Gay Times Reviews XXIII

Red Hot + Cool Ch4

Tales from the Quilt BBC2

The South Bank Show: Dame Thora Hird LWT

Roseanne Ch4

Open Fire LWT

Everyman: Profile of a Serial Killer BBC1

Great Journeys BBC1

Girl Friday BBC1

Cutting Edge: Absolutely Marie Claire Ch4

Good Morning with Anne & Nick BBC1

Byker Grove BBC1

Night After Night Radio 4

Saturday Edition Radio 5

Cold Comfort Farm BBC1

A Village Affair ITV

Out This Week Radio 5

Out Of Order Ch4

Golly-gosh, it's been a full year since I submitted my first column for the "hardly new but reliable" Gay Times on the television coverage of World AIDS Day. This year the fanfare was a little quieter with Red Hot + Cool (C4) which dealt with the black perspective on HIV and AIDS in a hip-hop, rap and jazz fusion. The trumpets tripped delightfully and the bass lines skipped, fronted with wah-wah guitar and backed with tishing hi-hats. That combination of rhythms and rhymes blew away the cobwebs on a rainy day and I sunk lower into the jazz mood as the time ticked by, but I must be getting old. I only recognised a handful of contributors among Pharoah Sanders, The Pharcyde, Carleen Anderson, the Digable Planets, Guru, MC Soolar, Ronnie Jordan, Me'shell Ndegecello, and Donald Byrd. I couldn't get what they were singing ("AIDS is rah dizz'ness"?) and can only stomach so most posing and posturing. Can't wait to see which divine musical genre will be in the spotlight for 1995. Red Hot + Rave perhaps? God forbid!

BBC2 did their bit for World AIDS Day with Tales From The Quilt, a series of ten ninety-second vignettes. Once again, despite repeated pleas to the Auntie Beeb, I couldn't lay my sweaty digits on any tapes given these deadly deadlines. No matter because I'm sure you are familiar with the concept. More than 350 brothers, mothers, sons, friends and partners have lovingly and lavishly stitched their emotions onto the British quilt, and I just felt it was a shame to reduce their love and pain into a measly fifteen minutes. Why haven't the television companies picked up on the energy and commitment that surrounds HIV and AIDS campaigning and reflecting that in their programme choices? Why shove all that feeling away into tiny slots in the late hours? Too busy devoting hours of air time to the promotion of the National Lottery, I'll be sure...

The South Bank Show (LWT) chose to exalt one of the few remaining Grand Dames of Show-business - Thora Hird - and parked her on a bench on the pier on a freezing cold, windy day in Morecambe. In a Tweety-Pie yellow jacket and cap, Thora ambled past her old stamping grounds (most of which had been burned or knocked down) while enjoying a whistle-stop tour of her 103 films. At 83 years old, Thora toddled and rambled a bit but displayed a truly astounding recall of events, lyrics, people and places, while discussing her penchant for mothering and cleaning roles, and displaying a quiet adoration for Alan Bennett. In return for such gems, Bragg packed her off to an equally blustery Blackpool to talk about her career as a "religious broadcaster". You can't help but like Thora, whether she's reminiscing with anger, tears or jocularity, and The South Bank Show did her proud.

And so to Roseanne (C4), back for a seventh season. Having just split from Tom Arnold, Roseanne appears without a surname in the credits, but the Mid-Western humour survives. The opening episode saw the inimitable Mrs Conner announcing her fourth pregnancy, which added pressure on a household already bursting at the seams. In addition, Darlene casually mentioned her affair with an ol' schoolchum in a grubby motel (which thoroughly upset poor David), Jackie and Fred argued over who was squashing their new offspring, and Mark and Becky declared they were trying for a child. I still enjoy the weekly half-hour fix despite the fact that Rosie has become more of a harping harridan with each passing season, but I do wonder if C4 haven't jacked the whole bag of 100% pure American sitcom up their arm.

I thought I'd finally managed to find something of interest on the third channel in the shape of Open Fire (LWT). Based on the real life of David Martin, an armed robber who became "Britian's most wanted man" in the early 1980's, Open Fire attempted to be as controversial as the case it echoed but couldn't quite hack it. Rupert Graves put in a commendable perormance as Martin and Kate Hardie renewed her routine portrayal of the susceptible tart, but you have to question the authenticity. The police version of the events that culminated in the death of Stephen Wardorf differ ever so slightly - maybe it was just poetic licence. And could we have less police-related dramas on next year, pretty please?

