No longer startled by the shock of 'Hair'

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AFTER 25 bald years, so to speak, the hippy musical Hair is being restored. It is, it seems, due to reappear at the Old Vic in September. Poor Lilian Baylis must be turning in her grave.

Already sophisticated critics are wondering whether Hair will make the same shocking impact now as it did. They predict that those seeing the show for the first time may yawn and shrug, and ask wearily what all the fuss was about a generation ago. As a fogey who saw it with horror then, first time around, I think I can tell you what all the fuss was about.

It was about a show that celebrated the demise of the Lord Chamberlain, with his power of censorship, by a bold extension of public obscenity and stage nudity. It was about a show that exalted drug taking and draft dodging. It was an American show that, with America at war, mocked patriotism and the performance of national duty. It extolled, in effect, treason and desertion.

It blasted forth lyrics such as Sodomy, Hashish and Black Boys. It extolled with fervour good things like peace, love and charity, to each of which it imparted a new and subversive meaning: peace was stoned submission to Communist tyranny; love and charity were random promiscuity.

The fuss was above all about fears that a sort of imbecile outrage might become the showbusiness norm, that the fix supplied by Hair might in time have to be supplemented by bigger doses of stronger drugs. We fogeys feared a world in which Hair and worse could be produced without a fuss. Has it arrived?

Nothing wears worse than novelty. Insults repeated lose their force and have to be further amplified to shock jaded palates. To the extent that the revival may be judged tame, boring and old hat, as some predict, all the fears and fuss were surely justified.

Meanwhile, I shall never forget the awed words at the time of Mr Simmonds, the respected Fleet Street bookseller and no prude. He sorrowfully confided to me that he and his charming wife, both avid playgoers, had found Hair the saddest show they'd ever seen. All the joys synthetic, all the hope delusory, all to end in tears.

HAVE YOU noticed how cricket's law-makers, like our political law-makers at Westminster, seem to find it difficult or impossible to embody their natural good intentions in comprehensible, objective, well-thought-out and enforceable laws? Take batsmen: they obstruct each other running between the wickets, they halt, dither, crash into each other, fall in a heap and are run out.

For instance, one bouncer is permitted per over. Now, if it is an unfair ball, why allow it at all? If it isn't, why not six bouncers an over? What is a bouncer? A short ball, you might say, intended to maim or intimidate. Who can be absolutely sure what the bowler intended? He may not have intended to drop the ball so short, or his genuinely intended bouncers may emerge as rank long hops, which any booby can hit for four. It is all woefully subjective.

Pakistan wants two bouncers allowed an over, or the one bouncer rule to apply only and absurdly when 'unrecognised batsmen' are at the crease. Who on earth are they? Surely every tail-ender worth a damn comes to the crease hoping on this occasion, if never before or again, to be recognised as a real batsman. If he is fed with pies and long-hops, his hope is rendered ridiculous, his triumph empty.

Should not whoever comes with a bat to the crease be automatically recognised as a batsman? The logic of this must have struck Bishen Bedi, once India's skipper. Fearful for his tail-enders against fast, short stuff, he declared his innings closed at seven wickets down for an utterly inadequate two-figure total. Not recognising his rabbits as batsmen, he took the only logical step. He kept them in the hutch.

TWO recent Independent front- page headlines made my mittened hands shake, sending streams of coffee splashing into the saucer. One was 'Birt's BBC is run by fear'. Nothing new about that, perhaps. Old Reith did not obviously rule by love or consensus. He preferred 'the brute force of monopoly'. Subsequent BBC rulers have employed slyer means, but the iron hand was always there in the velvet glove.

The story that followed was a preview of Mark Tully's polite but murderous attack on his boss, John Birt. According to Mr Tully, Mr Birt has turned the BBC into a secretive monolith with poor ratings for its programmes and a demoralised, fearful staff.

Mr Birt's management has been described as 'Stalinist'. But it is hard to imagine Stalin amiably tolerating such criticisms from his own subordinates. They were sent in droves to the firing squad or the Gulag for less, or indeed for no obvious reason at all. Mr Birt appears, by contrast, to be socialism with a human face.

The second headline that had my eyes out on stalks was 'Elitist BBC admits it must go downmarket'. My first reaction was, how on earth could it? Elitist? Somehow I'd never envisaged the BBC as a stately band of poets and thinkers. Somehow I don't see Paul Daniels demonstrating complex new developments in nuclear physics, or Jasper Carrott giving lectures on German philosophy. I doubt whether Brahms and Wagner, who adored Johann Strauss, would have listened with equal pleasure to Top of the Pops or even Come Dancing. As for a Socratic debate between Bobby Davro, Des O'Connor, Noel Edmonds, Jimmy Savile and Anneka Rice, would even Plato think it worth recording?

Yet venerable repositories of ancestral broadcasting wisdom utter solemn warnings. Bill Cotton, for instance, says, let the BBC forget its ordained role as 'the entertainer of the nation' and it is in mortal danger. He points to falling audience figures as if to the writing on the wall.

Others menacingly accuse Duke Hussey and John Birt of being invincibly ignorant 'about the true nature of public service broadcasting'. But what is the nature of public service broadcasting, anyway? Perhaps J M Keynes came closest to an answer when he avowed that public enterprise and monies should do only what private enterprise cannot or will not do.

A BBC governed by this principle would virtually ignore audience figures and showbiz criteria. It would concentrate only on the very best of drama, music, information and comment, and leave the rest to commerce.

It really is absurd to be delivered from commercial pressures and yet to behave more or less as if greedy shareholders were breathing down your neck. This absurdity seems hidden from all sides alike in the present ludicrous conflict.

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