MACLEAN’S REVIEWS

GIDEON’S FEY BUT A GOON SCORES A HIT

It’s easier to take madcap Englishmen on TV than the stern bulldog breed

JOCELYN DINGMAN August 6 1966
MACLEAN’S REVIEWS

GIDEON’S FEY BUT A GOON SCORES A HIT

It’s easier to take madcap Englishmen on TV than the stern bulldog breed

JOCELYN DINGMAN August 6 1966

GIDEON’S FEY BUT A GOON SCORES A HIT

Dingman on television

It’s easier to take madcap Englishmen on TV than the stern bulldog breed

SUMMER is the time to watch bad television without guilt. Energetic people claim to spend their winter evenings at curling, Cubs, choir practice, and extension courses, switching the TV on only for the hockey game or public affairs programs. But in the summer, when it’s too hot for selfimprovement, we can sit humidly and enjoy flickering dramas, of indeterminate age, about romance and death on the beaches of California and Florida.

The networks assume that many people have never seen those old episodes of Perry Mason and The Fugitive, or else can't remember how they turn out. But this summer the CBC has done us the favor of importing some new bad television from England. Every Tuesday night we are getting episodes of Gideon’s Way, a British crime series, that have never been shown before on this side of the Atlantic. They were made by Gra-

nada, and prove that British commercial television can compete with American television in general inanity.

Commander Gideon of Scotland Yard is a curly-haired, pipe-smoking, fatherly figure, with a strong physical resemblance to that great television policeman, Inspector Maigret. Only he’s English, not French, he drinks coffee, not Pernod, and he says things like: “This boy Carroway is guilty. I want him and I’ll get him.” Gideon’s creator, John Creasey, has written 500 books. This makes him as productive a writer as Georges Simenon, who created Maigret. But Creasey has a lot less talent.

Gideon’s Way has characters as unreal as the ones on Perry Mason, and dialogue almost as campily bad as Batman (one murderer murmurs to his unconscious wife: “Well, I can’t say it was much fun being your husband, darling, but next of kin—that’s different”). Gideon is played, stoically, by John Gregson, and is provided with a charming television family—pretty wife, two sons, and a daughter. He also has a side-kick named Inspector Keen (tracer of missing persons?). The minor characters seem to be old rep actors who could do their roles—policeman, pub keeper—in their sleep, almost.

But Gideon’s Way does have a few small things going for it. The stories are clear, the action moves briskly, and the suspense is created with some skill. For instance, a man and a girl start shoving each other in a little airplane, while the automatic pilot is on. The question arises: will he kill her or will she win, thus creating a Flight Into Danger situation, since she can’t fly a plane? (He wins, remarking: “You’re for it, honey bun—into the drink.”)

In another episode, we see a man sitting in an English pub, watching the clock and chuckling to himself when it reaches eight o’clock, the time he set the electric stove to blow up. He rushes home—his wife is being brought out of the flaming house on a stretcher. Is she . . .? She’s fine, it

turns out, and he’s wearing handcuffs.

Well, there may be worse ways of passing the time. I wouldn’t let the children watch Gideon’s Way, though. The criminals are uniformly nasty, psychopathic types who never feel a bit of remorse.

With another summer import, the BBC comedy show It’s A Square World, the problem is to get the children to go away so you can catch what the people are saying. The host and chief writer of this weekly half hour is Michael Bentine, a founder member and survivor of The Goon Show—the far-out BBC radio show on which Peter Sellers got his start. It isn’t Bentine’s Standard English accent which gives trouble—it’s his imitation French, Hindu, and Japanese, and his made-up words—for instance the great British games of “nurdling” and “boggiting.”

Insofar as it is comprehensible, It’s A Square World is very funny. To North Americans, brought up not to make fun of other people’s national peculiarities, the show is positively daring in some ways. For instance, Bentine finds nothing more comic than the Japanese ritual fighting arts. One show featured the Japanese art of “finger defence—did-it-su;” another showed two Japanese banging each other ritually on the head, and gradually getting smaller. This method of fighting, said Bentine, is why Japanese are so very short.

In another show, a turbaned Indian shopkeeper in a small English town had to deal with a customer who wanted a trunk for his wife—“She’s five foot two,” the customer said. The shopkeeper, by turns obsequious, shocked and sympathetic, was drawn more broadly than television would expect to get away with on this side of the Atlantic.

Most Canadians don’t find the mere existence of the British quite so funny as they themselves apparently do. Jokes about “all-British” glue which sticks—forever—to the hands, and “all-British” glass-fibre pajamas which shatter, probably won’t start us all giggling round our television sets. But people who like crazy visual humor will enjoy It’s A Square World. A sketch about a great nanny pram race from London to Brighton, which combined satire of televised motor races with techniques from silent movies, was a small masterpiece. And Bentine himself, a handsome, debonair, old Etonian maniac, is always a pleasure to watch.

JOCELYN DINGMAN