R. HAROLD WILSON'S television appearance on the night of the Government's plans to beat the trade gap was one of the smoothest performances I have ever seen on the screen.
It was delivered straight to the camera with neither film nor pictures to relieve it. Mr. Wilson himself was unsmiling and stern but not patriarchal.
He said nothing that viewers of any of the earlier news bulletins would not have known already. Yet the overall impression—and images rather than statements are the important thing in television — was one of calm, concerned and competent authority.
Mr. Wilson has, of course, gone to some pains to master the small screen But anyone who watches carefully will detect certain mannerisms of technique creeping in.
For example, Mr. Wilson rather too often leans forward into the lens confidentially tapping the knuckles of one hand into the other and says: "We believe, as we have always believed".
But equally he has avoided the pitfall that so many people urge upon television contributors — to smile. So many people, even producers. think this is the panacea, the one straight road to the viewer's heart, which must be complete nonsense.
One powerful Cabinet Minister in a former government once responded to the opening question of an interview by turning to the, camera and directing a wintry smile' at it. Afterwards the producer asked him why he had done this and he replied that his wife had told him before the programme that 116 ought It) smile more when on television.
This is just the sort of ill-coesidered advice, full of half-truths that lose elections in television terms. It was particularly unfortunate in this case as the question was about same grave matter. not at all a subpect to smile about.
Talking to politicians nowadays about television is talking to the converted. And Mr. Wilson has proved pretty conclusively that to master the screen it is not necessary to be sauve and handsome —just professional and careful.
It remains to be seen whether this mastery of technique can be sustained.
Drama producers seem mighty reluctant to range far from their safe little platoon of television writers and their slightly larger but On Saturday, no more adventurous company of act
Saturday, for instance, Mr. Peter Copley was on both channels at once. On ITV he was the calm colonel in Redcap and on the BBC the calm, scientific detective in Tborndyke. As both programmes were recorded, he was probably sitting at home busily switching from one channel to the other.
So it was a special pleasure to see a gifted new actor appear on Armchair Theatre on Sunday. He is Mr. Terry Palmer. *The play was They Throw it a( You by that old television hand Mr. Allan Prior.
It is easy to see why television producers are usually so unadven. turous in this respect. Every day scores of scripts are bundled into their drama departments. Many of them are not even typed and many more are not even television scripts, but unpublished novels or short stories.
The accompanying letters contain the words so infuriating to all television ecript departments: "You might like to adapt this for television". A task which the authors of these works have not thought worth while to do themselves.
And with actors it is so much safer, producers tell themselves, to have old Snooks who can be relied on to give a safe but pedestrian performance, than take a risk with a new face.
But however much one sympathises with producers' predicaments, both these risks have to be taken. The author whose handwritten, unprofessional script con tains the germ of talent and imagination must be nursed by the drama departments until he can turn his talent and imagination into practical use.
And surely there are enough unemployed, talented actors in that numerically vast profession of the theatre to ensure that we don't have to see the same people the whole week long. Mr. Peter Copley is, of course, a very gifted actor, and one looks forward to seeing his performances. But, please, not on both channels at once.