I've been watching this fly on the shower wall docu-soap with a marked lack of interest. Of course, within the ranks of inmates at Yorkshire's New Hall prison there are a few dykes (hence mention of it here) but really, how much more prosaic can television get?
With the press office claim that Jailbirds 'opens the doors on the prison in all its claustrophobic intensity' you'd think that it might make provocative and incomparable viewing. I think not.
The main interest was Toni Barker, a 27 year-old dyke at New Hall on an 18 month sentence for possession of heroin. Initially a suicidal risk and suffering from cold turkey, Barker quickly became ensconced in the routine. She metamorphosed into a gregarious, vociferous inmate, was put on sweeping duties, and even got herself a girlie. And in her 'spare time' she worked out in the gym and swaggered around like a cockerel on heat, 'Oi Oi Saveloy!'-ing at fellow scofflaws who I swear looked no older than 14.
Barker was eventually suspended, a punishment usually metered out to those who have tried to escape or have abused drugs while on the wing. Having done neither, Barker carps that the authorities are trying to annul the relationship with her euphemistic friend. 'They do it just to fuck with yer 'ead,' she bawled as she dragged her bin liner of belongings off to 'A' wing. Oh yes dear viewer, there's a delicate side behind this roughtie-toughtie dyke with her No2 hair and a bullish stride.
We also met another dyke, Sharon, serving her fourth year of 11 for arson. I did briefly wonder about the cogitation behind her crime, a concern that didn't bother me with the other featured stars sorry, convicts. With facial piercings and that classic queer quiff, Sharon was a very angry young dyke. After receiving a punishment for being found in a cell where she 'was not authorised to be' she was turned then found 'not suitable for parole. 'I've done everything,' she repeatedly said, a constant lament which rapidly became extremely irksome. 'I've done it fer nuffin', I've changed, I've been good, fer nuffin'!' Call me callous, but I'm going to rely upon old-fashioned gumption here: should of thought of that before. And maybe these 'real-life' docu-makers will consider the same before inflicting any more of these upon a viewing public already woefully insulted by such insipid programming...
South Park Night Ch 4
I must just send my undying thanks to Channel 4 once again for the dexterity and rapidity of the PR machine. I may not be among many but I'm eager for the second series of South Park, and the advent of South Park Night is an agreeable prospect. But, despite offering small furry sacrifices upon the mighty altar at the C4 press office, I couldn't find out how the night would unfold!
Having grown up with Disney and graduated through The Simpsons and King Of The Hill I found SP and was both horrified and delighted by it. The wonderful Cartman, Kykle, Stan and poor old Kenny are appealing yet strangely repulsive. Various moralistic bods have slammed SP because of the violence (a veritable pogrom every week), the use of foul language (well *%@+ that!) and it reliance on matters of sex, religion and defecation for its comedy. What floors me about these ickle critters is that they get away with it and Lord help me, I'm envious my childhood didn't quite pan out like that!
So, these details are sketchy, and probably (knowing my luck) subject to late minute amendments. There's Goin' Down To South Park (but don't tut at me if the title changes) for one of those behind the scenes exclusives with creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker. There's also a one-off special planned, The Making of Chef Aid Canned Ham, in which such celebrity superstars as my ol' mate Elton John, Meatloaf, Ozzy Osbourne and the Red Hot Chilli Peppers all accredit their repute to Chef in a South Park parody of Live Aid.
Details on who or what My Favourite South Park are absolutely invisible to my eager eye, but the highlight of the evening for me is the premiere of Stone and Parker's new film, Cannibal! The Musical featuring all the main SP cast. All I need to know now is: Who Killed Kenny?
A Killing In The Family BBC1
Well, I had a delectable choice of viewing this month didn't I? But then trust Auntie Beeb to get out the best china and fondant fancies and invite the parents of opprobrious murderers to tea for a chat. After a flourish of thunderous piano chords, we sat down with Betty Scott, a perfect grandma with a soft Scots lilt, lustrous blue eyes and white hair. She is the mother of Denis Nilsen, sentenced to 25 years for killing more than 14 men.
I started to ponder the authentic remit of this programme. The narrative inferred that it was to follow the 'trail of grief' endured by the family members who have such a black sheep in their fold. But surely we're expecting to see a slatternly, wretched parent who obviously didn't cherish their child, or didn't discipline them well enough? Surely, the killer's kin are just as evil?
No, of course not and that's why this programme was shown. Being the cynical sod I am, I still think there was a voyeuristic bent to it all and didn't really see a need for it. Why is it considered to be a lively televisual diversion to watch a mother break down in tears, and watch her wrestle with guilt because she is defending her flesh and blood?
What are supposed to think when she described the man who strangled the last breath out of so many men as a 'quiet, kind, sensitive boy' who was kind to animals? We ask, well what on earth happened then? Her boy was obviously anguished. Mrs Scott says, 'I was sad that I didn't know he felt like that.... [but] nobody makes him do it.' I hope she never finds out. Even the certain and assured knowledge that, as Mrs Scott herself says, 'It was nothing I'd done', there is a cloud over her.
