Gay Times Reviews XXVIII

Ruby Wax Meets Madonna BBC1

The Full Wax BBC1

Sesame Street Ch4

Without Walls Ch4

Grace Under Fire BBC2

Ellen Ch4

The Vicar of Dibley BBC1

Heart of the Matter BBC1

Esther BBC2

Look Who's Talking... with Mariella Frostrup Carlton

The Last Word BBC2

Desert Island Discs Radio 4

I bow unusually deeply to media pressure, and start this month with the televisual event that never was - Ruby Wax Meets Madonna (BBC1). Obviously, it gave dear Maddie a chance to hype her new long-player, but Ruby, resplendent in red velveteen, stole the show from under Maddie's freshly-pierced nose. Hidden away in an ostentatiously decorated room at the Ritz in gay Paree, Madonna spent the first ten minutes screeching over which camera angles were permissible, which made no sense at all considering she looked like a clapped-out whore from all sides. She, believing forever that late 80's media love-in, called herself a "creamy smooth goddess" and blew bubbles while sporting a brand new beauty spot and showing off her oh-so-outrageous crotchless knickers.

It seems that Maddie has become something of a self-parody, obsessed with her looks and eager to impress with her charm, but without an original thought in her head. No wonder, then, that she has realised it "helps to be very, very rich"... If Madonna really is the control freak she claims to be, I cannot understand for the life of me why she let this programme on air. The camera operators, in a complete flap over where to point their equipment, ended up swaying and zooming around, and the sound was overawed by fuzzy feedback. Ruby swanned through, a complete professional, and upstaged the only woman in the world who acts like a petulant child, pouting and scowling when life isn't handed to her on a silver plate. The only real highlight was seeing Ruby, having raided Maddie's suitcase, draped in a tin-foil bikini singing "Erotic, Erotic..."

The woman's wasted. The new series of The Full Wax (BBC1) proves it. Ruby's own little snippets of chat were far funnier than watching some of the studio-based guests: I particularly drooled over Jamie Lee Curtis, loved Joanna Lumley as a self-obsessed diva (does Ruby have a penchant for surrounding herself with these people?). I immediately rang the BBC to congratulate Felicity Kendal for doning a PVC basque, while watching Richard Wilson appear totally dashing in his blonde wig. Of course, our Rube has her problems - flat jokes, sleep-inducing guests and so on - but who else can walk all over Tammy Faye Bakker without her even knowing?

Speaking of knowledge, Sesame Street (Ch4) celebrated its 25th year with two programmes. Sesame Street Jam consisted of a parade of mainly African-American stars pumpin' it up with the puppets, but the Opening Shot special was much more fun. Okay, I'll come clean. My Mother used to plonk me down in front of the "picture box" to sing "Sunny days, keeping the... clouds away. On our way, to where the air... is... sweet!" before reciting my ABC, counting cabbages and learning to use a telephone. I saw my first ever black, Asian and Chinese faces there, and learned about disability and death. I swear - even now - I still watch it on occasion. This peek behind the scenes served to remind me how many of my early years were devoted to Oscar the Grouch, the Cookie Monster, Guy Smiley, Count Dracula and Mr Hooper (I couldn't stomach Big Bird) and how I thrived on it all. "One of these things is not like the others..." Ah, what an anthem for us all.

It only seems a moment ago that Without Walls (Ch4) unleashed a rather rabid Camille Paglia on us. The new season has provided some real classics: Barbara Winsdor's Obituary Show (nothing to do with her appearance on Eastenders, honestly); Tales from a Darkened Room which presented Janis Joplin's final days as a drunken junkie in New York; and The National Alf, which allowed that absolute... charmer, Gary Bushell, to rage ceaselessly over "that happy breed" - the working class - and their hero, Alf Garnett.

The xenophobic "armchair warrior" first spewed his "fountain of working class wisdom" at the nation in 1966: the streets, legend has it, were clear when he was on. Bushell warmed to his diatribe quickly, lavishing spiteful judgements on the "culturati" and venomous declarations of aesthetic and pride. He even enlisted the help of Darcus Devil's Advocate Howe, who praised this "beautiful drama". Bushell claimed that Garnett "made 20 million people laugh". A point of order: just because 20 million turn on, it doesn't logically follow that about 360 million ribs were tickled. Ah! But, Bushell counters, "society created him", ending his drooling rhetoric with the claim that nobody can have English Pride. It is, somehow, prohibited. Pride? Oh yes, certainly, but not at the price set by Bushell, Garnett and the BNP.

But don't think the programme wasn't a little slice of heaven. Bushell was truly hoist by his own petard, and I revelled in such a glorious sight. I only hope that you, gentle reader, appreciate the heinous shit I have to wade through in order to get this column written. Mr Bushell, you got off lightly.

Onto some items that have less of an adverse effect on my digestive system. Two challengers to Roseanne (Ch4) are still struggling to upset the queen of acerbity. Grace Under Fire (BBC2) and Ellen (Ch4) don't match up to Rosie's biting brand of wit, but I take some delight in watching them. The latter is a snappy, New York minute style of thirty-something humour; the former has drier, Southern wit with an almost crunchy bite. Of course, I hanker for the chance to see these two women in their chosen arena of stand-up comedy, but this is enough to be getting on with.

