From Clive James, Flying Visits - Postcards from the Observer 1976-83:
From The Crystal Bucket, by Clive James (Picador, 1981):
But over the same period the BBC's knack for the blockbuster co-production attained the status of collective genius. [...] As for David Attenborough's Life On Earth, it was obvious from the first episode that thousands of new zoologists would all be conceived at once, like a population bulge. I watched enthralled, distracted only by envy of my own children, for whom knowledge was being brought to alive in a way that never happened for my generation or indeed any previous generation in all of history.
[Introduction, p. 15]
[Introduction, p. 17-18]
[From Mutiny in the Furnace Room (11 July 1976), p. 27]
[From The Truly Strong Man (21 November 1976), p. 34]
The screen was ablaze with inexplicable phenomena. For example, Patrick was unable to recognise a portrait of the Queen. Admittedly the portrait was by Annigoni, but it did look something like her. It made you wonder about all those times on The Sky at Night when Patrick confidently assures you that the minuscule smudge in the bottom left-hand corner of the photograph is a quasar at the edge of the universe.
But the high point came when Patrick got into trouble over another question and Joseph tried giving him a hint. Giving a hint to Patrick isn't easy. The question involved identifying some musical instrument: a lute, if I remember correctly. Anyway, Joseph decided to mime that he was playing one of these.
Patrick, with his head in the Magellanic Clouds, did not catch on. Joseph increased his efforts, strumming frantically at the empty air. [...] Patrick looked stumped. His face was a study - I mean on top of the study it is normally. Ask him about the period luminosity relation in cepheid variables and he knows where he is, but he is no good on invisible lutes. Joseph mugged and plucked. Patrick groaned and writhed. The view goggled in disbelief. Two great clowns were locked in combat. [...]
[From Patrick's Invisible Lute (28 November 1976), p. 35]
Later on the illusions crumbled. [...] But even when it became generally accepted that most the the Broadway post-war classics were, by thoughtful standards, clap-trap, it was still contended that they worked. You heard a lot about Tennessee Williams's plays working. And indeed it could still be contended that Cat on a Hot Tin Roof works, in the sense that it coheres and resolves instead of just falling apart.
But at what a cost. Principally to the listener's eardrums. Even in this television production the actors had to shout as loudly as they would have had to do on stage, since if they lapsed even briefly into normal tones it would become apparent that every character in the play is doing all the time what normal human beings only do in rare moments of passion - i.e., say exactly what's on their minds. The convention of raw frankness can only be sustained if all concerned are in a permanent wax. So the actors rant. Rant on stage can look like powerful acting to the uninitiated, but on TV it looks like tat even to a dunce.
[From Over the Tarp (19 December 1976), p. 37]
Explaining their theories with lucidity and charm, the scientists might have gone a long way towards helping you understand what a quark is, if [presenter Nigel] Calder had not been there to help them. He had an uncanny knack of finding the example which compels your inattention. Illustrating how our mastery of radio waves has come one, he said: "Now they carry my picture to your television set." It would be churlish to condemn them on that account, but you couldn't help wishing that he would leave himself out of it.
[...] Natural forces were anthropomorphised, as if he were talking to children. "Old Man Gravity, the builder of stars and planets. We've been neglecting him."
But not even Old Man Embarrassment could quite destroy one's enjoyment of the programme [The Key to the Universe, BBC2]. The scientists were too interesting. Calder is probably right in contending that theirs are the kind of achievements "our generation will be remembered for". It's only the way he says it that makes it sound philistine. The scientists themselves usually sound cultivated and humane.
[From Rings a Bell (6 February 1977), p. 44-45]
[From Wini und Wolf (20 February 1977), p. 48]
Can the English language be saved from a watery death? Not of the BBC2 linkmen can help it. You would think by now that everybody in the Land of the Media had got the message about the word "situation". [...] But nothing gets through to the BBC2 linkmen. "And now here's Michael Fish with the latest on the weather situation."
If the language goes, everything goes. But perhaps everything is going anyway. [...] This week's shocker, Spend, Spend, Spend (BBC1), was about the inadequacies of a deprived personality, something impossible to mend. [...] it old a true story about a silly lady called Vivian, whose even sillier husband, Keith, won £152,319 on the pools. They spend it on short order, hence the title.