More true stories. Everyman (BBC1) kicked off with Profile of a Serial Killer (such an original title) and focused on the monster of Milwaukee, Jeffrey Dahmer, who killed 17 in young men in his apartment during 1991. He ate body parts, poured acid into a freshly drilled hole in a boy's head, masturbated over his victims' viscera, constructed a shrine out of skulls, put severed heads in his fridge, stuffed torsos into a barrel and slept with one body while another hung in his shower. But Dahmer was once a child, playing with sparklers and chasing his dog Frisky. So what made this seemingly sweet little boy turn into a murderer, necrophilliac and cannibal? Backed by melancholy oboes and packed with long tracking shots, Everyman talked to Dahmer's father - a jowled, balding and bespectacled man - and submitted him to a sort of trial by television. For the defence, Dahmer's stepmother rightly said they have "no reason to be ashamed" for their son's crimes: this continual clamour for reasons - the cause and effect philosophy - encourages people to believe parents are wholly responsible. Dahmer was found guilty (and thereby sane) by the American judicial system, and he alone was responsible for what happened to those men. Dahmer has now been baptised and claims to have found new faith in Christ (something of a traditional pastime for life prisoners). The 50-minute programme tried desperately - for the sake of humanity - to get beneath this 33 year-old's impassive facade but failed miserably by employing pop psychology in order to rationalise Dahmer's actions, something that will never, in a life time of sensationalist television, be achieved.

Enough of my pet subject, and onto mosquitoes galore. Our darling heroine Sandi Toksvig braved the elements on Great Journeys (BBC2) and vowed to paddle her Father's trusty canoe along the 1700 miles of the Zambezi River in Africa. Decked out in khaki shorts, grey socks and a red bandanna, Toksvig was impeded by the lack of bridges but fawned over latrines that cost £13 to build. Toksvig didn't seem too enamoured with the idea of yomping across the landscape and was even less relaxed about the prospect of meeting scaly crocodiles. She may have looked like Indiana Jones' eccentric Aunt but her "ridiculously accelerated journey" made for quite a captivating and beguiling hour-long excursion. Why not just give her more television work, eh? She's bloody good at it.

Further hoards of biting insects tucked into the luscious Joanna Lumley in Girl Friday (BBC1). Having endured one day's survival training togged out in camouflage and full slap, Lumley was dropped onto an island 30 miles off the coast of Madagascar where she enthusiastically chopped wood, slapped sand flies and created fire with a handy "raspy thing". Surrounded by six burly crewmen by day, she was left alone at night to suffer soporific but torrential rain. After four days of hacking through the undergrowth for yams ("I don't really know what I'm looking for. I've seen them in Sainsbury's") something snapped inside, but our brave explorer battled on swinging wildly between "seriously wise" ideas and dejected ramblings. Her delight at filching a fag from the crew and at her attempt to make a palm-leaf parasol paled beside the quiet moments of reflection on a stunning backdrop of paradise. Lumley flew away with an immaculate tan (due to occasional clandestine nudity) and a more humble disposition, but by jove, doesn't she look piggy without any make-up?

Back to the heady and unsteady world of glossy "high fashion and high seriousness" with Cutting Edge: Absolutely Marie Claire (C4). Editor Glenda from Derby was seen screeching past the cat-walks, lavishly kissing both the cheeks and arse of designer notables Klein, Lauren, Lauder and Karan while her minions talked of mature, career minded AB1 women with money to spend, spend, spend! The entire sixty minutes was excruciatingly embarrassing to watch, its painful comportment only briefly relieved by the sheer tedium of the planning meetings (all spring water and nibbles) and the advertising pitches (fragrances for kids and Ford airbags). Shame on you Cutting Edge. Both you and I know you can do far better than this!

Strange sights 1. Good Morning With Anne & Nick (BBC1) tried its hand at gay-related topics with a "Coming Out" phone-in. The style was obligatory, the mood one of forced empathy. Crammed into a seven-minute discussion between son and mother and a fifteen-minute chat with half a dozen viewers on the blower, the items lacked depth, initiative and solid advice. The resident agony aunt Deirdre Sanders did make some incredibly positive statements but even her guidance strayed off course. Still, it's good to see it tackled in an assured and beneficial manner.

