Glued to the Box

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First edition (publ. Jonathan Cape)

Glued to the Box (TV Criticism from the Observer 1979–1982), is the third and final collection of the television criticism Clive James wrote for The Observer. It includes material from articles that run from 2 December 1979 to 28 March 1982. In the Introduction he writes that he had, "never thought of television criticism as a career. It is the sort of thing one goes into with a whole heart but not for ones whole life." The volume finishes with his "standing up and moving aside" for his successor, Julian Barnes. "No doubt he will slag one of my programmes first chance he gets, but by then I will be in the habit of damning all critics as fools." The London Review of Books wrote: "Along with its two predecessors, (Visions Before Midnight and The Crystal Bucket), it will stand as a once-only critical phenomenon: ten years worth of high intelligence and wit." Sheridan Morley called him "far and away the funniest writer in regular Fleet Street employment." The book is dedicated to Pat Kavanagh and Dan Kavanagh and carries an epigraph from Charles Péguy at its start.

Programmes reviewed[edit]

  • Ian Curteis's Suez – "an epic documentary drama about Sir Anthony Eden.... Somewhere in the early 1950s, it is the end of the line for the British in the Middle East. The writing is on the wall, and it is in Arabic.... Eden had no legal justification whatsoever for launching the Suez adventure. On top of that, he had misjudged Britain's real strength entirely... he handed the Soviet Union a moral advantage, which they were able to exploit when crushing the Hungarian rebellion.... It was the moment when even Britain's rulers caught up with the truth about their country's reduced capacity to influence events by force."
  • Testament of Youth – "four episodes have gone by. I have watched each of them twice and never ceased to marvel at the writing, directing and acting."
  • Nancy – "portrayed Lady Astor as a sacred monster.... She thought that if Ribbentrop were invited to Cliveden and allowed to win at musical chairs then Hitler would moderate his demands. Plainly, like many instinctively virtuous people, she was an innocent."
  • Ski Sunday – "the women go slower than the men but not much. One feels protective when they crash, especially since the protectives they are wearing do not look all that protective. Luckily the British girls, in sharp contrast to their continental counterparts, move at a sedate pace."
  • BBC Sports Personality of the Year – "the trophy for International Sportsman of the Year went to Björn Borg.... Borg is always nice, knowing that he will never be resented for his wealth as long as he stays shy."
  • Sportsnight the World Gymnastics Championships at Fort Worth – 'Remarkable how slim the Romanian girls are,' mused Ron Pickering and/or Alan Weeks. 'Quite slim indeed.' Poor, grim little darlings, they looked anorexic."
  • Henry IV, Part I (BBC2) – "proceeding staunchly between the lower levels of excitement and the upper stratum of tedium...Interiors tended towards straw-on-the-floor naturalism..The trouble with low-budget naturalism is that it never looks natural..The night scenes before the Battle of Shrewsbury looked particularly fine."
  • Shakespeare in Perspective with George Melly – "Melly quoted the odd Shakespearean line, showing that he could tell a pentameter from a pint pot. Singers are nearly always good at bringing out the rhythm of blank verse."
  • The South Bank Show on the Royal Shakespeare Company – "Alan Howard's was the voice that thrilled... he has a knack for Shakespeare's rhythm – the rhythm that holds melody together... preparing one of Achilles's speeches in Troilus and Cressida, [he] carefully rejected most of the advice and concentrated on picking out the driving impulse of the verse, which thereupon yielded up its meaning of its own accord – the exact effect Shakespeare had in mind when he wrote it that way in the first place."
  • A Famous Journey with Kenneth Griffith – "Retracing the journey of The Magi, Kenneth landed in Iran. Immediately he was thrown out...Kenneth blended obtrusively into the scenery. He has a high visibility factor, mainly because he is incapable of either just standing there when he is standing there or just walking when he is walking."
  • Henry IV, Part II – "Playing Hal, David Gwillim... had an ear for rhythm.... 'How ill white hairs become a fool and jester.' Falstaff (a quietly excellent impersonation by Anthony Quayle), was crushed."
  • World of Sport, with American truck racing – "The man who won leaned out of his cab to say, 'I just thank the good Lord that we were able to pull this thing off.' Another truck, in which the good Lord was evidently less interested, fell apart."
  • The Tamarind Seed, The Go-Between, Cleopatra, Ben-Hur, Where Eagles Dare ("fighting their way back through several divisions of the German Army, our two heroes Richard Burton and Clint Eastwood, had the advantage of being equipped with real ammunition, whereas the Germans, apparently, had made the mistake of issuing their men with blanks"), The Poseidon Adventure: – "Every day of the festive season the channels attempted to clobber each other with old movies...Cleopatra was spread over two days like a small golf tournament.... Ben-Hur... has in fact a lot to offer the discerning viewer.."
  • The Knowledge "a play by Jack Rosenthal about what taxi-drivers have to learn before they get their badge. What they have to learn is London...Some of the acting was as unsubtle as some of the writing but the thing worked."
  • Christmas with Eric and Ernie – "Des O'Connor turned up to receive the benefit of his usual million pounds worth of free publicity. Getting goosed by Eric and Ernie is the best thing that ever happened to him and he is smart enough to be grateful."
  • Training Dogs the Woodhouse Way – "Barbara Woodhouse trains dogs by breaking the spirit of the owner." "... she was to be seen teaching puppies how to poo and pee. 'I use "Quickie!" for puddling and "Hurry up!" for the other function.'.... what does she say when she wants the dog to hurry up?"
  • Man Alive, debate on the Olympic Games – "Marina Voikhanskaya, who knows exactly what happens to dissident opinion in the Soviet Union, described the process of 'cleaning' Moscow in preparation for the games. The reason for moving the children out is that 'children are spontaneous people.' ...Lord Exeter, 'representing the Olympic movement' had even stronger views but you could not say that he put them. He dumped them in your lap and left you to do what you could with them. 'I've spent my life in this movement,' he barked, as if anyone cared about that. 'We've always kept out of politics.'"
  • Blake's 7 – "Servilan, the only reason for watching the otherwise worthless Blake's Seven. Played by a statuesque knockout called Jacqueline Pearce... she is obliged to spend an unconscionable amount of time pursuing Blake's dreary Seven through fitfully shimmering time-warps and into the awkwardly whirling vortices of low-budget black holes."