[...] "They say tomorrow never comes," droned Vivian, "They say there's no place like home." Abandoning epigram for hyperbole, she described her early grapplings with Keith as "The greatest sexual experience in the history of Castleford."
Vivian and Keith were played, dead straight without a tinge of contempt, by Susan Littler and John Duttine: two admirable performances. Crowned by a variety of savagely backcombed hair-styles, weighed down by strings of fake pearls as big as ping-pong balls, Vivian lunged about desperately in her affluent dream, which had disappointed her the cruellest way it could - by coming true. It was a fearful show, redolent of death. Of an environmental odour associated with mortality.
[...] Britain is still good at horses, too. I recommend a new series called Horses In Our Blood [...] talking about "the very great delight horses and humans have had for each other for thousands of years". The horses' share of this delight has to be taken on trust, of course. Princess Anne, star of the first episode, was more matter-of-fact. She had never known a time when horses weren't part of the furniture. "They were just there, and one would have got on them as one would have got on a bicycle."
[...] What a jolly show, though, and five more episodes to come. The air will be thick with the smell of horse-dung. With an environmental odour associated with equine bowel-movements.
[From Odour Situation (20 March 1977), p. 52]
[From Roots of Our Time (17 April 1977), p. 59]
[...] While Frost played Grand Inquisitor, Nixon played the great statesman who had been brought down by his own compassion. He should have been ruthless with his lieutenants. It was largeness of heart, not smallness of mind, that undid him. "Could I take my time now to address that question?" he asked, and straight away you knew that another Checkers speech was on its way around the S-bend towards you. [...]
[From My Daughter Tricia (20 March 1977), p. 61-62]
[From The Red Sandwich (29 May 1977), p. 66]
[From A Load of Chunk (31 July 1977), p. 69]
[From Women's Lab (28 August 1977), p. 73]
There is no secret about why soap operas make compulsive television. They simplify life. It is not so much a matter of simplifying events as simplifying character. Most of the events in The Foundation could easily happen in real life - Davinias are continually fighting their way up from nowhere for the privilege of falling into bed with Philippe and feeling a twist. But in real life the matter of character is never so elementary. In a soap opera, character is destiny: everything anybody does is determined by his nature. In real life we are stuck with the existentialist responsibility of remaking ourselves every morning. It is we who are the real decision-makers. By the time Friday rolls around we are worn out from taking the rap. Hence the charm of being able to reach out and switch on Davinia, who is always and only what she is.
[From Bonjour Twistesse (4 September 1977), p. 75-76]
[...] World About Us (BBC2) did a tropical number. Emphasis was on the delicately worked out logic underlying the lush biosystem. Nevertheless the script had to admit that the untrained eye might find some of the life-forms hard to take. "There are horrors here," the voice-over admitted grudgingly. In triumphant proof, a spider the size and shape of a roller-skate in a mink coat came charging at the camera. [...]
[From Heaven Help We (9 October 1977), p. 76-78]
Roughing out a few speculative designs in my notebook, I quickly realised that the garment, like a multi-role combat aircraft, would have to fulfil varying, and in some cases directly contradictory, functions. It would be impossible to eliminate body wastes, for example, without exposing the potentially unruly member to the outside atmosphere. Once released, the aforesaid appendage could obviously get up to anything, unless artificially restricted. Some form of clamp was indicated. But in that case ...
By this time my sketch looked like a cross between a tank turret and a lagged boiler, so I gave up. Television news programmes will come of age when we are told these things as a matter of course, and are not left in a fever of curiosity.
The second part of Eustace and Hilda (BBC2), adapted by Alan Seymour from L. P. Hartley, had excellent performances in the name parts. Christopher Strauli was so vulnerable, wet and exhausted you could hardly stand him, whereas Susan Fleetwood was vitality incarnate. She has the air of resembling what the Winged Victory of Samothrace might have looked like if only it had kept its head.
