Gay Times Reviews IV

The Bill: Follow Through Carlton

Well, what a brouhaha that was, eh? Splashed all over the popular press, voices raised in horror, hands slapped over the kiddies' eyes... and for what? A brief encounter ("a shockingly torrid lesbian clinch!") in the shower block by two women prisoners. And what kiss? Did I blink...? I must have done!

But let's start again. The Bill (a programme I rarely watch in fact, never watch) presented a story of heroin abuse, lesbianism (pah! if that was lesbianism then I'm a heterosexual) and bent wardens which started with the unexplained death of a prisoner. The DCI urged PC Kerry Holmes to surreptitiously befriend then betray the woman's cellmates, a rag-tag bunch of stereotypes. Questioning the three women did little more than betray the writer as an disingenious moke. 'I ain't under arrest,' spat one. 'I dahn't no nuffin' cos I ain't dealin'!' Meanwhile, PC Polly was at the hospital: 'Looks she like dun some drugs before she died.' And if the level of the scriptwriting accurately reflects policing enquiries, it's little wonder the country's in such a bloody state!

But I digress. PC Kerry settled down on her bunk, having negotiated the gangs of tuff birds wearing thick woolly jumpers, braids and implausible amounts of jewellery. She only had three days to complete her mission ('But that dahn't give us long, Guv!') and was impeded by her cellmate's friends, Scary, Baldy, Ginger, Lanky and Dreadlock. 'Awright,' says our heroine. 'I'm the new girl on the block and you want to try me out...' This hardly softened their polluted hearts. 'Shove me again you cow and I'll rearrange your pretty face... Dahn't mess me around!... Yah're dead you are, ya little cow!' Ooh, it was heartstopping viewing! And the train of police thought? Dazzling! 'If she's dealin' in phone cards, I reckon she's likely to be dealing in drugs,' one top cop reasoned. But he need not have taxed his brain so. After the main suspect, the risible Rita, made a blatant play for Kerry, she spilled a ton of beans as the PC's hidden tape recorder whirred away. But then the underlaying thread was that any woman who ends up in prison is a silly bitch anyway so who gives a toss? 'Yah nicked!'

And that kiss? Well. It was hardly more than a peck on the (facial) cheek. No doubt in the fetid minds of tabloid journalists, a peck and a finger resting on an arm constitutes a licentious affair worthy of promethean coverage and robotic condemnation. But I'm here to tell you lads, the only thing that disgusted me was that you lot blew it up into a viewing hazard worthy of a health warning: I wasted an entire hour of my invaluable time. Do that again and I'll rearrange ya face, mate...

Murder Most Horrid: Dinner At Tiffany's BBC2

So Ms French... apple of my eye, bra size of my dreams... a lesbian encounter for you too? The final episode in the fourth series, written by one Jonathan Harvey, sees French as Tiffany, a school dinner lady with an exacting nature ('I want that custard nice and yellow, do you hear?'), a penchant for eau de Tramp, and a board Bath accent. And it seems she has a crush on the principal Gloria Twigge (Frances Barber, not unfamiliar to playing the role of a dyke) but there is a rival for her apparent affections in the form of PE mistress Evangeline ('People say she's Lebanese') Brassiere, oops... Brazier. Missy Twiglet is a sherry-swilling gambler who has frittered away the school funds and is having a lousy sex life with Ms. Bra-Straps, sorry! Brazier! Tiffany, stuck in a strange twilight homelife with Mother (Thelma Barlow in fine fettle), hatches a plan to make Twigge hers...

Fairly intelligent, if somewhat ancient, references to lesbiana abounded in the form of Valerie Singleton and Martina souvenir lunch boxes, Gardenia's women-only night club (featuring lesbian line dance limbo and populated by extras culled from London's Candy Bar), other snippets hither and thither that I shan't disclose here, and my favourite line of all: 'Then Bob's your uncle and Fanny's your favourite!'