  • The Moonies (ATV) – "Mr Moon talks like the leading heavy from an episode of Batman made in about 1946. 'Many people will die. Those who go against our movement.'" "Such groups have a strong appeal for people who are simultaneously self-obsessed and deficient in real personality.... The term brainwashing should be reserved for cases in which there are brains to be washed."
  • Liberace's Valentine Night Special – "like being forcibly fed with warm peppermint creams."
  • Frank Sinatra – the First Forty Years – "The venue was Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas. It was jammed with celebrities, many of them still alive."
  • The Enigma, adapted by Malcolm Bradbury from a story by John Fowles – "was about a rich Tory MP who went missing...The MP's awful son had a marvellously intuitive and beautiful mistress, played by Barbara Kellerman."
  • Very Like a Whale, a play by John Osborne – "Alan Bates played Sir Jock Mellor, captain of industry. Sir Jock had a strange temperament for a captain of industry. He was just like a playwright.... Gemma Jones was very good at being the bitchy Osborne woman who shouts, 'I haven't finished my drink!"
  • 1980 Winter Olympics – "There was tragedy, of course. 'And that... is another tragedy for the British speed skaters.' While these sentiments were being uttered, a British male speed skater could be seen sliding along on his nose. In another tragedy, a British female speed skater forgot to change lanes and scythed down the only Chinese female speed skater in existence.. All this time the BBC commentators had been doing their best to stay calm about Robin Cousins. They rarely mentioned him more than a thousand times a night."
  • Nationwide – there was a lady whose cat had recently survived a complete cycle in the washing machine. 'What sort of condition was he in?' asked Frank Bough. The lady answered without smiling: 'My husband said he looked like a drowned rat."
  • Open University, production of Oedipus Tyrannus by Sophocles – "Costumes consisted of caftans and plastic masks, decor of practically nothing..It was the best Greek tragedy I have seen on television since Eileen Atkins played Electra."
  • Free to Choose, with Milton Friedman – "Friedman is an eloquent man with a simple idea.... Friedman's theory has the dubious merit of being unfalsifiable. It always fits. A country prospers if its government does not interfere. If a country prospers even when the government does interfere, it would have prospered even more if the government had not interfered... the Left has become unpopular...Nowadays the New Class tends to be on the Right. I would be surprised if this supposedly seismic realignment were anything more than yet another change of fashion, with the truth remaining hard to get at. All you can be sure of is that anyone who sounds as if he has all the answers hasn't."
  • The Tempest BBC Television Shakespeare – "Michael Hordern, as Prospero, was magical enough to transfigure his surroundings, the television screen, and eventually, you."
  • Just for Today, documentary about Jimmy Greaves – "Booze stood indicted as a bad thing."
  • Secret Orchards a William Trevor play – "adultery is a bad thing"
  • A Gift from Nessus, by William McIlvanney and Bill Craig – "an excellent play.... As acted and directed, it was genuinely tragic."
  • Change of Direction – "A drunkard found salvation at the hands of Charlie's Angels... thereby adding himself to the long list of drunkards, reformed or otherwise, who have been featured in recent television programmes. There was another one in Change of Direction. What made him different from all the others was that his name was Buzz Aldrin – Buzz is not a very dazzling speaker, as Ludovic Kennedy, who had the task of interviewing him, soon discovered. But he is an honest man and his dilemma made sad listening."
  • The Lost Boys – "Ian Holm brought J. M. Barrie's neuroses to life with an intensity that made you wish he hadn't. Obviously it was hell being him."
  • Parting Shots From Animlals – with John Berger
  • The South Bank Show, on Merce Cunningham – "he and his dancers come fully to life only when the music is the old, melodic kind."
  • What the Papers Say – "Donald Woods ably analysed Fleet Street's success in getting everything wrong about Mugabe."
  • Russian – Language and People – "Not only has all the location footage been vetted, but everything done here at home has been carefully toned down in order not to offend the tender sensibilities of the host nation.... Total blandness is the bottom line of the deal, into which the BBC went with its eyes open, although doubtless unaware that its hosts would celebrate the launching of the series by invading Afghanistan.... In Russian the stress is arbitrary and the natives elide like mad... a language which is at least as big as ours in vocabulary and even more idiomatic. But it is also wonderfully, wildly beautiful."
  • Thérèse Raquin – "Kate Nelligan... has the right kind of nerve to take a hack at a heavy role.... Clad fetchingly in well-laundered underwear, she drops on him [her weedy husband's virile friend], from the ceiling. Blind passion never looked more believable. Or more fun, either."
  • Shadows on Our Skin – "the best television play about Northern Ireland since I'm a Dreamer, Montreal... adapted by the poet Derek Mahon from the novel by Jennifer Johnston... the script economically explored the distorted childhood of a Bogside eleven-year-old boy called Joe."
  • Omnibus, on Roger Corman – "I never enjoyed an Omnibus programme more.... Nevertheless somebody should have pointed out that most Roger Corman movies, whether by the master himself or by an exploited tyro, are not just cheap, but truly lousy."
  • China (Thames) – "glumly recounted what has been happening to the Peking Ballet Company during thirty years of revolution..A ballerina, her hands ruined from eight years hard labour in the fields, said that what was done to your body would have been less unbearable if they had let your mind alone.... There was a campaign called 'Three famous, three high' in which the three most accomplished people in any area of creativity were reassigned to a decade or so of carting night-soil."
  • Writers and Places – "was excellent. Frederic Raphael... had more to say in propria persona than as the author of The Glittering Prizes..."
  • The Real Thing – "a new series of science waffle.... 'Your brain has already made up its mind about what way up I am. And because it doesn't possess the information I have, its got it wrong.' What James Burke can't seem to grasp is that I don't care about not possessing the information he has."
  • A Song for Europe – "an endless mess"
  • The Kenny Everett Video Show – "Unfortunately Hot Gossip..blot his copybook..with their dim-witted desire to hop about in Nazi uniforms.... As for the much touted question about whether the dance groups are going over the top... the eroticism has been disappearing along with the cloth.... There was never a sexier television dance group than Pan's People at the height of their fame, and that was because they gave you what is known among traditional jazz-men as a flash. You can't have a flash without a skirt."
  • Stephen Poliakoff's Bloody Kids – "was directed by Stephen Frears with his customary nose for the phosphorescent glamour of urban blight."
