Gay Times Reviews XI
Eurovision Song Contest BBC1
Dangerous Lady Carlton
The Governor LWT
The Politician's Wife Ch4
Freedom FM 104.9 FM
Representatives from twenty-three countries gathered in Dublin's fair city (once again) for the Eurovision Song Contest (BBC1) and I couldn't possibly let the 40th Anniversary of such a prestigious event go by with a mention. Besides, I spent three hours watching the bloody thing, so you can suffer as well.
Starting with cosmic lighting and ending with tumbling tinsel, Eurovision certainly was an extravaganza, a veritable cornucopia of European style, charm and fashion and stout English translation. Poland kicked the proceedings off with a pale-faced, darkly-clad woman who screeched about "standing in a skyscraper's eye". Her final discordant note sent me scuttling for safety behind the sofa in a way that Doctor Who never did. Next came a black duo from Germany, who delighted in telling millions of viewers how "infinitely lonely" life was complete with accompanying Celtic pipes. Backing tracks with a taste of Guinness seemed to a popular flavour, as if you sounded remotely Irish, you might stand a chance of winning.
Norway's Secret Garden (the eventual but unfathomable winners) strode on with a filmic love theme, quite lyrically challenged, using the seemingly prerequisite pan pipes and fiddles in abundance. Bosnia failed miserably to impress, despite declaring that the singer was "still glad" to wear "the sweater that you knitted", he ended up "looking like old blue jeans".
But even this paled when compared to Russia's "Lullaby For A Volcano", warbled by a heavily made-up Muscovite in tight jeans and a blouson shirt who winked continually. "See the error of your ways," he instructed the naughty volcano. "Cover yourself with grass." Luckily, Iceland swanned onto the enormous stage with a timely plea: "Please let it end today." Such a shame the song was a load of bjølløcks. "Is it me," asked the genial and perennial host Terry Wogan, "or are there not very many laughs so far?"
Austria tried desperately to lift the mood with a wet soul number about building castles in shifting sand. I was beginning to think that Eurovision had lost its way slightly when thankfully along came Spain with a rather more traditional number. Ghastly in the extreme, it had everything: sliding violins, bongos and a woman in a terrible dress shouting about heartache. Turkey continued in this vein, presenting the Lynsey de Paul of the 1990's with a hairstyle that can only be described as kitsch at its best. It was heartening to see that some Eurovision entrants realised that the songs should actually bear no relation to reality at all.
In between all of this excitement, there was Terry, guiding us gently around the fair isle, with linking films of pubs, fishing, chessy smiles and gig rides. There seemed to be an overwhelming theme of water, but the reason was lost on me.
France crashed onto screen, bluesy and in a word, merde. Hungary followed with a suicidal ditty with a croaking cantor and a wailing guitar. It seemed the changing face of Eurovision was snarling again. Belgium claimed they "didn't wake up for nothing" and "that already something good" but I lost their drift when they carped on about "balancing on knees".
Then came the rousing rounds of applause for the UK entry, Love City Groove, with lots of tartan and heaps of hand actions. "This is the UK's effort to drag Europe into the 20th Century," Terry informed us but we just knew it didn't have a hope in Hell of winning. It was far too cheery and definitely too funky, even more so than Portugal's "Vanilla and Chocolate", a gospel style number with a dash of George Benson about a "vision in crumpled linen" - a "fair-skinned clear one" who the balladeer hailed as "the cream in my dark tea." While Cyprus chirped of "the Greek that fights" to a kettle drum backing, Sweden remained insipid (but second favourites at 8-1) and Denmark used a ukelele for three minutes of lamenting, crooning "From Mols to Skagen, I'm missing you and your silk sheets." Solvenia were "diving into the wind" with surging strings and Malta forwarded an indistinguished bald chap who moaned of stormy weather.
In fact, the elements played a large part in the proceedings. When the contestants weren't singing about the wind and the rain, they were begging for attention by calling for the viewing nation to "Look at Me" or "Listen To Me" or they spent their time "hiding in the dark." Only Israel managed a religious theme with "Amen" which seemed to blow the auditorium audience out of their seats. Greece had to be content with a scorned woman "pouring wine to cleanse my sins".
