The BBC having made an ass of itself by axeing an old Mike Yarwood skit on Mrs Thatcher, the IBA has now got egg on its face as a result of the ban on the ancient Boulting brothers film, I'm Alright Jack which was to have been shown on London Weekend Television on Easter Sunday afternoon. It seems that nameless officials at Transport House become convinced that this vintage attack on industrial methods could well sabotage Jim Callaghan's chances of winning the general election were it to be shown to all those cretins watching the telly on Sunday afternoon when they ought to be out in the garden digging the marrow patch.
I will of course defend to the death the right of cretins to watch old films on Sunday afternoons when they could be better occupied. But the incident has a greater significance. Two weeks ago in the Spectator Mr Auberon Waugh explained, in his usual brilliantly perceptive way, how a letter from Mr Matthew Parris of Tory Central Office to an unhappy council house tenant in Erith had revealed the new face of modern Toryism in all its unpleasant shades of puce. (Mr Parris, you will remember, rebuked Mrs Collingwood on the grounds that she should consider herself jolly lucky, thanks to the noble gacrifices of us taxpayers, to have a roof over her head at all.) I think the I'm Alright Jack incident is in its way equally revealing of the miserable state of the Labour Party. Someone, somewhere, feels obliged to protect the trade union movement from Peter Sellers's wonderful impersonation of a communist shop steward, forgetting that the film, like all good satire is just as savage about the management. If anyone wanted proof of the debilitating appeasement of union interests by the Labour Party; this intervention with the IBA seems to provide it. It has done far greater damage to Uncle Jim than any of the Boultings' jokes might have done.
Thanks in part to the ridiculous desire of both channels to avoid giving offence to either party the election still shows no signs of coming to life on the screen. Instead, to mark Holy Week, there was a plethora of religious claptrap. Owing to my failure to master the complicated working of a borrowed portable telly I failed to catch the film about the Turin Shroud. I did, however, see a little of the repeat of Lord Grade's Jesus of Nazareth. Despite its above-average script by Anthony Burgess and excellent crowd effects staged by Franco Zeffirelli I found my basic objection very similar to that evoked by Holocaust, namely that none of the characters looked like Jews, a sign, again, of the bogusness that ensues when great events are turned into show business. Later on Sunday. Everyman produced an unsatisfactory hotch potch to mark Easter Day. The effectiveness of some impressive clips of film were marred by being interspersed with film of horses ploughing and pussy willow trembling in the breeze to indicate the coming of spring, but in fact indicating the inability of the BBC to face up to religious conviciion without sentimentality.
The 'highlight' approach has many advantages in other fields apart from Test Matches. It was a good idea to show little bits of Parkinson shows as the BBC did on Monday. Just as with Test Match highlights you miss the fast bowler's tedious walk back to his mark, so with Parkinson it was nice not to have the awful showbiz stories and the embarrassing longueurs which the Barnsley monkey manages to provoke. I was surprised again to see Spike Milligan allowed on the air at election time speaking about his go-slow on jokes. (Q. How would you deal with blacklegs? A. Cut 'em off.) We also had Sir Ralph Richardson mounted on a vast Suzuki motorcycle as well as Roy Hudd playing Flanagan to Allen's Allen in a charming revival of Underneath the Arches. Parkinson to his credit included some good scenes where he was made to look a complete charlie — notably by Peter Cook and Dudley Moore who turned the tables on him brilliantly when he started to ask John Conteh whether he engaged in sexual abstimence before a fight. The show is best when Parkinson says nothing and Cook or Dame Edna is allowed to chair the discussion.