3 OCTOBER 1981, Page 30



Richard In grams The farcical deputy leadership election in the Labour Party came to a climax, I thought, when on Sunday John Silkin told (Sir) Robin Day that having been defeated in Round One he would now be voting for himself in Round Two. When (Sir) Robin pointed out that he was not a candidate in Round Two, Mr Silkin earnestly replied that this was not the point. His name was still on the ballot-card and he would therefore vote for himself, as he had already done in Round One. The following evening on Panorama Wedgwood Benn told his supporters that the Russians had no power over Poland and that if they ever came to London they would be stopped in their tracks by the figure of Ken Livingstone. When statements like these can be made and applauded by large numbers of people it becomes impossible to take the Labour Party seriously any longer. The sensible people still in it obviously feel the same way. There is a desperate look on the faces of the 'moderates' as though they know only too well the game is up. It was significant that when, after all the excitement, Healey's victory came through, the result was greeted with the minimum of enthusiasm, and though Denis dutifully waved and embraced his wife, clearly he was only doing so for the benefit of the press photographers. 'There's Mr Healey,' stammered the inept David Dimbleby, 'not looking like a man who's had a tremendous victory — which indeed he hasn't'.

One of the most frequently repeated cliches is the one about the hypocritical Victorians and their attitude to sex. Beneath the veneer of respectability, we are told over and over again, the Victorian world was a seething cesspit of vice which makes modern Soho look like a vicarage tea party, or whatever. There is usually an obligatory reference too to the fact that the Victorians were so prudish that they even covered up the mahogany legs of their grand pianos — though I have never seen any evidence of such an unlikely story. This conventional wisdom about the Victorian world has been trotted out for the launching of a new BBC1 serial based on Michael Sadleir's book, Fanny by Gaslight, the opening scenes of which I watched last week. I have never read Fanny by Gaslight but doubt very much whether it merits the description of 'classic' which the BBC has bestowed upon it. Everything about the BBC version from the traditional `loverly violets' scenes of London street life to the improbable looking brothel in the basement of a pub looked bogus. Characters were introduced without any attempt to establish them and at the sight of some naked bums in a Turkish bath, I switched off. I think I prefer Victorian hypocrisy to that of Sadleir and the BBC which peddles titillation under the guise of a moral crusade.

Ever since I can remember, the lanky humorist John Fortune, a woebegone but sympathetic figure, has been appearing on BBC2 in quite unfunny comedy and 'satire' shows, often in the company of John Bird and Eleanor Bron. The last Fortune/Bird effort was so bad that mercifully I can remember nothing at all about it. Now the persevering Fortune has written a new comedy series called Roger Doesn't Live Here Any More, which started last week on BBC2. There was some congratulatory comment on the fact that there is no studio audience involved — though this was also the case with the recent outstanding series of Till Death . . . . It might be objected as far as Mr Fortune is concerned that a studio audience would be altogether superfluous as, even if there was one, they wouldn't find much to laugh at. Divorce and the break-up of a family, which is Mr Fortune's theme, is not the ideal subject for humour, as everybody knows that it is a grim business causing a great deal of unhappiness to everyone concerned. Uncertain of his approach Mr Fortune appears to have opted for a rather half-hearted version of Woody Allen with his hero figure (Jonathan Pryce) playing the part of a musician much put upon by a hysterical wife who poisons the minds of his children against him. There seemed to be too much autobiography here for comfort's sake and the programme fell awkwardly between any number of stools.