Gay Times Reviews II

The Parish Ch4
Working Out
Renegade TV: Party Monster
Renegade TV: Grooving On A Stanley Knife
Anna Raeburn: Stephen Twigg
Talk Radio
Rainbow TV

I'm sure that I watch TV for more time than is healthy and safe. The damn thing seems to be on continually, but it's my 'job' so I grin and bear it. I usually plan to start my column three days before the deadline: one day for tapes, two days to write salient sentences. When I crashed into bed at 11.30pm on Saturday night, there was no shaking my resolve. I woke on Sunday 31 August at 8.40am, and switched my Mac on. As my girlfriend staggered to the kitchen to make tea, I turned on the television. Staring out from the screen was a picture of Diana, Princess of Wales, surrounded by a black border. Underneath, the text read '1961-1997'. Half asleep, my brain could not fathom out what had happened. It was only when the presenter appeared dressed in black that it fell, heavily and uncomfortably, into place.

For the next 48 hours, save a few moments asleep, I sat in front of 21" of full colour news. The remote control was welded to my hand, and I flipped weakly between channels, even watching through the snowstorm on Ch5 for more details. I could believe it what I had seen. I was bombarded with images of Diana. Diana with AIDS patients and checking out landmines, Diana with the homeless, Diana with the eldery, the disabled, with her sons, Diana with the rich and famous... The breaking news provided more images. I watched the pictures of that crumpled car until I knew every dent, every twisted piece of metal. At one point, I thought I saw Diana's hair through the car window. It was a flattened airbag. Suddenly, the presence of the cameras made me feel very sick.

Then why couldn't I switch off? Why couldn't I do anything but sit, stock still save shaking my head and dropped jaw, in front of a glowing screen offering nothing but sepulchral information? But still, I watched each and every broadcast, time and time again and on every channel. More images burned into the back of my head. A small blond-haired girl, her hands grasped together in silent prayer, a black man supplicating before the gates at Buckingham Palace, people standing with sorrow etched into their faces, pictures of the French paparazzi being driven away, more children struggling to carry huge floral tributes, the distressed look in the Queen's eyes as she was chauffered out of Balmoral...

I wanted to write about something else. I wanted to review all the programmes you see at the top of this column as usual, but I just didn't have it in my heart: it felt far too heavy.

At one point, the news seemed stuck. I tried to concentrate my mind with the episode of The Parish (Ch4) which briefly featured a gay man named Ken. In an ongoing saga of docudrama based around the ward of Rottingdean, Ken was looking for the perfect man. He thought he'd found him, and invited him to a birthday party. In a function room above the rabble of the Queen's Head (which has a tacky sign of Freddie Mercury outside), Ken waited. And waited. Alas, in vain. His perfect paramour remained conspicuous by his absence and Ken, bless him, was quite distraught. I was immediately reminded of the dreadful news, switched off the tape and returned to ITN, but by now, they were foraging for background details. The editor of Marie Claire was plonked down and asked about the frocks. 'It seems to trivial to be talking about the frocks at the moment,' she said. Various alumni from Diana's chosen charities were shoved in front of the cameras and asked, 'You met Diana - what was she like?' There were little things that made a difference: no music, no commercials, ITN newscasters wearing black ties and jackets.

I tried to shake the melancholy by watching something so far removed from current events - Working Out (Ch5). Sweating city gents and ladies at an exclusive club in London's Broadgate were frantically stepping up, stepping down while reading the FT. A Rasta collected their wet towels and a hyperactive legal secretary swan 220 lengths a day. They rowed, lifted weights, played squash and abdominised their way to red faces, while in Sydenham, a stripper and a clergyman exercised; the latter for 'spiritual balance'. They skipped, whacked a punchbag, and whooped while some other muscle meatheads partake in a spot of balloon dancing. In Norfolk, a plethora of yomping maniacs in lycra descended on a holiday camp to stretch the weekend away. The Erith Posse (with matching leotards and lip gloss) came up against The Boys, a group of tossers with bumbags, sporty motors and shagging on the brain. Very shallow, too noisy and something that consumed their lives seemed so trifling. When the tape ejected, the screen was instantly filled film of someone placing roses at the door of Diana's gym.

