TV Review: Quare Phenomena

Another month come and gone, and the writing of these notes an almost frightening reminder of how many hours of the best years of one’s life have been spent in glassiness before the screen, a woodbine-smoking Lady of Shalott gazing in one’s Magic Mirror.

Not every month, however, yields two plays of such quality as The Quare Fellow and The Greatest Man on Earth. The Brendan Behan piece came over well in its television version, in spite of the condensations of both text and space. A tremendous indictment of prison-keeping, this, all the more because it never explicitly indicts at all: only shows the stupidity and barbarity and humbug, and what it does to everyone concerned.

The Greatest Man on Earth was fun to make you think. In case anyone didn’t see it, its situation (developed from a James Thurber story) was simply the dilemma of American heads of state when a suddenly-sprung national hero turns out to be also hoodlum, illiterate, sex-fiend and general loudmouth. The pace and the amusement never let up, but it seemed as if a point were being made all the time and someone was slyly telling us that this wasn’t so far-fetched, either.

What else? Well, there is the news that someone has been appointed to supervise the children’s programmes: a beam of hope for the anti-cowboy zealots. Much less hope, however, of any falling-back in the main, most depressing trend in children’s television. This is not gunplay and rough-stuff (except possibly the reiteration of the appalling Popeye cartoons, with their interminable beatings-up), but the steady intrusion of juvenile editions of quizzes, panel games, and the rest of YV “light entertainment.”

It is about a hundred years since children began seriously to be educated as future wage-workers and soldiers. The last few years have seen a new addition to the prospects: educating them as future consumers as well. Here it is on the telly, the view presumably being to produce a younger generation which no longer wants to be sheriffs and engine-drivers, but wants to watch “Dotto” instead.

There has also been the shattering allegation that quiz contestants are primed beforehand. Nobody so far has made much of a reply, and one wonders why they should. There is a good deal to be said for it. The questions themselves (What is a Zulu? Which way is south?) are insulting enough; why add humiliation by revealing that the subjects in a good many cases don’t know the answers?

Robert Barltrop

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