As the end approached and we were entertained by Dana, Johnny Logan and the monks of Glenstal Abbey swathed in green laser light, it occured to me that Italy, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Bulgaria, Holland and Luxembourg had not attended this year's festivities. No explanation was given but I realised something else far more important. As the voting progressed, it became obvious that Germany was in danger of scoring the legendary nil points. The interest in the usual round of votes for sympathy or for political reasons vanished at this point, and we ignored Terry's jubilant cry that the entire population of Norway would be "partying up and down the Skaggerak-Kattegat tonight."
And then, just as the final set of marks came in, Malta went and spoilt everything by awarding Germany one point. Suddenly the whole thing seemed an abject travesty and we switched off, disgusted that Love City Groove didn't trounce the opposition.
Now you know that strong, consistent roles for women are few and far between on the box. Characters are usually reduced to swinging their handbag on a street corner, clipping their errant children round the ear or standing quietly and obediently in the background. In the last few months, a welcome trend has developed. And the most unusual thing is that Carlton seems to be leading the way with Prime Suspect and She's Out (and if Bobby Ewing can be brought back from the dead, so should Dolly Rawlins). Carlton haven't really gained a reputation for high quality drama either, but that tide seems to be turning too.
After the massive triumph of Band Of Gold, which reached some 14 million viewers, they put out Dangerous Lady, the tale of an Irish clan who muscle in on the clip joints and bars of sixties Soho. If you're fed up with my penchant for women-led dramas, you can console yourself with the fact there's a gay character (Jason Issacs as the ultimately creepy and unfortunately named Michael Ryan) in there as well. Oh, he might be the nasty bastard leader of a family crime syndicate, but even he is over-shadowed by his sister Maura, played brilliantly by Susan Lynch. It might have been violent, but it was also quite gorgeously filmed and tightly directed. Definitely more please.
Janet McTeer returned after a seemingly extended break, dolled up and droll, as The Governor (Carlton). Some of the plots surrounding this prison-based drama were admittedly a bit daft, but then it is Lynda la Plante. Pitted against tuff cons in a prison wrecked by a riot, McTeer also encountered obvious hostility from the warders and her superiors but her height and her steely glare helped considerably. If only a second series could be tweaked so that it wasn't so unbelieveable at times.
Next up, Juliet Stevenson in The Politican's Wife (Ch4), a three-part drama that gave her the opportunity to strip the competition with a blazing performance as Flora Octavia Matlock, wife of the Minister for the Family, played with a frightening swarmy edge by Trevor Eve. Lord, he was a real bastard, screwing his researcher (Minnie Driver), the local nursery, his constituency members and his family until they bled, and without a single remorseful bone in his body. Although it lacked the bite of House Of Cards, it was truly compelling stuff. A pat on the back to writer Paula Milne and again, more please.
I finally managed to tune in to Freedom FM (104.9 FM). I had spent the first week of transmission time fiddling my knobs and only hearing static fizz. They had some teething troubles and at times it may have sounded like an on-air dating service for gay men or a beauty salon special, but you've got to hand it to them. Considering that the station only had a month to make or break it, and was staffed mainly by unpaid volunteers who had some problems flicking the right switches, the first ever 24-hour lesbian and gay radio station ended its brief run victorious. It had its detractors (and what lesbian or gay enterprise doesn't?) and caused a flurry of letters to the pink press but didn't receive a single condemnation from the straight media. Best of the bunch? Stella Duffy and Jeremy Joseph's breakfast show.
Freedom FM may return in December - "presumably if everything works out." They deserve it, and if there is any justice in this sad world of ours, the application for a full licence should be granted. If I could voice one gripe, it would be nice to hear more dykes but then I would say that, wouldn't I?
© 1993-2001 Megan Radclyffe
The South Bank Show: kd lang LWT
This Is Your Life BBC1
Capital Lives: Sweet Carlton
Screen Two: Priest - Nervous Energy BBC1
Great Moments In Aviation BBC2
First up: the "official" response to Gaytime TV (BBC2) via the lesbian's best friend Sue Lawley on Biteback (BBC1)... and hubba hubba, what an enlightening and reaffirming twenty minutes it was. Here's the facts: there was more gay-orientated TV on screen in June, July and August than there has been for the last 3 years and Gaytime TV scored over 1 million viewers a programme, doubling the amount The Late Show garnered.