Meanwhile, Dawn French is back (hoorah!) in The Vicar Of Dibley (BBC1), penned by Richard Blackadder Curtis. It's one of those role-reversal comedies, with French as the new vicar of a miniscule congregation who are dubiously minded, to say the least. Supported by Liz Smith (currently brandishing a cutlass on Children's BBC), Roger Lloyd Peck (father of Emily and ex-Only Fools And Horses) and produced by her long-standing ally Jon Plowman, it isn't a bad little half-hour. Both Curtis and French are from good stock, and carry this parish parody off amiably.

More church shinanegans, this time with the crisp Joan Bakewell and Heart Of The Matter (BBC1). Once again, she turned to that old faithful of the Church's doctrine on homosexuality, with the formular accusation of hypocrisy, prompted on this occassion by the Bishop of Durham's "indiscretion" in a toilet 26 years ago. Devout men talked of "rejoicing" in the change the Bish made (now happily married, blah blah), while the Rev. Tony Higton and Richard Kirker repeated their usual cogent and/or lumpen rhetoric. Joan and the boys eventually came to the conclusion (once - yawn - again) that "There is no way forward that will satisfy everyone". That may be so, but it's not an excuse to go backwards.

Three more "people" shows have crept onto the airwaves, and I hold my head high as I say they're all codswallop. Esther Rantzen is ill suited to her new-found vocation as an Oprah-style host on the imaginatively titled Esther (BBC2). It seems that she has some difficulty tottering around the studio, which is a pre-requisite of the job, as you must be able to nimbly nip around among the audience. Esther also has problems in disguising her replusion and incredulity at some of her guests, in particular transvestites, gay men and drag queens. Mariella Frostrup, on the other hand, deals deftly with those wishing to plug their wares on Look Who's Talking... with Mariella Frostrup (Carlton). It astounds me that people are being paid to think these titles up. No matter. Lastly, Germaine Greer has thrown her gauntlet into the ring with The Last Word (BBC2), which is like watching Ch4's After Dark with hormone replacement therapy. I can only advise that, should you be masochistic enough to watch, you don't blink, for if you do, the panellists (including Janet Street Porter and Anne Leslie) will take a quantum leap in the conversation and leave you flayling. It's a bit like a witch's coven, albeit decorated in rag-roll oatmeal, and the request that "Men should be more responsible" sounded like a clarion call from bunch of carrions. Excellent fodder for those ploughing through Women's Studies courses, but a mind-numbing didacticism for the rest.

I finally managed to remember this is a Television and Radio column, but was only able to tune into one show: Desert Island Discs (Radio 4), with guest islander Jeanette Winterson. She chose classical pieces and a handful of arias, was quizzed with tenacious ferocity by Sue Lawley about her "door-stepping" activites, and talked of her relationship with her Mother. Winterson promises to only take the Oxford English Dictionary, one of Handel's "mathematically beautiful" pieces, and a crate or Krug or a printing press as her luxury. Impressed? You betcha I am.

So, having kicked the kiddies off my doorstep for daring to suggest I should share my sweeties with them, and having sheltered my darling kitties from the Armageddon that was Guy Fawkes' night, I shall presently settle down with a dozen mince pies and, no doubt, thoroughly relish the extravaganza of family viewing over the festive period. Luckily for you, the deadlines dictate that I have to ignore every last one of them...

© Megan Radclyffe 1993-2001

Boisvert Lingerie MTV

Virgin Vokda MTV

It must have been the perfect pitch. A few sharp-suited advertising executives with Nokia mobiles and jazzy ties, propping up a bar and chewing the fat about Boisvert Lingerie. And what's the perfect scenario? asks one. Two lesbians, maybe in black stockings and lacy basques, answers another, in a laddish way. Preferably snogging, ha ha, says their colleague. And lo, "The Appointment" was born, featuring a titian-haired beauty suitably bathed in soft light.

She zips herself slowly into a basque, sliding on her sheer black stockings. She piles her hair up, puts on choker, a little black number and the obligatory pair of stilletoes. Is it getting hot in here?

As you might guess, she gains the admiring stares of men. One chap who fancies his chances undresses her as she sneaks past. She almost winks, but carries on, approaching a waxen-haired figure in a square-shouldered jacket. Onto the screen pop the words "Do men deserve it?" just as we discover that her date is a woman. Ooh, scandalous. Hose me down. And they kiss (not just a peck on the cheek, but no tongue either) as the answer "No" flits onto the screen.

Compare and contrast the recent ad for Virgin Vodka, or was it for the Edge Bar, Soho? Hard to tell, as one product is seemingly so inexorably entwined with the other. This time, the pitch is sweaty and raw, with flashing lights and soft-option techno. The camera whips around, presenting a snafu spectacle of jolly queers, fag hags and Virgin Vodka being splashed over the proverbial rocks. And then, so briefly you'd miss it if you blinked, two men - yes, gay men - tickle each other's tonsils.

