If the art of con­ver­sa­tion is dy­ing, just talk back to the tele­vi­sion

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - PROPERTY - DEREK WIL­SON

BRI­TISH hu­morist Keith Water­house al­ways had his ear to the ground when it came to writ­ing about some­thing which had caused the Brits to get their wee in a froth.

Go­ing through his de­li­cious book, Fanny Pe­cu­liar (Corgi, 1984), a col­lec­tion of the late writer’s pieces from the now long de­funct Punch, I came across a col­umn in which he warned against BBC tele­vi­sion and the prospect of fur­ther bor­ing pro­grammes.

“What then will the na­tion be do­ing with it­self,” he asks, “dur­ing the yawn­ing void be­tween cock­tail hour and close­down, apart from prop­a­gat­ing the species?…”

The an­swer, he goes on, is that the BBC will be re­sus­ci­tat­ing the nearly lost “art of con­ver­sa­tion”. Un­til then, the only con­ver­sa­tion one did hear was based on com­plaints about tele­vi­sion.

This got me think­ing about South African tele­vi­sion in the early days, and its close­down. It was so aw­ful it was prob­a­bly just as well. The proof that it was an ap­palling ser­vice was shown by view­ers’ rush to buy video ma­chines when they came out – and then stock up on recorded tapes and rentals. Soon many of th­ese were gath­er­ing dust as the VCRs and much later, DVDs, freed view­ers from their self-im­posed couch po­tato sta­tus. Restau­rants, cin­e­mas and the­atres be­gan re­ceiv­ing pa­tron­age again.

But did the art of con­ver­sa­tion ever die here? Not in my ex­pe­ri­ence. In the beginning every­one com­plained about the paucity of de­cent tele­vi­sion – while it was on or at the break­fast ta­ble next day.

Most peo­ple I know – for­mer part­ners, house­mates, fam­ily, friends, neigh­bours – all talk back to the telly, par­tic­u­larly when a soap is on. I re­mem­ber that dur­ing Dal­las, which a group of us used to watch to­gether, poor, lip-chew­ing Sue-Ellen used to be bom­barded with ad­vice about how to get back at her hus­band, JR. “Don’t lis­ten to him, girl!” some­one would call out, pop­corn fly­ing ev­ery which way.

“Yes, di­vorce the bas­tard!” an­other would cry out in mid-grasp for the peanuts which were strewn all over the car­pet.

“Maid’s com­ing to­mor­row,” I’d say cheer­fully, looking at the floor.

How­ever, I would never do what a group of friends have done: spend a week­end to­tally en­grossed in the en­tire se­ries of Brideshead Re­vis­ited. There were pe­ri­odic breaks for tea and meals, but know­ing my friends I could not imag­ine their talk­ing back to Eve­lyn Waugh’s beau­ti­fully writ­ten char­ac­ters. I have never both­ered to watch the se­ries, but I loved the book. All of Waugh’s stuff, in fact.

Nowa­days I have to put up with a flat­mate who is en­thu­si­as­tic about ten­nis on the box. I don’t mind it ter­ri­bly, but his en­thu­si­asm is like watch­ing a one-man mardi gras. He loudly ap­plauds well played shots, cries out in alarm when a ball is chal­lenged, groans when the ball is de­clared out and cheers when his favourite player wins. Roger Fed­erer and Pete Sam­pras are his he­roes. To me they’re both as dull as dish­wa­ter. I am scorn­fully put down if I say this.

And then sud­denly I am told to “watch, watch, watch! Look at Nadal scratch­ing his bum again!”

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