Gay Times Reviews XXVII

Review Of The Year 1994 BBC1

Decisive Moments BBC2

Blind Date - The 10th Anniversary Show LWT

Sex In A Cold Climate Ch4

Richard Littlejohn's Christmas Offensive LWT

Network First: The Plague Monkeys Carlton

Cold Comfort Farm BBC1

Scapegoats Radio 4

Pride... And Prejudice? Radio 3

Mum, I've Got Something To Tell You Radio 4

Heartbreak High BBC2

Neighbours BBC1

Byker Grove BBC1

Devil's Advocate BBC1

The High Life BBC1

The Belles BBC1

Well, that's 1994 truly over and done with, and what a bloody horrible year it was. To summarise: battles in the Royal family, John Major's rapidly plummeting popularity, the atrocious Criminal Justice Bill, the House of Horror, table talk in Bosnia, "peace" in Northern Ireland and Israel, Euro rebels, the railstrike (which I'd completely forgotten about), elections in South Africa, "genocide" in Rwanda and Wet Wet Wet spending a nauseating fifteen weeks at No.1. The imaginatively titled Review Of The Year 1994 (BBC1) with James Naughtie (who managed to bump up his travel expenses with trips hither and thither) presented a randomly chronological hour of high body counts, expensive teddy bears, the obsession with the National Lottery, women priests, the extinction of the Javan tiger, and the Pope's platinum CD. It was interesting to look back, but so thoroughly depressing. Naughtie himself claimed that "the stench of evil has replaced a good atmosphere" but I can't seriously believe he thought 1993 was any better.

Decisive Moments (BBC2) took a slightly different tack and examined the potency of photo-journalism, with an acid-style soundtrack and wacky camera angles of the snappers themselves. From the death of three Nazis in South Africa and Elizabeth Hurley's dress (must be hard to hold a camera while you're wanking) to lil' kiddies in N. Ireland (such original symbolism) the programme was melancholia personified. I only have one question about 1994: whatever happened to Edward's affair with Sophie?

Last year also saw a major celebration with Blind Date - The 10th Anniversary Show (LWT). Out of 11,000 potential candidates, 160 manage to clamber up onto those spindly stools and deliver obviously scripted puns while Cilla paraded in her militaristic suits. The clucking mother hen to shame all others is still on an eternal quest to "buy a new hat" and the one she has purchased got a prolonged outing at the wedding of two "grand old geriatrics". Still no sign of a gay (or even - heaven forbid - a lesbian) Blind Date but meanwhile, the contestants (sorry, "our lovely boys and girls") will get to practise their chat-up lines and cadge free holidays. Roll on the 20th Anniversary...

Speaking of all things sexual, Ch4 came up with Sex In A Cold Climate which took half an hour to chronicle the rise and expansion (if you'll excuse the oh-so obvious quip) of the Ann Summers empire. Ensconced in living rooms up and down the country, 7,500 women make a £20 million turnover with 4,500 parties a week selling "raunchy items" and marital aids, to wit purple dildos and furry knickers. The ultimate fun night in for the 90's woman may seem like a ticket to unending amounts of pin money, but the ladies can earn as little as seventy-five pence an hour for peddling ticklers, "sculptured inner tubes" and Wa balls (so called because they make you go "Wa-aaa!" when you insert them in any chosen orifice). It's touted as the 90's equivalent to Tupperware, with screeching harpies clamouring for that one thing that will improve their matrimonial love life. Despite this constant search, Ann Summers seem to be losing money which is attributed to "faltering growth" and the new line of bondage gear which "has met with some resistance" (no puns intended, I'm sure).

And - forgive me, dear reader - onto the odious Richard Littlejohn, who was given a full one hour and forty minutes of airtime to ruin the joyous mood of yuletide with Richard Littlejohn's Christmas Offensive (LWT). I watched a full five minutes of this "compassionate review" of 1994 and switched off. His first anti-gay jibe (against Peter Tatchell) came after only 53 seconds. Surely there are projects out there more worthy of development rather than putting this repugnant, injudicious, cretinous sycophant on our screens?

I loathe the way TV uses scare tactics and Network First: The Plague Monkeys (Carlton) is a prime example of this. You remember how the blame for HIV and AIDS was laid on the doorstep of the Africans and monkeys? Well now there's a new disease - Evoila Filovirus - which is a worm-like micro-organism transmitted through body fluids and is airbourne. The CDC were so worried when they discovered the bug in dead monkeys that they bagged them up, stuck them in the boot of a car and transported them cross-country to a laboratory. While the Army swanned about in space-age suits, the poor saps who actually handled the corpses were not quarantined. The programme left a lot of questions unanswered in its greed for ratings. If this disease is as infectious as they claim (and can kill within two weeks) then I can't understand for the life of me why there hasn't been more publicity. The type afforded by Network First is not sensible or beneficial.

Onto another disappointment. Cold Comfort Farm (BBC1) looked to be quite a gratifying adaptation of Stella Gibbon's novel, set in the rural farmland of 1920's Sussex and with a queerish cast including Miriam Margoyles, Stephen Fry, Joanna Lumley and Ian McKellen. The tale of the thoroughly modern orphan Flora Poste, who decides with lodge with her dubious relatives while planning to renovate and update the cursed and filthy farmhouse, against the wishes of the mad Aunt Ada Doom was full of gloom, dung and spring onion harvests. Having only just finished the book, I was dismayed by the characterisations. Fry was equally slimy and flamboyant but far too frolicsome and Lumley was rather wasted as a titian-haired socialite. McKellen put on his butch voice, but his accent was a shade too southerly and his portrayal of the fire and brimstone preacher lacked just that. His character was supposed to be absolutely ancient and the Quivering Brethren he ministered shook more like Weebles than a petrified mass. Cold Comfort Farm had one thing going for it in the shape of a wicked pastiche of Gone With The Wind but for the most part, the characters were half-baked and not as likeable as those sketched by Gibbons. That isn't to say I didn't enjoy the production, but I'd rather let my imagination run riot with the book, thank you very much.