  • News at Ten – "The big deal of the week was nude bathing at Brighton... a naked man came limping and shivering out of the sea to tell the camera what a terrific time he was having. He was visible down to a line drawn about half an inch above what would probably have turned out to be, if we had been allowed to see it, a frost-bitten cashew."
  • The Grand National – "a loose horse is any horse sensible enough to get rid of its rider at an early stage and carry on unencumbered."
  • Donizetti's Lucrezia Borgia – "Anne Howells was given clothes worthy of her captivating looks..this telegenic mezzo... was allowed to strut dynamically about in highly becoming velvet pant-suits plus Renaissance accessories.."
  • Agatha Christie's Why Didn't They Ask Evans? – "filled with glaring impossibilities.... But it was all highly enjoyable, once you accepted that the idea was to wallow in what you could not swallow."
  • Play for Today – "Lionel Goldstein's The Executioner – "Deborah Norton was her usual stunning self – a bucket of ice who melted for one second, then froze up again..How does it happen that a chucklehead like Rolf Hochhuth gets so much coverage when a playwright of Mr Goldstein's quality is largely unknown?.. The whole chain of thought, deed and consequence was brilliantly worked out.."
  • Simon Gray's The Rear Column – "an assorted bunch of British officers waiting in the Congo.... Their commanding officer, played excellently by Barry Foster in his Orde Wingate manner plus a pint of sweat, was clearly bonkers...Harold Pinter in his first try at directing for television... planned his shots with tact, avoided all gimmickry."
  • TV Eye – "Chinese whose fingers had been cut off in industrial accidents were to be seen having them sewn back on or replaced with toes.... Thousands of Chinese per year have digits or limbs removed in this way. Apparently it is deemed more interesting to explore surgical techniques for replacing the missing appendages than to devise safe machines."
  • Ian McEwan's The Imitation Game – "Richard Eyre directed with an unfailing touch and Harriet Walter brought seemingly limitless reserves of intelligent emotion to the incarnation of the central role."
  • Pot Black – "A kill-or-be-killed nailbiter between Ray Reardon and the mighty Eddie Charlton."
  • Manon Lescaut – "James Levine stood revealed as a great conductor and Plácido Domingo as a changed man. He has lost at least two stone.... But the voice is bigger and more beautiful than ever, like his eyebrows."
  • Jessie Kesson's The White Bird Passes, directed by Michael Radford – "Isobel Black... beautiful to see... a welcome return.."
  • 'Tis Pity She's a Whore – "The text was played straight, which helped ensure that the comic relief (Rodney Bewes as Bergetto, the thick suitor), was actually comic.... I really think it is not much of a play. But this was a great interpretation."
  • The Book Programme – "Nixon was plugging his new book, The Real War which apparently advances the thesis that the Third World War is already on.... Nobody else in the studio really concurred... but Nixon for some reason carried on as if they were all agreeing with him."
  • Murphy's Stroke with Niall Tóibín; Fred Dibnah, Steeplejack; Hamlet, BBC Television Shakespeare, starring Derek Jacobi – "only an average production"; South Bank Show with Roman Polanski – "fascinating about his craft."
  • Nine O'Clock News – "Idi Amin made an appearance... exclusively interviewed by Brian Barron, Idi spoke from his mysterious hideout, which nobody except everybody knows to be the Sands Hotel, Jeddah."
  • Victoria Wood's Nearly A Happy Ending – "the indispensable comic element is a gift that can't be taught: you've either got it or you haven't, and Victoria's got it."
  • In Evidence with Jonathan Dimbleby – "he explained that the police force attracts people of 'authoritarian' sympathies. Undoubtedly it does, but it also attracts people who simply believe in authority, which is not the same thing as being authoritarian. A fine distinction but a crucial one, which a television reporter should be able to make."
  • No Maps on my Taps – "gave you the essence of black tap-dancing.... There was some attempt to suggest that white tap-dancing was done by numbers rather than from a true rhythmic sense, but this was an understandable case of racism in reverse. As was proved by the miraculous dance numbers in You'll Never Get Rich, Fred Astaire had as much rhythm as a human being can have. So did Rita Hayworth...."
  • Wimbledon – "John McEnroe – For a long time, he did his best to contain his awful personality, tying his shoelaces between games instead of during and merely scowling at the linesmen instead of swearing..Finally the rain got to him. By Thursday, he was behaving as badly as ever..."
  • Buccaneer – "the ladies involved, who include Shirley Anne Field are fetching enough..somebody at the BBC has at last grasped the principle by which any given episode of a modern soap opera must feature at least three delectable females, one of whom shall not be fully clad. Put a stetson on all that and you've got Dallas."
  • The Big Time – "an unknown girl called Sheena Easton was given her chance to become a pop star... although first she had to endure a lecture from Dorothy Squires. 'I had tomatoes thrown at me, apples thrown at me...' Sheena sat silent through all this.... She has the temperament to go with the talent and just might make it."
  • Panorama with David Dimbleby on South Africa – "the white ruling class..has a vested interest in not being able to understand the issues."
  • I Have Seen Yesterday on reincarnation – "Christmas Humphreys was the most substantial name involved.."
  • Montaillou – "In the old days the town's population was thinned by the Inquisition... they had called the Church the instrument of the Devil.... The Church disabused them of this notion by toasting them over a low flame. But first the Bishop extracted confessions. What makes Montaillou remarkable is that this register of confessions still exists."
  • Women of Courage – "gave us Sigrid Lund, a Norwegian pacifist who saved Jewish children from the Nazis... she got a bunch of children out of Prague and took them to Norway. To get there they had to go through Berlin, where grown up people spat on the children. When the children asked Sigrid why this was happening, she said it was because the people had a cold."
  • Inside Story on prostitution – "An American proprietor of a legal brothel called the Chicken Ranch irrefutably pointed out that the only way to make prostitution benign is to legalise brothels."
  • Jeux sans frontières from Antibes – "Stuart Hall... is an intelligent, cultivated man, yet somehow he has managed to embrace his task without recourse to drugs."
  • The Martian Chronicles – "the latest in a long series of undeviatingly tacky science fiction epics which carry the name of Milton Subotsky prominent among the credits."
  • Bamber Gascoigne's The Christians – "survives a second viewing."
  • P. J. Kavanagh's William Cowper in Olney – "an impeccably composed and delivered little programme."
