Essays: Wonderful Wmln |
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Wonderful Wmln

WITH THE World Cup out of the way, the BBC could stop being obsessed with football and start being obsessed with tennis. Once again it was time for Wimbledon (BBC1 and 2), the magic word that means green lawns, strawberries, rain and Dan Maskell.

‘Ooh, that’s a wonderful volley. That really is a wonderful volley.’ As I tuned in on Monday afternoon, these were the first words I heard. Who else could be saying them but Dan Maskell? ‘Ooh I say, that’s colossal tennis.’ Borg, the reigning champion, was playing Amaya, referred to as ‘the giant American.’ Amaya was undoubtedly very big. As a corollary, he did not seem especially agile. Yet Borg appeared to be having trouble defeating him. Without conducting an autopsy there is no sure way of telling if Borg is worried, but a slight twitch of his left nostril suggested that he might be in a state of abject panic.

Why was Borg serving so many double faults? Whence his uncertainty of touch? Dan and the other experts speculated at length, but to any thoughtful viewer the answer was obvious. It was because the champion was weighed down with so much advertising. Smothered in rubrics, placards and slogans, he had no more mobility than the Archbishop of Canterbury in full regalia. One can search in vain for a square inch of Borg’s person that is not selling something. The only advertising space his manager has missed out on is the top of his head, where there is still just sufficient room to mount a revolving McDonald’s hamburger sign.

‘The happy face of Ile Nastase,’ somebody said. ‘Nice to see it.’ In fact Nastase’s face is never nice to see whether he is happy or not, but there is no point in denying that the rebarbative Romanian is must viewing. For one thing, he is an edifying reminder of what the human character can do to itself if left unsupervised. It is a terrible thing for a grown man to have the face of a boy, especially when the face is in the early stages of growing a beard.

Making it all worse is his undoubted genius for the game. Even Dan runs out of wonderfuls and colossals when Nastase is in full spate. Only Nastase can beat Nastase. He is reasonable as long as everything is going his way — i.e, he is unreasonable. He will put up with a decision that goes against him only if it very clearly should have gone against him, and not always then. ‘Nastase grins and bears it,’ the same somebody said. But Nastase rarely just grins and bears it. More commonly he grins, groans, shrugs, slumps, spins around, shakes his head, puffs out his cheeks, rolls on the ground and bears it. Even more commonly he does all that and doesn’t bear it.

On Thursday afternoon it rained, which left Harry Carpenter with a lot of time to fill in. Harry no longer calls Wimbledon Wmbldn. He now calls it Wmln. Every year the name gets shorter. Meanwhile Thursday afternoon got longer and longer, with nothing happening except rain falling out of the sky. Carpenter the Rain King was equal to the challenge. Sitting in front of an endlessly varied sequence of pictures showing rain forming puddles, he gave a rain commentary.

‘I think that’s my cue to take you out again to look at the weather ... those familiar puddles on the covers ... those rows of empty seats ... the seats waiting to be filled ... rain ... this is another match from last year.’ A tape of one of last year’s matches would then be screened, in part compensation for this year’s rain. Then it was back to Harry. ‘It’s not raining heavily ... a light sort of drizzle ... rain.’

Panorama (BBC1) did a breathless investigative programme about whether or not Israel has the atomic bomb, and how she managed to obtain the fissile material for the bomb that she might or might not have. Every time there was footage of some building in which fissile material might or might not have been kept, the voice-over mentioned the word ‘security’ in order to convey the fact that the building was not easy to get into, while the camera zoomed in on a locked gate. In case we were left wondering about the method by which the gate’s locked status had been achieved, the camera zoomed in even further to show a padlock.

It was exhaustively established that a suitably large amount of fissile material had gone missing in the direction of Israel. It is therefore possible, indeed even probable, that Israel has by now built an atomic bomb. But logical inference is not hard evidence. Whatever hard evidence exists is presumably in the possession of the CIA. Representing CIA opinion on this matter was the Agency’s quondam chief in Israel, one John Haddon. He was probably a good spy in his day. As a television performer he is so boring that he sets some kind of record. The National Health should book him up for a series. Video cassettes of him talking could be prescribed instead of barbiturates.

Like all great bores, Mr Haddon comes equipped with a pipe. The camera zoomed in on it so that we could see him scraping it, knocking it out against things, stuffing it, lighting it, etc. When he finished doing all these things to it, he started sucking it. He would suck it for a long time while choosing his words, thereby conveying an impression of being the kind of wise old dog that doesn’t give much away. Could the Israelis have stolen the fissile material? ‘I don’t think it’s ah. Ahhh. (pf, pf, pf.) I don’t think it’s hard ah. For them to ah. (pf, pf, slurp.) Remove things.’

A large part of the programme was taken up by film showing people running away from ‘Panorama’ reporters. You began to wonder whether such programmes achieve anything beyond putting people’s lives in danger. A German gave evidence with his back to the camera, presumably acting on the assumption that the back of his head would be unrecognisable. This was all very exciting — or rather it was all very unexciting — but there was no accompanying discussion about what uses Israel might or might not find for the bomb it might or might not have.

A more serious attempt to understand the Middle East looks like being made by Palestine (Thames), a three-part documentary of which so far only the first instalment has been screened. Already we can be sure that this is worthy stuff in ‘World at War’ style, with precious film footage diligently dug up and refurbished. Richard Broad is the man in charge. He deserves praise for not having succumbed to the fashionable illusion that an objective view is impossible to attain.

Unfortunately his admirable fairness is expressed in language devoid of colour. By no coincidence, it is often ungrammatical as well. ‘Appointed in 1921, the British hoped he would restrain the Arabs.’ Participles dangled throughout the script. ‘In exile for 2,000 years, it remained their religious home.’ If one’s language isn’t adequate to what needs saying, what needs saying will go on needing to be said.

The Observer, 2nd July 1978