The connection is that these ads have been deemed unfit for public viewing. Utterly ridiculous really, because both are completely innocuous. But then, they're not being aimed at a queer audience, are they?

Health Risks of Ecstacy, LSD & Speed Kiss FM & Choice FM

You've all heard about "poor Leah Betts" and the furore that followed about the evil drug Ecstacy. Forget the fact that two years ago, it was still being used in psychiatric hospitals - now it's a corrupting menace. The Health Education Authority have now produced six radio adverts and 15 newspaper ads, "focusing on the physical and psychological effects" of LSD, speed and Ecstacy.

Of course, the HEA don't want to alienate anyone (they're famous for it, remember?) but the radio ads seem to be aimed specifically at parochial parents and their drug-crazed children. Three of them begin with a lad (because women's voices aren't convincing when it comes to being erudite) challenging "How much do you think you know" about LSD, speed and Ecstacy. Sound bites from relative youngsters are followed by a True or False declaration. These are pronounced as a verbal slap on the wrist for those who think speed makes your teeth fall out, you have to take loads of LSD for it to alter your conscious state, or that Ecstacy gives you back ache.

The implication is that these drugs are just plain bad but the HEA are wise enough to realise that the kiddies won't stop popping pills because some sanctimonious biddy tells them not to. They suggest you need to "Know The Score" - a witty play on words that means bugger all when you consider what some drugs are mixed with.

The printed adverts show a cut-away drawing of brains and guts, and bylines that suggest "...just a tiny amount of LSD can trigger off serious mental illness" and Ecstacy "may also lead to... permanent brain damage". You can't call it scaremongering but the message is subtlety ominous. The adverts also cite the sunny side of taking drugs, and it could be that for as many who are put off, a few might be encouraged.

Tonight with Trevor McDonald  ITV1

Must have been a bit of a doozy to replace that ol' stalwart The Bill eh? But what better way than to splatter the `confessions' of Michael Barrymore over a whole hour?

Visually, this made for very boring television. Cut away head shots of Barrymore and interviewer Martin Bashir, interspersed with clips from the comic's shows, and the odd indent of a swimming pool. I was surprised they didn't show a body floating gently past, but then I'm cynical.

So, there sat Barrymore... a little ruddy around the cheeks, a tad more jowly than I recall, and slightly more dishevelled too. At times he looked contrite. At others, he looked mildly irritated by the questions being asked. Sometimes he looked lost, not holding eye contact, looking at the floor or his hands, as he told the story of that `fateful night' – 30 March 2000 (and don't think the timing didn't strike me either) – when father of two Stuart Lubbock died in Barrymore's swimming pool.

It was a sad tale which spiralled down towards disaster. Barrymore told of how he was only content in front of an audience, and that he had `no identity' of his own outside of his work. In order to cope, he became an addict to drink and drugs: `A bottle of Jack Daniels, white wine, I never regulated it. Pot, cocaine, Es, speed... whatever, anything.'

The revelation that Barrymore is gay was made `in a very public way', as you all probably know, after a drag act at the White Swan spotted him. `I didn't think of the outcome,' Barrymore whined. As someone who won the Nation's accolade of favourite entertainer 4 years running, someone with an attendant high media profile, I wonder about this.

After his 19 year marriage to Cheryl collapsed, Barrymore said he became a `loose canon, `clubbing, boozing... coming out didn't solve anything.' He `suffered badly from loneliness' until he settled down with Shaun Davies and was reunited with his Mother after a argument some eight years previously. Of course, the path to self–destruction isn't smooth, especially when Barrymore himself recognises that he set out to `completely destroy' relationships.

The calamitous night in question started out innocuously enough with dinner and a Harlow nightclub, but ended with nine complete strangers drinking or smoking dope at Barrymore's Essex mansion, and one upended in his pool.

He denied the tabloid tales of offering coke to others, or rubbing it on Lobback's gums, that he was `too drunk' to know what was going on and later, that there was a sexy orgy, which was `totally fabricated!' He seemed to bristle slightly at the accusations. Bashir's insistent questioning about Barrymore's responsibility – or rather, implied guilt – seemed to grate on his nerves too.

The rest of the inquisition focused on Barrymore's rehabilitation (after `seven or eight' attempts at rehab, he's not had a drink or any illegal substance since May), his Mother's death (`I wanted her in my life forever') and once, again, his responsibility. And here came the bit where I supposed we would have to forgive him, for he claimed there `isn't another recovery in me', and almost threatened, `If I relapse, I would prefer... [a pregnant pause] I'd probably prefer that I didn't survive it.' I might be jaded but I'll refrain from commenting on the potential media coverage of this little twist.

Having spent an hour watching, I did wonder what I was supposed to have gleaned from this. There were no new facts, or at least, no new revelations. Was it nice to know he feels guilty? No. Was it good TV to watch him squirm? No. Could I, or ITV, done something more productive with that hour? I'm convinced I could have: ITV should have.

© Megan Radclyffe November 2001

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