10 OCTOBER 1970, Page 27


Not cricket


The Jockey Club Stakes, at the Vaudeville, is a rather woebegone trifle by William Douglas Home about skulduggery on the Turf that will be chiefly rewarding to students of the comic resource of Alastair Sim, who plays a racing marquis, a steward of the Jockey Club, floored by the disclosure that his lady wife had a horse 'hooked up' at Catterick and Newbury in order to bring off a betting coup at Windsor. Mr Sim, all gleeful grins, lugubrious grimaces, crest- fallen shoulders, bloodhound eyes and twitching eyebrows, puts on a diverting music hall turn that is generally independent, I'm glad to say, of Mr Douglas Home's limp script.

The play itself isn't likely to cheer you up after a bad day at the races, and without Mr Sim's valiant activities (aided and abetted by Robert Coote and Geoffrey Sumner) might easily curdle your disposition after a good one. Any protracted discussion of its quality as dramatic art would doubtless put everybody in mind of sledgehammers and nuts, so let us pass to the side issue it in- sistently, if playfully, raises.

Neither comedy nor farce (The Jockey Club Stakes is an uneasy compound of the two) disqualifies a play from making a serious point; nor does frivolity exempt from morality. Mr Douglas Home, if not alto- gether serious, is unquestionably enlighten- ing. He has let his imagination play jocu- larly with the possibilities of what might happen if certain real-life racecourse rumours were ever substantiated before a Jockey Club tribunal, and he has put revealingly on the stage the proceedings at one of these quasi-judicial inquiries. As I understand it, the suggestion is that the stewards who con- duct them, drawn from a fairly exhausted segment of the aristocracy, are mostly con- cerned to perpetuate their own authority. Mr Douglas Home is, I suppose, entitled to the view that this is a satisfactory state of affairs. He is also entitled to suggest that loyalty to the 'old boy network' might well influence the stewards' judgments, that fraudulent practices might be overlooked for quite personal reasons, and even that the stewards, if pressed to protect the status quo in singular circumstances, might themselves stoop to horse-doping and blackmail.

The point that, at the least, verges upon the moot is whether he is entitled (and here's where we become tiresomely involved with moral obligations) to ask us to approve of all this. This, under the cloak of flippancy, is his embarrassing intention. The stewards may be, in Christopher Fry's phrase, 'cor- rupt as ancient apples' but they are por- trayed as such lovably amiable old fossils that we must indulge them in their mischiev- ous enormities and hope that they will out- wit the spoilsport life peer, honest but sour, who is chairman of the Betting Levy Board. And, indeed, they do.

Compared with the great ethical questions of the day, this is very small beans (no one gets hurt except bookmakers and punters),

but, gad sir, it isn't cricket. Mr Douglas Home should be ashamed of himself.

So, for that matter, should Iris Murdoch, whose first solo venture into the theatre, The Servants and the Snow at Greenwich, comes down heavily in favour of the proposition that, in a world most properly divided be- tween masters and servants, the more out- rageously authoritarian the masters the more placidly gratified will be the servants: the exercise of the droit de seigneur will always be appreciated more than any new-fangled liberal-humanist notions, and 'Down on your knees, swine!' is ultimately suggested as the most satisfactory form of address. It would be possible to make the same moral objec- tions to this piece as to Mr Douglas Home's, except that Miss Murdoch's heavily sym- bolic goings-on and incredibly inept dialogue have no discernible relevance to any recog- nisable human situations. The players be- trayed into the lamentable affair include Maxine Audley, Adrienne Corn and Esmond Knight, who excited my admiration by keep- ing straight faces throughout.