Gay Times Reviews XII

Rainbow TV

Absolutely Fabulous: The Last Shout BBC1

Roseanne Ch4

Neighbours BBC1

Elton John Unplugged MTV

Miss World Sky 1

Secret Lives: Jeremy Thorpe Ch4

Radio Lives: Liberace Radio 4

George Michael Unplugged MTV

Esther BBC2

Jenny Jones Sky One

Good news! No, I haven't stopped being a tetchy sod. The fact is that Rainbow TV have been awarded a cable and satellite licence by the ITC despite BSkyB eschewing the chance to take up a place as financial backer. The executives at Rainbow are, it is reported, currently more interested in chatting about the sale of international rights than letting anyone know what's going on. Whatever happens, I bet Cable bloody London won't be taking it.

Onto what was virtually touted as the event of the 1996 televisual calendar. It was certainly well anticipated and the tension was heightened by the BBC's refusal to hold a press launch. By golly, we all thought, this must be phenomenal. On reflection, maybe we should have guessed that maybe the shine wouldn't be as lustrous as before.

Time for me to be impartial I suppose. It's not that Absolutely Fabulous: The Last Shout (BBC1) didn't have it's moments. It did, but it was just so bloody surreal. Why did Jennifer Saunders feel the need to saddle the ultra–feminist Saffy with an obnoxious and vicious bastard of a boyfriend and then attempt to marry the poor cow off to him? What the hell was all that about Sixties hippy dancers and Marianne Faithful playing God? Why did the BBC let her off on a Fergie freebie to a skiing resort when it blatantly had bugger all to do with the plot? What on earth possessed her to change Mother's role to one of a surrogate and grating American and why jeopardise Dora Bryan's sterling reputation by casting her as a vapid and annoying Yankee? And where the hell was Bubble? As for the twist in the tale, it could mean that there is a return match but seeing how mean Saunders was with this outing, I wonder whether it would be wise. I think maybe – as has been said for many rock and film stars – the death of Edina may be the best career move she's ever made.

And speaking of the dying, word has reached me about the final season of Roseanne (Ch4). Yes, it does have a Conner family member bursting out of the closet. It must be something in the water over there, as this is the fourth character to come out. But was it Darlene? Was it DJ? Was it Roseanne's mother? As yet, I don't know because the show has only just aired in the States, but I do know the episode scored its lowest rating ever. Does this mean Americans are no longer bothered by a person's sexuality or that they turn off in droves at the prospect of seeing yet another queer on their screens?

Personally speaking, there are a few gay faces I could do without seeing on the box. Take Elton John (please). His recent Unplugged (MTV) was only edible in small bites but made me feel like blowing large chunks, mainly because of the day–glo pink shell suit and baseball cap (which hid some shocking white hair) that he chose to wear. And it seems I was not mistaken in believing that his best stuff was written while he was off his tits on various narcotics, because he chose to feature more of his ancient repertoire. At least he didn't swear like a trooper this time round, but I'd be interested to see a tape of what happened backstage...

Neighbours (BBC1) has been concentrating on the story of a gay teacher fighting for his career after some thick–skulled parents claimed he was favouring the male students. After some soul searching, he and his (unseen) partner decided to leave Erinsborough but the kiddies persuaded him to stay, so maybe the daytime soap will have a resident queer!

I cannot fathom how this came to be but for two decades now, I've been convinced that one of the eligibility requirements for Miss World (Sky One) was that the girls had to sleep with the contest's originator, Eric Morley. Why else, I reasoned, would he have instigated it? This year's parade was accompanied by rampant protest in India, where men and women threatened to swallow cyanide pills and set themselves alight if the pageant went ahead. But did "the ever gracious" Mr Morley bow to public pressure? Did he coco! He simply moved the filming of the swimsuit section to the Seychelles. Imagine: "We've run into a bit of local fracas, so you've got to fly off to a balmy, sun–soaked island to flaunt your bikini lines." Oh, bad luck, girls. Our hearts bleed.

So the women (all aged 18–24 but looking 35) gingerly wafted around a huge themed set erected by cheap Indian labour in less than two days. And, as I have done every time that I've seen the contest, I asked myself two questions: is that the best the countries could offer; and why don't they ever hold the contest in a cold climate? As it took Morley 46 years to arrange a Mr World pageant so I shan't hold my breath, but I think a Miss Anorak section would make a nice change.

That's not to say that the contest hasn't altered. You now have to have enough brains to learn a few dance steps and the words to a song ("So leave your cares and fly..."). You have to talk to the other aspirants in order to vote for Miss Personality, which is "the greatest honour" and means they think you're pig shit ugly. You must truly believe that this is really a "tribute to beauty... with a purpose" although what that purpose is was not divulged. You no longer have to strive to work with children because the organisers had thoughtfully provided a few crippled kiddies to hold up Miss World posters. If you're black or Hispanic, it seems that the lighter your skin, the better chance you have. And for Miss Columbia (who eventually made 3rd place but remember, "there are no losers") it helps if your mother can run up a frock for you. But I admit it: I betrayed my deeply held feminist principles and fell, tongue hanging, for Miss Venezuela. She was simply glorious and should have won hands down. Maybe she refused Mr Morley's advances and was forced to forfeit...