[From Chastity Pants (20 November 1977), p. 85-88]
[...] Max's Holiday Hour (Thames), starring Max Bygraves. Max's show was variously billed as "a fun-packed hour of Christmas entertainment" and "a whole lot of festive fun". It was no more fun than a sinus wash, but on the other hand it was no less fun either, and there is never any telling what will make the watching millions laugh.
[...] But better an eternity in Hell with Little, Large and Max Bygraves than a single Christmas with the Osmonds (BBC1). Generations of Osmonds gathered on the snowy heights of Provost, Utah, where they set about the task of conveying their good cheer. Their good cheer is awful because you know they are never not like that. The Osmonds are not even phoney: they are sincerely vacuous. "Our special friend Any Williams" was the guest star. It is a damning thing to say, but he fitted in perfectly. [...]
[From Olde Rubbishe (1 January 1978), p. 88-91]
It was exactly like getting blood from a stone, except that stones do not smoke. Pinter smoked all the time. You could tell that the interview was edited down from hours of film because in every shot Pinter had a fresh Balkan Sobranie in his hand. In the tight head-shots there was so much smoke pouring up from the bottom of the screen that you began wondering if his trousers were on fire.
Winning a charm contest against Melvyn Bragg is not easy, but Pinter never looked like losing. He made it disarmingly plain that he had no pretension towards understanding what his own work means. Something in life creates a lasting image in his mind. In the course of time the image wants to become a play. The play gets written, after which it no longer has much to to with him. Beyond that he wasn't about to discuss the matter. Questions about his themes and working methods consistently led nowhere. "I'm getting nowhere," declared Melvyn. "No," said the voice in the smoke.
Questions about his life, however, drew answer that told you a lot about Pinter's peculiar verbal force. Describing how Fascists used to chase him during his East End childhood, he recalled some lines of dialogue with which he once extricated himself from a close encounter. It sounded exactly like a scene from The Birthday Party. His ear for what really gets said when things like that happen is what makes him an interesting writer.
The advantage of working entirely from instinct is that the incongruities of actuality are not smoothed down by reason. The disadvantage is that the instinct can't tell a strong theme from a weak one. In a play like The Birthday Party Pinter is dealing with a central experience - being hunted down and crushed by a superior power - that nobody in the twentieth century is likely to find trivial. But his love-game plays for television I find as wearisome as being told someone else's nightmare.
First-rate artists usually think as well as feel: they are invariably their own best critics. Pinter, a slave to his inspiration, can do nothing except "let it run ... let it happen". It's a kind of irresponsibility which often arouses, in at least one viewer of his work, a perfect fury of disapproval. But at least, as this halting yet strangely fruitful conversation showed, the irresponsibility is obtained within a responsible man.
[From Not By Any Means Full (30 April 1978), p. 105-106]
Understandably keep about the World Cup [soccer], Dickie folds his hands, leans forward and smiles at you from under his moustache. Equally keen about the World Target Clown Diving Championships, he folds his hands, leans forward, and smiles at you from under his moustache. Transmitted from Florida, the World Target Clown Diving Championship features half a dozen local stunt-men in fancy dress somersaulting 200 feet into a wet handkerchief.
Any mad American pseudo-sport is grist to World of Sport's mill. Souped-up tractors have tugs-of-war against hang-gliders. In the World Bus Jumping Classic - brought to you from Tampax, Arizona - a man tries to jump a bus over a hundred motorcycles. The attempt is unsuccessful. Flames leap up from the shattered bus. Men in asbestos suits rush forward, their posed nozzles disgorging foam. Back to Dickie, who folds his hands, leans forward, and smiles at you from under his moustache.
[...] Try as I might, I can't be Dickie Davies about Lynn Seymour. I am Frank Bough about her. [...] Just standing there, she is not particularly shapely or even pretty, but when she moves she somehow becomes simultaneously ethereal and sexy, like a Platonic concept in Janet Reger underwear.
[From Something of Themselves (25 June 1978), p. 110,112]
A girl did a dazzling Shirley Bassey, her mouth suddenly appearing under one ear. For the ten minutes that the kids were on, Nationwide was a better variety programme than anything the Beeb has recently been able to come up with later in the evening. There was even some sincere laughter from Frank Bough. You can tell when he is laughing sincerely. He look normal.