I won't give any of the plot away (I credit you all with aptitude enough to realise there's foul play agate) but there are some thunderingly good lines in this. And the kissing? Well for screen kisses (yes, plural but absolutely no tongues allowed) ooh, they're humdingers! Longer than Tony and Simon's, longer than Beth and Ohjammaflip's, longer than Zoe's lingering look at her latest lascivious prospect...

It's not the most facetious episode of Murder Most Horrid I've ever seen, or the most ingenious but, compared to the depiction of lesbians (per se) in The Bill, this was a top-drawer televisual distraction.

The Ghost of Number Ten Radio 4

Written by Steve Naylon and Turin Ali, this piece of Victorian melodrama meets New Labour had the potential to be something great, but sadly just failed to hit the bull's eye.

Lottie Dickens (played by Maggie Steed in the best Rag Trade fashion) is a prostitute murdered (we know not where) in 1899, and has been condemned to haunting No. 10 Downing Street until her killer is revealed by MI5 files. That would have been uncommonly astute and remarkably pertinent idea if it hadn't plummeted into a burdensome Socialist rhetoric, or if I hadn't wondered 'What would a 19th century whore know about secret service files?'

Lottie, dispirited by a success of 'spineless, pathetic herberts' initially sees a Labour PM as a chance for real equality, but soon realises she's 'stuck with another cretin'. She dedicates herself to bringing back the ghost of Nye Bevan (Ron Moody, no less!) to remind Labour of their founding dogma. Karl Marx was dismissed as 'too hairy' to have any effect. The Chancellor, meanwhile, sees her and hides in the broom cupboard. 'Blimey!' Lottie cries. 'A Chancellor who won't come out of the closet!' Hum...

Cardinal Relic is summoned to perform an exorcism, but not before Bevan begins a protracted rant on where New Labour has failed. And all of this on their first day in power... Lottie's final declaration ('50 years on and back where we started: another Tory only this one calls himself Labour') was too glib and callow to pack the punch it needed. If her mission really is to 'make a Socialist of him even if it kills me again' then the oratory will only hamper any constructive or critical points that should, most certainly, be made.

©Megan Radclyffe March 1999

Scribbling BBC2

I thought this would be quite, quite mundane... The press release explained how 'many people are convinced that they could write a novel if only they had the time' and the idea behind Scribbling is to prove that - 'for the professionals' - plucking words from thin air and moulding them into a stimulating piece of prose isn't a piece of cake. I wasn't sure if this was a conspiracy on the part of publishers and editors... but I digress.

One segment focused on Geoff Ryman, whose previous internet-friendly novel 253 shifted a pleasing 30,000 hard copies. A Canadian living in Bloomsbury, Ryman was filmed from scratch writing Lust, the tale of Michael, a promiscuous, middle-aged homosexual who can summon up figures from history and fuck them: Tarzan, Lawrence of Arabia, Ernest Hemingway, Picasso, Harry Houdini, the New Zealand All Backs and even Daffy Duck appear before him.

It sounded a considerably promising read - probably writes itself, you would think - but Ryman was filmed struggling against writer's block and a four month deadline. He did however manage to fret in Paris, Greece, Oxfordshire, London and Brazil while maintaining a full-time job as a civil servant.

As Ryman became increasingly ragged and distracted, a peculiarly quiet tension began to mount. He discovered the root of what he called 'Michael's miracle' with a blend of metaphysics, science, rich metaphors and explicit sex, with a bit of Oedipal complex thrown in for good measure. While you might think watching a writer write might be akin to watching paint dry, I for one was strangely drawn in.

After over 18 months of rewrites, we finally saw the launch party for Lust unfortunately, the book received mixed reviews (from 'extraordinary images' to 'dull') and suffered disappointing sales. Did it put me off dreaming about finishing that book that has been languishing on my computer for 3 years? No, but it didn't really give me much impetus either.

©Megan Radclyffe Sept 2001

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