So far we have talked about creative art and its sources, but Tempo has, of course, been as much concerned with interpretative artists as with those who create. For a large part of its audience, I suspect, these star artists will be the greatest attraction of the programmes. Indeed a programme of the Tempo kind, at present, often fulfils a special function in offering full-length performances by artistes like Juliette Greco, Amalie Rodrigues, Oscar Brown, or even more ‘popular’ singers like Annie Ross — artistes outside the strict line of popular entertainment that regulates the choice of ‘variety’ on television. This is a valuable function of a programme like Tempo even within the strictest terms of its role of presenting the arts, for viewers are given a chance to extend the range of their taste, to see new trends or techniques, and above all, to break down that wretched barrier between entertainment and art which would divide the world into self-satisfied philistines and self-congratulating prigs.
The problem for the television producer in showing interpreters (singers, dancers, instrumentalists) seems to me quite different to anything we have considered in the first two sections. A short examination of the programme ‘A World Full of Grey’ presenting Oscar Brown may show what I mean: Mr Brown as a negro, shared with another programme ‘God’s Trombones’ which featured the cast of Black Nativity the peculiar advantage of giving a special value to black and white photography. Mr Brown is in fact at the opposite pole to the cast of Black Nativity both in movement (the visual essence of such interpretative programmes) and in message though both are propagandist entertainers. Nevertheless to see the lithe black panther-like grace of Oscar Brown or the solid ebony majesty of the contralto soloist of Black Nativity is immediately to realise that this is black and white photography needed for its own sake, and that all the rest of the time we are forgetting what is only a convention imposed by necessity.
Oscar Brown then starts with the fullest advantages of movement and colour. His repertory is intended to take the negro spiritual away from submission (away even from the dignified, primitive Christian submission of Black Nativity) to the new mood of racial anger and social protest to which the American negro community is now awakening. He echoes the voice of James Baldwin, the total rejection of all folksiness, charm, childlikeness or any other supposed negro quality which whites have found it easy to patronise. Sometimes his songs appeared to conform to all that the whites have cosily expected from the negroes and then at an unexpected moment they lash out in biting fury; sometimes his songs maintained a hot anger throughout. The programme had a short introduction by a compere, though with songs so direct and violent as Mr Brown’s it seems unlikely that any viewer capable of seeing the screen and hearing the words could miss what he intended to communicate. Indeed the simplicity of his fierceness is his third great advantage, for in a short programme the immediacy of a message makes its strongest impact — there may be angry rejection, but there is no time for reasoned dispute. Along with the immediacy, the lack of subtlety in Mr Brown’s message goes a corresponding clarity of performance: he is an essentially dramatic singer whose every movement and expression are definite and on the attack. The only ambiguity in his personality is the co-existence of great anger and high gaiety, and this, as we soon realise, is a product of his assurance, the new assurance of his race. They can afford to be gay in the midst of their anger because victory is with them — they can afford, as Mr Brown sometimes does, to clown in their anger. They can afford to … but does it succeed? Does Oscar Brown succeed? I think this question has to be asked and juxtaposed to the ambition and assurance of his message. Only a minority of viewers will be wholeheartedly with him — if, that is, they have really understood what he is saying. This is not a popular or comfortable thing to write because to deny majority support for the negro cause seems like letting it down. But I do believe that in the uncompromising form in which Oscar Brown and other negro leaders rightly pose their claims the negro programme will just not come home to most white people, even in a country so far from the centre of the battle as England. They have been used to too many centuries of belief in their superiority to understand that they are no longer being asked for sympathy (this the better white people have found easy for a long time), no, they are being told what negro people intend to do with their own lives. To get that simple message over to English viewers without being met by a self-protective incomprehension demands a great range of talents from the performer. These, I think, Oscar Brown mainly has.
In the first place he is so evidently carried away by his own message that there can be no feeling that he is ‘putting something over’. And yet he is so palpably a conscious, highly aware artist, that there is no chance of patronising him as a primitive, a ‘natural’. Then he arranges his repertory in an order of attack upon his audience that is like some beautifully organised speech. First a direct and dramatic appeal to decency and a summoning up of all the historical injustice that negroes have suffered in the States — the sale of a young slave girl (granddaughter of an African queen). We are brought slap into our memories of Uncle Tom and all the emotions that his name still arouses. Then an appeal to the ordinariness in viewers, the ‘get together’ approach in ‘a fellow I know folks call Sam….’ ending ‘I believe in Sam’. There is for me a certain touch of patronage in anything that sets out to describe ‘the ordinary fellow’ but Oscar Brown almost gets away with it. Now with ‘Forty Acres and A Mule’ he feels ready to break through the image of the patient, decent negro beloved by white liberals. ‘An urgency of patience held too long’, he tells us, and ‘I am being rowdy hot and black’. Then, pushing the attack, he points to the new Africa from which the American negro draws his new sence of urgency and assurance — ‘Afroblue’. Then he takes the old maxims that the ‘wise’ negroes had learned through ‘the discipline of restraint of centuries of slavery’; for example, ‘Whatever happens don’t blow your cool’. He rends them to pieces with his anger and points the way to a new burning heat.
