Gay Times Reviews X

Alpha Zone Ch5

Eurovision BBC1

Halifax FP Ch5

Heroes of Comedy: Kenny Everett Ch4

Newsround Rock N' Roll Years BBC1

Stars In Their Eyes LWT

Screen Two: Stonewall BBC2

The Investigator Ch4

In an attempt to cheer myself up in the face of ever–depressing TV schedules, I decided to 'touch base' with some 'slamming' tunes and 'buzzing' videos so I switched on Alpha Zone (Ch5). Big mistake. Huge. It featured the 'contemporary Christian music market' which is resurrecting the Eurodance era. 'Woo! Yeh!' Jennifer Hughes (imagine Floella Benjamin with a flava of Jesus) asked the PR for a new band, 'Are you creating superstars or creating servants for God?' A shiver ran down my spine when I discovered that Christian music is worth $1/4 billion in the US and £13 million in the UK. There's even a British Top 10 (based on record sales and air play) with songs like 'Reach For Heaven' and 'God Is Not A Secret' vying for No. 1 with 'Blind Faith' and 'Can We Walk Upon The Water?' Despite prejudice from the mainstream (one record label executive claimed, 'It's like a racist thing') many groups aren't bothered about 'secular breakthrough' — Raze just want to get into the schools and preach the word of Christ to the kids. Ooh, creepy. Lemme hear you say 'Bugger off!'

I tried Eurovision (BBC1). Representatives from twenty–five countries gathered in Dublin's fair city (once again) and I couldn't possibly let such a prestigious event go by without a mention. I would have wasted 3 bloody hours otherwise.

Eurovision has struggled for decades to be a veritable cornucopia of European style, charm and fashion. Norway (seemingly desperate to avoid a repeat of their 1995 triumph) submitted a little ditty called 'San Francisco' — a place with 'no guns, no war, no disco'. Austria followed, and would have swept the board... 15 years ago. I gave them top marks for the lyric, 'Sex with you flies by like the Starship Enterprise'. Ireland's entry was terribly bland and Slovenia bailed out of the running as soon as they sang, 'O good fairies!' The Swiss had a panting heart, the Netherlands rhapsody ('Five wallopers doin' their stuff!') was a Bond–style theme.

Poland won my second prize for the lyric, 'I'm a grain of sand in an hourglass, a thoughtful cane among the grass... but I am!' Portugal were ailing with 'turmoiling sounds for us vibrating' and Sweden gave up a frolicking tune by three blond blokes in fabulous suits. They would have had a real battle on their mitts with Austria... 15 years ago. Greece treated us to a chap playing a bunch of grapes with a wig on, and Malta had a man playing a corsage of seaweed. Russia's 'Primadonna' — sung by a heavily pancaked Muscovite who looked like a girl I knew called Sharron ('International Singer & Entertainer' or rather, karaoke hostess in Tenerife) or more like a detritus East End drag act — briefly revived my sickened spirit which was broken again by Denmark's fat rapper in leopardskin with peroxide hair who had fallen in love with Directory Enquiries: 'My mobile bill keeps growing... I collapse, the phone in my hand'. France presented 17 year–old Fanny who tried with 'Everything ugly goes on display... and that makes for strangely precise memories.' Croatia's version of the Spice Girls strutted around in dayglo lycra and Iceland finished me off completely with a Gary Numan clone dressed in PVC who wailed about drinking crystal champagne and eating diamonds for dinner: the presentation was fab, but the song was a load of bjølløcks. As the UK won (first time in 16 years with 227 points, highest score ever) we're hosting in 1998. Let's pray the Beeb has enough in its coffers to proffer next year's medley marathon, eh?

I tried Halifax FP (Ch5) but I wearied of it quickly. The PR touted it as a 'mystery thriller' which would draw me into the 'dark world of the criminally insane'. It was supposed to be 'Australia's glamorous answer to Cracker.' In the end, the female forensic psychologist at the centre of this maelstrom found her professional ethics compromised by her feelings for an old friend. Jaw–breaking yawn.