[...] On Elkie & Co (Thames), Elkie Brooks demonstrated that a rock queen with half the equipment of Marion Montgomery can become ten times as big a star. Elkie used to be a raunchy singer with Vinegar Joe, a band that looked like an angry armpit.
[From Carry On Creating (23 July 1978), p. 118-119]
Manganese nodules, it appears, litter the ocean floor. [...] Footage of nodules being tested was accompanied by an assurance that this was only one phase in what should rightfully be considered as "a many-pronged scientific attack on the nodule enigma".
When came the manganese nodule? Some say that the manganese nodule is a faecal pellet. Some say not. [...] "They vary in every possible respect." Nodules were produced in order to back up this contention. One nodule was described as being "what is known in nodule jargon as hamburger-shaped". [...]
[...] After more than an hour of hearing about "these humble blackish stones", confidently described as belonging to "the common heritage of mankind", you had barely enough energy to ask what the ulterior motive was.
[...] another Very Boring Programme showed up, once again on BBC2. It was called Skateboard Kings. There ought to be at least a few interesting things to say about what a skateboard is and how to ride it. One was even prepared to hear details of a many-pronged scientific attack on the skateboard enigma. Instead the programme elected to celebrate the skateboarding "life-style".
As opposed to life, which is various, a life-style concentrates on one activity and flogs it to death. [... the youths'] plan was to bale out a swimming pool so that they could do "incredible things" in it with their skateboards. There would have been some point in showing us these incredible things. Alas, what we saw mostly consisted of the swimming pool being baled out. Trash-cans were employed as baling devices. "I'm gonna get a better trash-can," cried one youth. "There's a better trash-can up there." Then he ran up there and got a trash-can.
[...] Skateboard Kings was like a surfing movie with the water let out.
A pot-holing series called Beneath the Pennines (BBC2) has manifested all the characteristics of a Very Boring Programme, but occasionally errs in the direction of being moderately engaging. [...]
[...] "The history of pot-holing can be told in Alum Pot." Since the history of pot-holing seems to be composed mainly of people getting stuck upside down in holes, there was no reason to doubt this. [...] "Since its beginning pot-holing has been one of those classless sports that has its own dry sense of humour." The dry sense of humour is most often demonstrated by the merry cheer that goes up from a team of pot-holers when one of their number falls into the water.
[From Manganese Nodules (27 September 1978), p. 126-129]
Indeed the most telling image was blank. Pilger said that he had had the idea at one stage early on of keeping in touch with a Vietnamese family to find out what would happen to them as the war progressed, but one by one the members of the family were killed or just vanished, so that eventually he had to give up. You can't get film of something like that: you have to say it, and Pilger found a way of saying it.
The Italian Marxist composer Luigi Nono (BBC2) proclaims the necessity for contemporary music to "intervene" in something called "the sonic reality of our time". Apparently it should do this by being as tuneless as possible. [...] There was also footage of his fellow Venetians performing alienated tasks, such as selling fish to one another. The implication was that it would need Nono's music to give such tasks meaning.
It was painfully evident that Nono lacks the mental equipment to take on the suggestion that his job is not to make selling fish as interesting as his music, but to make his music as interesting as selling fish. Among artists without talent Marxism will always be popular, since it enables them to blame society for the fact that nobody wants to hear what they have to say.
[From Wuthering Depths (8 October 1978), p. 130-133]
[From Wilde and Whistler (29 October 1978), p. 134]
[...] the camera [in the second episode of The Body in Question] once again went inside the large intestine to watch peristalsis taking place. The gut contracting and dilating reminded me of something. I button-punched to the News on BBC1 and found the Prime Minister making a speech about the necessity to go on curbing inflation. The way his mouth contracted and dilated reminded me of something. Button-punching back to The Body in Question I suddenly found that everything had become clear. There is a close resemblance between the mouth and the large intestine at those moments when they are in the process of manufacturing the same stuff. [...]
