Gay Times Reviews XIII

Modern Times: Pink Parents   BBC2

Apparently it took 'months' to find anyone to agree to appear in this programme on lesbian and gay parenting. I guess the original reluctance was fuelled by the prospect of osctracisation or bellicosity towards the offspring, or dread of personal or legal violation. All of these fears are based in actual fact so a big slap on the back to those who eventually and intrepidly participated. And sorry, but a big slap in the face for documentarian Lucy Alleway who whispered every query into oblivion and entered the world of 'pink parenting' seemingly awestruck and gobsmacked. As she sneaked around the bedroom of Mummy Brenda and her partner Mummy Buz, Alleway remarked that 'whatever getting pregnant has to do with, it doesn't involve making love.' Hello?

Maybe my initial horror at the infantility of her presentation was hasty. After all, you can't expect a nation of Murdoch's numskulls to be able to think beyond the mythology of 'So if you're gay, won't you raise gay children?' so I guess Alleway's pitch was spot on, being naively inquisitive and startlingly flabbergasted.

So we were treated to Buz and Brenda and GT cover star daughter Molly ambling down to the fertility clinic to try for a sibling with frozen sperm. And it worked, bam, first time! Meantime Chris (desperate to be Da-da) was aiming carefully into a tube which his friend then sped across town, tucked deeply in her cleavage, and a coterie of two mummies, one daddy who lived down the lane and two sunny kiddies just got on with it, and rather beautifully too, thank you.

Despite the apparent virginity of Alleway's thoughts towards 'pink parenting', it was a notably positive piece. I wondered whether Chris was triumphant, expecting a little still of him and his scion after the credits but no luck. Don't you just loathe being left hanging?

© Jan 1999 Megan Radclyffe

Blue Peter BBC1

Country Night: Dolly Parton - She Ain't No Dumb Blond BBC2

Sweet Things With Greg and Max TLC

Alvin Hall's Guide To Successful Investing BBC2

Breaking The Code BBC1

I am a child of the true television age. I grew up with the best role models, the best programming and the best theme tunes. It was a veritable jamboree on Monday and Thursday teatime when Valerie, John and Peter (and later, Lesley) held court on Monday and Thursday in the BP studio with its bright white, shiny floor and the triýcoloured oblong shelves, stacked with knitted toys and artifacts from foreign lands. We scrambled for the best seat in front of the TV as the familiar drum roll and tooting theme tune started. Weekends were spent in feverish endeavour, trying to cut the sticky back plastic from a huge roll with blunt–ended scissors and place it precisely on a Cindy doll bathroom set made out of old yogurt pots (not cartons) and cornflake boxes. We hailed Biddy Baxter as a genius. At the end of the year, we begged our Mother for some wire coat hangers, some red tinsel (flameproof tinsel, mind you) and a few candles and gaudy baubles to make our Advent Crown. We scavenged through the cupboards for scraps of tin foil and cleaned out our wardrobes in search of old jumpers and socks and pleaded with Father to bundle it up in brown paper and post it off to the BP Appeal.

But things change. The studio metamorphosed and twenty five years – and a generation gap – on, it's all angular and modular shelving, disco lighting and seen thrice weekly. And the presenters, who last no longer than three years nowadays, wear PVC trousers (an worryingly increasing trend among kiddies TV presenters that is regularly taken to extreme by Zoe Ball), speak in strange regional accents, and do not seem to know the value of sticky back plastic and an old washing up bottle.

As a result, I tend to avoid Blue Peter (BBC1) like the plague these days but, according to last month's Gay Times Readers' Awards, lots of gay people still tune in, despite the fact that the BP cats are called Kari and Okýe. It seemed that a certain Tim Vincent was the deciding factor, so I switched on to see what the attraction was. Unfortunately, I managed to catch his last day on BP. Shame. The three remaining presenters, Stuart (is he the son of Simon Groom or what?), Katy and Rowena (who both insist on continually shouting) presented a 25 minute homage to the Wrexham Wonder, aka 'Timmie Tight–pockets'. Here was the latest in the long line of pretenders to John Noakes' throne, jumping out of aeroplanes, running in marathons, hauling logs around, wearing combats, snow boarding, driving an Aston Martin and other mean machines.