But soft! What light falls upon the schedules? 'Tis Heroes Of Comedy (Ch4). Along with superb tributes to Alistair Sim and the Goons, Kenny Everett came in for a long–overdue salute. It can't have been easy, choosing definitive moments from a career that spanned 30 years on 3 radio stations and on 79 TV shows, but Ch4 did a peachy job. Barry Cryer, Barry Took, Sir Cliff, Jeremy Beadle, Terry Wogan and Steve Wright extolled the virtues of this 'genius of his kind' and Cleo Rocos seemed close to tears as she talked about her abstruse relationship with a 'jibbering maniac' who loved walking on the moorlands, disguised a deep–rooted spirituality and enjoyed tapestry.

Unfortunately, when programmes are this good, they're always woefully truncated. Similarly with the Newsround Rock N' Roll Years (BBC1). I was a taddy 7 year–old when John Craven first started Newsround. While Sesame Street taught me how to count, read and love my fellow humans, Blue Peter schooled me in history and the wonderful world of plastics, Vision On encouraged me to draw, Top of the Pops quenched my thirst for popular music, Animal Magic covered biology and zoology and Tomorrow's World flummoxed me with science, Newsround tutored me in geography and politics. It was another poignant reminder of how salutary and indispensable TV used to be.

At the other end of the spectrum lies Stars In Their Eyes (LWT). I've been watching the entire series (Gawd help me) for an end of season review, but couldn't resist mention of two queer contestants. Stephen Burwell, a 25 year–old staff nurse from Blackheath who really wanted to be an astronaut, went through the doors to become Ronan from Boyzone. I'm sorry, but the hair was frightful. To be honest (and it's not sour grapes here because Stephen won the heat) I felt 22 year–old Joanne Davis from Redditch (a dyke who 'prefers soldering to soldiering') did a far better job as kd lang. The voice wasn't as powerful, she looked very nervous and she wasn't helped by crap backing singers, but her countenance and intonation were more like kd than Stephen's were Ronan. 'She won't win,' my girlfriend said. 'Why not?' I asked. 'Because the really good ones never win.' How true...

I hope the maxim won't apply to Screen Two: Stonewall (BBC2) was originally slotted into the Arena strand. I saw it at the 1995 Lesbian & Gay Film Festival (expecting it to crop up on TV much earlier than this) so I'm stuck with 14 month–old notes. Kicking off with the recollections of patrons of the Stonewall Bar ('It wasn't a very good riot') I was propelled into the fictional version, with the arrival of Matty Dean — new meat in town — who wanted to kick world's arse and was befriended by an activist with a neatly pressed button–down shirt (Nathan) and a DQ 'in teeny–bopper heaven' (Miranda), facing off against a nasty gangsta club owner and violent protection racketeers and subject to frequent police raids ('They confiscated my goddamn make–up bag. Now that's brutality!').

From what I remember, it was an almost surreal — but ultimately vulnerable — portrait of drag queens with 'prominent sissy genes' and somewhat darker than I'd imagined it would be. Events spiralled quickly, with the obligatory shower scene, renditions of girlie group numbers, a homophobic cop who bashes the gangsta's boyfriend, a gory suicide, Judy's untimely death and the riot police stopped by line of hi–kicking drag queens. It must have been difficult for Nigel Finch to accumulate the variety of memories — after all, 'Everyone had their own Stonewall legend' — but it remains (for me) his best piece, and most certainly a fantastic swan song. I anticipate the Powers That Be will remember Stonewall when the awards season rolls around again.

What can I tell you about The Investigator (Ch4) that countless column inches haven't already told you? Written by Barbara Machin and based on the true life tale of Staff Sergeant Caroline Meagher of the Special Investigations Branch of the Royal Military Police, it was stressed that the film was made without the co–operation of the Ministry of Defence. So what? Did anyone really expect the MOD to rub their hands with absolute glee at the prospect of having their skeletons laid bare?

Ignore the fact that the plot approved the lie that the Armed Forces are chockablock with 'older lesbians preying on recruits' and 'lesbian–type mafias'. Forget about the vile interrogators who asked a 'gay suspect' 'How many fingers did you use?' and persisted in stupid, pathetic questioning, seemingly obsessed with people's sexuality rather than their ability to serve. Forget about the fact that the Army uses 'gossip, hunches and tip–offs' to collar other suspects. Ignore the fact that the MOD has a huge database of names and that over 700 serving soldiers have been dismissed for 'unnatural' conduct. Anyone with a modicum of common sense knows that this sort of discrimination is at least archaic and parochial and at worst, downright obdurate. In these respects, The Investigator didn't tell the queer community anything it didn't know, but dressed it up with nice shiny buttons in order to stitch the wound it had opened.