Strange sights 2. Spotted in an episode of that "gritty" drama for kiddies - Byker Grove (BBC1): one of the younger female characters was wearing a rather natty piece of jewellery, to wit, a set of Freedom rings. Is there something we should know?

And so to the wireless, for an evening of drama no less. Neil Bartlett's Night After Night (Radio 4) recreated the backstage drama of theatre in the late 1950's, with an effacious, witty but bitchy camp cast and featuring Beverley Klein's rich vocal support. Bartlett played his own father, waiting anxiously for his wife in a theatre to celebrate Neil's conception, but finding himself drawn into the formula of the musical he's paid to see, helped along by luvvie agony aunts. The idea of using an out and open company to perform retrospectively the repressive 1950's worked extremely well. Laconic monologues snapped into ironic conversation, and the play was both lucid and ingenious. With a lilting piano-based score by Nicolas Bloomfield, Night After Night provided a truly intriguing and captivating hour.

Unfortunately I missed Julie Welch's tribute to the magnificent Martina on Saturday Edition (Radio 5) as it was on at the ungodly hour of 7.35pm. Having only just recovered from seeing her gorgeous thighs astride that pristine Harley, I had to console myself with the gloriously horny black & white portrait of her by Annie Leibovitz in Vanity Fair. Excuse me while I dribble, but those forearms!

So what's on the 21" tube to ease you past all the festive fervour or see off the awful hangovers and groaning stomachs? Well, Joanna Lumley is back (again) with Miriam Margolyes, Stephen Fry [add other names] in Cold Comfort Farm (BBC1). Based on the excellent novel by Stella Gibbons, it follows the fortunes of orphaned Flora Poste and her distant farming relatives, the Starkadders. The book is witty, charming and deliciously wicked, and I pray the adaptation lives up to Gibson's brilliantly scripted parodies. I dearly hope I am able to say the same of A Village Affair (ITV), Joanna Trollope's tale of lesbian love in the Cotswolds. I promise I will return to these next year.

One programme that might be of interest to armchair activists is Out Of Order (C4), a set of fifteen minute encounters between two protagonists (and here's the twist) stuck together in a lift. First up, Matthew Parris and Peter Tatchell. And don't forget, the wonderful Out This Week (Radio 5) is back, promising it's routine heady mix of chat, music and opinion. Here's a cracking idea! You might think it too radical for consideration, but how about lesbian and gay programmes without the word "Out" in the title?

© Megan Radclyffe 1993-2001

French & Saunders BBC1

Ruby Wax Meets... BBC1

Roseanne Ch4

Straight From The Heart: Fool For Love BBC2

The Decision: The Wrong Body Ch4

Peggy Seeger Radio 2

The Afternoon Shift Radio 4

Newsnight BBC2

So Dawn and Jennifer came back, but this time they seemed to be suffering some form of malcontent apathy. It isn't that some of the scripts and caricatures lacked bite and humour - exceptions included the Star Trek version of the OJ Simpson trial and the takes on Braveheart and Batman Forever - but a lot of the lines in French & Saunders (BBC1) have been culled from previous shows, including bite-sized chunks from Absolutely Fabulous and The Vicar Of Dibley. The sketches and film spoofs had such a familiar look and feel about them and although this can pass for humorous entertainment twice, hit the funny bone thrice and it becomes rather painful.

More annoying still was the apparent reliance on big names - Ann Mitchell, Felicity Kendal, Kate Moss and Pasty Kensit - to pull off a series of weak punchlines for over-long sketches. It's aggravating to see Dawn parody a gay make-up artist so badly, looking more like a butch lesbian than anyone you'll spot at your local. Jennifer (while looking rather dashing with whiskers) was reduced to a transparent stereotype. Add to this the insistence that female characters dressed as males cannot kiss female leads wore wafer-thin after the third time around. It's not like they haven't snogged women before now, is it? And before you all start carping on - yes, it's very gratifying to know that French & Saunders now contains heaps of queer-friendly material, but there's a thin line between imitation and mockery.

So why is it that I'm sitting here pondering why I spent half an hour each week chortling and chuckling as if it's all brand new, shiny comedy? Is it just because it's that safe, warm womanly feeling of buffoonery? Or is it because I'm a sad bastard who wouldn't know decent satire if it hit me in the face with a kipper? Who knows, who can say, but a fifth series constructed along parallel lines might just be the final straw.