Time had slipped into a viewing void. I watched Richard Madeley on This Morning (Regions) give in to weeping at the end of the100 minute-long programme, and saw Judy Finnegan, seemingly in shock and clutching a rumpled piece of sodden tissue. The way my desk is set means my back is to the television, but every time the news came on, I turned to view.

I watched the following morning, and was incensed by Eammon Holmes' obtuse comments on GMTV (Regions). Showing a marked lack of professionalism, he asked his co-host, 'Is it Althrope or Althorpe?' then later remarked, 'So death comes to us all... as does the weather.' The Big Breakfast (Ch4) had returned to their 'Wey-hey!' style of presentation, and I felt aggrieved. Thousands upon thousands of people were trying desperately to pay their last respects, and they were joking and capering around. It just seemed so flippant.

Thought the last thing I needed was Renegade TV: Party Monster (Ch4). Centred around the murder of club kid Angel Melendez by the 'King of Clubs' Michael Alig, it was a tale of excessive parties and selfish, deficient behaviour. It did not make me feel any better, despite it being an intriguing story well told.

Interviews with Alig's mother, friends and the man himself, inside a NY correctional facility, gave some insight into why Angel died, but not enough. Most of the club kids appeared irretrievably damaged by voracious drug use. Home video of Alig's increasingly outrageous parties and lifestyle did little to help answer the question, why? Alig alluded to an answer three months before his arrest in a taped interview, claiming that Angel 'was one of those copycats we hate, so I killed him.' He explained, without a trace of remorse, how he recieved ten bags of heroin in exchange for cutting up Angel's body. A strange mix between the hysterical and the sombre reflected the news of Diana's death.

Renegade TV: Groove On A Stanley Knife (Ch4) provided more awful behaviour, that of burly dyke Steph and her best friend Tam. At first, I thought it had been made by a fresh young film student, with quickly edited shots of a smashed up factory and a vista of an industrial town. With an abundance of foul language, more than a few sachets of ketchup and a claustrophobic atmosphere, Tam and Steph hid from drug dealers whose stash they'd stolen. Set pieces with a script were cut with seemingly non-sensical montages of animation and swirly backgrounds, with a techno soundtrack.

The unwinding drama was given a twist, skewed back again and settled into place, dealing with fear, delight, homophobia and the drug culture. Written by Tinge Krishnan, it made for queasy if startling viewing, and was enhanced by the remarkable performances of Samantha Hoyles and Alison Burrows.

I had truly had enough of television by now, and turned to a taped interview by Anna Raeburn (Talk Radio) with new Labour boy Stephen Twigg. He's certainly come on since I first encountered him in his year as NUS President. There's a polish to his personality that hides his previous anger, but it's all tinged with an almost child-like gleeful intonation in his voice. It was interesting to hear his take on life, the universe and everything, but I was torn away by more breaking news on the death of Diana. I began to feel more depressed and upset than I had been on Sunday, so I turned to the Internet for some distraction, intending to check out the brand new Rainbow TV website at http://www.

As the launch date for Rainbow TV is still in the distance (it's not pencilled in until 1998), the site is a little bare at the moment, but has a huge potential. Will definitely keep and eye on it and let you know of any developments. The PR claim that over 2,000 visits a day are being made, but this paled before news that AOL messages boards had over 20,000 messages of condolence and that the British Monarchy site had recieved over 2 million visits since Sunday morning. I could not escape it, as people from America sent me instant messages and E-mails asking for news, updates and details, and sent their thoughts and condolences. Most of them I hadn't even heard of. These little boxes popped up on my screen with 'Guess it's pretty hellish over there right now?' or 'Our thoughts are with you' and 'We R very sorry 4 UR loss' or just simply, 'How r u all?'

After this, I began to feel I would never look at another screen again. For once, I am completely at a loss for a sentence to sum anything up, and that's my job, that's what I am supposed to do without fail, every month. Somehow I usually manage it, but this time, my brain just would not compute. All the information being beamed into my home was vying for space with a sense of grief I never knew I could feel about someone I'd never met. It's taken me four days to write this and it's been the worse month ever. And it's far from over yet, especially stuck in here in front of a bloody TV set.

