A N actor was once described by a famous theatre critic: ". . . he is such a master of comedy that even when he opens a can of beer it is a judgment." When I met the actor later he confirmed what piffling, pompous nonsense this was.
As anyone who has ever been connected with the theatre will know, the only things the actor was really thinking about when he opened the can of beer were whether he could do it without spilling it. whether he could get rid of it fast enough because he had to open another two pages later in the script, and so on.
It was a matter of technique, not art. And it is this sort of hyperbole of underserved praise--much more than undeserved criticism—that has brought the art of criticism, which I among others attempt to practise, into ill repute with professionals of stage, films and television.
If a television producer creates a clumsy, inept production and the critics the following morning praise its technical brilliance and decisiveness. the producer may he relieved—but he doesn't think much of the critic who can't tell the difference between blunder and brilliance.
But it is unfortunate that the contempt in which many critics are held by the artists is not more openly expressed. For if the directors laugh up their sleeves at what they consider ill-informed criticism and do nothing about it, the standards, particularly in television, drop lower and lower. For who else is there to turn to? The public in television has no means of expressing approval or disapproval other than by turning off. And except for those handfuls of people who have TAM sets in their homes or who arc interviewed by BBC researchers the following day, even the on/off switch means nothing.
A viewer can in theory write to the company expressing his views. But when the letter arrives it tends to be lumped into the general bin of "fan letters".
. Television is so remote from its audience that if critics are dismissed mostly as poseur, then the grim situation arises that I believe has now come in the drama departments of the BBC and of the ITV companies. The producers are producing plays not for the public but for each other. In the theatre the response of the audience is a reward in itself, and in films a producer or actor can see the reactions of the cinema audience to their various techniques and artistry. In television they have nothing other than the voices of critics and the observations of other professionals.
There may or may not he justification at television's con demnation of the standards of criticism, but producers must escape from the ghetto-attitude that is gripping them at the moment. Television is a medium of information and entertainment and not just an experimental theatre club.
SO EAR WE HAVE been spared in this country the aMiction imposed on Americans of having advertising included in the matter of programmes. If a character in a play is required to clean his teeth he doesn't say: "Ill get my Magic Wonder-bright toothbrush." He just gets on with the job.
The only occasions when both the BBC and ITV allow unpaid-for advertising to be shown on the screen is at carracing and horse-racing meetings. But in horse-racing particularly this gratuitous advertising also has a cash value. Many races now are sponsored by big firms and the race becomes known by the name of that firm. Many companies won't sponsor a race until they know if the meeting is to be televised.
Then they get back all the money put up in prizes arid sponsorship in free advertising. Posters advertising the name of the sponsor can be sited at known spots such as the start or the finishing post when the cameras are bound to be taking wide-angle shots of the action and cannot help showing the name of the product at the same time.
I have no objection to this practice. It doesn't interfere with an enjoyment of the racing. But I do think that the BBC in particular could be less generous with licence-payers' money in the sums paid out to race-courses for TV rights.
Many race-courses are already getting much money back through sponsorship of televised races. There is no use pretending it doesn't happen. But one wonders whether the rights to televise race meetings could not be obtained for a good deal less public money.
PROGRAMMES FOR NEXT WEEK
SUNDAY: 10.30 a.m. (Radio Eireann)—HIGH MASS from All Hallows College, Dublin.
11 a.m. (ATV)—MASS from St. Mary's, Swinton, Lancs. 11.15 a.m. (Telefis Eireann)—MASS.
MONDAY: 10.20 p.m. (Third)—THE PURGATORIO, cantos 28-30.