So what was so special about this tribute? After all, 'minutes and minutes of thought' went into it. 'It says "tearful farewell" on the auto–prompt",' said Tim, with a teeny teardrop barely glistening in his big brown eye, before launching into a well–rehearsed speech. The emotion quotient was... notional. But he's done it all, and now he's off to do The Clothes Show (have you seen Amy Lamé on the opening titles?), Short Change (a consumer programme for kids, would you believe it) and 'straight acting' in Dangerfield so you poor lads won't be deprived.

Before I forget: bad luck to G104.9FM for losing out to an indie station in theðú race for a new radio licence. I'm not sure whether I'm annoyed about that or not. Virtually every radio station you could think of plays a fair whack of indie, so there's hardly any need for a dedicated play list. However, given the nature of G104.9FM's bid, I'm not sure we need another station that plays dance music all the time. And while I'm on the subject, I hear that Freedom are now trying test transmissions on MW. I still haven't heard any of the shows broadcast on Astra, so I refuse to pass judgment.

Cookery programmes have definitely been de rigeur over the last two years, and the demand doesn't show any sign of being quenched. Personally, and with every pun intended, they are a staple of my TV diet. The latest, Sweet Things With Greg and Max (TLC) will satisfy my mid–afternoon pangs, and is hosted by the gay doyens of fattening desserts, who also hawk kitchenware on QVC and used to make a pretty penny designing outrageously iced cakes. Now, they're stuck in a mediocre and sparsely decorated beige (beige!) kitchen, creating 'wonderfully messy' but 'absolutely delicious' puddings on a show that 'puts the "Ooh!" in roulade'.

The chaps are always, without failure, immaculately turned out, as are their Apple Charlotte ('We're using cooking apples...') and summer puddings ('Hold back on the blackcurrants!'). The hair is perfectly coiffured, the moustaches are neatly trimmed, the block–colour shirts are fastidiously pressed, and the fingernails are meticulously clean. They use the words 'absolutely' and 'globs' to stunning effect. They make 'jolly good custard' and ask 'What's the point of low–calorie tiramisu?' Unlike other TV cooks, they show no fear when suggesting you use frosted rose petals or a skittering of cinnamon. To spice up the proceedings, as if they need it, Greg and Max employ a number of tricks to grab your attention. There's 'Pla-aah-net Pudd-ding' and the Gadget Gallery ('What can you do with that, I wonder?'). Max even has a catch phrase: 'If it doesn't taste good when it goes in, it won't taste good when it comes out.'

I adore Greg and Max. They abhor the notion of fashionable food, and don't refer to metric measurements (which is a huge bonanza to this imperially–minded cook). The programme is probably quite inane, even by cookery programme standards, but highly watchable. I just wish I could have wiled away a few hours by viewing more.

MTV has Turned On Europe or rather, turned on Britain, with the results of a 'unique project' to discover what young Euroboys and girls really, really think. Apparently, Brits start shagging earlier than their Euro counterparts (15.6 years as opposed to 16.8 years) and have more partners – 12 by the time they reach 24 (if they do reach 24) as opposed to 7. 35% admit to using pornography, but only 2% admit to trying anal sex. Only 64% (that's hardly 'only' but there you go) accept homosexuality, and 11% find it 'not acceptable at all'. 22% of British youngsters think AIDS is a gay problem. 59% are likely to have taken illegal drugs, (hash at 45%, Ecstasy and speed at 13%). And all of this with a techno background. Just thought you'd like to know.

Alvin Hall's Guide To Successful Investing (BBC2) provides us with another camp chappie speaking laggardly to the unacquainted masses. It's not so much a guide, rather a chance for Alvin to repeat the advice 'You win some, you lose some' with many variant phrases, and rather a chance for him to flit between England and New York, and ingratiate himself with plummy voiced investors.

You may have seen him before, being pecked by a flock of ostriches on Denis Norden's It'll Be Alright On The Night but it's an arduous task transcribing Alvin's manner from screen to paper. He looks a little like a follower of Malcolm X, but acts like Zsa Zsa Gabor. His voice tremors with melancholy as he describes the losses incurred in the 1700's by tulip buyers. His eyes light up as stands among the hustle and bustle of West End theatre land. He constantly refers to a 'passion' or 'lust' for investing. He has a high pitched, girlish laugh that seems almost affected. He chatted about wine, gold, horses, poster art, golliwog memorabilia and fine art photography, wagging his forefinger as a warning to viewers against bad investment, and, just like Greg and Max, he makes for addictive viewing. If you interested in what did Alvin spent his hard earned cash on, he bought a huge screw. An orange one.