A similar fate may yet befall Ruby Wax. Of course, that may have more to do with the fact that she can be astoundingly excruciating at times, but meanwhile, Rubes continues to bludgeon her way through people's lives with Ruby Wax Meets (BBC1). First came Imelda Marcos. At her "humble abode" — a tiny, marbled thing - Imelda showed the face of a woman wronged. "It's matters of misperception," she claimed. "Ferdinand was a democrat, a freedom-fighter, a humanist." And of the 300 cases of theft and fraud against her? Dismissed with a regal-style wave of the hand as "relentless persecution." But Rubes hadn't come for the truth. She'd come for the shoes. And she certainly lived up to her reputation, winking to cameras, mugging with over-wide grins and raised eyebrows as if to say "Are you getting this?" but her obvious sarcasm whooshed over Meldy's head with dizzying speed.

Ruby's quest for the lost $5 billion was stymied by Imelda and her media advisor. She desperately wanted proof of purchase for the 1000 gowns, 1500 handbags and 2600 pairs of shoes (bought "to promote the Phillipino shoe industry"). The opulence of her palatial home was garish. Considering that the pelf is still missing (and the library holds 350,000 prosecution documents apparently proving that Marcos frittered it away on Scotch tape and Rolex watches - a snip at $6 million), it might seem odd that Imelda would want to flaunt her tapestries, gilded furniture and Ruby's personal Holy Grail, the shoes. Ruby failed because the dictatorial mater didn't know when the piss was being taken. It seemed that the woman was certainly suffering from "swaddling your brain in glorious brilliance."

Ruby's third foray (I refused point blank to watch her traipsing about with Pamela Anderson) took her to Roseanne's sumptuous mansion. Complete with leopard pattern carpet and a waxwork butler, it reeked of the blue collar trash. Rosie turned out in a shapeless pink house dress and dolly shoes, but rifled through drawers full of furry hats, feather boas and bridal veils. Despite being "filled to the brim with mother-juice" she spent a huge amount of time nattering about how men "shouldn't go on top" and how they piss to mark out territory.

Ruby lapped it all up (no pun intended) while Roseanne spilled the beans on ex-husband Tom ("I went to the fire and emerged with only a tan"), mental institutions ("I was in there for eight months before they decided I was funny and not crazy") and her figure ("I've had every eating disorder known"). They ended up in her gargantuan bath tub, with Rubes cosily snuggled up to Rosie's breast.

Meanwhile, Rosanne (C4) came up with an episode to top the lot, one so risky and controversial that most American stations dropped it or shifted it to the graveyard slot. For me, those freaky morphing titles are enough, but I digress. This was positively hilarious.

Leon, "the middle-aged obnoxious gay son" Roseanne never had, was about to marry Scott. No problem in that, but she badgered them into letting her arrange the wedding. "Why not?" Leon replied. "I always dreamed of a ceremony that culminated in a hog-fry." Roseanne roped in Jackie to sort out the male strippers ("Rod, Lance or Shaft?"), employed Liza and Judy drag acts, half-naked waiters and bought a purple 5-tier cake. "You've taken every gay stereotype and rolled them into one giant Roseannicial ball of wrong! The wedding's off!" Leon yelled. "Of course it's a little off," Roseanne screamed back. "It's two guys for God's sake!"

Eventually, the ceremony proceeded with a verbally challenged reverend ("Will this man be your awfully rabid husband, to escalate, to cherish, to fax?") and the boys sealed it with a kiss. The camera - as you would expect - quickly, quietly panned away from the spectacle of a love that was "mystical, eternal and illegal in 20 states". Having watched it three times, I still find it an uproarious ride, so more fool you if you missed a date with your armchair.

Did my ears decieve me? Who did I hear on (Viva! FM) but none other than Robert Hanwell, the charming receptionist for this very organ, chatting about coming out to his parents. A star in the making to be sure.

A decent helping of rivetting and intriguing viewing came with The Decision: The Wrong Body (C4) followed the fortunes of three potential FTM transexuals, Zach, Jared and 13 year-old "Fred", the first two having been spotted recently on various daytime discussion shows. It seems that transexuals are the hot topic this year (along with gay weddings) and The Decision - in a tremendously empathetic and positive way - virtually covered the whole kit and kaboodle.

