by H. R. F. KEATING
ACHARACTER for whom I have always felt a deep affinity is the Duchess in "Alice in Wonderland." She went about extraordinarily conscious of "the moral of that" and I confess it's much the same with me. Especially when "that" is oblong in shape and flickers with a bluish light.
So programmes with titles like "The Way We Live Now" and "At A Time Like This" and "Talking About . Room at the Top" draw me like a wasp to the beer pot. Now, I think, I'll hear what's wrong with us all. But, though I viewed all three of these programmes, I learnt little. Doubtless the moral of that is "a watched pot never boils."
Yet, oddly enough, I did detect a strong resemblance between programmes as seemingly different as "The Way We Live Now," the novel by Trollope adapted as the current BBC 2 classic serial — I wish they would call these something less forbidding — and a documentary about the life of a hospital doctor today put out under a convenient umbrella-term.
Both showed worlds of stark black and white. Take the documentary, At A Time Like This. The Radio Times encouraged us to view it by talking about the "sort of dilemma" that faces the hospital doctor." But it was not the hospital doctor we saw, only one single junior doctor selfconfessedly not altogether typical of his colleagues.
He was a chap full of the right attitudes, sympathetic to the patients, conscientious in his medicine, respectfully critical of some established ways. And yet he held all these attitudes in what continually grated as the wrong way.
He saw things, poor fellow, in blacker and whiter tones than they really are. All who came under his care, for instance. were not to be allowed to die, though many were decidedly elderly. But death was the enemy to be fought both outright and with subterfuges. The possibility of defeat was not to be admitted, especially not to the patients.
But this was not all. The programme was presented through a reporter, Harold Williamson. who made preciouS little attempt to set his subject in perspective so that the implication always was that this man's views were wholly representative and generally that it was a crying scandal.
Truth here on earth, however, is in infinite shades of grey : it does us no service to paint things in dramatic blacks and startling whites.
The vice, of course, is not confined to our day. I do not know how faithful Simon
Raven's adaptation o f Trollope's novel is. but certainly the four episodes of it we have seen so far have been conceived in the crudest terms.
Almost everybody is bad, mean and greedy and moneyobsessed, from the dukes who kowtow to the shady financier Melrnotte to the lady's maid whose hand is seldom seen other than cup-shaped.
Even the few characters whom I suppose to be intended in a favourable light are the
most fearful snobs, and when anyone is to be made really beyond the pale on goes the label "Jews."
Trollope called his picture The Way We Live Now, but it did not show the way people lived then. We have the history books and the biographies to prove it.
And, though parallels with today are there in the competitive society and the gambling clubs, this is not the way we live now either. Our Cardinal Legers and the young supporters of Oxfam are there to prove it.
The competitiNe society is a convenient cliché for just one aspect of our way of life and to see the whole world in such a light is a simplification that is only minimally helpful at best. Just this point, indeed, emerged from the third programme that I switched on all agog for a moral. Granada's Talking About . . .
This is an ingenious device, it seems to me, for meeting the Independent channel's obligation to be a bit religious on Sundays while avoiding anything that looks boring. For three weeks some once-popular film is shown bit by bit, and on the last occasion a bare 20 minutes of discussion follows, preceded by a break for cornmercials as a tacit warning that sermon-time is at hand.
Last Sunday's discussion was between John Braine, author of the book "Room at the Top" on which the film was based, and Jett Nuttall, poet and schoolteacher, with studio audience interjecting. A great deal of black-and-whitery emerged here too.
There was Mr. Braine romantically declaring that writers do not find subjects but "the subject finds you." And there was Mr. Nuttall romantically declaring that there was nothing so impressive as the products of a non-competitive society "like Medieval England."
Nor was the film that preceded this display of bold contradictions more helpful to the earnest seeker after truth. I remember it as moderately affecting, but time (it was made in the era of Tong mackintoshes and illicit amours strictly in pyjamas) has shown it up as pretty corny. One was constantly aware of actors acting and, worse, of a director directing countless neat, and obvious, touches.
And the moral of all this? Surely "It's a round telly-knob that knows no turning"?
Could be good
Tuesday, ITV: "Report." Thames TV's documentary series looks at the twin questions of discipline and involvement in schools, and has something optimistic to show.
Wednesday, BBBC-2: "Man Alive." This weekly documentary looks at "The Average Way of Life" in Britain and asks: What do you spend £23 a week on?
Thursday, ITV: "Conversation at Night". A 30 minute drama by severe Swiss Mirrenmatt in which Sir John Gielgud and Sir Alec Coinnes-s play opposite each other.