  • Mork and Mindy – "a slick imported American comedy series in which the one-line gags pile up in struggling heaps."
  • News at Ten – "Trevor McDonald's night-to-night analysis of the Polish crisis was consistently the best thing of its kind on television."
  • Newsnight, on Christine Keeler – "Christine's outline is as lissom now as it was then, when Government Ministers dished their careers because they couldn't keep their hands off it... one of the distinguishing marks of the 1960s was that the hookers looked as good as the socialites.."
  • Swan Lake – "Natalia Makarova was too good for words..Indeed Odile, at the end of a mind-watering pas-de-deux, threw Siegfried a smile which plainly asked, 'Your place or mine?'"
  • Invitation to the Dance – "hosted by Rudolf Nureyev, we were treated to Béjart's version of The Firebird."
  • The World About Us – "there are hot air vents on the ocean floor. Around these vents cluster some of the least photogenic life-forms known to man...What is that strange, spaghetti-like structure? Is it spaghetti? No, it is more worms. And now a rat-tailed fish noses towards the window, obeying the universal instinct of all creation – to be on television."
  • Panorama "The People's Daily... congratulated the Party on jailing the dissident Wei for fifteen years. Wei's crime had been to suggest that Deng's famous Four Modernisations would be meaningless without a fifth, namely democracy."
  • Andrea Newman's Mackenzie – "Andrea Newman's great strength as a writer is that she sees the drama and passion in the lives of ordinary people. Her housewives carry on like Maria Callas."
  • The Greeks – "This truly awful series is narrated by its producer, Christopher Burstall, who, I am afraid, has developed a bad case of feeling obliged to give us Something of Himself."
  • Telethon – "had the hypnotic fascination of a rattlesnake..The audience gets little to enjoy beyond the unintentional humour generated by technical cock-ups. As for the handicapped children, they gain some of the means of life, – but life in what kind of world? To do what? To watch Bernie Winters host a darts competition? There has to be another way."
  • The Shock of the New – "fronted by Robert Hughes, is plainly destined to be one of the more considerable series about the visual arts. Hughes has gone a long way towards restoring to television the combination of wide knowledge and natural eloquence not seen and heard on this subject since Lord Clark retired from the screen."
  • Derek Bailey on Rex Whistler – "Whistler was a dandy with fashionable friends, but his creations were genuinely inventive: he had fantasy raised to the level of imagination. There was a tragic vision behind his humour. The tragedy fulfilled itself when he died as a war hero."
  • Buck Rogers in the 25th Century – "The hardware looks good and Wilma Deering looks simply sensational, like Wonder Woman with brains."
  • Horizon – "dealing with high-speed and time-lapse photography. Speeded up several hundred times, a gang of maggots devoured a dead mouse...First they were all over the mouse's head like a cloche hat. Then they were around its neck like a feather boa fluttering in the wind. Then they were around its waist like a grass skirt.... Then they were sliding down past its hips like a dress rapidly removed by an impatient lover...."
  • Heroes of Rock 'n' Roll – "the rarest of many entrancing things...was the sight it afforded of Phil Spector engaged in the actual creation of the Wall of Sound. Even today I still play my Crystals and Ronettes albums on those occasions when my spirits need lifting and soothing at the same time. Spector had the gift of cool excitement."
  • Kate Bush in Concert – "Kate has talent to burn. But she is also a weirdo. For her opening number she appeared in a luminous leotard with Superman trunks, a hairstyle like an exploding armchair, and bare feet."
  • Making The Shining – "Jack Nicholson told of how Stanley had pushed him into an acting style beyond naturalism. Clips of Jack in action proved that there is no acting style beyond naturalism except ham."
  • Panorama on organ transplants – "When one makes ill-timed jokes about Donor's Club cards and donor kebab, one is well aware that a nagging insecurity is finding verbal expression."
  • Goodbye Gutenberg – "The Japanese are able to give their machines voices only because the Japanese language, though fiendishly complicated when written down, consists of a relatively simple set of sounds when spoken."
  • World of Sport – "motorcycle jumping. The venue was Exhibition Stadium, Toronto... Karel Soucek hurtled down the track, up the ramp and into space. His front wheel was too high. 'He's in trouble.' Karel's front wheel was by now directly above the back wheel, so there was nothing he could do except let go and land on his behind at 80 m.p.h."
  • Best of British – "Elton John was the first subject... Paul Gambaccini interviewed Elton at his palatial home."
  • Forgive Our Foolish Ways – "Kate Nelligan didn't get to bed with the German POW (Hartmut Becker), in the first episode. Presumably she will in the second episode.... There is a certain predictability about the enterprise, but perhaps it will stun us yet."
  • Newsnight – "Elizabeth Drew of the Washington Post fed Charles Wheeler a brilliantly argued summary of American politics."
  • Weekend World – "Michael Foot's new haircut proclaims him a serious candidate for the leadership of the Labour Party...Clearly his hair plays a symbolic role. When it was long it symbolised rebellion. Now that it is short it symbolises responsibility...it has long been my belief that a man declares himself by the way he arranges his wisps."
  • Dennis Potter's Rain on the Roof – "was really like..Jerome K. Jerome's The Passing of the Third Floor Back, in which a houseful of people had their lives transformed by a holy stranger."
  • Newsnight – "revealed..Madame Tussaud's must have been all set for a Reagan victory. Within minutes of the announcement an effigy that looked nothing like him was being lifted into position, while the effigy that had looked nothing like Carter was taken away.... At ITN Anna Ford was ruling the roost [with] Edward Heath, Roy Hattersley, Jo Grimond and the knowledgeable American Lloyd Cutler. All concerned seemed ready to agree that Reagan would not blow up the world immediately. Anna handed back to Alastair Burnet. 'There you are, Alastair, people coming round to President Reagan already.' ...Barbara Walters asked Henry Kissinger how close he was to Reagan. 'I know many members of his endourage..' Kissinger wouldn't say what he had discussed with Reagan. 'I'd love to know' piped Barbara, 'what you did discuss.' 'I jusd wished him good lug.'"
  • Fronting In Evidence – The Bomb Jonathan Dimbleby overwhelmingly proved that nuclear weapons were a bad thing..I feel justified in suggesting to him that he might care to underpin his conclusions with a bit more evidence that he has thought the subject through. Just how good, for example, is E.P.Thompson's argument in favour of unilateral nuclear disarmament?"