One in 17,000 men and women in the UK are aware that "nature has played a cruel trick on them" and may be diagnosed with gender dysphoria if their doctor doesn't completely freak out. The child psychiatrist - a smiling but beguiling chap - assigned to "Fred" likened the youngster's turmoil to a 15 year-old boy migrating to France: "The accent will show." Every question, however sensible, was greeted with a passive "Wait and see" attitude.

It's understandable that "Fred" and his parents were disgruntled, and headed off to Holland to seek other verligtes, meeting post-operative men who were obviously completely confident and utterly happy. But does acceptable body come at unacceptable cost? The answer was an unequivocable and resounding yes.

The parents seemed decidedly shaky after a slide show of a "klitirispenoid" (a micropenis created from the clitoris) and an inflatable penis. The stepfather thought surgery "barbaric" while the mother could "understand having the boobs off" but "to have anyone slicing my clitoris about" just wasn't on. Back in Blighty and in the shrink's office, "Fred" and his parents were once again rebuffed by the narrow-minded expert, who was doubtful "Fred" was 100% sure. His opinion conflicted with the theories expressed in Holland, and he tenaciously put stumbling blocks in the way. Zach and Jared were briefly seen to embark on hormonal and operative remedies, while "Fred" was left in limbo. Oh pretty please Channel 4, could we have a follow-up programme?

After two hours of scar tissue and phalloplasty, I switched on my crystal set for an interview with Peggy Seeger (Radio 2), folk singer extraordinnaire, sister of Pete and partner of Ewan McColl for umpteen years. Trapped by the grief of his death, and unable to deal with some 60 boxes of his work, she tried a fresh start, aged 59. "And what about changes in your personal life?" asked the anchor man, oh-so coyly. "Oh, the biggest one - I fell in love with a woman [Irene Scott]. A huge shock, because I've always been a man's woman," she replied. After a snippet of a love song Peg wrote for Irene about Primrose Hill, the interviewer (happy as a pig in shit with his scoop) returned to the life and works of Ewan and her solo work, although Peg continued to mention her paramour with some frequency.

Back in TV land, but how I wish I had forgone Straight From The Heart (BBC2) which included true-life tales of woe in 'Fool For Love', told straight to camera with apparently symbolic broken jigsaw pieces in a very bitty presentation. We saw Bo (an Oxford grad with floppy hair and an eyepatch) tell us of her "ultimate relationship" with a "bony-handed, floating man" who turned out to be gay. "The love was so overpowering, I didn't take notice of any niggles," she wailed. "I can't describe the hurt - I felt sick, physically sick about it all. I didn't know he was like that." He ended it all by throwing his rubber sandals at her at Victoria station. Bloody good riddance, I say. Then there was David, who "found true love" with very beautiful Philippino, who "oozed femininity." Eventually, she mentioned a six year relationship with another woman. Is is just me, or did Straight From The Heart give out a rather malevolent image of lesbians and gays?

The Afternoon Shift (Radio 4) made some amends, covering the "conscious effort" being made by the constabulary in Brighton to deal with queerbashing. In the "gay playground" of Kempton, PC Curry and Rocky (I kid you not) have set up a scheme called Speak Out where they have "friendly little chin-wags" with local gays to eradicate mistrust. Still, the locals had far more stories of attacks than the police could shake a stick at.

Newsnight (BBC2) flagged the increase in the use of "homosexual panic" in defence of queerbashers. In one case, a 62 year-old man with cancer and a heart condition was posthumously accused of homosexual advances on a judo expert some 40 years younger. It seemed that it's enough to simply raise the cry to get an acquittal. A second case showed the stabbing of an Islington resident by two men who then systematically ransacked his flat. Where's the panic? Getting away with murder all rests on either provocation or diminshed responsibility, juries are not told of previous offences of a similar nature and judges don't confront any inaccuracy. No wonder justice is fucking blind.

Taggart (Carlton) produced a three-part story about a (gay) serial killer (of gay men) which I must say was pretty damned excellent. Unfortunately, I haven't room here for a full review, so hold your breath until next month, when I'll also peruse Clare Bevan's profile of Alfred Kinsey on Reputations (BBC2). And if you were one of the suckers who bought the special edition Coronation Street video, ha ha - it's going to be on the telly!

© Megan Radclyffe 1993-2001

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