indebted to the poet P. J. Kavanagh for a spirited defence in Line-Up: The Week of "talking heads" and I gladly see my week in these terms following his footsteps.
"Talking heads" is one of the pieces of television jargon which has more or less become 'part of the language. It means a programme or large chunk of a programme devoted almost entirely to shots of someone talking. Once it was thought to he anathema on the box: now it is. like many an anathema before it, tolerated.
But for Mr. Kavanagh. and for me, it is one of the top pleasures of the oblong screen. Mr. Kavanagh, no mean talking head himself, went right to the heart of the matter when he said that television was people. and simply showing us people talking was one of the best things the box could do. And it is. Catching every inflexion of the voice and every fleeting facial expression puts us a fair way into the heart of most men.
I have not seen Mr. Kavanagh himself in action before. and I hope I see him often again. But not I beg, in the customary way of the medium with anyone it takes up, doing everything from chairing quiz programmes to commentating on document aries just because he comes over well.
His great gift is that he is both relaxed and has something to say. Too often we get the one without the other, the superbly relaxed screen personality just being superbly relaxed or the poor tortured chap wanting to put over a point and making the most abominable faces doing it.
The programme Mr. Kavanagh conducted so intelligently last Saturday is a new offspring of the Line-Up stable, itself one of those mysterious little pockets of buzzing activity that spring up for no particular reason here and there in the great world of telly-making shooting out all sorts of subprogrammes and spin-offs as a result of the sparks their members cause to fly from each other. Their latest child is a decided asset, if a minor one.
All that it does is to invite someone (but thoughtfully chosen) to comment on the week's viewing and show a few illustrative film-clips.
Good points are that, though a ABC-2 programme, it recognises the existence of the commercial channel and that it spans the board from the arts to sport. Against is a tendency already to run to a formula: must have some sport, one ITV clip.
But back to talking heads.
And on to a little carping. Not every producer who gives us these wonderful things realises apparently just what he is bestowing. You would think. for example. that a programme entitled Children Talking could on this principle hardly go wrong. To my mind. in fact it goes nastily astray.
This type of programme has developed over the past two years or so into a little branch of the art all on its own, popping up all over the place and to the same formula of a sympathetic person (oddly enough almost always male) putting questions about life in general to children with the camera lapping up the replies.
It ought to be excellent. The phrase enfant terrible does not exist for nothing: children, our adult inhibitions still sitting lightly on their shoulders, can on occasion expose our pretences in a wonderfully scathing way. But the producer taking advanthe of this talent must respect his material: his speakers, though small. must be left their decent say.
Instead here we got : cute remark—cut—cute remark— cut. And no more. The questioner seemed not interested in the answers, only in what could be made of them. The massacre of the innocents, I call it. For an example of how it should be done I quote, as so often, David Frost. From time to time he uses children in his programmes, and invariably you will see that he is anxious for himself to find out what his young guests actually have to say.
Mr. Frost has just started a new series Frost on Friday, those stunning interviews that so frequently do not simply talk about the news after it has happened but make an actual contribution to it on the spot.
I would not be surprised, indeed, if his programme last Friday did not have some real influence on events in Northern Ireland, its courageously chosen subject. I say courageously chosen because Mr. Frost went to Belfast in the early days of the present trouble and met there the common lot of tellyaskers in Ireland, chaos.
All praise. then, to him for not quietly dropping Ulster for ever, as he easily could have done, Instead he learnt lessons. This time he confined his interviews to two, and he brought them to London to talk to him and each other.
The result? A notable example of talking heads at their best. The two heads involved were those of Eamonn McCann, romantic-looking and immensely articulate leader of the socialist militants, and John Hume, stocky. quietly confident, acutely reasonable leader of the Civil Rights group.
Their physical contrast was a bonus. Their actual opposition was something Mr. Frost contrived to get the utmost value from, not in shouting and irrelevancies, but in constructive argument and counterargument until at last attitudes were clearly , exposed and the two of them could be seen as agreeing to differ. Mark that. III-tempered, explosive Ulster and agreement to differ.
Could be Good
Saturday, BBC-2: "The First Churchills." Start of 13part serial on the great Duke of Marlborough and his fascinating Duchess, written and produced by Donald Wilson, Forsyte adaptor, and directed by David Giles also a Forsyte man.
Monday, ITV: "Romans and Friends." Lushly cast play about two film stars, with Dawn Addams and Sylvia Syms.
Wednesday, BBC-I: "The Last Train Through Harecastle Tunnel." First of new Wednesday plays, written by Peter Terson, author of "Zigger, Zagger," hymner of innocent youth in an ugly world.