6 FEBRUARY 1988, Page 37


Temps perdu

Wendy Cope

Aweek ago on Wednesday, Stuart Bell, Labour MP for Middlesbrough, appeared on News at Ten (ITV) to com- ment on the health authority's decision to move Dr Higgs to Newcastle and leave Dr Wyatt where he is. 'That's a judgment of Solomon,' he said, '. . . There's no sense in this decision. It undermines public confi- dence in the health service . . .' and so on. Did he wake up in the night and shudder, remembering that the point about Solo- mon's judgment is that it is supposed to have been a wise one?

A few SDP politicians must have lost sleep over last Friday's Newsnight (BBC 2), which made quite a long item out of the little squabble about the Owen faction's booking of the hall. What particularly struck me, watching the disastrous press conference, was the patronising way Mike Thomas kept touching Shirley Williams's arm as he interrupted her. It would have served him right if she had turned round and told him to keep his hands to himself.

If and when Newsnight is given a regular time, I am sure I'll watch it more often. On Friday I caught it by accident because I happened to have been watching the prog- ramme that preceded it. This was the Arena (BBC 2) film about the Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuscinski, evidently an important and fascinating writer on the subjects of tyranny and revolution. His books on the Shah and Haile Selassie seem to have been translated into English (we saw shots of English covers) but it wasn't made clear whether or not they are avail- able in this country. A pity, since many viewers will probably want to read them.

I'm not sorry I saw this programme, although the truth is that, were I not a television critic, I would almost certainly have been watching Rockcliffe's Babies on BBC 1 instead. The main function of arts programmes in my life is to make me feel guilty about not watching them. When I'm in the mood for television, I usually want some colourful escapism. When I feel like something more highbrow, I consider the time better spent on reading a book. But television can sometimes motivate me to read a book I wouldn't otherwise have got around to and on Sunday night I decided to see if Ten Great Writers (ITV) could stimulate an appetite for Proust. Yes, I did end up with the impression, that Proust might be a revelation and that one should at least try him some time in the next decade. Probably not this week. It wasn't until the credits rolled that I realised Proust was played by Roger Rees, whom I had seen a few days earlier in a new sitcom called Singles (ITV). Singles, by virtue of having three or four funny lines in it, is above average so far. Rees was good in both programmes, and my failure to recognise him is a compliment. Last year, in the space of two or three weeks, I saw Daniel Day-Lewis in My Beautiful Laundrette, a television play ab- out Kafka and A Room with a View. On the second and third occasions, it was a surprise to discover that I had been watch- ing the same actor again. This convinced me that he is very talented indeed. The ability to remain unrecognised can't be much help in building a star career but one is grateful for it all the same. Star quality, in an actor, can become very boring after a while. Vanessa Redgrave is a case in point. As a schoolgirl, I was bowled over by her Rosalind at Stratford. Watching her in The Bostonians (BBC 2) at Christmas, I found the manner and the voice so irritating that I nearly switched off. Small World (ITV) features a number of impressive performances. A male critic has described Persse McGarrigle as 'wet'. He isn't wet, he is sweet and Barry Lynch gets him just right. Stephen Moore is a good Philip Swallow. But, if I were Angelica, I would ignore them both and run off with John Ratzenberger's Morris Zapp. Zapp is a wonderful character. I'm sure he could persuade me to read Proust in no time.