12 AUGUST 1972, Page 10


Rents and roads

Clive Gammon

An instructive contrast on Monday evening, with World in Action (ITV) clashing with Panorama (BBC 1) in more senses than one, in the former, the Camden Council wrestled with its conscience on council house rents; on the other channel the BBC took a grave view of road accidents.

I didn't channel-hop for long, but settled down with the Camden Borough Council, a formidable tribute to World in Action since, in spite of a dutiful sympathy for the predicament of the council's tenants threatened with vast rent increases, there are subjects nearer my heart than this; and only an hour or two earlier I was within six inches of being smeared along a roundabout bollard by a sub-thyroid moron in a cement lorry, God poison his egg and chips. So I should have been riveted to road accidents.

But what took my admiration and held my interest was the clarity of exposition with which World in Action began a sharp and unpatronising account of the dilemma which faced the Camden councillors. No intrusive ego-projecting interviewer, only an impersonal voice in an unfashionable neutral accent. There was no need for an interviewer on the screen. As soon as the explanations had been made there was the• council meeting itself, revealing, as no interview could, the motives and thoughts of the protagonists: Millie Miller, the Cato of Camden, an ironhard woman, one to respect; Mr Paddy O'Connor, archetypal demagogue, grinning at the gallery, then, with bulging eyes, informing us that "democracy is based on lawbreaking ": lesser councillors papping out party lines, and others accounting as best they could for a shift in their voting intensions.

When it finished there was half an hour of Panorama left. I switched over to a droning, predictable symposium on road safety, with two linkmen rabbiting on in that special style they themselves would doubtless label fascist ' in other contexts.

One of them kept on about what he called "useful deterrents" for motoring offences. The podgy one of the pair, attempting to nail us to the wallpaper with sincerity, but looking as if he were putting across a hard sell for Daz, asked if we knew whether only thirty-eight people went to jail last year for breathalyser offences. The thinner one told us that causing death by dangerous driving was exactly the same thing as murder.

It was as well that among the other speakers was Chief Constable John Gott who managed to introduce some sanity, gently snubbing some expert or other who was baying for random tests and had said earlier that a level of eighty millilitres of alcohol in the bloodstream well exceeded social drinking and that anyone who drank that much in one session suffered from a drinking problem. Remember that when next you go beyond three halves of bitter.

With its sensationally introduced film snippets and its hectoring style, this was not a serious approach to a given problern, as the ITV programme had been. It was formless when it should have been informative. It rushed off in all directions like a schizoid cat. Not so much a Panorama, more a plastic kaleidoscope.