25 OCTOBER 1963, Page 20

The Arts Eating People •

It's quite like the Old Days, when blood- vessels exploded all over Britain at the mention of Gilbert Harding's name; and taking the most optimistic view, I suppose this represents the end of the Apathetic Period, and a new age of vigour in the national life.

Clearly it is now dangerous to acquire a raving popularity. The public wants instant idols, but it wants a constant supply of new idols, and it wants to shorten the interval between worship and assassination for the old ones. Ned Sherrin's lads must ponder now and then on how nice it would be to settle into a mediocre spot like This Is Your Life, where performers can go on for ever because viewers have stopped noticing them.

This must already have occurred to the Beatles, who are so recklessly idolised that they have been castigated by Glasgow bailies and sneered at by a Minister of the Crown. Since they are nobody's fools, the Beatles must have reflected that if you get right to the top, there's nothing left to do but jump off. At the moment, everybody except those isolated naggers loves the Beatles. I view them with favour myself, and I fear for them because in the next few weeks they will certainly be interviewed and analysed and written to death unless they are very durable indeed.

At the moment, hordes of ex-worshippers are standing by with handfuls of earth for a good throw at the coffin of That Was The Week That Was. I consider the death certificate to be grossly exaggerated. Of course TW3 isn't what it was, which simply means that we aren't what we were. The programme itself has changed our conception, of television, made us greedier for shocks and new sensations. Now we blame it because we are less shockable. I suppose people soon turned against Columbus for not discover- ing America every week.

This brings us naturally to Bernard Braden, whose one-man satirical-comment programme has long been tipped off as the weapon that would slay TW3. I couldn't see it, myself. The early efforts of The Braden Beat were rather so-so, shrewdly intentioned but earth-bound.

Now, however, Braden has decidedly hit his stride, and his stride is a pleasure to watch. There are still moments that embarrass me, I am often unhappy about his parody-medleys, but on the whole, he is doing a grand job.

What worries me is the widespread opinion that since Braden is good, it must be time to

take TW3 off the air. I'm sure Mr. Braden doesn't welcome support from people who want to use him as a weapon. I mean to say, do we suppress Bonanza because we like Maverick?

Let's have no more of this nonsense. There's room for even more tough subversive stuff on television.

ITV is more cunning than the naggers, because it has now put The Avengers on as competition to BBC satire. In other words, don't compete, offer an alternative. Unfortunately for me, I love The Avengers. For one thing, it's so goldarned British. (If we hope to export TV series to America, by the way, I'm convinced that we'll do better in the long run with fright- fully British stuff like this than with imitation reproduction Yankee.) The scripts have a pro- digious PQ, or Preposterousness Quotient, which really takes the mickey out of the spy trade. Who actually employs Steed and Mrs. Gale? I mean, who stamps their cards and works out their overtime? Nobody cares. Their own rela- tionship is kept obscure. Presumably they are mateys but not mates. Sometimes they suspect each other of treason. We've even had an epi- sode with two Steeds, one genuine and the other a trained doppelgiinger. Cor, what garbage! Great.

Drama has been producing the goods too in the past few weeks. I'm not too happy about the ponderous pace of the BBC's new serialisa- tion of Kidnapped, but this week's First Night offering on Sunday was a total success. The young-love duologue is the worst-worn cliché of contemporary television, but in Funny Noises with their Mouths, Alan Sharp showed that it is still the freshest plot in existence. He also created a hero who was at once good and sad and funny, and Michael Caine played this beautiful role with flawless beauty. And more, there was only a five-minute overlap with the ITV Sunday play, The Loop, easily the best SF drama since Quatermass. After an evening like this, I'm almost ready to pay that £6 licence.