  • Oppenheimer – "reasonably well written and brilliantly well acted [(by Manning Redwood as General Groves)]..Unfortunately..the physics have been left out... the physics could have been made fascinating to everybody if described in the right words...The series has made drama out of moral issues.... A pity it fudged the physics."
  • Dennis Potter's Cream in My Coffee – "Gavin Millar made an impressive directorial debut."
  • Miss World – the master of ceremonies, Peter Marshall, showed all the signs of having been passed through that famous BBC processing room where front-men go to be deprived of charisma... Anthony Newley..singing a medley of his own songs..gave the most brilliant impersonation of an egomaniac I have ever seen."
  • Tim Rose Price's Rabbit Pie Day – "The Second World War was coming to an end and Britain was faced with the question of what to do with the Russians it had liberated from the Germans. Stalin wanted them back. Eventually, despite much evidence that to repatriate a Russian was the same as sending him to his death, they were all sent home.... Rabbit Pie Day was not particularly strong on dialogue, but it was still a script of high distinction."
  • Russell Harty – "Rod Stewart and his wife Alana, talked to Russell Harty ..The interview which Russell conducted with a patently genuine sense of inquiry, as one who might ask a child what its latest creation in paints or crayons is meant to represent – was climaxed by a stage performance from Rod. Wearing very tight striped pants, he looked like a bifurcated marrow."
  • Français, si vous saviez – "another of those blockbuster documentaries.... This time the specific topic was the career of de Gaulle...You had to take it for granted that de Gaulle's dismissal of the Resistance fighters hopes for a different society was an act of gross cynicism. With his part of the war allowed to dominate the screen, it became easier than ever to entertain the suspicion that he was merely being realistic when he brushed aside all those gauchiste hopes."
  • Margaret Drabble's The Waterfall – "I would gladly watch Lisa Harrow and Caroline Mortimer playing anything, including soccer..."
  • Shoestring – "from a near nothing start has become viewing for the millions.... The big plus, apart from the hero's undoubted charm, is probably that the minor characters are satisfyingly filled out."
  • Not the Nine O'Clock News – "The same might be said of Pamela Stephenson. In a recent show she impersonated Sue Lawley hostessing a typically shambolic edition of Nationwide. It takes somebody with Pamela's dish-aerial aural receptors to pick up the weird doppler and wow effects of Sue's voice."
  • An Everyday Miracle narrated by David Attenborough – "featuring a baby in the womb.... An ultrasound scan showed the foetus sitting upright in there like a little van-driver."
  • Ski Sunday – "bringing David Vine with it. 'Just watch the way this man has the rhythm through the gates... ooh, and he's gone! Stenmark has gone!' By now even David must be falling prey to the suspicion that he has the evil eye."
  • The Tales of Hoffman, a live broadcast from Covent Garden – "the foreground faded into the background when Agnes Baltsa came on as the courtesan Giulietta. One of those marvellous new lady singers who look the part as well as sound it, she glided around in a believably seductive manner preparatory to nerving Hoffmann up for a duet."
  • All's Well that Ends Well – directed by Elijah Moshinsky..Angela Down playing Helena... played a blinder. You couldn't ask to hear the words better spoken...On came Parolles with the subplot. Played by Peter Jeffrey as an Osric with bells on, he too spoke beautifully. So did Celia Johnson and Michael Hordern...."
  • The History Man – "got off to a suitably repellent start, with Malcolm Bradbury's arch academic villain arriving at centre stage like a rat out of a trap..His woolly tank-top worn with nothing underneath proves that he is a man with his armpits bared to experience..The director, Robert Knights, gave the bacchanal an authentic air of doom."
  • Triangle – "a thrilling new series about ' life on an international passenger ferry'... Kate O'Mara is the mystery presence on board. Sunbaking on the quarter deck, she threatens the equilibrium of the crew. They are unused to seeing scantily clad women lying down on a cold steel deck while being lashed by a freezing wind."
  • Playing for Time – "Vanessa Redgrave played Fania Fénelon, a half-Jewish French cabaret star who was sent to Auschwitz and escaped the ovens by being selected to play in the camp orchestra...to play up-tempo music while people were being worked to death..The orchestra was part of the obscenity, like one of those harps in Hieronymus Bosch which have human beings threaded on the strings."
  • The Treachery Game – "the plot is either intricate or hopelessly confused, it is difficult to tell...."
  • Parkinson – "starring Muhammad Ali, who once again demonstrated that he has a way with words, even after having taken one punch too many to his clever head. Freddie Starr was on the same show, on his way through to the asylum."
  • Labour Party Conference – "the Gang of Three expanded overnight into the Council for Social Democracy. Somebody tried to re-title this latter body the Limehouse Pinks, as a witty variation of the famous dance number (Philip Braham and Douglas Furber's), Limehouse Blues, but the famous dance number was not famous enough for the idea to stick."
  • Solo, played by Felicity Kendal – "has such a knack for arousing the protective male instinct that you would not be surprised to find her house surrounded by a Roman legion, the Coldstream Guards and the Afrika Korps.."
  • Russell Harty – "After giving Russell Harty a thoughtful interview Edna O'Brien, still looking like the head prefect of a private school for the daughters of rich romantic poets, was rewarded by the sudden irruption into the studio of the Dagenham Girl Pipers. As the skirling girls marched and countermarched, Edna eyed them with a lack of appreciation that warmed the heart."
  • The World About Us – "it was revealed that male butterflies after mating plant an anti-aphrodisiac stink-bomb in the female so that nobody else will want her. Feminist butterflies face a long haul."
  • Nationwide – "A man from the GPO appeared to explain that the underlying motive for the current proposal to paint all the telephone booths yellow was to find out if people really and truly wanted them left red...I switched off to go and have a lie down."
  • Horizon – "Edward Teller, variously known as the Father of the H-bomb and the prototype for Dr Strangelove, had a Horizon all of his own.... You could see why so many brilliant people found him difficult to hate, even when he was carrying on like a mad bomber...."
  • The World About Us – "about the Confederate Air Force..The power includes, incredibly enough, a fully operational B-29 flown by the man who dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima...What stayed in the memory, however, was not the pious vapourings of the super-patriots but the sheer loveliness of a P-51 Mustang stunting in a clear sky."
