22 MARCH 1968, Page 21

Waiting for Leslie O'Brien


There are times when the BBC is positively carried away by its zeal for good works—par- ticularly in the field of current affairs. The gold crisis is a case in point. Last Friday even- ing Twenty-Four Hours was entirely given over to the subject, with Cliff Michelmore and Michael Barratt doing their inexplicable doukle act—inexplicable because there is no apparent logical reason why the lines should be shared between them in the way they are. It was a rather dull programme but competently infor- mative. What was lacking—as so often these days—was any touch of wit or imagination.

. On Saturday Alan Watson (from sac 2's money programme) made an apologetic appearance on BBC 1 to announce that there would be a start- lingly important programme on that channel on Sunday evening immediately after the Play of the Month. It would include reports from Washington and a programme on Robert Kennedy. There would be more reason than usual, one gathered, for the use of the satel- lite. Being myself a sucker for current affairs and not being at home that evening, I was sufficiently convinced by his trailer to per- suade my hosts that the company should watch —especially since an American professor with a lively interest in mass communications was present. I came to wish I hadn't.

The programme began badly. We missed the opening announcement which presumably gave Robin Day's name as presenter of the trans- mission. He was not captioned, however; nor was Alan Watson. The impression given was that we ought to know who they were and that they were more interested in communicating with each other than with us. Admittedly they were in a difficult position. The success of the programme depended on the appearance, hot- foot from the conference of bankers, of Sir

Leslie O'Brien, Governor of the Bank of Eng- land. The conference was overrunning. There was nothing for it but to pad. The two men at this end did their best. So did William Davis, their link-man in Washington, who was amus- ing but looked as if he had lost his front teeth Ntlaybe he had). Other characters were intro- dric.ed, including a p0-faced American journa- list with whom Robin Day wrestled. The American successfully prevented communica- tion—or interruption—by removing his ear- phone and ploughing straight on over supplementaries from this end. There was about this part of the programme already the jokiness of despair.

Finding that Sir Leslie was not going to arrive for some time, they broke off with some relief and went over to the Robert Kennedy pro- gram-me. It turned out to be Meet the Press, a veteran feature of American radio and tele- vision, which was just becoming interesting when it was cut off to make way for Talk- back—not before the pa-faced American had

reappeared as one of Kennedy's questioners. This raised a laugh. Talkback, pursuing its policy of discussing subjects which have nothing to do with broadcasting, was taken up with an interminable discussion on students and student demonstrations. Robert Pitman was, for some reason, chosen to pontificate on the subject. The company lost interest and began to watch Robert Pitman with the sound off. Day and his colleagues were going to have to work hard to win attention when they re- turned to the screen. If they returned.

When the Talkback audience had voted its last—on old films (we turned up the sound long enough to hear a clip from Waterloo Bridge)—Robin Day did return and the desperate wait continued. Sir Leslie was said to be on his way in a taxi. At one moment William Davis in Washington reported 'a com- motion' outside the studio and for a second Robin Day's face lit up. Meanwhile, various

gnomes in Paris and Zurich were fed to us. Sometimes they disappeared from the screen In the midst of their pontifications, whereupon Alan Watson would say, 'Back to Robin Day; who became more anguished each time. Local experts were called into the London studios to chew the cud of economic theory. The com- pany began to disperse. My hosts, who shared my sense of humour, sat up with me to the bitter end—at something like a quarter past twelve—laughing more and more as the satel- lite went down, a caption of Washington came up, and Robin Day's smile became wanner and wanner until at last he had a sad Harlequin look about him.

Sir Leslie never came. He was very rightly reporting to the Prime Minister and not to the handful of viewers who shared our vigil. Was there ever any real chance of his appearing? Was the whole thing not an immense miscal- culation on the part of the Panorama team?