Here's the overwhelming queer opinion, voiced in the studio and in filmed interviews: "It was trivial... facile... distracted from powerful and interesting issues. People were expecting something better... trendy, flip and fearless.. It let down thinking queers. Very Americanised... Bad TV and bad presenters. Not perfect on the first run... make 12 and throw the first six away. Aimed at too many sections, ended up being for no-one... nothing for disabled, black, or older lesbians and gays" and "even my heterosexual friend felt insulted." I thought I'd missed the gist of jest in my quest for good gay television, but ooh, how I love this heady media, especially when it proves me right.
(And by the way Mr McRobert, one of the definitions of "critic" is a "fault-finder". Just because I don't like seeing the gay community portrayed as asinine beefcake does not mean I hate men so begging your pardon, I'll reject your assumption that "anything that has a man in it automatically comes in for derision.")
In the interest of a balanced argument, the Commissioning Editor replied that it was a light-hearted, witty, entertaining programme that had its place. He did however say that he was "deeply sorry" because it was "never the intention" to upset the viewers; he'd even had dozens of letters saying it was "fantastic". He was "rather proud" that he managed to get Gaytime TV on air because it was his first project and he's only been in the job 18 months. He is trying to get a second series out, "building on its strengths and cutting out the weak parts" and proceeded to wave bits of paper "proving" that the BBC - far from being behind the times - had covered gay issues (sic) in over 200 programmes in the past 5 years. That's 1.04 items per week. Didn't seem to matter that many of them had peripheral characters, lasted two minutes and were never repeated.
One that will certainly never see the light of day again was one particular edition of This Is Your Life (BBC1) which has suffered oh so greatly since the untimely demise of Eammon Andrews, and the red book has passed clumsily into the hands of Michael Aspel. He recently shoved that highest of accolades in the face of Pam St. Clements, while she complained she needed to get to Tesco's for a pint of milk. Wow, I thought - a lesbian! At last! A dyke's life being celebrated! On the Beeb! And before the watershed! How damn radical can you get?
Nowhere close, unfortunately. Pam looked resplendent in black ("She always wore black," said an ex-teacher. "Did I?" she replied) and was ushered onto a set packed to the gills with the cast of EastEnders, Michael Cashman and his boyfriend. They all had plums in their mouths, and were soon doing the luvvie thang - hugging and air-kissing in an untypically Cockney-like fashion. On came Mike Reid, who - at Aspel's invitation - plonked himself next to our revered celebrity in the seat reserved for hubbies and wives. Is there something wrong with this picture? You betcha there was.
Our Pammie was introduced as someone who "campaigns for issues close to her heart" which she "silently does a lot of good for." And boy, was the silence deafening. She was lauded as someone "likely to be an asset in any community" but her home crowd weren't mentioned. Lily Savage claimed Pam "hung around in dressing rooms at benefits" and even Sir Ian McKellen only got as far as saying "there are hundreds of thousands of men and women who are grateful" to Pam. Not gays, not lesbians, and we're left not knowing exactlywhy they're indebted to her. Stonewall were mentioned twice, but the word was virtually spat out and stamped on. While everyone else fell over themselves to call her dedicated, loyal, brilliant, fabulous, super, generous, warm, brave and amazing, Pam described herself as "an overweight, boring sort of person."
It became an overweight and boring sort of show. It seems odd that the representatives of Stonewall - a group with the remit to encourage people to come out, remember - shoved Pam so far back in the closet. I wonder, how can you celebrate the life of someone and leave such an integral part of it out? How can they not mention the dreaded L-word when that's where her heart lies? Okay, so it's great to know the BBC have finally recognised her talent but they've obviously drawn a blanket over the personal life. Would they have done the same with others actor from EastEnders for example? I think not. I'd hate to be on This Is Your Life (oh, don't tell me you've never wanted to be either) mainly because I've got nothing to wear but also because I'd be worried they'd cut a hugely important part of my life (or anyone else's) out simply to assuage the sensibilities of the fragile viewing public. Shame on you, Auntie Beeb.