    What stayed in the memory... the sheer loveliness of a P-51 Mustang stunting in a clear sky
  • The South Bank Show – "Of the four judges who each read 35,000 poems entered in the great Arvon/Observer poetry competition, three were brought on stretchers to the South Bank Show... Charles Causley... Seamus Heaney (bogs,eels), and Ted Hughes ( crows, violence).... The top man (Philip Larkin) wasn't there.... It was amusing to note, incidentally, that one of the minor prizewinners was B. Wongar. The famous Australian aboriginal poet B.Wongar has the same corporeal existence as Kilroy, but no doubt he can still use a hundred quid."
  • The Kamikaze Ground Staff Reunion Dinner – "a play by Stewart Parker... possessing the best title of any dramatic work since Mourning Becomes Electra.... It was fun to watch British character actors playing Japanese without bunging on oriental accents, but the gags made you smile rather than laugh."
  • Nationwide – "Frank Bough was in charge.... Large photographs of Prince Charles and Lady Diana were behind him...Tina Brown, editor of The Tatler, was there to agree that Lady Diana had what it took to ward off the intrusive press. 'She's absolutely trained for it. And so are her friends.' The Earl Spencer belted on as if P.G.Wodehouse had invented him. 'Diana's life has been very difficult. No protection at all. Very grateful for those girls in her flat. Incidentally, when she was a baby she was a superb physical specimen.'"
  • Hi-De-Hi! – "the massive, well-greased hub of the action is the master of ceremonies, Ted Bovis, brilliantly played by Paul Shane. The marvellous thing about him is that he could very well be a holiday camp comic, except that no holiday camp comic would have such resources as an actor."
  • Fawlty Towers – "The repeat run drew bigger audiences than ever and deservedly so... the joke... is that Basil Fawlty has the wrong temperament to be a hotel proprietor..By putting the wrong man in the right spot, John Cleese and Connie Booth hit on the deep secret of successful farce."
  • Muggeridge Ancient and Modern – "is the television equivalent of an unputdownable book... it was good to have the ugly Mugg dredged up again.... The personality shone through. He was one of the first television performers to demonstrate that all you have to do on television is be yourself, always provided that you have a self to be."
  • BBC 2 Playhouse, Unity script by David Pryce-Jones and John Mortimer – "told the story of the Mitford sister who fell for Hitler...Lesley-Anne Down made her look suitably beautiful but she sounded like a raving bitch at all times, which rather blunted the point when she was shown being beastly to the Jews. She was beastly to everyone...Hitler's incipient dementia was conveyed by pop eyes..but there is no point in trying to dodge the fact that he had real charisma. He made a genuine appeal to the dark place in human nature. If he could have been shown doing that, there would have been something both plausible and instructive about Unity's multiple orgasm of Sieg heil!"
  • Eurovision Song Contest – "Bucks Fizz from Britain did a hotted-up hokey-cokey...."
  • The Boat Race – "the only occupant of the Oxford boat smaller than a house was the coxette..'Sue Brown, 22 years old,' enthused our Harry, 'who really has stirred up a lot of interest'...Clearly she had aroused his protective interest, but really there was no call for him to worry. As long as the boys were rowing flat out their hands were fully occupied..'Cambridge did their best' gritted Harry, adding weirdly, 'They won the toss, which was no mean achievement."
  • Tomorrow's World – "visual thrill of the year was undoubtedly the space shuttle Columbia blasting off... the shuttle assembly yelled off the pad like a burning cat and headed straight for space in order to cool off."
  • Horizon – "pictures of Saturn.... taken by a robot camera... made you feel a bit inadequate to be looking at them with the unaided human eyeball..For a moment you felt the way Einstein must have felt all the time.... He would not have been surprised at the sheer loveliness of Saturn's rings and moons."
  • The Sky at Night – "Patrick Moore telephoned an astronomer..Patrick held the telephone as if he had never seen one before in his life. Looking like a baby holding a cigarette, he embodied the childlike curiosity which gives science its indefatigable force."
  • The South Bank Show – "As Gore Vidal pointed out while bestowing a long and civilised interview on Melvyn Bragg, 'Write about what you know' is the advice we give to people who shouldn't be writing at all. What he meant was that writers without the capacity to imagine won't be very interesting even when reporting their direct experience, no matter how bizarre."
  • Bread or Blood – "You can't have many series like Bread or Blood because there aren't many writers who share Peter Ransley's capacity to take a book like William Henry Hudson's A Shepherd's Life and bring the past out of it."
  • The Chinese Detective – "The grainy look and the barely comprehensible East End argot are all there, except that they have somehow got mixed up with an old Charlie Chan movie."
  • The Crime of Captain Colthurst – "In 1916, one is forced to assume, all the intelligent officers were away at the war, leaving Ireland to be garrisoned by idiots and bigots.. Captain Colthurst shot the non-violent Irish journalist Francis Sheehy-Skeffington for no reason at all, whereafter the army covered the whole thing up in a manner seemingly calculated to generate the maximum amount of bad blood..Philip Bowen played Colthurst with a suitable air of virulent dementia."
  • Lion – "taxidermy was the subject.... It was... great stuff."
  • Hockney at Work – "marvellous"
  • Private Schulz – "Schulz... has been put in charge of forging £5 notes in order to wreck the British economy, which activity was in those days thought to require the intervention of an outside agency."
  • People from the Forest – "was bad drama... this production... somehow contrived to miss out entirely on the dignity of its subject, which was Sakharov and his heroic witness for freedom of expression. Sakharov was played by the excellent John Shrapnel... who in a better dramatisation would have made memorable casting as the scientific genius at war with his own Government. Alas, this time he was also at war with the script, the production and the direction."
  • Snowdon on Camera – "closely argued, richly filmed, tersely cut..Lord Snowdon is plainly sceptical about the pretentious talk which tends to attach itself to his subject."
  • Goodbye, Darling – "The Beeb has long wanted its own Bouquet of Barbed Wire, one of the all-time ITV ratings triumphs..Baroque casting among the peripheral characters ensures plenty of subsidiary interest, not to say fascination. There is a lesbian aristocrat called Lady Brett, who has a voice like a diesel locomotive and a wan companion called Maude. These two are either resting up for the next Fassbinder movie or else they are due to move center stage.."