Scapegoats (Radio 4) promised to explore why gay men (and to a certain extent, lesbians) were pilloried by society. Instead it was a catalogue of "vicious if sporadic persecution" in which sailors were hanged, Medieval men were only damned as individuals, lesbians were only lightly oppressed and a quarter of Renaissance Florentines admitted to being sodomites. Although Scapegoats was incredibly useful as a historical record of massive crackdowns, crucial change and ancient prejudice, it failed to explain exactly why homosexuals bear the brunt of society's intolerance.

Two other quick mentions for the wireless. Unfortunately I missed both, what with the preamble towards the turkey and unwrapping my new Mortal KombatĒ game. Mum, I've Got Something To Tell You (Radio 4) broached the subject of coming out and asked how people would react if anyone "sat them down and began - however gently - to break the news". Pride And Prejudice (Radio 3) raked over the ashes of Tchaikovshy's death, asking whether he really died of cholera or actually committed suicide when the Tsar heard news of his homosexuality. Sorry, I haven't the faintest idea.

A couple of bijou plugettes for Aussie soaps Heartbreak High (BBC2) and Neighbours (BBC1). The former, a ruff n' tuff drama set in a school, features a teacher called Graham who is being harangued and taunted over an "alleged homosexual advance", while the nation's favourite teatime soap actually had a storyline based about AIDS, where lil' Michael Martin thought he'd contracted the HIV virus through a one-off bonk with an ex-girlfriend. Turns out he's negative, so that's the contentious issue finished with for the year. Byker Grove (BBC1) has also come in for some attention, with a story on a young lad kissing a friend in the cinema. Obviously, everyone's crying foul because it's a children's programme, but the makers aren't backing down. Apparently, the lad is going off to see a gay counsellor to explore his feelings.

And so, to Devil's Advocate (BBC1), "based on a true story" of an English nanny, on trial in Florence for arson and attempted murder. The delicious thing about the story was the way lesbianism was slipped in so easily. The main protagonist (new hot shot Lena Hedley putting in a convincing and gritty performance) was gently courted in jail by a lesbian (much to the chagrin of the prison warders), and her lawyer (played with determination and compassion by Alice Krige) became embroiled with the nanny's female employee. Yes, maybe the Italian accents were a tad overripe, and maybe the camera did sway a bit, but that's what the BBC is famous for. I found myself quite taken by this two-part tale of courtroom drama and the "lesbica" were an unexpected bonus. Shows you how much of my TV bumpf I read...

I wish I hadn't even picked up the information for The High Life (BBC1). I haven't seen camp this awful since that thing with Eric Whatisface in the corner tea shop. The mind-numbing inanity of the scripts beggars belief. A bearly budgetted production, The High Life takes place on the tiniest of sets - an Air Scotia aeroplane - and is ripe with "anal barbs". The characters of "Perspex pansies" Sebastian (a man whose "boyish looks are tarnished") and Steve (a "carroty dwarf" who is in crisis having just turned 30) are simply thumbnail sketches. The script is trite, the acting thoroughly overblown (a mixture of camp with Scots accents is hard to swallow) and the peripheral characters are nonsensical, particularly the pilot who's convinced he's Leonard Nimoy. It's not a favourable portrayal of air stewards or homosexuals and I have to say it is utter codswallop.

It makes me wonder - once again - why money is poured into such claptrap when more stimulating and absorbing subjects are already available. I bemoan the fact that the TV companies show so little of women's football, but BBC1 tried to redress the balance with The Belles from Doncaster, who have won the Women's FA Cup six times. There are over 12,000 women playing in a Premiership of 450 teams. They aren't paid, playing only for the love of the game, which is more than can be said for most of their male counterparts. Boyfriends are dumped because they're less important, the bruises and cleat marks are just as nasty to behold and nearly all the team members have full-time jobs to manage as well as training and playing twice a week. The Belles followed the "ladies" up to the Cup, beating Slovenia 10-0 on route while the referee blew his whistle for the smallest thing - obviously believing the women are fragile. They are far from it. I wholly enjoyed the match play and wish Channel 4 would reverse their decision to drop coverage. Pretty please?

Finally, a "Brand New Season" is being promised for all channels, but I haven't seen much you won't have watched before. Let's hope Carlton make more of an effort this time round...

© Megan Radclyffe Jan 1995

Eurovision Song Contest BBC1

Dangerous Lady Carlton

The Governor LWT

The Politician's Wife Ch4

Freedom FM 104.9 FM

Brookside Ch4

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 GuinnessĒ 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?

Even if you didn't particularly like what they've done so far, it's important that lesbians and gays have their own radio station. Given more time and the money a full licence would provide, Freedom FM could just be an unmitigated success. Write to Susan Walters, Regulation Department, Radio Authority, Holbrook House, 14 Great Queen Street (where else?), London WC2B 5DG. And do it now.

And while you've got your pen out, you can write to Brookside or Channel 4 and anyone else you can think of , and call Mersey TV, to get Beth and Mandy out of that awful bloody prison. They don't deserve to be there, and the sign I put in my window (which contravenes my rent agreement) will remain there until they are free.

© Megan Radclyffe 1993-2001

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