Essays: Wotting not |
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Wotting not

‘I QUARREL not with you, Holy Man,’ said Attila the Hun (Jack Palance) in Sign of the Pagan (BBC1). People spoke strangely in ancient times. Instead of saying ‘I don’t know,’ they said ‘I know not.’ I know not why: they just did.

One hadn’t seen ‘Sign of the Pagan’ for 20 years, but it was a breath of fresh sludge in a week of otherwise grim reality. Jeff Chandler was in it, saying ‘Make haste, we have but a moment!’ which was the ancient way of saying ‘Get your skates on’ or ‘Let’s split.’

It was a hard week’s viewing, as you will have deduced from my reluctance to get started. One of its brighter moments was the possibility that Hadleigh (Yorkshire) might at last have found himself a steady girl friend. This would he a relief, since the current series has so far suffered grievously from the loss of his wife, who was the reason I used to tune in. Hadleigh himself, beneath his veneer of aquiline sophistication, is fundamentally a bellowing Hooray Henry, as the wife must have figured out, since she went to America and got busy finding excuses for returning not. Under the pressure of events Hadleigh has lost his previously infallible judgment, running himself into debt to the tune of £1 million. Stiff cheese.

Cup Final Grandstand (BBC1) was another portent of tough sledding ahead. As in ancient times, ITV had a soothsayer on hand — a Dutchman called Georges Bode, billed as a ‘famous Dutch astrologer.’ Attila would have dismissed his forecasts by saying, ‘You see but darkly and you saw not this.’ The ITV commentators were less scornful. But the Beeb’s boys were as square as ever. Bobby Stokes, who won a car for scoring the only goal, received instant canonisation, being described thenceforth as ‘Bobby Stokes, the little man who made it possible,’ and ‘Little Bobby Stokes, the goalscorer.’

A compilation programme on the Royal Festival Hall (BBC2) was full of treasurable footage. David Oistrakh was to be seen playing the last pages of the Brahms Violin Concerto. Both the Oistrakhs played the first movement of the Bach D minor Concerto for Two Violins. Giulini conducting the Verdi ‘Requiem’; Kempe conducting the Tannhäuser Overture; Klemperer conducting the last movement of the Beethoven Ninth. Callas sang with the tatters of a great voice, and Stravinsky conducted the ‘Firebird’ Suite. Technically no more than a scissors-and-paste job, this programme was a feast.

But the weather turned around. The week went sour. Panorama (BBC1) started with a profile of Jack Jones, ‘whom many call the second most powerful man in Britain.’ Jones is in a fair way to becoming a well-loved figure, mainly because, although his loyalties remain firmly with the working class, his definition of the working class has by now expanded to include everybody who works for a living. He is for those who make things and against those who just make money: one’s own sentiments exactiy.

The rest of ‘Panorama’ was about people who just make money. It was depressing. Apparently financial wizards are now trafficking heavily in the falling pound, by smuggling it abroad and turning it into something hard. An even niftier dodge is not just to smuggle sterling out, thereby avoiding the premium, but to bring the hard currency back in, being paid the premium for doing so. There was a beautiful German girl smuggler to explain that her British ‘acquaintances’ were all businessmen. ‘Who doesn’t do it?’ she asked rhetorically. ‘If they want to bring it out, they bring it out.’ Some City twerp who had been fined £270,000 for high-level fiddling was interviewed in the back of his Rolls. The Nine O’clock News followed hard on ‘Panorama’s’ heels with Angela Rippon informing us that the pound had slipped even farther. I’m surprised not.

The gloom thickened. Horizon (BBC2) was about cot-deaths. It seems that eight different factors are responsible. You can mark parents on all eight, and if the total reaches a certain level, then their baby is at risk. At least there is now a chance, in Sheffield anyway, of the health visitor getting there before the child dies. But it was sad, if inevitable, to be told that a kid’s best chance of surviving is still to be born to people who are not poor. Discovery (Yorkshire) was about an even nastier affliction — Huntington’s Chorea, a slow killer which is unnervingly inheritable. People suffering from it shouldn’t breed, but all you can do is advise them not to: there’s no law against it. Man Alive (BBC2) was alternately harrowing and portentous about fostered children and This Week (Thames) was terrifying about what the Turks are up to in Cyprus. What does a Greek doctor have to do to deserve being tortured with electric shocks? Presumably heal Greeks.

So much bad news made it seem a benediction that there are doctors and nurses at all. The nurses were not much helped, though, by Nurse of the Year, an all-ITV nation-wide hook-up hosted by Leslie Crowther. After a long al fresco introduction, in which the competing nurses joined in some crappy dialogue with Leslie, the show settled down into a nurse-race. The proceedings were undignified and dirty-minded by turns, but then nursing is not for the squeamish, so there was no point in climbing on one’s high horse. Gratitude was a more appropriate reaction.

Gratitude turns to awe in the case of Liz Thomas. interviewed by Ludovic Kennedy as a tail-piece to a repeat of the programme about her (Inside Story BBC2), originally screened a year ago. Now back from Vietnam, she is as earthily ethereal as ever. Ludo asked her where she will be going next. ‘The worst possible place I can find.’ ‘Where’s that?’ ‘Maybe Calcutta.’ If there was an element of wilfulness in this, who’s quarrelling? Goddesses obey their own laws. Almost equally divine was The Pattern of Beauty (BBC2), the latest instalment in a series about Islam. A sublimely relaxing display of enamelled colours, it reached in through the retina to soothe the troubled mind. Allah be praised.

The Observer, 9th May 1976