There were huge gaps in the story. No doubt this was caused — in part — by the length of the piece but I felt also by Meagher's attempt to cloud her role in the whole sorry affair. Obviously, and rightly, ashamed of her committed pursuit of lesbians, she had decided to try and wipe the slate clean by blowing the whistle on the Army. The portrayal by Helen Blaxendale (strong jaw, looked fabulous in the beret) gave the distinct impression that the job left a bad taste in her mouth from day one. She played it as the confused soldier whose given task in life came as a nasty surprise. It was not explained how someone who persecutes lesbians for a pay packet — and a chance to be 'one of the boys' — can get involved in a series of lesbian affairs and not quit the job due to a conflict of interests. Wouldn't you have? Or did I get it wrong in assuming that gay people just don't do that sort of thing?

I would have preferred a programme on the repercussions of a military law that turns men and women into a Judas against their own partners. I would like to have seen the Army, Navy and RAF shown up for persisting in such pathetic efforts instead of 'safeguarding the nation'. I'm sure a dramatised version such as this, that doesn't make people feel uncomfortable in their own sitting rooms, won't threaten to overthrow any inveterate system. That's the real shame of it. It won't stop the deplorable practice of hounding lesbians and gay men out of the Forces based on nothing more than unfounded suspicions.

I feel like curling up in a corner with a video of the Test Card sometimes.

© June 1996 Megan S. Radclyffe

A Bit Of Scarlet Ch4

A Bill Called William Ch4

Secret History: Lords Of The Underworld Ch4

Films Of Fire: Getting Away With Murder? Ch4

Perverted Justice Ch4

Gaytalk — Live and Licking GMR

Gaytime TV BBC2

Heart Of The Matter: More Sexes Please BBC1

Straight Up Meridian

The Warehouse Carlton

Xena: Warrior Princess Ch5

Can it be true? Yes, yet more top–notch viewing. I concede, not quite as jocular as last month, but quite splendid all the same. What a shame then that the last tape I played, A Bit Of Scarlet (Ch4) — which purloined a feature from the late, lamented Square Peg and committed it to celluloid — presented me with such a quandary. While I relished the mixed variety of clips and newsreel, witty captions and natty graphics, I was thoroughly frustrated that director Andrea Weiss thought it prudent to add new musical scores and omit film titles. The former trivialised and skewed classical cinematic moments; the latter seemed like sheer arrogance, with the assumption that the viewer had a knowledge of queer films comparable to her own. To my constant grief, the British experience has been continually ignored. Now that Weiss has spliced one together, it would be a derogation if this film is cited as the 'definitive' edition. I truly hope it won't be regarded as such, but instead as a precursor to a more substantial opus.

Much more luminous was A Bill Called William (Ch4) which toasted the 30th anniversary of the 1967 Sexual Offences Act, deftly describing a time when people were rendered virtually apoplectic when presented with the chance to sanction the 'Bugger's Charter'. Using grainy filmed reconstructions of arrests in a public latrine, a superb jazz–laden soundtrack, a mixture of opinions and interviews from MPs, PCs, journalists, Lords, law reformers and law breakers, and a plethora of well–known actors recreating crucial Parliamentary speeches, director Alex Harvey and producer Stephen Jeffrey–Poulter did a magnificent job of contrasting the fact of homosexual life and the fiction that existed within ministerial minds. You won't find details of the period from May 65 to July 67 in any historical athenaeum, so this is an eminent and welcome addition to the British homo archives.