The Queen Mother attended the Royal Variety Performance (BBC1). She also once volunteered to be bombed by the Luftwaffe, but that was some time ago, and perhaps nowadays she should be more careful about exposing her august and beloved person to mechanised outrage. David Jacobs recited a poem in her honour. Miserably composed, it referred to "a Scottish larse". I tuned out when a rabbit in a red spangled suit started playing the piano.
[From Howareowebees (19 November 1978), p. 134]
[From Dr Beckman's Apparatus (26 November 1978), p. 148-149]
Unfortunately there was not much worth listening to. As the Chorus, Gielgud set standards of speaking which none of the youngsters in the cast could even begin to match. In his opening fourteen lines he showed how the pentameter needs to be both analysed and integrated, so that its formality and freedom are alike revealed. "From forth the fatal loins of these two foes / A pair of star-cross'd lovers take their life ..." Ten beats, five in each line, with the line break barely observed but definitely not missed, and the word "lovers" pick out at the zenith of the rhythmic curve. All it takes is talent and application. [...]
Anyway, Patrick Ryecart and Rebecca Saire looked fetching enough in the title roles. Both spoke cleanly, but neither gave the sense of having spotted the difference between prose and blank verse. They didn't murder the poetry: they merely ignored it. In the long run Mercutio's approach was preferable. He did murder it, breaking up every line into tiny twitching pieces. "O, then. I see. Queen Mab. Hath been. With you." He was. Enough. To drive. You mad, but at least he had the virtue of demonstrating that Shakespeare's verse is something that has to be got right.
[From Island of the Stud Tortoises (10 December 1978), p. 153]
Disco dancing is really dancing for people who hate dancing, since the beat is so monotonous that only the champions can find interesting ways of reacting to it. There is no syncopation, just the steady thump of a giant moron knocking in an endless nail. But with that proviso, this was still an event from which it was difficult to prise loose your attention. Which dancer would have the first hernia of the content? Would Thomas Brown of Bermuda ("He's a trainee chef! Trace of the old hot stuff there") manage to pull his toes out of his ears before he hit the floor? [...]
The revelation of the evening [in a production of Richard II], however, was Jon Finch's Bolingbroke. Finch gave the role the performance it needs, since when you look at the text you see that there is not an awful lot there. Indeed there is a good case for asking the actor playing Bolingbroke to content himself with standing around looking worthily staunch. If he is to do more than that, he must play the role on two levels, speaking what is set down for him and transmitting his ambitions - if it is supposed that they exist - by other means. Finch was adept at finding means. Even when he was standing still you could tell he was heading for the throne of England by the direct route.
[From The Flying Feet of Frankie Foo (17 December 1978), p. 156-157]
There is no such thing as a freezing fog situation. What Mr Fish means is a freezing fog. In the panic of the moment, when on television, I myself have employed the word "situation" when it was not strictly necessary. Even now I find myself thinking of Mr Fish as Mr Fish Situation. But Mr Fish situation has all day to rehearse his little bit of dialogue situation. There is no excuse for his situation getting into a saying "situation" situation.
If the BBC, once the guardian of the English language, has now become its most implacable enemy, let us at least be grateful when the massacre is carried out with style. Ski Sunday (BBC2) was once again hosted by David Vine. [...] In their new, filmy ski-suits, the contestants looked like Martian archaeologists who had arrived on earth, discovered a pack of condoms, and had tried them on over their entire body. Müller looked like beating Podborsky's time. Understandably excited, David once again chose words to convey something other than what he meant. "And Müller is inside!" he bellowed. "He is inside Podborsky by a long way!"
[...] For years now, as one chrome-dome to another, I have been trying to reach Bobby [Charlton] through this column in order to tell him that his cover-up can only work in conditions of complete immobility. If he took up Zen finger-wrestling there might be some chance of retaining his carefully deployed strands in place. But in a 100-yard dash [...] the whole elaborate tonsorial concoction was simply bound to fall apart.
Bobby won the race, arriving at the finishing line with his hairstyle streaming behind his skull like the tail of an under-nourished comet. Seemingly without pausing for breath, Bobby went straight into the mandatory victor's interview with David Vine. It was notable, however, that his coiffure had magically been restored to position - i.e., it was back on top of his head.
