By Eve McAdam
THE pull of TV for many is its unpredictability. Like a weird computer fed with the Opinions of celebrities, specialists and unknowns, its answers come out, for the most part, as planned.
But, now and again (and this is why viewers are ever on the alert) the human condition is illuminated in a flash by some old lady, for instance, or capriciously, by a celebrity whose aura viewers find so antipathetic that they believe to be true the opposite of what was said.
Some of this was experienced last week. The old lady who gave us a shock was one of the refugees from Tristan da Cunha. She was asked to say a few nice things, more or less, about the country that had aroused her, given her medical care, and provided things she'd never known, electricity, air and car travel and so on.
The old lady gave the interviewer (an ITN news-gatherer) a withering look, turned her broad peasant back on him and went off, rumbling. "I want to go home. I don't like this place."
The underlying meaning of her words, the unconsciously symbolic gesture of her back turned on our material and neurotic world was caught by TV. This strange interview with an old lady's back was one of the most remarkable things I have ever seen on TV, and all who saw it must have recognised, intuitively, that the old lady was right, and our "civilisation" was wrong.
The celebrity who put everyone into reverse was our old friend, the snake lady from the BBC's "Adventure" series of a few weeks ago, Miss Margaret Lane, this time appearing in ATV's "Threshold" on Sunday.
The programme, "The Human Blueprint," about genetics, nibbled at several controversial issues of especiai inheres' to Cahholics: AID., sterilisation of women, and the selective breeding of human beings: each issue was supposed to include the questions "Is it morally right to do so?"
Miss Lane told viewers of a woman in Scotland who was, in her view "a poor creature. and an undesirable person to breed" and whom she would have had sterilised because she had "child upon child" This was a shocking statement. Orwell has warned us what to expect of Big Brother. What about Big Sister? was surprised that the Anglican Bishop of Woolwich, on the panel,
let this pass with a mild. personally wouldn't take an absolute line: sterilisation should be hedged with social safeguards."
Discussion groups. and panels of experts lead one to the controversy of the week, important to the future of TV. This transpired over Professor A. J. P. Taylor. the great historian, who has become wellknown as a broadcaster.
The public has received the impression, rightly or wrongly, that the professor has been deprived of an Oxford lectureship because the mandarins doge approve of TV and would rather their scholars didn't stoop to iL How do viewers feel about thit? Do they feel that the dons are right and that tailors (like cobblers!) should stick to their last; that TV discussions are shallow affairs in which the experts can, in the few minutes alloted to them give but a superficial and possibly misleading view?
My view is that people 'like A. J. P. Taylor are indispensable to TV, that TV must grab at scholars. scientists, theologians, priests, at anyone who is truly expert in his field. As I sec it, TV swarms with the pseudo-scholar. the pseudo-intellectual and moralists who are a-moral. in the department of political news, for instance, to one. Dimbleby, balanced, to be trusted, there is a score of lesser luminaries who set themselves up as experts in political economy, sociology and so on. The Professor Taylors of TV are of real value to the public and they ehoulcl receive the support of the Universities. and not implied criticism.
When "The Way of Life" (Home), the religious programme of the most consistently high level. teams with one of the sunniest and soundest personalities, Fr. George Songhurst, there should be something worth hearing. And so there was last Sunday when it tackled "In Search of the Truth About Education."
This was the kind of programme to make parents and teachers cheer: each speaker agreed and came out bluntly with his condemnation of the Eleven Plus exam. Canon Naylor called early specia
lization an "evil": Kenneth Barnes, the educationalist, said that children were "selected like racehorses" and this method of schooling left "personalities deprived." As for Fr. Sunghurst, usually so gentle, he roared like a lion. and compared the iniquities of the eleven plus to a "rat race" where the 7-1I pass on "not to secondary education, but into a trap."
Few plays on BBC or ITV can compare, as drama. with Assnciated-Rediffusion's "When the Kissing Had To Stop", presented in two parts on October 16 and 19. It was so smafls. that after switching off each time I sat stunned. emptied, exbausted. Not only was Giles Cooper's adaptation of Constantine FitzGibbon's horrific book superbly done (pace, polish, every moment charged with suspense) hut this play showed up the rest of TV drama for what it is, poor stuff. indeed, And just as the old lady of Tristan da Cunha illuminated the human condition of our time, so this play made intelligible many of the influences at work today.