JUST three weeks ago I launched into a high old panegyric on the Single Play. and with the return of the B.B.C.-1 drama showcase, formerly the Wednesday Play now Play for Today, I make no apology for coming back to the subject. so soon.
This series is perhaps our main supplier on the box of what might be called considered fiction. and as such it is plainly and simply important. It is important because fiction alone can make us live in our future. Fiction can shear away the dross and let us see what we really want. can give us the pattern of a better tomorrow. The distinguished television critic, T. C. Worsley, appearing in Review on Friday to discuss his recent book about the medium, said that in his most optimistic moments he looks forward to a day when television, with its enormous audiences provides us in its fiction with "the kind of heroes that would unite us." It is an optimistic thought : it is not an impossible one.
How, then, in this grand sweep of light, did the first in the new Play for Today series show up?
And this is an ominous sign. I would suppose that, if you have spent a lot of time getting
together a number of plays for your showcase, the first one you put on is, inevitable difficulties apart, the second best of the bunch, with the best of all kept for a final flourish. And if Alan Sharp's The Long Distance Piano Player is the second best play we are to see this winter, we are in for a scrannel time indeed.
The play was the story of an attempt on the World Continuous Piano-playing Record, and as such provided a subject with certain difficulties in handling (if the thing itself is tedious, how to 'make an untedious play'?) but of considerable promise. Mr. Sharp seemed to me to manage to say
nothing with his chosen matter.
His hero lacked any motive for undergoing his marathon. Compare however the current film "They Shoot Horses Don't 'I-hey?" made from a novel much in Mr. Sharp's mind, he tells us, when he wrote. The marathon dancers there had a compelling motive: poverty. Or, in Alan Sillitoe's "The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner," the hero had the strong motive of besting an uncomprehending society.
Mr. Sharp's hero had only a putative American tour to look forward to. If this represents our hopes, what a shabby
a, world we are in.
Nor was there anything much of a struggle in the play (drama is conflict, remember?). The Radio Times told us the piece was a battle between Evil (his agent) and Good (his wife). Without the broad hint I would never have known, if only because. the hero resolutely ignored the girl from the moment he set finger to key. And the end, when it came, was the result of no clash -it just arrived !
Mr. Sharp has written a much-praised novel. "A Green Tree in Gedde" and perhaps in a novel it would be possible to handle alongside a main theme his subsidiary one here, a strong feeling of nostalgia. But the nostalgia was never the subject of any seen conflict, and so served merely as an additional irritation.
Perhaps the novelist in Mr. Sharp relied too heavily, as well, on actors being able to convey a series of thoughts merely by being filmed wandering through dingy town streets. A choice few can do this. Unfortunately someone had the bright notion of casting as the hero here the pianist of a real pop group, The Kinks. Ray Davies did very reasonably. You could see he was meant to be a young man suffering. But the barely possible task of conveying various concrete thoughts by expression alone was, of course, well beyond a tyro. The whole idea of using him reflects, indeed, a position-of-weakness clutching after popularity that ought not to animate any drama department. To make something popular you should make it good, and
what is popular should be made good. I quote T. C. Worsley again, himself quoting Sydney Newman, the man who b r ought forward-pointing drama from ITV to the Wednesday Play spot. And what you make good is the thing itself, the essential, the drama. You do not seek popularity by running squealing to pop.
But, even had someone had the sense to east one of our best young actors as the hero here, we would have been left with a pretty unfollowable hero. What sort of heroes then might be the kind that would unite us?
Well, it is not as though we have not had glimpses of them already, on the box sometimes, a good deal in the theatre (where they affect perhaps half a million people only, even if the play does fairly well, and those are half a million wellpadded theatregoers at that). But such a figure as John Osborne's Jimmy Porter, the original Angry Young Man, will do for a start. He had something to say : "Tear away pretences." And his words have had their effect.
And the second Play for Today is to be by none other than Mr. Osborne. It will have gone out the night before this appears. Will we be led further onward? I have my fears. Interviewed in the Radio Times. Mr. Osborne tells us that he looks on writing for television as the exercise of talent on a small scale, and his subject is the neat but minor one of grown-ups going back to school. I see no hers. for our tomorrow there.
But what heroes do 1 see'? I think a shape is clear. I see heroes who first of all are truth-tellers. That is the forward-sign of our times, the passion here and there for saying what seems to be the truth, whether in the oldbottle-splitting discussions in the Church, or in the noise and dramatics of the campuses. With this goes looking-oneach-man-as-a-truth, i.e. as an individual, and the compassion that stems from that.
Such should be our heroes. Or am I already behind the times?
Could be good
Tonight, B.B.C.-2: "The Mind of Man." Two-hour investigation into current research on the brain and human nature. filmed in laboratories round the world and including some remarkable material.