[From Freezing Fog Situation (21 January 1979), p. 160]
Fresh-faced and paunchless, Attenborough looks groovy in a wet-suit. Female viewers moan low as he bubbles out the Pacific with a sea urchin in each hand. Against all the contrary evidence provided by James Bourke, Magnus Pyke and Patrick Moore, here is proof that someone can be passionate about science and still look and sound like an ordinary human being.
It is a lucky break that the presenter looks normal, because some of the life-forms he is presenting look as abnormal as the mind can stand. To Attenborough all that lives is beautiful: he possesses, to a high degree, the quality that Einstein called Einfühlung - the intellectual love for the objects of experience. Few who saw it will forget Attenborough's smile of ecstasy as he stood, some years ago, knee-deep in a conical mound of Borneo bat-poo. Miles underground, with cockroaches swarming all over him and millions of squeaking bats crapping on his head, he was as radiant as Her Majesty at the races.
Some of is are not as good as Attenborough at waxing enthusiastic when vouchsafed a close-up view of a giant clam farting. This happened many fathoms down on the Great Barrier Reef. As Attenborough zeroed in on the clam, it opened its shell a discreet millimetre and cut loose with a muffled social noise, visually detectable as a small cloud of pulverised algae.
[...] Even the single-cell life-forms reveal themselves to be bursting with ideas for getting about, eating, multiplying etc. [...]
By the time you get to the invertebrates, you practically need a seat-belt, the aesthetic effect is so stunning. Here comes a flatworm rippling through the sea, like a rainbow-edged omelette in a hurry. Molluscs go laughing along in the other direction, like hysterical flying saucers. A transparent prawn looking as if Dürer had drawn it suddenly alters its position, as if he had drawn it twice.
[...] Attenborough has all the resources of technology at his disposal, but the chief attribute he brings to this titanic subject is his own gift for the simple statement that makes complexity intelligible. With him, television becomes an instrument of revelation. [...]
[From Life on Earth (28 January 1979), p. 163-165]
Denis Quilley played Agamemnon. [...] Unfortunately it was hard to stop one's attention straying [...] to his apparel and coiffure. Dressed simultaneously as the Last of the Mohicans and the First of the Martians, he sported a Sam Browne belt, leather pedal-pushers, dreadlocks and a fringe. For the purpose of going away to the war and coming back afterwards, he was equipped with a suit of armour that strongly suggested American football. [...]
Aegisthus also had a bulky carapace, which he seldom took off. It was studded with large nails, or small bollards. These made it very difficult for him to sit down. To prove this, the producer made him sit down as often as possible. [...] As Klytemnestra, Diana Rigg had a wardrobe of Pocahontas numbers for day wear. They came with a complete rage of Inca, Aztec and Zulu accessories. [...] The bodice of her evening gown featured a gold motif that circled each breast before climbing ceilingwards behind her shoulders like a huge menorah. It was a bra mitzvah.
[...] the lower orders were clad in rags. These were not, however, ordinary clothes that had ended up as rags. These rags had been designed as rags. [...] Refugees from Alternative Miss World or the Eurovision Sarong Contest, [the women] formed little heads-together backing groups while the men pounded out the rhythm with crooked staves. It was evident that there wasn't a straight stave to be had anywhere in Greece.
[From Kodswallop (11 March 1979), p. 175-176]
Jimmy [Swaggart], like all the other television evangelists, looks like the host of a quiz show. The quiz show hosts all look like one another. Each looks as if a team of cosmetic dentists capped not just his teeth but his whole head. On top of the resulting edifice flourishes a wad of hair transplanted from the rear end of a living buffalo. A quiz show host is as ageless as a Chinese politician. From the beginning of the show to the end, every day for ever, he says not a single spontaneous word. Even more disturbingly, the contestants don't either.