So far, so very good — if viewers haven’t exactly got what he means, they’ll at least know that he means it and that it isn’t at all comfortable, for all the gaiety and high spirits with which it has been put across. He successfully combines entertainment with propaganda (or uplift); and this is no mean feat, for from the earliest days of music hall there has seldom been anything more embarrassing than the sudden serious ‘turn’ (religious, patriotic, or folksy moralising) of the good comic entertainer. Oscar Brown banishes this embarrassment at one blow by so totally fusing his serious message, his propaganda with his ‘act’, fusing the two by the emotional passion which seems to dominate even the most lighthearted, clowning side of his personality. But for me the beautifully constructed repertory, the oratory, was robbed of some of its persuasion by its peroration — his last song — ‘Brown Baby’. It is not so much that the song has a too easy sentimentalism, though I think it has, nor that it moralises in too hackneyed words, though it does, but that these words, ‘Our world too is full of grey’ and ‘I want you to live by the justice order, I want you to walk down the freedom road’ seemed suddenly to relax his fierce attack, to make an appeal directly to his viewers that is not in keeping with his previous fierce-funny calculated aggression. For the first time I found myself yearning for Bessie Smith — and when a white viewer starts yearning for Bessie Smith, it is a certain sign that he is longing for the tragedy and pathos that were so essential a part of the negro life before the new militancy was born. Perhaps it was the success of Mr Brown’s attack that made me hurry back to my memories of that great tragic singer who was so unpolitical, but I think it was because he didn’t carry me with him in his last song. In fairness I must say, however, that striking and often moving though the singers of Black Nativity were, their simple religious propaganda made me long for Bessie Smith all the time as an antidote, whereas Oscar Brown’s social militancy held me almost to the end.
It will be clear that a programme like ‘A World Full of Grey’ demands far more direct comment on its content and far less on its television presentation. By and large the producers seem to have done their job when in selecting Oscar Brown, they realised his visual and aural potentiality on the screen. For the rest the cameras may work against his effects by obtrusive cleverness that interferes with the lines of his telling movements. Tempo cameras behaved with admirable discretion it seemed to me, but Tempo designers with rather less, placing him either in a too consciously dramatic blaze of light or against a vague backcloth which nevertheless suggested the late C. B. Cochran and showbiz.
This question of backcloth or design is never, I think, more important than when, as with solo performers, it seems least obtrusive. The failure of Segovia’s appearance in one of the programmes was made worse by the stage upon which he was set — a platform that seemed like something arranged for a mannequin display at a leading London department store. It is not an easy matter, for a touch of glitter suggests showbiz and Bandwagon, decor too often recalls ‘The Black and White Minstrels’, the studio in all its camera nakedness has become a maddening cliche, and even attempted realism may misfire, as I found when criticising a terrible picture-window behind Yehudi Menuhin’s rehearsal, only to be told that it was an exact reproduction of the picture-window in his home. But that it should be given the most exact attention when a stage-type performance is being shown I have no doubt, for even the most brilliant performance can be marred by a background that unluckily suggests some conflicting stereotype.
Interpretative art of the near-cabaret sort proved highly successful in the Tempo programmes, but the same cannot be said of more classical performers. The static figure of Segovia proved once again that no close-ups of a guitarist’s fingerwork, let alone of his irrelevant knees or boots can do more than intolerably distract from the music he plays. Segovia, poor man, suffered more than most from narrator commentary (that bugbear of early Tempo which is now almost gone) ‘You can really hear the soul of Spain’ is not the sort of comment that one wishes to hear. A more hopeful approach to serious music might seem, as with the theatre, to be in the analysis of a rehearsal. I still believe that this might be successful, even after seeing the programme of Menuhin and his fellow performers practising the Mozart clarinet quintet. What we saw, in fact, did not seem to be a rehearsal, but a play through of the work, with a little desultory chatter and some programme notes (surely not at all what the professional musicians would want or need to hear) provided from time to time by Menuhin. The truth is that, whereas Zeffirelli set his rehearsal in a blaze by his personality, Menuhin merely damped his down by his domination.
Classical music, then, whether in direct performance or in rehearsal, has not so far been elucidated by Tempo. Even Laszlo Heltay’s personality could not fire the rehearsal of the Collegium Musicum Oxoniense. They seemed like hearty, music-loving young men and women in a hundred choirs in England, singing Wassail when they were told to sing Wassail; nor did the cameras help by picking out irrelevant details of the medieval decoration in the hall of Merton College.
But ballet proved, I thought, quite successful in the performance of ‘Mods and Rockers’ by the Western Theatre Ballet, and triumphant in the analysis of creation with the programme ‘The Choreography of Norman Morrice’. I except the ‘Mods and Rockers’ performance from full praise because it was marred by a pretentious and unnecessary sociological commentary by Mike Sarne. Authorities on teenagers have a special smugness all their own, and Mr Same was no exception. We heard him tell us the old chestnut about young people creating the modern market because of the money they have to spend as though he had made a personal discovery. And as if the middle-aged didn’t spend like water too anyway!
‘The Choreography of Norman Morrice’ was wholly satisfactory from the moment we were introduced into his studio until the first rehearsal of his new ballet faded out. Very wisely Morrice’s commentary was recorded over a silent sequence. This is an infinitely more satisfactory device for all interviewees except the most assured and exhibitionistic than speaking to camera or to interviewer, although like television studio backgrounds it threatens to become a cliche (why is television such a Moloch of good, new ideas?) Morrice’s personality is not of the Zeffirelli dominant kind; as he himself said, ‘I’m not good at talking, writing, painting — movement is the only way that I think I can communicate’. Yet the pre-recorded talk flowed beautifully and naturally, while he was seen as naturally demonstrating the model scene, listening to the second-hand record bought in a Notting Hill market which inspired his ballet, demonstrating to his two dancers, finally receiving his inspiration back in their interpretation — and all this worked surely because he was not burdened with words or with a sense of the camera demanding any intellectual response from him. In fact at a certain moment the sound came direct, but the transition which must have been painless for him as it was painless for the viewer. So released from self-consciousness, Morrice, the rare creator who is not also a showman, gave as full account of his creative process as any man I have heard. I am not addicted to ballet but I found his explanation (so exactly synchronised visually) all absorbing. For a balletomane it must surely have been Tempo‘s highlight.