11 JULY 1987, Page 41


Pilger unbuttoned

Peter Levi

The North Oxfordshire village of Stonesfield not only lies on the forgotten historical frontier between Wessex and Mercia, but when we switch to ITV, the Pond Hill end can get Central, but High Street has to be content with Television South, and a lot of ghastly advertisements for sales in places like Bognor and Ports- mouth. So I missed England Their England (Central ITV), with an old farmer in Shropshire whose cow ate its dinner from his kitchen -table. He thanked God for helping him with his taxes and saving him from the council, and all his animals were very happy. I do not see why he could not have been shown on this side of the village.

Channel 4's Comment last week showed the MP least likely to succeed even in the Conservative Party. He gazed as fixedly at his prompting machine as a drunk man looking for white lines. His speech was a scrambled-up piece of discredited rhetoric left over from the general election and his shifty manner invited you to disbelieve everything he said, even if it were true. His English was not English: 'It means new hope too for . . .' But this man was a genius of intellectual incision compared to a disc jockey called Mike Smith who stood in for Terry Wogan (BBC 1) and let the journalist John Pilger get badly out of hand. I had never fully understood why Auberon Waugh so hates and despises Pilger, until this view of Pilger unbuttoned on television. He made a terrible woman from the Express seem positively saintly.

The good news of the week was that Jim Davidson is back in his best form, in an unusually crisp comedy called Home James (ITV). When he ceases to be youthful and impertinent he will have to run a res- taurant, but as a chauffeur and a needle to the pretentious he is very entertaining. I liked him calling some mayorlike figure rentatwitch. The other good news is a retrospective season of early Dennis Potter films (BBC 1). Where Adam Stood was the life of the Gosse family, father and son, with a brilliant character study by Alan Badel, and a boy actor to match the early Alex Guinness called Max Harris. The only touch of the later, more extravagant Potter in this excellent and memorable film was a half-witted, lewd lady farting. I am unable to remember whether that seemed shocking once, but this week it just seemed ordinary, and compared to the later Potter agreeably restrained.

'So this is the missionary position.' Given the time of year, I have tried to be interested in television sport, but unsuc- cessfully on the whole. I began to find Test Match cricket so exciting and addictive that I dared not give in to it, and then found the same with tennis, the most photogenic of all sports but horse-racing. Watching box- ing makes one feel even guiltier, because of the damage, and because one hates oneself for wondering what will happen next. Terry Marsh (ITV) is a sympathetic and noble fighter, but not as graceful as a racehorse. The Tour de France (Channel 4) has had careful and skilled coverage. The trouble there is that everything about it is interesting except the sight of cyclists cycling. Once halted, they seem the nicest of men, even when too breathless to speak. There has been talk of moving the start of the Tour, which was in Berlin this year, to Washington and to London. Apart from the intolerable disruption of the traffic this would entail, a Tour de France so local, so unexotic, would lose its charm. At present the most interesting thing about it is why the French like it so much. The Chinese are said to feel much the same about British democratic processes; it would be fatal to disillusion them.