Back in Britain, it is almost a relief to turn on Blankety Blank (BBC1), hosted by Terry Wogan. True, this is an American format [...] But compared with an American quiz show host, Terry Wogan is Doctor Johnson. He is capable of the occasional spontaneous remark. It is not a very memorable spontaneous remark, but he is capable of it. On top of that, it is almost certain that most of his head is composed of the original tissue. Many times in the past I have made jokes about Terry's bionic appearance. It was wrong of me to do that. I see now that he is full of those redeeming flaws without which, as Degas insisted, there is no life.
[From You Gonna Know! (1 April 1979), p. 177-179]
Somewhere in one of the better decorated of the lower regions, Noël Coward is stretched out on a chaise-longue. Surrounded by onyx clocks, tall drinks and signed photographs of Gertrude Lawrence, he is looking at a television set in a satinwood cabinet. Design for Living (BBC1) has barely begun. Suddenly there is a snapping sound. Coward has just bitten through the stem of his ebony cigarette holder. What the hell have they done to his play?
[From Zorba the Hun (13 May 1979), p. 187]
Half of the South Bank Show (LWT) was devoted to the painter Allen Jones, whose tastes, you will recall, run to ladies with their toes crammed into high-heeled shoes. It transpired that in weighing down and screwing up his anonymous lovelies with shackles, manacles, chains and rubber knickers, Jones is merely exploring "a new possibility for restating the figure". These were the artist's own words. He had several hundred more just like them. He was passionately insistent that "the lengths you have to go to in order to get a pure response ... are extreme."
What a pure response might happen to be was not defined. Presumably it is an unequivocal willingness to be stunned by the paintings of Allen Jones. I admire his dedication but can give only an impure response. As the author of the only Pirelli calendar that nobody bothered to look at twice, Mr Jones should realise that his females are competing for attention, not against other image, but against real females, and that this is a fight they are bound (if you will forgive the pun) to lose.
[From While There's Hope (3 June 1979), p. 191,192]
[From Carpenter the Rain King (1 July 1979), p. 191]
[From Immaculate Length of Borg (8 July 1979), p. 202]
While Q. Baebius Herennius was saying all this, what was left of the Roman army was doing its damnedest to wear Hannibal down. Eventually, by the patience and sagacity of Fabius, Rome was saved. [...]
Fronting an excellent TV Eye (Thames) on the subject of Islam, the redoubtable Vanya Kewley once again demonstrated that it is possible to be passionate in the cause of decency. Her Everyman programmes for the BBC were copybook examples of how right-wing nightmare nations like the Philippines and Paraguay can be discredited without any implication that left-wing nightmare nations are somehow not so bad after all.
Kewley elegantly embodies the principle that the truth is absolute, even if our grasp of it is relative. Q. Baebius Herennius believes that the truth is relative and his grasp of it absolute. She can understand him, but he will never be able to understand her.
[From Baebius Lives! (8 July 1979), p. 206]
[From I'm a Star! (2 September 1979), p. 209]
She looked and sounded pretty good, but the plonking manner was already developed, and unless she takes steps to purge herself of these habits she might find herself being asked to join Nationwide (BBC1). Ever the true home of the plonking manner, Nationwide will not hire a presenter unless he, or she, has a solid track-record of talking like a freak. Mere unnaturalness of emphasis is not enough. You have to frown when you ask yourself a question, look relieved when you supply the answer, half-laugh when the subject is light, half-sigh when it is grave.
The plonking manner does for presenters what make-up does for actors: it is something to hide behind. [...] the plonking manner is a way of preserving the self while the not-self makes a fool of itself. [...]
[From Plonking (16 September 1979), p. 210]
On the other hand, Wilde was certainly right about youth being wasted on the young. Most of us have to reach middle age before we start realising what we could have done with it. [...]
[From Joggers (23 September 1979), p. 213]
Sometimes the feel is of something unspeakable, as of a dead toad. The punks, especially, are not always easy to love. "Oi dress this way because oi'm into poonk." Yes, but why have you got a bolt through your head? A girl who has applied her pink eye-shadow with boxing gloves informs the semi-articulate interviewer that minority groups are always picked on. She has a nose like a pin cushion. "Obviously if you dress different there's going to be a lot of aggression against you," says a boy with a green plaid suit, a chalk white face and hair like a carrot going nova.