More television of a gargantuan nature, with Country Night (BBC2), which profiled, for want of a better word, the queen of country in Dolly Parton: She Ain't No Dumb Blond. Right from the Tennessee mountain home she shared with 11 siblings some half century ago, the moonshine–addled barn dances where they sang 'heartfelt songs you spill your guts to' and Dolly's songs of dead soldiers and fair maidens sung to an audience of pigs, hens and bugs, to her arrival Nashville in 1964 and her appearance on TV three years later in a horrid cerise dress and with a towering back combed hairdo, from the dark period as a Tammy Wynette clone (circa 1973) and a general wig festival to her ascertain that she is now 'the goodwill ambassador of country music.' Phew. Besides the 'rare archive clips' and embarrassing photographs, there was little to get your teeth into. I'm still waiting for Dolly's unique rendition of that ol' C&W classic, 'You're The Reason Our Kids Are Ugly'.

If you wanted more substance then Breaking The Code (BBC1) certainly provided it with the story of Alan Turing OBE, a brilliant mathematician who built the first digital computer which cracked the Nazi's Enigma code and saved us all from having to 'sprekenze Deutsch'.

As if that wouldn't have been absorbing enough, but the adaptation of Hugh Whitemore's play was superlative. Derek Jacobi, stuttering again, was absolutely stupendous as the man whose genius for calculation and equations was ruined by love for a 19 year–old bisexual who pilfered £8, some clothing and half a bottle of sherry from him. His portrayal of Turing, who saw more beauty in number patterns than he ever saw in relationships, was a delight to watch, with a balance of anger, desperation and joy that is so rarely seen on television these days. I've said it before, it's far more tricky to praise programmes than it is to condemn them. My eye isn't as trained as some I'm sure, but I found little fault, but that may be because I was so utterly rapt. I'd certainly vote for a BAFTA.

And finally, have you seen the new British Telecom ads? Not the one with the (alleged) gay couple holding hands as they meander down a sunset–drenched pier, but the one with ex–cast members of EastEnders? Sharon phones 'Chelle for a reunion, then calls her friends and family, Lofty, Grandma Beale, Pete, Den, Carpenter, Eddie Royale, Mary, Cindy (your international number, what clever beasts they are) and Arfur on his mobile. But half of this list have passed on to the great Square in the sky. Are BT now trying to sell direct dialled calls to the dearly departed as well as courting gay consumers? I think we should be told...

© March 1997 Megan Radclyffe

Born To Run BBC1

Friends Of Oscar Radio 4

A Bill Called William Ch4

Jonathan Creek BBC1

Wokenwell LWT

Kaleidoscope: Sweet Looks, Shock Tactics Radio 4

Masterchef 1997 BBC1

Instant Gardens Ch5

Sitcom Weekend: My Gay Dads Ch4

Sitcom Weekend: Tickled Pink Ch4

Ellen Ch4

Xena: Princess Warrior Ch5

Me? I'm fine, thank you. In fact, I'm happier than a drag queen in Danny la Rue's wardrobe. Bet you'd thought it'd be another monthly moan from Megan, didn't ya? Ha! Bamboozled you then, because with a viewing schedule of positively perky programmes, it's been a sheer joy (bar 5 minutes) being parked in front of the box this month. And my reasons to be cheerful? Hey–la, hey–la, Billie Whitelaw's back as Lily in Born To Run (BBC1, playing the initially dowdy, mousey wife of an odious misogynist who heads the Flitch family, purveyors of quality used motors. His heir apparent, the egotistical but cowardly Byron (Keith Allen) is husband to Bronwyn ('neither use or ornament') and lover of Judith, a fitness freak and owner of a jade Frontera. At Byron and Bron's 20th anniversary bash, the patriach's black heart gives out, but rather than sit weeping at his hospital bedside, Lily trolls off to Tenerife, and is resurrected as a new woman, experimenting with cocktails, driving a flasy canary–yellow sports car, and shagging Eddie the mechanic (John McArdle) across the bonnet of a stately Jaguar before training up for a marathon (run, that is). Debbie Horsfield's script is littered with superb exchanges and glorious one–liners and packed with astute characterisation. The casting is eminently dynamic, with equally splendid support, from the bitchy sisters Edna and Theresa to Tiffany the receptionist, who sings a cappella over the tannoy at full pelt, all day, and a beautiful Russian owl called Andre. You can stuff the Test Card now: Born To Run is utterly fantastic.