Apparently there have been 40 serial killers in the UK since the turn of this century that have killed three or more people. Actually, the definition of 'serial' is only applied once they get 4 or more, but I digress. But still, that's a lot of grief. And Mrs Scott was right when she said, 'They don't want to know how you feel, I suppose'. People don't. They want the gory details, they want the justice system to punish these miscreants, and they feel far superior and much safer from the knowledge that it wasn't their little boy that was killed or had killed. I do not feel that the cloud that hangs heavily over Mrs Scott's lineage was lifted by A Killing In The Family as the media, once again, have asked her to show remorse for sins that are not hers. That's not entertainment nor is it of educational value. It's vilification and I don't want it on my screen, thank you.
©May 1999 Megan Radclyffe
My Father once got onto the dance floor at a family wedding and gave us his attempt at robotic dancing. It was a shameful exhibition designed to convince the gathered clan into believing that Dad was trendy. It resulted in a stunned silence which he mistook for his audience's awe.
The ever-advancing caducity of 'youth television' is beginning that mirror that excruciating moment in my life. Tribe (BBC2) is an efffort to make programming that, and I quote the producer, 'Kids themselves would want to watch'. I no longer consider myself to be a 'kid' (actually I never did) but I am not sure Tribe would have been the programme that had me glued to the TV set.
Oh it's all very worthy. It reinforces all that frightful anguish parents have about people like Mott, a boy racer who loves to 'gaw dahn Saffend' in his Ford Fiesta XR2i and do hand-break turns in a B&Q car park. And for those who bang on about 'education, education, education' not simply learning about 1066 and all that, it tries to impart knowledge useful for surviving in that nasty big wide world too.
To wit we met Kieran, a gay Catholic boy from Derry. Now stop me if you've heard this before. Kieran is in his late teens. He's gay with a beautiful boyfriend named Shaun. He's out to everyone he knows ... except his parents. But he has a very supportive group of gay men. All are slightly older. The Troubles? 'We watched the riots in drag!' Homosexuality and the Catholic church?'You're told you're bad' And then all begin to perform the gentle and ancient gay art of encouraging Kieran to step out of the closet just in time to see a symbolic rainbow arch across the Derry skyline.
Before you know it Kieran's back from telling his Ma ... and she already knew! She'd probably been watching programmes in the styleé of Tribe for the past decade and could spot a queer boy a mile off. Is it in the rules somewhere that gay youth only be given a videocam and a 10-minute spot if they're about to come out? Answers on a postcard to any major broadcasting company please.
Mrs Merton And Malcolm BBC1
It had to happen sooner or later. The Mrs Merton talk show concept was getting a tad tedious and besides she had trouble exhorting new guests. So we have Caroline Aherne, still reigning victorious with The Royle Family, inviting us into Mrs Merton's home. Welcome to the peculiar world of middle-aged heterosexuality.
While I have been known to gripe bitterly about the use of laughter tracks on BBCsitcoms, the lack of one here results in an almost eerie atmosphere. This is not a call to add one!In fact, I'm not entirely sure the sound engineer would be pressing the button anyway.
This semblance is aided by Mrs Merton's 50s style philosophy and overly beige environment. In reality I feel that Mrs Merton and Malcolm is far more malevolent than Aherne's chat show and presents for your mid-evening televisual entertainment ý a family unit far more malfunctional than the Royles. Mr Merton is inert in bed all day, every day, and the love Malcolm has for his Mum is frankly quite scary.
Time to come clean. I never liked Mrs Merton but to be magnanimous, this switch from a staid chat show to a sitcom is an intriguing idea. You think that was a humdrum review?Try watching the programme...
The Afternoon Play: Women In Love: Warming Her Pearls Radio 4
Beginning with a rather metaphysical description of a seemingly indolent affair, Warming Her Pearls tells of a mother's dying confession to her daughter. With some sombre piano chords that transmute into a more feminine refrain, Rosemary Leach actuates the reminiscence of a lesbian affair, precipitated by an encounter with some dykes on a street.
The monologues by a mother (great-grandmother), her daughter Carol and her grand-daughter are interlaced through introspective anecdotes of marital doubt, sexual infatuation, the elation and anguish of having a deaf child, a career in service, the paroxysm of being adopted, and an ancient fling.
Leach's character tells of the affair, her time frame boxed in by Radclyffe Hall's trial. She fell for her 'mistress' Adele as if by accident, never evincing anything from this liasion until she realises she is dying. She then recalls Adele and their quietly passionate and ill-fated tryst.
This is her cathartic last confession, told in a sadly philosophical, but rather speculative way. Leach's pre-death speech to her daughter is imparted with a sublime dash of passion and an abundance of credibility. These monologues can only leave the listener in pensive mood, one tinged with melancholy at the character's regrets over the passing of the affair and the consequential sorrow she caused her daughter.