[From Negative, Captain (14 October 1979), p. 221-222]
Well, not quite. Nixon and Kissinger might have had short-term military reasons for their policy on Cambodia, but the ruinous long-term consequences were easily predictable. Nor, despite Kissinger's plausible appeal to international law, was there anything legal about the way he and his President tried to keep the bombing a secret. In fact they conspired to undermine the United States Constitution. Kissinger's personal tragedy is that his undoubted hatred of totalitarianism leads him to behave as if democracy is not strong enough to defend it.
Unfortunately, his personal tragedy, when he was in power, transformed itself into the tragedy of whole countries. The most revealing part of the interview was not about South East Asia, but about Chile. It transpires that a 36 per cent share of the popular vote was not enough to satisfy Kissinger that Allende had been democratically elected. [...] Kissinger blandly ascribed Allende's electoral victory to a "peculiaridy of the consdidution". But Margaret Thatcher is Prime Minister of Great Britain by the same kind of peculiarity, and presumably Kissinger, if he were still ruling the roost, would have no plans to topple her. By what right did he topple Allende?
Kissinger couldn't even conceive of this as a question. "Manipulading the domesdig affairs of another goundry," he explained, "is always gombligaded." It is not just complicated, it is often criminal. The Nixon-Kissinger policy in Chile was an unalloyed disaster, which delivered the population of that country into the hands of torturers and gave Kissinger's totalitarian enemy the biggest propaganda boost of recent times.
Panorama (BBC1) portrayed the Czech Government engaged in the unending totalitarian act of impoverishing its own country by the persecution of anybody courageous enough to insist on the objective nature of truth. The defendants were accused of "subversion of the State on a grand scale" and locked up "in order to safeguard the dictatorship of the proletariat". Why does it need so much safeguarding?
[From Maging a Moggery (4 November 1979), p. 227-228]
[From Mother of Shirley Williams (11 November 1979), p. 230]
[...] The song which inspired the dancers to their gyrations [...] predicted that [Miss World] would have "that special glow", a contention which suggested that in a lean year the crown might possibly be won by a decaying mackerel.
Sacha Distel then came on. Either his smile had been sutured into position or he wanted to sing. He wanted to sing. [...] One of the South American girls was the point of origin for a towering wicker-work structure covered with feathers. She upstaged all the other contestants by the simple expedient of rendering them invisible. [...]
They all went off to be cut out of their nation dress with acetylene torches and axes. [...] Esther [Rantzen] and Sacha then fell to delivering a cross-talk act so deadly that they could not have done worse if they had written it themselves.
[...] It seems that the arts in China are now being allowed to recover from the damage done to them by the Cultural Revolution in general and the vengeful puritanism of the Mk II Mrs Mao in particular. [...]
The Peking Opera is also on its way back, but many of the performers are missing, having been persecuted to death during the period when Mrs Mao was supervising the destruction of traditional forms in favour of truly revolutionary works whose ideological purity was proved by the fact that tickets for them could not be given away with free rice.
[From Miss World and Mrs Mao (18 November 1979), p. 232-233]
Sue Ellen has had a baby, of which J.R., all unbeknownst to him, is not the father. She used to have a drinkin' prarlm, but quit. Now she has a different prarlm: she hates J.R. "If we trah, really trah," J.R. tells her, his hair changing colour and his hat-band fluttering in the wind, "we can solve all our prarlms." Sue Ellen sneers at him [...] Sue Ellen is beautiful enough to make a man break down and crah.
Spurned by Sue Ellen, J.R. climbs into his powerful convertible and drives off to lernch. A meal taken in the middle of the day, lernch is when characters in Dallas get together to discuss the plot. It transpires that Sue Ellen's baby may well be suffering from neuro-fibrowhosis, a rare disease which attacks children who have been written into a long-running series and may have to be written out again later.
[...] Miraculously well-preserved, the elder Ewings hover worriedly in the background. Called Jock and Miss Ellie, they are out of an up-market version of The Waltons. In fact Dallas is like every American soap opera you have ever seen, all rolled into one and given an unlimited charge account at Neiman-Marcus.
[From Out to Lernch (9 December 1979), p. 235]