REVIEW / Papa don't preach: son don't listen

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
MAD optimist that I am, I had hoped that we might get all the way through last night's Men Only (C4) without somebody mentioning Robert Bly. It was not to be. Even before half-time Richard Olivier had uttered the dreaded name, an infallible sign, I usually find, that you are about to enter a territory where words melt around the edges. In this case, I struggled to master my prejudice because most of what Olivier was saying was eloquent and thoughtful - an account of the aches of living with a father who can't see you for the limelight.

As an example of the weird variety of human life, this was fascinating - even when Olivier Senior took his son to a football match his fame meant that Olivier Junior was soon at the outside edge of an admiring scrum. 'We couldn't quite match up in allure,' he said a little sadly, reminding you that for a great actor children may be the least important of many fans, rather than, as for many fathers, the only real one.

But as a generalised example of the difficulties of paternity the case study left something to be desired. The Maxwell boys might have found it spoke to them directly but for the rest of us the lesson was a little narrow or difficult to apply ('Don't put your father on the stage'). Anna Raphael had tried to broaden out her film by getting Suzie Orbach to offer some generalised comments on 'the crisis in masculinity' and that sort of thing - but these only further confirmed the sense that these relationships were patterns for nothing but their own singularity.

Many people, for example, will have had to form their own opinions in conflict with those of their father. But not many sons endure the curious psychological pressures involved in inheriting a stately home - the way that paternity is a matter of immense legal importance, that continuity exists as a moral imperative. So while the account of the relationship between the current Marquis of Bath (given to painting sexually explicit murals on the Longleat walls) and his son (given to reading Car magazine and planning a career in commodities) was intriguing, it served more to confirm the old cliche about children overturning their parents' principles than it did to provoke introspection.

I had considerable sympathy with the son in this case - his father had opened up the private apartments of Longleat, partly, one suspected, to show off his bracingly awful paintings; the son was quite unequivocal about his intention to close them off again as soon as he was given the chance, an understandable decision which his father, with disdainful aristocratic arrogance, chose to interpret as disdainful aristocratic arrogance.

Raphael found a seductive image for their mutual plight by making them wander around the Longleat maze - two men separated by the cultivated dead-ends of an English garden. But the truth was that they weren't in a maze at all. Each knew exactly where he wanted to go - it just happened to be in completely opposite directions. And had Longleat not been there, that accumulated burden of history and expectation, they would probably have been able to go their separate ways without much distress. Still, should my father suddenly come into one of the country's great historic houses I will know what to expect.

Private Investigations (BBC 1), which exercises a certain awful fascination, included a faintly breathless report about stress management. 'I feel very light and fluffy at the moment,' said the punter, after having his aura massaged at Equilibrium, a therapeutic retreat. It seemed to work for him, but I want to know where to go if you're stressed out by the current vogue for alternative therapies.

Comments