I WISH to state, without blush, that I greatly enjoy Frankic Howerd's weekly appearance in that splendid old Roman send-up Up Pompeii!. and 1 enjoy it because of its vulgarity.
Partly, I admit, this may be pure intellectual snobbery. Frankie Howerd has been declared the darling of the quality critics, and I am always a hit of a sucker for this sort of seal of approval. I am inclined to suspect the truth of this all the more since there arc plain vulgar programmes, like the recently ended On the Buses, that I do not go along with.
On the other hand I thought this latter only moderately well done, while Frankie Howerd, despite momentary failures, strikes me as a comedian with a plenitude of the marvellously exact rightness in putting over a gag that we call timing
Perhaps with vulgarity it is more obvious than with other disciplines, like romance or wit, that art is the preservative that wards off rottenness.
And let us admit that there is nothing else to "Up Pompeii!" but vulgarity. It depends from first to last on a series of simple jokes of which the virtue is not their subtlety or their wit or their unexpectedness but simply and purely their subject, which is almost exclusively sexual lore.
And here perhaps is one of the reasons why the programme does not offend me. Talbot Rothwell, its ingenious and demented author, is not making jokes about sex: he is making jokes about the lore, that vast underground of hand-to-hand information and misinformation that constitutes what you might call the apocrypha of sex.
Sexual relations are said to affect our innermost depths, so jokes about the sexual realities might well go too deep for giggles. But cracks based on the vast body of sexual lore will generally only amuse us.
And of course it is no bad thing either to get this lore up into the light of day, since there is a danger that its wild inventions may be taken by the more innocent for truths.
It is for this sort of reason that I recently praised Steptoe and Son in somewhat extravagant terms, and despite criticism I cling to my view. I watched with delight. for instance, the recent episode that handled the homosexuality business with a freedom as yet unseen on the box.
My delight sprang from two sources. The first was that the jokes on the subject were very funny. If Mr. Rothwell scorns wit and unexpectedness Messrs. Galton and Simpson do not. and Wilfrid Brambell and Harry H. Corbett, if not brilliantly skilled solo comedians of the Frankie Howerd class, are two extremely skilful and talented actors and they bring off these jokes time and again to their very fullest worth.
My second reason for delight was that this particular subject was being handled. and handled without discreet veils and hot sweats. My children watched with me, and I was decidedly pleased that they did.
What better method of imparting the facts of life (and nowadays it's these facts that are perhaps hard to impart, not the familiar mechanics of reproduction) than to guffaw together over the absurdities they can bring about and then, if necessary, afterwards to drop a little supplementary informa lion into the happy discussion
I can well understand, however, that sonic people should take objection to my defence of Steptoe and the vulgarity that called it forth, even though I think. for the reasons I have already given, that there is no need for any saddling of high horses here.
One should be careful not to confuse. I believe, a sensitive nature's more or less instinctive rcvulsion from the coarseness of such shows as "Steptoe" and "tip Pompeii!" with the proper revulsion from the truly perverse and immoral. That we all should feel.
It is too easy to label as wrong things we dislike simply because they get their humour out of subjects we ourselves do not happen to find humorous.
We may have a duty to cultivate our sensitivity, and I believe we have. We ought to increase our sympathy for others, to see as many points of view as possible.
But if we have increased this sensitivity at the cost of losing our taste for the vulgar way of looking at life, then that is simply a small loss for us and nu more. It does not give us Ole right to condemn the vulgar from any true moral standpoint.
Some moderately interesting reflections on this subject arose during BBC-2's Film Night Special on Sunday which looked at the "Carry On" films. (My colleague Freda Bruce Lockhart reviews the nineteenth today). Talbot Rothwell is the scriptwriter here too and the humour differs from "Up Pompeii!" only in including plenty of lavatory jokes as well.
What emerged most clearly was the long tradition of which all this is part. The introduction talked of the films' "pig's bladder philosophy" and Joan Sims, that gifted actress, compared them to the McGill postcards which have been a feature of the British seaside for half a century. They gave the customers, she said, "good, clean, bawdy, dirty humour" and I rather think every adjective is right.
Certainly they are successful. Sidney James told of slipping into a crowded cinema showing "Carry On Camping." "I've never heard such laughter." And laughter is no bad thing. It is a giving reaction. The love of the vulgar is, after all, the love of life.