I HAVE heard it said by disgruntled priests that almost all laymen long to preach a sermon and are quite convinced they could do it better than the clergy. Well, I have preached and can say that it is a great deal harder than it looks.
For one thing the standard of attention is low and the subject for discourse though infinite. is limited in practice. Other men's pulpits. in fact, are uncomfortable places. Yet H. R, F. Keating, the CATHOLIC HERALD Television Critic, is on holiday, so I must go up in his place.
I must confess that I take a fairly uncritical delight in television. I can eat through it. talk through it; at a pinch could work through it. I would make a marvellous statistic in someone's expert survey of the Mass Media and their audience.
I like the copper coinage of television. I think the children's programmes excellent, hang bated on the words of popular scientists, make a point of watching the controlled sadism of Tom and Jerry in the hope that the cat will one day eat the mouse and have done with it.
I can tolerate all the soap operas from the old Newcorners, through Crossroads to Coronation Street and Z-Cars beyond. I only really draw the line at some of the discussion programmes and Lady Antonia Fraser is the only person who has rivetted me to the set on a religious subject. And all these programmes have an element in common. They partake of journalism. They survive only by pleasing and they aim to please and there is no sin in that.
Of course. since some of them add a fictional plot to their observations and interpretation, they part company with journalism in the end. They are, however, intensely professional and are backed by that journalistic and contradictory practice of wilful money spending accompanied by cheese paring. They do not aim to erect monuments more lasting than bronze. They will not evert survive for a little by lining someone's sock drawer or wrapping someone's fish. But I find them kindred.
They have the quality that good popular papers achieve. that of making few demands, of suiting their message to their readers. of being lavish
with the sugar if there is a pill to be taken. They would not satisfy a Tynan or a Wesker, but they please rne. And just as I show withdrawal symptoms if I am deprived of my huge and daily ration of newspapers, so at home my hand goes without thinking to that kindly knob which means ease and rest. I am. in short, hooked.
But regularly there are bouts of unadulterated journalism on the box and no one seems quite satisfied. One reason for this is the shortage of material. If you're dealing with the illustrious dead. the producer will have to eke out his footage with skilful bench work. with a manipulation of stills as dexterous as that of any card sharp. Real intimacy. at least until the coming of Richard Cawston, is rare. And every now and again there is a man like Lord Goodman who won't be seen alive On the box. Dead, he would be of little service. But occasionally, as in newspapers, there comes a story that almost writes itself. Such a one was Monday's special feature on the Last Voyage of Donald Crowhurst, the roundthe-world yachtsman who disappeared in the Atlantic.
Crowhurst had prepared for such a programme. He had his fixed camera and tape recorder. He grinned into the camera. gave it the thumbs up sign and drank it a bottle of beer. He showed the sea which looked alarming even when he described it as calm. And there was his voice, cheerful to the end, betraying no deep anxiety or neurosis even when he was desperately acting out a lie.
There will be many who will say it should not have been shown. It must add to the pain of the survivors who loved him. And there is something ignoble in one's curiosity, like that of John Evelyn who attended a session of torture and Dickens a public execution, both in the Papal States. (Clearly the Popes had a law and order problem as severe as that of Mayor Daley.)
But such curiosity, if it be known for what it is and be watched and disciplined, is human and natural. When it concerns itself decently with such great mysteries as death and suffering, it is a useful reminder that not all the world stays at the Crossroads Motel. And this particular feature added to the dignity of the vanished man even if it did ' not solve the mystery of his disappearance.
Somewhere in horror and tragedy there is a quality of entertainment. And if the last is not quite the right word, it is true that such scenes can he enthralling.
Recently I saw some film of Polish cavalry charging German tanks with swords and lances. It brought up rage and compassion and wonder, but felt no need to switch off. Fictional tragedy has long been accounted for and approved even when it leaves a stage at the last curtain littered with dead Princes and Cardinals.
Madness and torture have all been allowed long before the permissive society. Jonathan Miller's skilful repeat last Sunday of M. R. James masterly "Whistle and come to you." is about as horrible as you can get with chopping a man up on the screen. But it is wholly justified.
So within the sort of limits that journalism sets itself— and under great temptation, occasionally breaks out of— are the dreadfulness of war and accidents.
Curiosity. about such things is real and, in the end, justifiable. It would be dishonest to pretend the world is otherwise. So except during scenes of childbirth, like most people, I leave the screen to be horrible as well as to be beguiling.