Friends Of Oscar (R4), Rod Dungate's two–hour play produced by The Archers' editor Vanessa Whitburn, affords a delightful peek behind the heavy curtains of Victorian gay society which opens with the birthday party ('Ooh, cucumber! Lovely!') of Alfred Taylor. In the 'spirit of a new age' Taylor and his friends want to live dangerously, but are worried that their 'little sanctuary' will be upset by the 'foolish and perverse' decision by Oscar Wilde to go to trial. The boys decide to write their own drama, nascently 'more of a sedative than an aphrodisiac'. The play flicks betwixt this imaginary world, the growing concern among Oscar's somdomite supporters and the production of The Ideal Husband starring Charles Hawtrey, and with actor Charles Brookfield conspiring backstage with a police inspector and a prostitute to fling open the dressing room closet. Friends Of Oscar plumbs the depths of fear felt by homosexuals in 1895 and doesn't shirk in depicting the heart–felt reverberations caused by a subsquent witch hunt, which included many men fleeing the country. With charming intonation, some endearing portrayals (particularly Geoffrey Freshwater's Fanny Park), and tremendously wry humour offset with some dramatic dialogue that is neither forced nor cliched. The play is an absolute must. Strange though, how awful kissing sounds on radio...

Due to the lateness of the hour, I couldn't get a tape of A Bill Called William (Ch4) which tells the 'near–farcical tale of the passage of the 1967 Sexual Offences Act'. with narration by Ian Richardson and 'some witty dramatisations'. But I'm still serendipitous, partially because of Jonathan Creek (BBC1). Something of a curio though. The eponymous hero, played with laconic and sardonic style by Alan Davies, invents spectacular magic tricks in his super windmill pad for a flashy conjurer. In his spare time, he joins up with Maddie (a slightly cynical, rather brusque investigative journalist played by the thoroughly divine Caroline Quentin) to solve insidious crimes. Taking a sideways glance at the clues, Creek invariably ties it up neatly with a ribbon in time for the credits. They aren't quite Britain's answer to Mulder and Scully ('suave and sophisticated' versus 'frizzy and frumpy' doesn't quite hack it, but there are some parallels). The plots aren't even as thick as Gary Bushell and the scripts occasionally expect you to take a quantum leap in the theory of the dastardly deed, but it's hugely superior viewing. When the scripting lets you down, you can rely on a superb cast and strangely for a primetime programme, that's enough to carry this one through. Wokenwell (LWT) has a similar mien. Once again, there's nothing actually spectacular about the tale of three local policemen and their wives (Lesley Dunlop, Margaret Stephenson and Celia Imrie) surrounded by prosaic and superlative country folk in an idyllic town, but it's immensely persuasive. There's a revelation in each episode that lures you deeper, but the plots on their own are kooky enough to sustain interest. Both are certainly worth a gander. Trust me, I'm a lesbian.

A Kaleidoscope special entitled Sweet Looks, Shock Tactics (R4) profiled a policeman's son from Surbiton, the indubitable Julian Clary (39) — the 'Master of Innuendo' who still finds it 'a great thrill to do chocolate finger jokes'. Peter Curran led us from Clary's schooldays (when he drenched his jumpers in Denim aftershave) through his study at Goldsmith's, past Fanny the Wonder Dog and the Joan Collins Fan Club, onto his infamous 1993 faux pas ('He said he'd just completed an eye–watering homosexual act with Norman Lamont: one joke turned him into a foul–mouthed pariah') and through his lover Christopher's death in 1995, with contributions from Jon Plowman, Paul Merton and Barb Junger who all tried to pull the mask from Julian's face. A fascinating half–hour, if a tad disjointed. It'll be intriguing to see how this compares with his grilling by that quack Oliver James in The Chair (BBC2)...