A further chance to rake over the coals came with Secret History: Lords Of The Underworld (Ch4), the tale of Ronnie Kray and Lord Robert Boothby or, 'The Scandal That Got Away!' With the habitual Pathé newsreel and localised recall from villains and MPs, the relationship between the 'dapper cad' and the menacing figure of Kray — as well as the link between them and mobster 'Mad Teddy', Tom Driberg MP (a 'voracious homosexual') and cat burglar Leslie Holt — was laid bare. With the help of a batch of erstwhile photographs from 1963 (previously sub rosa and showing Kray in Boothby's house) Secret History traced the events that led to the 'swiftest, niftiest' cover–up which meant the queer and the peer were untouched by 'impotent' police. This 34 year–old story was embellished by the skewed reminisces of criminals who wouldn't (or shouldn't) be believed and by news hounds who were 'delighted' for the chance to ruin a man's career. It all left a rather nasty taste in my mouth that, once again, criminality was being linked to homosexuality, and my head was left spinning from the lack of continuity.

Onto two important programmes that show up the inequity and incongruity of British and US legal systems. Films Of Fire: Getting Away With Murder? (Ch4) 'aims to ignite contentious and social issues' and it's about long overdue. Kevin Toolis provides a startling exposé of the 'homosexual panic defence' (with assistance from GT's Colin Richardson, credited as consultant) which shouldn't be missed. Firstly, Toolis details how three 18 year–olds in Plymouth, tanked up on butane, Valium and Temazepan, went 'hunting queers' and murde±red Terry Sweet. They slashed and crushed his genitals and beat him to death, then returned to the scene to scrawl 'No queer's here... May he rest in pieces ha ha' on a monument near to where Sweet died. Toolis travelled to Cardiff, where Brian Symes was garrotted by a man who will serve no more then 5 years, and then onto Belfast, where a 'warm, sensitive' man named Jimmy Boyle had his ribs and neck stamped on 36 times by a man who 'just wanted to give him a good doing' but served only 30 months. Finally, Toolis' focal point was London, where a work colleague (who knew for 3 years that his boss was gay) tried to choke him ('They found marks where my fingernails had dug in), beat him with the office ansaphone and torched the building to destroy evidence.

The unpalatable nature of these crimes makes for a brilliantly argued programme that made me weep and rage, and Toolis doesn't pull any punches. Crime scene photographs, with the body in situ, were shown and Toolis interviewed two killers who are now free. As it stands, the law is a fucking ass. The cases here prove it's okay to kill a queer if you're in fear, and okay to kill him if you're in a relationship but it doesn't tell you when it's not okay to murder a gay man. The defence that they 'didn't intend to kill, it just went a bit too far' is accepted by ignorant juries who believe the shit the defending lawyers spout. Claiming that the victims used 'threatening sexual gestures' or the murderers were victims of child abuse or guilty only of drunken behaviour prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the legal system is failing: 25% of men who kill gays receive 'manslaughter on the grounds of provocation'. I hardly think walking through a park is provocation. You can bet if queers were bashing straights with such 'blind fury', they'd be banged up for eternity.

In America, lesbians are. Perverted Justice (Ch4) crossed the pond to explore the 'disproportionate' number of dykes on Death Row. Some 40% of women facing 'the chair have had lesbianism implied at their trials, out of 1% of all killers who receive the ultimate penalty'. Efforts are made to dehumanise the women ('It helps if she is aggressive, self–confident... a biker woman, an untraditional female, or wears slacks instead of a skirt') and lesbianism often becomes the 'aggravating circumstances' for murder. Again, juries are the problem. Firstly, jurors are asked if they would have difficulty assigning the death penalty; if the answer's yes, they're struck off. Secondly, juries are swayed by defence counsel claims based on 'pre–existing prejudices in culture around sexuality' (lesbian mothers are abusive and neglectful, 'masculine' lovers are a bad influence, lesbians are predatory) and these are enhanced by film portrayals of psychotic killer dykes. Again, this is a well–contended programme that probably won't get the attention that Toolis' film will garner, but it's certainly no less powerful.

Gaytalk — Live and Licking (GMR) came from Prague 5 in Manchester's gay village, an 'evening of musical mayhem' hosted by the indubitable Amy Lamé. The radio audience 'missed out on the visuals' of the Devious Corporation ('glorious sunglasses and green things'). The truly astonishing Horse (the 'Glaswegian kd Lang with balls') sounded bloody divine but suffered from an audience more interested in detritus remixes (such as the Wild Women of Wongo's tediously familiar dance tracks) and who only woke up when she performed an extraneous Brothers in Rhythm mix of 'Careful'. Sounded like they all had a peachy time though.