So onto another exaltation of a lesbian star with The South Bank Show (LWT) and kd lang. Wow, it never rains but it pours, eh? This surely would be enough to slake my thirst. Ah, the spirit and art of torch singing, that divine voice of the Alberta Rose, those hands, that... scraggy, ponytailed and rather chubby songstress. Well, to be fair, she was recording her new LP (do they have LP's anymore?) and wanted to be "peppy and sexy" but actually felt rather stressed out. Who wouldn't, after years of wearing poodle skirts, fringes and curtains?
The film charted her rise and rise from early days on home video, in the bathtub and smashing up a birthday cake, through her discovery aged 21 of Patsy Cline and her run-in with the Albertan cattle farmers over her anti-meat stance with PETA. There were hoards of little mites singing "We love kd lang" at school, comments that she "looked like Buddy Holly in a dress" plus visions of her "maverick country and western" and "wacky cowpunk" including her deliciously devilish version of "What's New Pussycat?", performed in striped PJ's.
It was interesting enough, but deep it wasn't. kd looked stoned off her box most of the time, and her speech was full of pregnant pauses: languid lang? Mention was made of her sexuality ("Well, coming out didn't hurt her," drawled on A&R man. "It made it okay in the music industry") but the main message was that kd isn't interested by success. Oh, how refreshing. I suppose the huge bank account helps.
Onto something with gay men in. Hoorah! Capital Lives: Sweet (Carlton) told the tale of a London barrister (Tom) and his shelf-stacking Scouse lover (Jerry) who did the lesbian thang and moved in together six weeks after meeting. The lads shopped at IKEA, lived in a wonderfully chic flat and read "Boyz". This, I assume, was supposed to be gay life in microcosm. Everything was hunky dory until Jerry succumbed to a jealous fit when he spotted his man "blatantly cruising" the next-door neighbour. Tom, modelling a particularly florid waistcoat, denied any impropriety. Two months on, Tom started to tout the idea of an open relationship. Three months later, Jerry's wiping a chilli across Tom's gusset, and then puts ink in the white wash, dish water in the shepherds pie and laxatives in the coffee.
Jerry ended up boffing a plumber - another act of pure revenge as he was under the impression that he is Tom's part-time paramour. He acted like a hysterical housewife, fuelled by the actions of Lorena Bobbitt and swinging wildly between being contrite and virtually schizophrenic. Good to see it turn out okay though, without one or the other marrying, topping themselves or dying from a dreadful sexual disease. Congrats to writer Pete Lawson. It may have been slightly macabre, but the humour and angst were equally well-placed and nicely melded.
Screen Two (BBC2) is showcasing three films of particular interest to a lesbian and gay audience next month. Firstly, Priest - highly lauded on its cinematic release - about the "passion and guilt of a Catholic priest" with Linus Roache and Robert Carlyle. Secondly, Nervous Energy, with the great Alfred Molina, Annette Crosbie and Cal Macaninch, which is an "exuberant film about a rollercoaster love affair" between one man and his "manic lover" who has AIDS. Lastly, Great Moments In Aviation - with the BBC's customary "star-studded cast" of John Hurt, Vanessa Redgrave and Jonathan Pryce, written by Jeanette Winterson and directed by Beeban Kidron.
I must thank the BBC once again for their brilliant handling of a request for preview tapes. Four phone calls in three days, all greeted with "The man you need to speak to isn't here. Shall I get him to call you back?" A further three calls, only one of which was returned and bore the legendary rhetoric of "They're not going to be available for some time. I'll call you next week." Needless to say, twenty-one days on and I'm still waiting.
Don't ever tell BBC Publicity that you're from a gay magazine, even a national one. It doesn't cut any ice and doesn't get any results. And I was so looking forward to them as well. Oh, and don't forget World AIDS Day on December 1st. The Beeb are showing a documentary called The End of Innocence based on Simon Garfield's "powerful and painful" book about the first decade of HIV in Britain.
© Nov 1995 Megan Radclyffe
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