A brief mention for Masterchef 1997 (BBC1) — required viewing in this household, despite the dreadful Loyd Grossman — which recently included Ian Jeffrey, a gay man who owned 'the biggest collection of checked shirts in the North West' and made them into patchwork quilts when they wore out. He was also great proponent of line dancing. His menu (red mullet on shredded leeks with saffron beurre blanc, fillet of lamb with a port and quince sauce and baked pears with caramelised mead syrup and ginger ice cream) won the highest approval from the judges, and a place in the semi–final. Can I have the receipe please? And from the kitchen to the garden, Willian van Hage starts his 'innovative design series' Instant Gardens (Ch5) where he transforms 12 bog–standard tracts of land into gorgeous bucolics, so it should be essential for those green–fingered among you might be curious to see what a gay man can do with a fork and some mulching.

If I could point to five minutes when I really wished I didn't have this job, it would have been during Sitcom Weekend: My Gay Dads (Ch4). I know it was a total spoof meant to poke fun at the heterosexual, nuclear American family of sitcom life but it was completely puerile. A straight female teenager with a leather queen, a drag artist and a nelly for her dads who wanted to have an orgy at home may have been funny to some, but the limp wrists and'Yoo-hoo'–ing began to grate after only a few seconds. Even the opening 'Hi honey, I'm homo!' was lame and antique. I'm definitely not one to reject the notion of sticking to heterosexual society, but really. 1/10 and that's for the Muir cap.

The Sitcom Weekend did come up trumps with Tickled Pink (Ch4) which charted the 'pinking of the airwaves' in America. The script writers here pulled out all the stops with 'climbing up Hollywood's pink ladder' and 'turning screens a shade of gay' topping the list. So, a quick history lesson. First gay character? Appeared fleetingly on the Mary Tyler Moore Show in the 70's. First regular gay character? Billy Crystal as Jodie in the fabulous Soap. Most flamboyant? Donald in Brothers (80's). Most gays? Roseanne with a 'rainbow' of roles. Some 10 years after Rosie first unfurled the flag, there are now 23 established queer roles, and a few more to come (no pun intended). Tickled Pink wasn't just a jolly trip down Nostalgia Lane but despite talking to writers, producers and directors as well as straight and gay actors showing a number of clips, many seminal scenes and characters were missed out. Still, it was thoroughly congenial viewing, rather like Ellen (Ch4) with the episode that 36 million Americans tuned in for. Laura Dern appears as the catalyst for Ellen's coming out over an airport tannoy, among a starry cast which includes Oprah Winfrey as Ellen's therapist, kd lang as a waitress and a checkout girl on the '10 Lesbians Or Less' aisle, Demi Moore, who offers a snack that's 'Perfect if you're on the go or in the closet' and Melissa Etheridge.

The script is saturated with punchy one–liners from the start ('Ellen, are you coming out or not?' 'What's the rush, I've got an hour yet!') through Dern's reaction to Ellen's initial denial ('I'd better call National HQ and tell them I lost you. Damn! One more and I would have got that toaster oven!'), on to Oprah's sage advice ('You'll get little clues that get more obvious and then tiresome'), past Ellen complaining, 'You never see a cake with "Good For You — You're Gay"... except maybe in West Hollywood' and finishing with a friend's comment that 'Ellen's usually pasty skin is all aglow with the warmth of womanly love... wth a woman'.

As the transmission date hasn't been confirmed, I refuse to reveal the twists and turns of the plot now, but it was interesting to see the reactions of her friends and how often Ellen seemed to be talking for herself (and possibly educating dense straights) and not her character. All I'm saying is it's a bit of a classic. And although the 3rd episdoe see Ellen coming out to her parents ('Just because you haven't found the right man doesn't mean you're gay. You're just choosy.' 'I'm not attracted to any men.' 'No, that's too choosy.') rumour has it that her sexuality will eventually be buried in favour of some Lucille Ball–style slapstick. It seems that despite American audiences being able to handle her coming out, they can't get their fat heads around a woman being funny about being a lesbian. Well, at least she didn't get cancelled.

After aeons of impatient waiting, one of my dreams is finally about to come true. Xena: Princess Warrior is leaving Sky and will be shown on Ch5. I'm positively moist at the prospect, and — if I can unglue myself from the seat and dry myself down in time (or actually get a decent picture on the TV) there'll be a review next month, legs — sorry, fingers — crossed.

© May 1997 Megan Radclyffe

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