9 OCTOBER 1971, Page 26

Will Waspe's Whispers

That Norman Swallow, executive producer of Omnibus, should be lined up to succeed Stephen Hearst as head of the BBC's TV arts features, provides heartening reassurance that there are some nights when the long knives don't strike home. They have certainly flashed for Swallow in his time. In May last year, for instance — after his Omnibus feature, To Leningrad with Love.

The film was generally praised, but George Melly (` critic of the year' !) observed in the Observer that Swallow had been "used as an instrument of Soviet propaganda of the crudest partiality," an opinion taken very seriously indeed for a while in the upper echelons of the Television Centre.

Swallow, carpeted, proffered his resignation — which his bosses had the good sense not to accept. However many charges of ' fellow-travelling ' might have been hurled around, it would have been very foolish to take them seriously. No doubt it was remembered, just in time, that a similar row had raged around Swallow's head after his feature on Leni Riefenstahl (which brought upon him accusations of Nazi leanings), and that, at that very moment, he had a programme in the can about Edward Heath and his musical interests.


Plainly it would be trivial to complain at the pittance of Arts Council money being spent in sending out sticks of peppermint rock (lettering all the way through) with the invitations to the forthcoming Concrete Poetry show at Liverpool's Walker Gallery. But similar stunts by every arts enterprise with a state hand-out to burn . . .

Perhaps Lord Goodman might look into the question, now that he has satisfied himself that the electrocution of catfish at the Hayward Gallery is a legitimate artistic enterprise. Or didn't you know? I hear that the gallery, the Arts Council and the RSPCA (though probably not Hammerin' Spike Milligan) have quietly agreed with artist Newton Harrison that death has its place in life, and the catfish will be getting theirs — as scheduled — at appropriate moments in the cycle during the run of the Hayward show.

Two of a kind

Not since two rival film companies were racing each other to get different versions of the Oscar Wilde story on the screen some ten years ago, has there been such a battle in prospect as that blowing up between Raymond Stross and Betty Box. I hear the former plans a film called The Haunted Years, the latter has one on the stocks called The Reckless Years. And they're both about Byron and Shelley.