February 23rd, 1963

Thu, Feb 23, 2012, 00:00

FROM THE ARCHIVES:Some less than flattering comments about the “wailing worst” of the Irish by the influential British theatre critic Kenneth Tynan in his regular Observer column drew this editorial riposte from The Irish Times under the headline “Brass Tacks”. – JOE JOYCE

MR. KENNETH Tynan, pope to those beyond the fringe, is in danger from a schism within those ranks. Mr. Tynan comes, it is believed from Birmingham, an experience from which the sensitive infant rarely wholly recovers.

He is no longer a bright young thing; and is, indeed, to those who up to recently have allowed him a measure of infallibility, a father figure. A child of his age, never Jung, he too, sought a father figure. For a while, he may have seen him in Shaw; but Shaw was more of a great-grandfather figure, a kind to whom psychiatry has as yet assigned no function.

Tennessee Williams later called upon Mr. Tynan’s consciousness. Deep calling to deep. He was very wisely-sloughed off, and Brecht became to Tynan what Ibsen had been to Shaw – a genie of the lamp appearing on Sundays in every context. Our interest in Mr. Tynan, apart from the instruction and pleasure derived from his play notices, is his tendency to make ex-cathedra pronouncements on a country which we feel we know as much about as Mr. Tynan knows about Brecht-Ireland.

Last Sunday, Mr. Tynan was pleased to remark from the platform of the Observer that the Irish are “best when they write about town folk. Peasant life, on the whole, brings out the wailing worst in them”. And on the system of education in Ireland, he has this to say: “We may well wonder, as Joyce himself did, whether the emergence of a single neurotic genius is enough to justify a system that reduces most of its schoolboy victims to a state of abject religious conformity and frequent sexual paralysis.”

It is now many years since Miss Lilian [sic] Bayliss, when asked what she thought of a much-admired Shakespearean production in London, averred that she was afraid that if she looked at the stage she might be turned into a pillar of salt; but this is not the place to discuss such matters any more than it would be appropriate to analyse the domestic problems of the British Civil Service.

Let it suffice to enter a demurrer; to point out that Joyce, educated by the Jesuit fathers, chose a sermon by the Redemptorist Order wherewith to chastise his former mentors. And if Mr. Tynan thinks that Joyce is the result of a system that produces conformists and paralytics, one is entitled to ask what system is to be thanked for the queer products that we see all over the place in Mr. Tynan’s England.

Many who grew to manhood in Ireland will testify that if Mr. Tynan had had a few years with the Christian Brothers, he would be equally at home among stars and stripes. The wailing worst would have been leathered out of him. Birmingham is world famous for the quality of its brass.