22 MARCH 1968, Page 31

The pianola generation


Forty, fifty, sixty, even seventy years ago they jitterbugged the nights away to the captivating rhythms of the Blue Bottom, the Shammie and the Dashing White Minstrel (writes growling, aggressive Desmond O'Bogrit, the Man with his Finger in the Public Eye). Through the warm-scented starlit nights of the Art Nouveau, through the aching, death-heavy dawns in the Flanders Mud, out into the laughing bead- rattling afternoons of the Funny Twenties. The Pianola Generation. Today they jitterbug no more. They are exhausted.

They call them the Lonely Ones. The Senior Citizens. The Old Fogies. Few there are today who heed the dwindling cry from the runaway bathchair, the barely coherent request for the return of a pair of favourite dentures, the frail plaint, borne on the wind from an upstairs win- dow, demanding that the Salvation Army Brass Band and Hallelujah Tambourine Lassies con- duct their preliminary rehearsals elsewhere. Few there are today who see the dim old eyes nar- rowing with malice as they strain to focus across the generation gap on the drug-happy, hip- swinging youth who have usurped their place in the sun.

On the quiet lawns of a thousand nursing homes there reigns a deceptive peace. In a mil- lion drab bed-sittingrooms there is no sound but the ticking of the clock and the silent hiss of damp plaster detaching itself from the ceil- ing. The old would seem to be slumbering. But the peace is the peace before the battle, the tick- ing is the ticking of a mighty bomb. For too long the clash between young and old has been delayed. I am not one to see a crisis where none exists. But I say this. The Pianola Generation is on the move. One day it will explode.

I spoke to the self-styled leader of the mili- tant 'Old England' group, Graham Launcelot Battleigh, in the conservatory of his luxury penthouse bungalow in Pinner. A dapper ninety- six year old, Battleigh is a retired student, drives a souped-up Formaggia Grand Prix Drophead Invalid Carriage, and is President of the National Union of Pensioners. He told me of his fears and hopes. 'Your whole caboodle's run by your youth, d'ye see. Your average oldie never gets a look in. At least, some of 'em have had a look in, but they didn't like what they saw, if you follow me.

'Take this demonstration only the other week. The Union staged a demonstration in Downing Street Demonstrating how to get across from one pavement to the other without being knocked flat by some young lunatic careering about in a sports car in the company of one of your busty flappers. Getaway folk and so forth. Hardly lined up on the kerb for the drill and your Metropolitan Cossacks come charging round the corner at the gallop and start swatting

us with their polo mallets. Crutches all over the place. Elderly felled like ninepins. Terrible business.'

Clearly such treatment at the hands of a police force they consider to be employed ex- clusively for the protection of the young and their excessive liberty has left its mark on many of Mr Battleigh's immediate circle and, indeed, on his head, but it is the wider and deeper resentment of the youthful establishment and their sexual privileges that runs like a piece of string through his every argument.

'We're not trying to run the show, you under- stand. We just want a measure of consultation.

Your local vicar poncing about in velveteen pants and a pop-art surplice twanging an elec- tric guitar, inviting your somewhat louche female impersonators up into the pulpit to preach on the New Morality. Not a word of consultation with your oldies who might prefer Hymns A & M and half an hour straight up on your Pentateuch. Your newspapers and maga- zines, all yattering about your great contracep- tive debate. Some of us might be interested in pills of another kidney. Or indeed another kid- ney for that matter. Then there's the telly. Either it's your erotic titillation designed to set your truss smouldering or it's satirical fun poked at the elderly when they can't poke back.'

The political impotence of the pensioners also rankles. 'Ever since Churchill, you may have observed, there's been this move to edge out your oldies. Can you see 'em putting Manny Shinwell in as Minister of the Arts? Rank dis- crimination. Think they can cram us away in your Old Folks' Concentration Homes and hospital wards and forget about us, but we are determined to make our grievances heard. Your old folk have allowed themselves to be pushed around for too long. We have been led up the garden path. Your youth has got it coming to

'em.' Mr Battleigh's appeal for Geriatric Power coupled with a demand for vicileact In order to attain their ends has struck an echoing chord in the breast a many old people scattered over he leufrib and breadth of the island. He is con- fident that his 'Old England' movement will end up sweeping the country.

'We are governed by violence. d'ye see. Imagine you're an oldie for a moment, hobbling along on your stick in the park. Say you are seized by a sudden desire to fling off the togs and hobble about in your nude for a bit. They'd have you in a straitjacket before you could say Bonar Law. One of your youthful toddlers does it and nobody flickers an eyebrow. Four of our

oldies grew their hair and started a pop group called Methuselah and the Varmints. They're still under observation. You try reasoning with a male nurse with no sense of rhythm. Violence is the only language they understand.'

Soon Old England will stage its first riot.

Already plans are afoot to debag Patrick Gor- don Walker, throw the Prime Minister in a Sulphur Bath, burn pension books and stage a mass fall-in at the Serpentine. Mr Battleigh visualises a wave of elderly violence throughout Europe and Asia. He already has pledges of support from the Georgian over-160s club. In- evitably such action, if I have anything to do

with it, will elicit outraged protests from tax- payers who believe the senile they support, how- ever tenuously, with public money should shut up, stay out of sight, or face worse conse- quences. Whatever happens it should provide copy for the Sundays, dailies, weeklies, month- lies and television 'news' programmes for some time to come. The Pianola Generation is here to stay.