©Megan Radclyffe Publ. Millivres 1997

A Village Affair Carlton
Wilde Night

It has been said that television is nothing more than chewing gum for the eyes. I prefer the philosophy that TV is called a medium "because nothing's well done." Take, for example, A Village Affair (Carlton), adapted from a Joanna Trollope novel. Sophie Ward seemed suitably vacuous as Alice Jordan - hapless mother of three in a hopeless marriage - who moves to her "dream house" in a quaint and slumbering village. Alice's 10-year marriage to Martin (a thin-lipped, smug git if ever there was one) is something of a sham, marred by damp squibs of a sexual nature and dominated by his mother, a renowned gardener (with a lifestyle that was all cut-glass crystal and billowing curtains), and played to the hilt by Claire Bloom. Odd how she pops up with alarming frequency in lesbian-based dramas...

Enter Kerry Fox - previously lauded for her performance as Janet Frame in Angel At My Table - as Clodagh, having recently jetted back from America, a "powerful girl" with thick lipstick, piercing blue eyes and a naff taste in waistcoats. Suddenly, without rhyme or reason, Clodagh started to drop in on Alice and ingratiated herself to the kiddies, "Tashie, Jamie and Charlie". Of course, Martin's withered trouser snake started to shudder at the prospect of poking her, but - shock, horror - it wasn't him that Clodagh was interested in! The viewing audience might have twigged that something was up, but the damn plot plodded along like a stumpy-legged tortoise for ages. I spent the first hour wishing desperately that somebody, anybody, would just wipe that supercilious grin from Martin's face, preferably with a large and heavy mallet.

Luckily, things picked up a little, as Clodagh came out to Alice over the washing line, and followed this declaration up outside the village shop when little Charlie dropped his furry bunny, giving her a chance to gently grasp Alice's pale and tender fingers. Cue the slightly discordant piano and the lingering look. Before long, the two women were semi-passionately kissing, partially obscured by an easel and cruelly interrupted by Ruby Wax's cringing Citrôen advert.

After a swift and refreshing cup of tea, we returned to the sleepy hamlet to discover Alice and Clodagh skinny-dipping in the local pond. A resounding "Eurgh!" followed Alice's emergence from the water, revealing a virtually concave chest. Worse was to come. The dialogue was so rinky-dinky it became slightly implausible. "I never thought about making love with a woman. I've never been adventurous," Alice said. "I always knew I liked girls better," replied Clodagh, while the dragonflies buzzed lazily around them.

To add a pinch of spice to the proceedings (as if it needed any, of course), Martin's smarmy and sultry brother Anthony roared into the village in his flash motor. Over strawberries and wine, he teased poor old Clodagh about her fabulous fortune and her contemplation of marriage, but to no avail. She spent the next day skipping hand-in-hand across sun-dappled meadows with her beloved Alice, declaring that rarest of commodities, undying love. Back at the white-washed home, Anthony was similarly rebuffed by his sister-in-law, and so silently vowed vengence, choosing the church fête to inform Martin that Clodagh was a "lez-bee-anne".

Now that the shit had hit the fan, the pace picked up considerably. Martin did a plausible impression of a wounded lion, his odious smile finally and satisfyingly removed. "It's not the betrayal," Clodagh soothed Alice. "His manhood has been threatened." So much so that the slimy bastard attempted to sexually assault his wife. It seemed odd then that Clodagh should be the one accused of wanting a "short-term, selfish pleasure" which would involve "innocent victims."

From here on in, Clodagh plummeted into the stereotypical role of an unstable, nay hysterical, lesbian. Her father spluttered at her over breakfast after she sobbed out the details of her sordid little affair: "You're just being melodramatic... and disgusting!" She was described as "spoiled and arrogant" while Alice was simply "lonely and unfulfilled". That's not to say that dear Alice didn't come in for some flak: a number of villagers vilified her, and she received the ultimate dismissal: "Maybe it would be better if you shopped elsewhere." Of course they're idle gossips and all stood in judgement, but far better than a pervert, eh?