Despite the wistfully mournful nature of the play, it felt like the persuasion of it could possibly send middle-England mothers of 60 summers gone who had a secluded past to make amends with middle-aged daughters. It's a lovely notion, one that restores the reputation of all that is good and proper, and where that stiff upper lip only trembles when recalling a love lost. Absolutely wonderful.
©April 1999 Megan Radclyffe
Arena: The Brian Epstein Story BBC2
Snow Graham Norton Ch4
Whatever Happened to the Plague? BBC2
For those who know anything about the Beatles or saw the rather fragrant Anthology two years ago, the Arena special on 'the fifth Beatle' Brian Epstein probably failed to reveal fresh minutiae on the middle-class homosexual Jew so frequently called a 'genius'. To those who did see that six hour subterfuge may have been frustrated to see the same deeply lined faces on screen wheeling out those synonymous anecdotes here. So Sir Paul McCartney denied that Epstein ever propositioned him. Big deal. We didn't know it was John Lennon that Brian hankered after, now did we?
So the story of a young well spoken and perfectly mannered man who discovered and then carefully managed The Beatles, amassing a fortune reckoned at £7million before his abruptly inscrutable death in 1967, has been presented before but has never been afforded so much airtime, nor has it been given such a pretigious slot. But then a narrative of 'old' homosexuality, where the afflicted lead a taciturn life that ends prematurely, and preferably tragically, always makes for poignant - if rather troubled - viewing.
But triumphant was Bernstein (Ch4) although some more finicky fanasticists may have been dissatisfied that attention to the composer's bisexuality was peripheral to his travail. Not me... and I'm very bellicose when it comes to televisual entertainment but then I do count myself among this astounding composer's admirers.
This two-part chronicle began with his auspicious refusal to join his father's beauty business and tallied his achievements as well as scoping the anguish Bernstein felt about the validity of his work. His intimate life was portrayed against a background of sustained prestige and stature. The documentary premiered rare home cinema footage which showed a man who was flamboyant, myopic and prevalent, and hinted at the flip side, a man prone to depression and who was tortured with confusion over his sexuality. The programme was measured in its sensitivity around a very private life and abundant in Bernstein's musical grandeur and brilliance. Would it be too much to hope that more personal histories of this quality of gay (and dare I say the word, lesbian) performers may appear on our screens? Well... I can't hold my breath for more than 45 seconds.
I'm not one to carp on about the festive season (particularly when the last three have been utterly lamentable) and it will be chilly February when you read this but the coquettishly titled Snow Graham Norton (Ch4) begs a mention. I could have kicked him for having LaToya Jackson as there is no delicious delight to be had in ribbing someone who is assiduously vapid and cerebrally coagulated, but proselytising Pat St Clements into a leather outfit (albeit a rather nastily tailored one) and Muir cap must rate as one of the yuletide highlights. Actually, considering how thoroughly puerile the offerings were that's not saying much. But hip-hip hooray there is a new series of So Graham Norton starting this very month although due to these blasted deadlines and a taping schedule that precludes previews, I am unable to furnish you with any particulars. Sorry. Not my fault. If the first series gave a flavour of unexpected guests, prank phone calls and audience humiliation, then I am hoping to feast on the second.
And at last a huge slap on the back for progress. When I first started writing for Gay Times I deplored the way television producers tackled and presented the issues around HIV and AIDS. I recall a Channel 4 programme called The Plague which showed deserted hospital hallways filled with zonking great bluebottle flies and vases of dead roses. Four years on, Whatever Happened to the Plague? - also on Channel 4 - asked if AIDS is no longer a matter for concern let alone consternation. Both you and I know it is and I was satisfied to see that the programme issued a clarion call to those who are less bothered about safer sex than they are about their choice of styling mousse.
Yes combination therapies have resulted in a fall in the number of AIDS-related deaths. Yes people who thought they would be dead are now functioning far beyond their wildest dreams. But there are still 14,000 gay men out there in the UK who will become HIV+ this year. 269 per week. 38 per day. Yes go on - party like it's 1999...
There was also a stark and marked contrast between the treatment of HIV and AIDS in the western world and the virtual ignorance of salutary medication in Africa. While drug companies are pumping out combination therapies and pocketing huge Government subsidies and grants, hospital administrators in Africa are choosing who is to die because they have to withdraw treatment due to lack of funds. And who cares? Not many it appears. Some are luxuriating in a lifestyle where the only gripe is how many pills they have to take. Others are still dying.
Am I sounding preachy? AIDS still gets me extremely agitated. Rather the reaction to AIDS irks me mightily. I am glad however that a programme has aired which gave a more advised and considered view of a crisis that is now essentially seen by many as historical. But my overwhelming incertitude mirrors one I realised viewing the recent advertising campaign against drinking and driving: it doesn't go far enough. Having sat through the infinite package of vacuous entertainment and niggardly compliations tied up with musty repeats proffered by nonchalant TV executives, Whatever Happened to the Plague? - despite its content - came as a breath of fresh air.
© Feb 1999 Megan Radclyffe
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