, the latest ITV ‘Bestseller’ import was called Murder in Texas and just went to show that a television critic must be ever on the alert, even though his eyes grow corns from constant friction. After ‘Condominium: When the Hurricane Struck’ you would have been excused for thinking that anything with the ‘Bestseller’ label on it must reveal itself when unwrapped to be a pile of fish-heads, but here was a well-scripted, well-acted mini-series which erred only in the direction of being too faithful to the facts. In the end it failed to make dramatic sense, but there was a lot to watch on the way, including a performance from Farrah Fawcett which proved that she is more than just a set of teeth.

Farrah was married to a rich plastic surgeon who did her in, employing for the purpose a syringe full of hand-reared microbes. He was a music-lover who turned out in the course of two absorbing evenings to be a complete nut, but if you discounted the strange attitudes adopted by his top lip it was plausible that he should draw first Farrah Fawcett and then Katherine Ross into the moiling toils of his obsession.

Nobody who saw the first instalment of Fighter Pilot (BBC1) is likely to miss out on seeing the rest. The opening sequence showed an RAF Buccaneer angling at zero feet along canals. Inside its black bubble the pilot’s face must have been looking happy. No wonder there are 2000 applicants every year. Only one in five get through. We were shown the initial weeding. Apparently it is less crushing to be rejected for medical reasons than to be told you are all wrong mentally. What was more than mildly intriguing, however, was the fact that even the few survivors of the preliminary screening seemed to have little interest in flying as such. A boy with a beard who kept saying that he wanted to be in the Air Force ‘should all else fail ... as a last resort’ got a surprisingly long way before being turfed out.

All the applicants were asked how they would feel about bombing the enemy. Not even the young man with the beard took the question lightly, but you couldn’t help hoping that any bomb they were allowed to drop would be kept relatively small until such time as they were free of acne. The Defence of the United States (BBC1), a series of four documentaries bought in from CBS, deals with the question in its heaviest form. In the first episode the civilian experts who insist that Mutual Assured Destruction is unavoidable argued so eloquently that it was hard to see how the military leaders Of either super-Power could remain unconvinced, except when you remembered that history offers few examples of a lesson being learned before the event.

Winston Churchill: The Wilderness Years (Southern) has made an engaging start, aided by some very subtle directing. I think it is perhaps a bit elementary, but for the moment judgment demands to be reserved, especially since the first episode was involved in a fierce three-way clash, the other two components of which were Georg Solti and a chasteningly depressing film by Wajda. I kept punching buttons and got visual salad.

The Day of the Triffids (BBC1) started well enough, but all will depend on whether the triffs are suitably disgusting en masse. Diamonds (ATV) has John Stride as a plus, but the eponymous rocks will be a minus unless someone pinches them. The thriller to watch is Blood Money (BBC1), whose first episode went as fast as Sebastian Coe, onlie begetter of a deathless pronouncement on International Athletics (BBC1). ‘He has this great capacity to get himself up for the big one.’

The Observer, 13th September 1981
[ A shorter version of this piece appears in Glued to the Box ]