London Fortnight: Girilal Jain

In the race for the limelight Britain’s angry young men are beginning to lose to satirists! John Osborne who rocketed to fame with the play Look Back In Anger and other writers of this generation are becoming back numbers as younger men and women move in and take over the task of demolishing the Victorian facade. Their most effective medium is television.

Most viewers were shocked when the BBC sprang a programme on them under the catchy title of “That Was The Week That Was” a little over three months ago! It exposed to laughter, even if in good humour, all the sacred pillars of British society. Even the holiest of the holies, the Royal family and the Church, were not spared. Mr Macmillan provided too large a target to be resisted. As angry letters poured into the BBC and Members of Parliament raised points of privilege, many doubted if the young men would continue to be given a free hand. The programme has survived uncensored and is already one of the most popular television shows with over ten million viewers. Three weeks earlier the figure was seven million.

This is not a freak case. Private Eye, a satirical weekly, celebrated its first birthday last month with the print order exceeding 50,000 copies. The distributors still do not distribute it for fear of libel but one can buy a copy even in the suburbs and circulation rises, week after week. It has become a must for the London elite.

This movement, if it can bear such a portentous title, began with the “Beyond the Fringe” revue at Edinburgh in 1961. Last summer the revue moved to London to be followed by the formation of the Establishment Club. Mr Macmillan went to the revue to see himself and his Cabinet colleagues satirised. The Queen enjoyed the show with its anti-Establishment jokes. Now the revue is barnstorming America suitably adapted to bring in the Kennedy clan.

Almost all these young men and women come from the Oxford and Cambridge satire schools. “The movement”, as The Observer puts it, “is remarkably inbred. The groups overlap.” That might or might not prove a serious weakness. The greater trouble is the lack of some overall purpose in this new wave of satire to which men like JB Priestley have drawn attention. It seems unlikely that it will acquire such a purpose. The participants are split on political issues and their success depends completely on team work.

Change of Sex

That Was The Week That Was” is by no means the only BBC programme that has led to questions about the “moral health” of “Dear Old Auntie”. The other day the highly controversial and outspoken report on sex and morals written and published by eleven Quakers after years of investigation was discussed over television in a remarkably uninhibited manner. The report rejects almost completely the traditional approach to morality.

The change of personality on the part of the BBC has been so complete that it is being compared to a “change of sex”. Gone is the stuffy conservatism which progressive (1 am not using the term in the Marxist sense) intellectuals used to find suffocating. Dear Old Auntie (it recently reached its fourtieth anniversary) is beginning to look at the facts of life without the blinkers of respectability. Frankness and boldness are the key words under the new dispensation!

How did this change come about? The answer is simple: competition. The challenge came with the establishment of Independent Television. The manner in which top men in the Conservative Central Office combined with financial interests to push this scheme might have been scandalous as responsible men like Lord Reith have alleged. The programmes on ITV might still be dripping violence, but the fact remains that competition has compelled the BBC to put on a new look in the manner of Jane, the dowdy provincial widow, in one of Somerset Maugham’s stories.

If this sounds unconvincing to the advocates of state monopoly for All India Radio, which sometimes broadcasts news long after it is known to the man in the street, let me cite some of the facts. The first ITV programme was put across in September, 1951. In 1958 it held 72 per cent of the audience. Viewers grumbled at having to pay three pounds a year to finance BBC programmes which they never watched. There was a demand to end BBC’s radio monopoly. It had to act if it wanted to survive. It has now repulsed the onslaught and looks to the future with confidence.

Competition has another facet which was not quite so obvious till last month. In the wake of the breakdown of the Brussels negotiations, the BBC and ITV invited Mr Macmillan to broadcast on their television networks. Following the broadcast the Labour party demanded the right of reply on the ground that Mr Macmillan’s broadcast amounted to a party programme. The BBC did not accept this view and declined the necessary opportunity to the Labour Party. The ITV invited the acting Labour leader to broadcast, thus affording the people an opportunity to bear the Opposition’s viewpoint.

Old Men’s Lot

In this affluent society hard is the lot of old men and women with nobody to keep them company and look after their needs. There are cases when an old man’s death in his single room tenement is discovered only when the milk bottles pile up day after day. The report of the conditions a suburban Red Cross division discovered behind the façade of Victorian houses makes depressing reading.

According to an account in one local newspaper, “In some cases the two meals received each week from the Red Cross are the only proper food the recipient gets and without them some would starve.” The Red Cross volunteers found two blind persons sitting in their home without any heating, almost frozen to death. An old man cried when he was delivered food because he had not had a meal for eight days. An undernourished woman was found dying of bronchitis with not even a fire to keep her warm in this Arctic weather.

This neglect of old people contrasts sharply with the deepest concern that is shown here for deformed and handicapped children. The birth of about 400 deformed children as a result of the use of the Thalidomide drug as a sedative by expectant mothers brought this problem to the forefront. The range of artificial limbs that are now being developed to help these children live as normal a life as is humanly possible is truly remarkable. One out of every 70 persons is handicapped in Britain and there is an upsurge of popular interest in their wellbeing. It is for example now possible for a partially paralysed person to operate on his own with the help of engineering devices.

The Times of India, 3 March 1963 

Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.