Speaking of such an arrangement brings me neatly onto Secret Lives (Ch4) which featured former Liberal leader Jeremy Thorpe. His story, parts of which are still shrouded in mystery, was described as "a tragedy of Shakespearian proportions" by David Steel MP, who also claimed that the whole shebang would never have occurred "if society hadn't been so hypocritical about the relatively trivial homosexual relationship" that Thorpe had with stable boy Norman Scott.

Abetted by a previously sub rosa LWT programme from 1979, the pieces of the puzzle were expertly pieced together, from Thorpe's first meeting at Squirrel Cottage in 1960 through Scott's declaration that this liaison "gave birth to a vice that lies latent in every man" to a remarkable 10 year whitewash which included payments for Scott's silence, death threats, £2500 siphoned from Liberal coffers to pay for the return of Thorpe's indiscreet letters, MI5 and BOSS investigations, the hiring of a "maverick pilot" to murder Scott, and the death of a Great Dane, which provided a most absurd moment when the local gazette published a picture of the chalk outline where the dog fell.

The Thorpe case was one of my earliest memories of political machinations, no doubt due to the "extraordinary level of press attention" it received, but my most durable memory is of that time is the bloody hat Thorpe wore. What came across most strongly from this programme was his absolute refusal to accept any culpability (in a 1987 interview, he said he had simply "been blown off course a bit") and how proficient Governmental members are at skullduggery. For a change, the aspect of the homosexual affair took a back seat to such underhand dealings, and the finger of blame was not particularly pointed at one person: everyone came out with egg on their face.

More subterfuge was revealed with Radio Lives (Radio 4) which focused on Liberace. When I told a friend I had to listen to a Liberace tape, she screamed, demanding to know what on earth I wanted to do that for. This reaction is somewhat prevalent when (Walter Valentino) Liberace's name is mentioned, but I'm glad I swallowed hard and listened, trying to push from my mind how much he sounded like The Hooded Claw.

The heart of the programme was his refusal to admit he was homosexual and the widespread repercussions of that. The denial stemmed from a review in 1959 which described him as a "chromium–plated, scent impregnated, quivering, fruit–flavoured, mincing, ice–covered heap of mother love." He sued and won, and that falsity stayed with him. His death, an AIDS–related mixture of dementia, apraxia, emphysema, cardiac arrest and a swollen brain, was covered up to the point where his body was shipped to another county. Did you know that? I didn't.

Gerry Anderson's profile wasn't nasty (he does have a reputation), in fact, no–one had a truly bad word to say about the man who was the "glorification of excess". Anderson spoke to the people Liberace kept near him, even managing to track down Scott Thorsen, who is hiding from the Mafia under a witness protection programme. Radio Lives was balanced and well made, putting the puzzle together and adding some wonderful comic touches from the editing suite. With any luck, Radio 4 will repeat it and I would encourage you to bend an ear because, as the man himself said, "Too much of a good thing can be wonderful."

More music, with another Unplugged (MTV), this time featuring the flavour of the decade, George Michael. After an interview on MTV which was equally divided between the battle with Sony, the new LP (are they still called LPs?) and his sexuality (once again, he played the line of "why should it be so important?") and after his stunning performance on the MTV Europe Awards, this was quite luscious. Taped at the Three Mile Studio in London, Michael looked relaxed and very smart, despite the almost Spock style haircut and the noticeable lack of a red ribbon. With a touch of gospel, a smidgen of mid–Eastern flavouring and a general soft groove, this was a showcase to beat others hollow. His version of Bonnie Riatt's "I Can't Make You Love Me" was positively superb, and new arrangements for "Father Figure" and the funky lil' version of "Star Child" proved Michael's talent is more enduring than they would have had us believe during the days of Wham! and "Careless Whisper". The whole affair was quite celestial.

Not content with getting one of her guests shot dead for revealing his crush on a straight friend, Jenny Jones (Sky One) took to performing make–overs on butch lesbians, at the behest of their femme girlfriends. Jenny loves taking any woman and putting her in a nice skirt and frills, but this time, it made for a ridiculous parade of extremely frustrated women stomping across the stage in leather mini–skirts. Jones provided a transgender travesty for sheer entertainment and gave little thought to how the women felt at being utterly demeaned in front of millions. It's no wonder than when a lawyer at the trial asked her, "What is the purpose of the Jenny Jones Show?" she replied, "I don't understand the question."

And finally, Esther (BBC2). Having never been fully comfortable with the area of alternative sexuality, Esther likes to stick to the basics and so dabbled in the oft–covered arena of coming out. Pop stars, teachers, policemen, radio jocks and ministers waxed about how perfectly lovely people had been to them since they kicked down their closet doors, and there was even a comment to the one dissenting voice of a Christian that her view "was not fashionable". Has anyone told the Beeb they're letting this sort of pro–gay programming on air? Maybe it's time for another series of Gaytime TV to redress the imbalance...

© Jan 1997 Megan Radclyffe

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