11 MARCH 1966, Page 9

Billy Liar

This isn't the first time the following snatch of dialogue has been quoted in the press this week, but it's worth quoting again. Robin Day (on Panorama. last year): 'And, when there is a general election, will you agree to debate on TV with the Leader of the Conservative party, who- ever that may be at the time?' H. Wilson: 'Good heavens, yes. I'd be willing to debate with him tomorrow.' Yet now, challenged to just such a debate by Ted Heath, Wilson has refused. Now, whether there is or isn't a television confronta- tion between the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition is one of the supremely impor- tant issues at this election, both to the electorate at large and in its effect on the balance of advan- tage between the two parties. This is what makes the Prime Minister's bad faith so odd: it's so utterly pointless it can only be compulsive.

Which reminds me of that brilliant perform- ance by Albert Finney as Billy Liar a few years ago. The last curtain fell with Finney. alone, 'con- ducting' vigorously ... to the strains of a gramo- phone record. Not an altogether inapposite symbol of H. Wilson's dynamic. purposive leader- ship, come to think of it.