  • Loretta – "country music, for all its rhinestones and sentiment, is a real tradition that holds its performers within fruitful limits. She sang melodically, articulated cleanly, gave value for money and left you wanting more."
  • Question Time – "Robin Day... ably contained a potentially explosive panel made up of Lynda Chalker, Denis Healey, Paul Foot and (deep breath) Admiral of the Fleet Lord Hill-Norton.... The admiral..could not convey even the simplest opinion in under five minutes and looked outraged when Robin cut him short."
  • Grand Prix Live from Monaco – "'I am going mad with excitement!' Murray Walker told us – a necessary item of information, because even in moments of tranquillity he sounds like a man whose trousers are on fire."
  • Platform One – "The main topic was Billie Jean King's erstwhile Sapphic affair with a lady who eventually proved her selfless devotion by telling all to the gossip columnists..Only love of the game, Billie Jean averred, will get you to the top...any star performer..spends most of the time concentrating. A great truth that makes dull copy."
  • Stella Artois Grass Court Championships – "Roscoe Tanner seems to have found a way of making his service go even faster, so that the ball is now quite invisible, like STEALTH.... Indeed, just as we have to take the Pentagon's word that STEALTH exists, so we have only the noise made by Roscoe's racket to prove that there is an actual ball on the way. Perhaps he is faking the whole thing."
  • The Caretaker – "showed itself to have a lot of mileage left in it, mainly because it features so many and such extended examples of Pinter's most resonant motif, the interrogation,..he distils to an essence the characteristic modern political experience, which is to search, as if your life depended on it, for answers to questions that make no sense."
  • The Making of Mankind – "Animations of cave life appeared on screen. Cave-dwellers looking like the Grateful Dead or Hells Angels sat around doing various conjectural things."
  • SS - " back to haunt us in an excellent documentary produced and directed by Andrew Mollo. ..Some of the old film adduced as illustration was enough to make you weep even at this distance..."
  • The Levin Interviews - " in which various, and variously, distinguished guests have been given the opportunity of listening to Bernard ask questions which reveal his personal obsesions. The latest interlocutor was Krishnamurti..the sage's line of chat, a stream of platitudes which might possibly sound more challenging in the original language...Thought was the stuff to avoid at all costs. The aim was to be 'totally uncontaminated by thought'. 'Is thought the contaminent, then?' quavered Bernard. 'Yes,' said the holy man ineffably."
  • Wimbledon - "Suddenly, catastrophically, McEnroe's voice snapped into focus. 'You can't be serious, man! You cannot be serious! How can you possibly say that ball was out? This man's an incarmpetent fool.' John McEnroe woke up next morning to find himself pilloried by Fleet Street. Journalsists whose greatest athletic triumph had been to get back from El Vino's to the office without falling under a bus were calling him unworthy of his titles....Anne Hobbs did her version of the baseline bossa nova, a dance performed by British female players when they are about to receive service. ..Sue Barker remains the most spectacular exponent, often bouncing up and down more than thirty times before lunging sideways to intercept the service and hit it out."
  • Cosmos - " continued to show how even Carl Sagan can make himself comparatively uninteresting if he has enough help. ..once upon a time for a series of BBC lectures delivered to schoolchildren, Sagan proved himself the best extempore speaker on science ever to have appeared on television...But Cosmos is a multi-national launch-vehicle with so many hands on the controls that it travels ina tight spiral."
  • Rush - " Candice Bergen..a brief intro...Rush Week at the University of Mississippi. During Rush Week each new girl finds her ideal sorority, or soworty as it is known locally. Magically each soworty also finds the girl it wants. 'She noo that one of the biggest factors in me bein' happy was bein' in a soworty.'...Nobody looked sad except Fat Angie..."
  • HRH the Prince of Wales and Lady Diana Spencer in Conversation with Angela Rippon and Andrew Gardner - " an all-channel, all-purpose interview in which the four participants demonstrated various methods of looking uncomfortable in canvas safari chairs with high arm rests...Prince Charles signalled his hopes that married life would be a calming influence.'Getting interested in too many things and dashing abate, that is going to be my problem.' "
  • Wedding of Charles and Diana - " 'Here is the stuff of which fairytales are made,' drivelled the Archbish, adding further fuel to the threory that he's the man to hire if what you want at your weddings is platitudess served up like peeled walnuts in chocolate syrup: he's an anodyne divine who'll put unction inyour function. But the soaring voice of Kiri te Kanawa soon dispelled the aroma of stale rhetoric."
  • The God That Fled, narrated by Christopher Hitchens - " about the doings of a character called the Bhagwan Rajneesh, who runs - or ran, until he recently did a fade - an ashram in Poona...An activity which in any other context would have looked like a hirsute charlatan copping a feel of a pretty girl was known on the ashram as 'opening the third eye.'..He's just a talkative dingbat who manipulates the manipulable into manipulating one another - it's a closed circuit. "
  • Prostitute I Am - Common I'm Not - " several ladies of the night revealed all..Lindi was the one who got you laughing..'I was very well developed,' she announced..'Always had a large bust'. The large bust seems recently to have been joined by the rest of her..Proudly she demonstrated a large item of high technology which she described as 'an automatic rotating rack with motor and gearbox,' "
  • Ready When You Are, Mr de Mille, scripted and fronted by Barry Norman - " bringing out the old phoney's gimcrack greatness...Basically he was an actor. In true existentialist style, he woke up each morning and played the part of film director. Acting better than his actors, he had all the personality that his films lack."
  • Elvis Lives, documentary - "Aspiring professional Elvis impersonators were shown auditioning. Some of them looked a bit like Elvis, but sang like dying dogs. Others could imitate his voice brilliantly, but looked like Lord Thorneycroft. "
  • Richard's Things, produced by Mark Shivas, written by Frederic Raphael - " Frederic Raphael is clever but his characters all sound like him. Even the man who was supposed to be the bore spoke epigrams...A classily done piece of nearly nothing."
  • Flamingo Road - " 'I know I shouldn't be acting like this,' says Momma, taking the words out of your mouth.."
  • Stay With Me Till Morning, by John Braine - "We are in the North, but it is the North of rich wool-merchants driving Porsche 928 sports cars towrards silk-sheeted appointments with vampy mistresses. Paul Daneman plays Clive...[his] beautiful wife Robin by Nanette Newman..Stephen (Keith Barron), a media star has come back from the South..to throw her about tempecstuously among her hideous furniture..."Yes!Yes! Don't be too kind!' cries Robin.'Don't ever be too kind! Yes! I don't care!' "
  • The World About Us, dealing with the sex life of flowers - " Once again,as withmost programmes about reproduction, the lingering impression was of nature's supreme prodigality.."
