FICTIONAL IRISH IMAGE
WE LOVE to be told a story. Even those fierce people who say loftily that they never read fiction seize eagerly on newspapers, whose accounts of event's are not arranged for nothing in patterns called stories.
Television, of course, tells us stories by the hundred. But the sad thing is that sometimes when we expect a story and fail to get it because the storyteller also has other preoccupations we experience in consequence some interior resentment that prevents us accepting the virtues of what we are given.
Such, I fear, was the case with Slattery's Mounted Foot, ITV's Saturday play, written by the actor, Colin Welland. As with almost all plays by actors the dialogue was excellent. People said things effectively and authentically. And Mr. Welland had too another prime virtue: he wanted to say something. He wanted to tell us what one particular British community, that of the Yorkshire Catholics, was like. But the whole effect was oddly muted and unmemorable.
The background of the "Church pub," of laundromat gossip, of the darts game, of what looked like real work in a real workshop was excellent. Here was a picture of how certain people live, a curious exiled Irish culture accurately observed and lovingly transmitted.
But the story of a nice girl tricked by a passing saranger, which ought to have illuminated this background like a Guy Fawkes rocket zooming past mossy, many-leaved trees, was too baldly sketched in to make its effect.
Consequently t h e back ground itself seemed confused and irritating. The story lacked that simple clarity which is an essential. Had the young man really only made up to the girl so as to be allowed to enter the pub walking-race with its fat prize? At the end I was still not quite sure, and I was left feeling a little cross.
1 started to feel a little cross, however. well before the end of another fictional look at the Irish in England that I emharked on last week. This was the B.B.Ces answer to Coronation Street, The Doctors. which is currently much concerned with a large Irish family that provides plenty of patients with assorted troubles for the medicos to deal with.
I had meant to look at this twice-weekly serial when it first began, and have long felt a little guilty (as a television aficionado) for not being knowledgeable about its goings-on. That guilt I feel no more.
The characters of most of the patients are nothing more than crude caricatures, the conception of human nature used seems to be taken from "Psychiatry for the Tinies," the dialogue relies on devices as hoary as fifth form jokes, the humour is painful, the direction heavyhanded (when you need to know some object is in a room the camera fastens on it with all the single-mindedness of an octopus encountering James Bond) and even the acting is by no means altogether convincing.
Now I know that quite a few people will enjoy this programme, and if they read this will denounce me in no uncertain terms for poking my nose into their private world and starting to loose off criticisms before my feet have rubbed at the "Welcome" on the mat. But the very warmth of their cosiness in that world of theirs is all the more reason to castigate its blemishes.
Not because its viewers are cosy and ought to be made uncomfortable (I leave that delusion to undergraduate satirists of all ages) but because they are entitled in their warm world, which has been created for them by a pattern of stories, to some decent minimum of technical skills. And the cold outsider sees at once that they are being cheated. Coronation Street was never like this.
Talk of the world of doctors does, however, enable me to praise a programme that I had long avoided in the sure and certain belief that it could be no good. This is London Weekend's Friday night series Doctor in the House, which is by no means just a simple romp of strung together medical jokes but something a good bit more worthwhile.
Some weeks it takes its theme directly from the life of the teaching hospital it is set in, as when we had an instalment centred round the art of bandaging. On other occasions it could be set anywhere where there are young people, as last week when it told cleverly and adroitly of two rivals for the same dolly girl, or tenuously dolly pathologist. Such a theme is, of course, as old as Plautus, but our comedy authors of today, Graeme Garden and Bill Oddie, contrive to allow just enough real humanity into their characters to touch the feelings, a rather different matter from simply sticking in a few lumps of mawkish sentimentality.
With them when the plot arrives at some ingenious twist you really want to laugh because it happened to real people, instead of just taking note of the ritual braying of the studio audience.
Much of this human feeling is due to the acting in the central part as the nice but fate-prone Upton of Barry Evans (but not all: Jonathan Lynn was excellent as a bearish but human Irish student last week). Mr. Evans gives a performance that deserves considerable credit: it is not easy to combine a flyweight champion's sense of timing with the warm sincerity of a browneyed spaniel.
But his authors give him his opportunities, and what keeps us happily watching in the .noments between the laughs, and through the passages where the human interest is being built up, is one old and simple device, which none but the great masters can dispense with: the telling each week of a good and clear, forward-running story.
Could be good
Saturday, BBC 2: "Thirty Minute Theatre." This week's presentation is "An Uncertain Sound" by Leo Knowles which pictures a clash between a Cardinal and a bent-on-resigning Bishop over Ilumanae Vitae.
Sunday, BBC-1: "The Other Edward Heath." Omnibus presents a portrait of our new Prime Minister as musician and music-lover. The soul behind the grin?
Tuesday, BBC-1: "Lord Goodman." The burly, mildly mysterious figure who is said to be One of the most influential men in Britain is interviewed at length by Desmond Wilcox.
'Vision of Europe'
YOUNG men and women from 10 countries took part last weekend in a "Vision of Europe" festival and conference at Ottobeuren Abbey, Bavaria. It was held in connection with an international musical festival with contributions from Czechoslovakia, France, Germany, Hungary and Switzerland.
Many of the participants have taken part in international programmes or worked in developing countries. Their aim at Ottobeuren was to examine the real issues confronting disunited Europe. On Sunday, the Provost of Coventry Cathedral, the Very Rev. H. C. N. Williams, preached at a Pontifical High Mass at the abbey.