Clodagh went into overdrive when she discovered Alice was about to cast her aside. "If I can't have you, I'll die!" she blubbered. "You can't imagine the pain! If you don't have me," she wept, kneeling before Alice and clutching her skirt, "you'll stop living! Please, please, please, have some pity! If I can't have you, I'll kill myself!" she howled. We'll never know if she did, as she was last seen running into the woods, weeping copiously.

Alice drove into the village of Pitcombe with her children and a couple of suitcases. She departed in much the same way as if none of it had ever happened. Village life rambled on, only slightly jolted by the obscenity of a lesbian dalliance. A Village Affair absolutely proved Trollope's maxim that "torment is better than nothing at all" but I do so wish Carlton hadn't echoed it quite so loudly.

And on to another great crucifixion of gay life. To "celebrate" the 100th anniversary of Oscar Wilde's trial for sodomy, BBC2 employed their legendary theme night tactics, and assembled a motely crew of programmes to laud Wilde's "contradictory legacy". Wilde himself once wrote, "The truth is rarely pure, and never simple" and Wilde Night proved that beyond a shadow of a doubt. First came the wildly white-haired Prof. Alan Sinfield with a special edition of Open Space entitled A Fear To Appear Queer, My Dear which was purported to examine Oscar's influence on the 20th Century. Sinfield opened by stating, without the merest flicker of sarcasm or irony, that Wilde was the most famous queer in history, "except possibly Jimmy Somerville." This certainly set the overall tone of his appreciation. It didn't seem to be so much about "the wittiest man alive", more about sexual stereotypes: women were powerful in Oscar's world, and men were dandy or dull. It appears that Oscar's only real bequest to the nation was influencing TV images - Larry Grayson, Mr Humphreys, Julian Clary, Carry On and Up Pompeii. All the connections seemed weak or unexplored properly, but then, Sinfield's a highly-respected academic, so who am I to argue? The only message that shone through was the Professor's insistence that, by making "ourselves" more visible, more lives can be ruined in the 1990's than in Oscar's time. Interesting concept, and some cracking visuals to boot. By the way, the "fear to appear queer" means that "queer" is "effeminate" - "just like Oscar Wilde". Better get on to the OED then.

Simon Callow (called upon once again in his capacity of the mildly academic authority on the arts) threw his tuppence-worth into the ring, with Oscar And Me, praising Wilde's "congenial model" of homosexuality and describing him as hilarious, diverting, outrageous... to wit, "the most entertaining man who ever lived." Not satisfied with licking the rim of Oscar's arse, Callow delved deeper. "His luxuriant wit, like his body, was huge and overflowing," he gasped. "He was a butterfly broken on the wheel and punished for symbolic reasons," he panted. "He was unique... a beacon!" I'm beginning to get a little bit peeved at seeing Callow stumble through fawning, almost quivering, appreciations, but it could be worse. The powers that be could have called on Simon Fanshawe in his capacity as an expert on wit and sagacity.

The Life and Loves of Oscar Wilde started with a melancholy violin, as his grandson Merlin Holland and Lady Alice, the great-great grand niece of Lord Alfred Douglas and descendant of the Marquis of Queensbury talked of Oscar's rise and downfall. They briefly detailed his revolutonary poet Mother and his philandering Father, his time at boarding school, the three scholarships and three trials. They talked of his marriage ("a tremendous surprise"), of his being "led into homo-sexuality" by Robbie Ross, of his "search for sensations", of the "sexual ethnic cleansing" and "tragic vice" that pervaded Wilde's life, cut short by cerebral meningitis when he was 46, having been shunned by society and forced to beg from Dame Melba in Paris. It is true that Wilde's tale is one of the "great tragedies of modern history" but I'm not entirely sure Wilde Night actually honoured his life and work until it showed The Trials Of Oscar Wilde (1960) and The Picture Of Dorian Grey (1945). I suppose Oscar was right then when he said, "The one duty we owe to history is to rewrite it."

©Megan Radclyffe Publ. Millivres 1995

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