So Gaytime TV (BBC2) is back with Rhona and a new presenter (Richard Right Said Fred Fairbrass), a remixed theme tune, a lavish set bathed in muted peaches and yellows, with dried flowers and two dodgy beige sofas. The audience — 'an attractive cross–section of the gay community' — is now behind the action, swathed in pink light. The opening titles have undergone an evolution too, from those sweaty beach babes in bright light and dayglo kecks to two bi–racial lesbian couples (one cuddling a sprog), an elder homosexual and his younger lover, and three muscle Marys wandering about in a dark, high–rise metropolitan flat, watching the sweaty beach babes on the TV. And the heart's red now, not pink. I'm reserving my judgment on the content until a few more have been aired, so check it out next month. It might be promising though...

Heart Of The Matter (BBC1) continues to rock the boat on the moral high sea, this time arguing the toss of alternative genders. Dr. Stephen Whittle, a FTM who challenged the European court but lost, was joined by Del Grace (now 'trying to live as an intersexual' and suggesting that cross–dressing should be taught in primary schools), author Dr. Georgina Somerset (described as being born of 'indeterminate sex' and who accused Dr. Whittle of 'corrupting' his sons), journalist Anne McElvoy and the dogmatic and stoic Rev. David Hunt, who toed the customary 'must return to the traditions... must have these norms reinforced, all else is an aberration' line. Phrases such as 'omni–gendered' and 'polysexual' were bandied about and transgender reassignment was dismissed as merely 'making healthy bodies deformed' while Joan Bakewell was there to put the kibbosh on it, especially when a particularly stimulating train of thought was developing. Programmes that treat the evolution of society like this don't advance the dialogue. C minus.

Straight Up (Meridian) is one of those Saturday lunchtime programmes for hormonally encumbered teenagers that tackles topical subjects in a style bound to invite and sustain the attention of the lil' blighters, ie recorded in a studio decked out like a pub. With the help of Euan Sutherland and Stephen Twigg they italicised the stupidity of Britain's unequal age of consent. Ben (18) and Dan (17) were filmed running — literally with gay abandon — to the bedroom, and kissing in public places, only to be stopped by a referee blowing his whistle, accompanied by the advice that 'you must control yourself if you're gay', This type of comment was heavy with a sarcastic tone that said, 'Isn't this silly, boys and girls?' I can't understand why anybody would be that shocked by the boys snogging: in fact, more people complained about the whippy camerawork! It did tell me one thing I didn't know though. Apparently, 'lesbians can kiss wherever they like.' Maybe in the Meridian area they can. You just try it round here...

Produced by the marvellous Kate Copstick, The Warehouse (Carlton) — which provides a showcase for minty–fresh talent — featured the 60–strong London Gay Symphony Orchestra playing an excerpt from Swan Lake. A bit rickety in places (nerves, I assume) but quite awe inspiring. And damn, they looked good! Not as astounding as Xena: Warrior Princess (Ch5) but how could they hope to compete? As I toyed with watching it again (you know, just to jog my memory) and my girlfriend wailed, 'Fuckin' hell! Any excuse to watch bloody Xena!' Not since Miss Venezuela have I fallen so damned hard. For those oblivious to her charms, Xena (played with amazing aplomb by Lucy 'Flawless' Lawless) is a 6' Kiwi with startling blue eyes, sensational cleavage, incredible legs and a gorgeous mouth. Sorry, I'm drooling.

In a 'land in turmoil crying out for a hero' Xena, dressed in a tooled leather bodice and with her trusty chakram (a razor–sharp circlet that she flings with unerring accuracy) she kicks, stomps, flips and punches her way through arch–enemy Draco's army of incompetent henchmen in a credible mythical fantasy, filmed in the lush surroundings of New Zealand. With her blond sidekick Gabrielle, a cunning little vixen who worms her way into Xena's affections (watch out for some sapphic clinches), the Warrior Princess travels the land, righting the wrongs of Xena's barbaric past and saving grubby villagers from various marauding brutes. The SFX are convincing and the fight scenes are utterly remarkable. It will be an absolute cult smash. I'll eat my Xena pillowcase if it isn't.

© 1998-2001 Megan S. Radclyffe

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