  • Wildlife on One - " there were evocations of helpless young fieldmice being thimnned out by various predators, including a combine harvester...There wewas some amazing footage of Mrs Dormouse giving birth to five jelly-beans with whiskers..."
  • Grand Prix, Monza - " The running gag is that whereas Murray, safe in the commentary box, sounds like a blindfolded man riding a unicycle on the rim of the pit of doom, the men actually facing the danger are all so taciturn that you might as well try interviewing the cars themselves."
  • Panorama - " Roy Hattersley..asked Scargill what he, Hatters, having been in the Labour Party for several hundred years, should now do. Leave?..Yes, Scargill said, if you don't believe in Clause 4 you should leave."
  • The Borgias - " pretty ramshackle " " bores on, like a bore at a party who, having bored everybody else into the wall, stands alone in the kitchen and bores himself...'Rimini has fallen. We must take Ferrara unaided. 'Ferara unaided! Are you mad?' 'Surely you know that the Duke of Ferrara's sister Isabella della Pella is the nephew of your cousin, Giotto Grotto-Blotto?' 'For your sake I hope you speak the truth.'
  • Frederic Raphael's Byron - " A disembodied actorly voice was entrusted with the task of reading out Byron's Spenserian and ottava rima stanzas. They were made to sound listless. Mr Raphael emerged as being more intelligent and energetic than his hero, whichmight be tue but was surely not the intentioon."
  • Miss World 1981 - "..if you want to assess Peter Marshall in the role [of emcee]. Michael Aspel was an intelligent man pretending to be interested in the surrounding nonsense. Peter is not pretending...Judith Chalmers's patter was hardly epigrammatic, but compared with Peter she sounded like Wittgenstein.In fact Peter, if Wittgenstein had ever encoiuntered him, might have inspired the Viennese genius to a third position on the nature of words. Wittgenstein started off by believing that each word meant something. Later on he believed that words meant something only in relation to each other. It never occurred to him that someone could speak endlessly without meaning anything at all. Nothing Peter says is unexpected. Yet it is all so expected that it startles..When one of the girls comes weaving along the esplanade, Peter says 'Yes, she doess like to be beside the seaside.'....Normally this level of prose is obtainable only in Fleet Street...captions for the photographs on page three.."
  • 40 Minutes - " all about gorillas at the Jersey Zoo. The starring gorilla was Jambo, billed as 'the most virile gorilla in the world'...Jambo enjoys enviable success not just at attracting female gorillas but at impregnating them..[but] for all his macho strut, can't do it alone. He needs the help of Dr.Seager who extracts Jambo's semen and tests it for fertility.The proceess for extraction was the Bad Sight of the Week..He calls it electro ejaculation'. Jambo was knocked out and examined by the doc. 'Look at the size of his testicles' murmured the probing medico, 'they really are remarkably small'. It was also remarked that the size of Jambo's penis was nothing to write to Africa about. "
  • Newsnight, the Crosby by election - " Gerald Kaufman, said that if Labour lost now it would be because its faithful voters wanted it to win later. 'What the electorate is telling us is that we should do something about it so that they can turn back to us.' .Shirley Williams's victoryhaving been announced ...Roy Jenkins...'Twemendous wesult...forms part of a pattern...Cwoydon...Cwosby...bwoken thwough...acwawse the nation.'
  • The Shogun Inheritance - " the visual treat of the season, partly because it has a commentary, delivered by Julian Pettifer, of a delicacy to match its looks. Having been twice briefly to Japan, I consider myself an expert, because the place is so odd that if you have been there even for five minutes you are miles ahead of someone who hasn't been there at all, even if he has been studying its history all his life."
  • Jack Gold's A Lot of Happiness - " a brilliantly directed documentary showing the choreographgher Kenneth MacMillan conjuring sculptural beauty out of a couple of human beings in long socks..MacMillan pushed Vladimir Klos into various positions so that Birgit Keil could wind around him in several directions at once, with results that looked like a warmer version of that statue in which Giambologna successfully showed how many Sabine women a Roman could rape at the one time without moving his feet."
  • A Midsummer Night's Dream - " As Oberon, Peter McEnery sported an Alice Cooper hairstyle and did a lot of sly doting on the recumbent Titania, played by Helen Mirren at her most languorously plush... The design, by David Myerscough-Jones, drew on the whole romantic visual tradition all the way back to Mantegna, and with the possible exception of a moon out of Maxfield Parrish it worked a treat."
  • Andrzej Wajda's Man of Marble, and Man of Iron - " The second, I thought, was a lot better than the first, but either separately or together they told you a great deal. - Man of Iron, a much more integrated story, of which the main thread dealt with a drunken journalist who had sold his soul to the regime, was sent to infiltrate the initial Solidarity strike at the Gdańsk shipyard and there, perhaps too late, got back in touch with his own soul."
  • Samson et Dalila - " entirely ravished the eye, not least because Shirley Verrett had looked the part as well as singing with such maddenin beauty that Samson was no longer able to keep his hair on."
  • Aida, from San Francisco, with Luciano Pavarotti - " Pavarotti looked like R2-D2 wearing a roulette wheel for a collar..Having soaked up a quarter of an hour of applause after each aria, Pav would either embrace Aida for a duet or else crunch off to the dressing room for a leaisurely plate of pasta. "
  • Dallas - " the cast finally got the news that Jock would not be back. Theoretically he would return home from the Interior of South America in order to attend the annual Ewing barbecue, but we all knew that he wouldn't make it, since the actor playing him had been for some time no longer among the living - the reason why Jock had gone to the Interior of South America in the first place. "
  • Kung Fu " Kwai Chang Caine, played by David Carradine, is an oriental monk with martial arts training, a shaved head and an infinite capacity to remain immobile when taunted, mocked or derided. "
  • Iris Murdoch's The Bell - " one remembered that Iris Murdoch had been brilliantly successful in evoking a religious community consisting exclusively of dingbats. Where the series has improved on the novel is in finding visual correlatives for the various forms of lunatic self-obsession."

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