Gay Times Reviews VII

Real Women BBC1

Take five women, plonk them down in and around Islington, and follow the trials and tribulations of those frankly diurnal lives. Get them together once or twice an episode to either gossip or fight. Have philandering husbands, screaming infants and / or insolent teenagers, mid-life crises, and affairs tinged with insecurity. I am going to skip over the other four quickly by saying that there is too much lying and cheating with one; excess needy neurotic behaviour with another; and surplus baby sick or impending morning sickness with the other two. If the ennui of that wasn't enough to exhaust you, then onto the lesbians.

Karen came out to her friends in Series 1 and they were all very happy. Karen's lover Chris seemed very happy too. While Karen seems just a tad restive, Chris is almost phlegmatic. They moved into a lovely wooden apartment with passionate colours on the walls. But of course, a couple of chattering class lesbians being fairly contented can't be allowed. Within one 50 minute episode we saw them spied on, Karen being verbally abused by ruffian students, the arrival of Chris's 'Ex-Lover!', a silly argument blown out of all proportion (twice), jealousy, assault in the schoolroom, Karen's suspension from work, crying, partial nudity, and one of the strangest phones I've ever seen. Luckily their luscious home afforded plenty of room to tromp around in during their incremental spats.

Sorry but the second series of Real Women leaves me as glacial as the first one did. While I will show gratitude that it brought up the issue of homophobic attacks on teachers, it somehow felt too staged, too bizarre, and much too perfunctory. Deadlines have my hands cuffed again so I have no idea whether this will be resolved. Having to wade through the junk and debris of the others lives doesn't make the sapphic avocation such an attractive televisual morsel. And I prefer to eat well...

© Jan 2000 Megan S. Radclyffe

EastEnders BBC1

Oh it never stops does it? A murder and inequitable trial. A turnover of drug dealers. Brothers Grimm in more rough, tumble and stumble. A 'sensational' car accident. Phil's grey jim-jams. The arches blown to smithereens. 'Restaurant Workers Trapped In Perilous Arches'. And then this: the trip to Brighton.

Now, every viewer knows that as soon as a wally of Walfordians heads westwards, someone's going to come out. If there's a pier in the shot, all the better. And what better candidate than Fred? Fonseca? Remember him? Well he had been at a conference for a few weeks but he's new! And a doctor! Lots of scope there... Odd then that the only character who seemed to have a clue at all was Mel, the vicar's sister and the intended of Ian Beale.

The three episodes that brought Fonseca out was packed full of hints and tips on how to spot a homosexual, presumably a late tutorial for the actors. We already knew. But we had to see a finger of faggotry pointed markedly in the direction of the two elder men who lived (whispers) together; the blond in the dress (whispers) who is a man; and the man in the cage who (jaw drops) was wearing nothing but a harness and shorts.

So maybe Mark and Mel understood, but would Mick? Being left to work it out with the help of (and I quote here from the BBC's description) "an obviously gay man" didn't help.

Was I the only one willing Mick to 'Just say something!' and imaging all manner of homophobic repercussions? Left with the image of his face, frozen into... what was that - horror, disgust? ...I was absorbed in conversations on What Happens Next, while Sam and Rick-aaay shared a bed, Janine passed out plastered on the beach, and Mel reclaimed Brighton pier for the heterosexuals by shagging Steve (you can imagine her dilemma: Murderer or Chip Magnate?). But to be honest, I didn't quite expect the little curve ball the writers spun at this viewer: for Mick to become insecure over why Fred didn't fancy him! Was that a lil' step forward? I can't say just yet - deadlines dictate that Mick's furrowed brow and the potential impending trip to Walford's vogue gym are where I have to leave off. But, even when EastEnders is slightly tacky it'll stick your backside to your seat just as well as when it's at its most brilliant - it's just a different Araldite mix.

© Jan 2000 Megan S. Radclyffe

Hollywood Greats: Bette Davis BBC 1

When I requested this tape from the BBC I was asked why Gay Times wanted to review it. 'She wasn't gay,' the PR informed me. I paused, rather astounded. 'But but but she's a huge gay icon,' I blustered. This seemed like news to her. But then it is I imagine a constant problem to producers who want to exolt the likes of Bette Davis. Truth is, you can't. Even opening with the French and Saunders 1990 parody proves it. Davis is a legend and more than that, a pioneer. Davis was described - variously and customarily - as 'feisty, impossible, fierce and difficult, moody, shy and insecure' by the assembled friends, her secretary, Hollywood reporters and celebrity fans.

They nudged the viewer in that slightly conspirital way, imparting insights. She was a 'housefrau' at heart. She would 'slay you' - and not in a funny way. One thought sexual contact was a 'physiological need' for her. Another said she 'enjoyed' tormenting men, and the narrative encapsulated her last few appearances as 'close to ghoulish'.

So, as usual, we were split between the onscreen magnatism and the offscreen trauma. We saw clips from 'Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?' and 'Jezebel' and a number of other integral performances. A group of middle to late aged white men (was it me or did a few of them seem just a tad camp?) eulogised her as a truncated resumé flowed seamlessly along, and the quick tour of her marriages and lovers whizzed by. Even the use of Edith Paif warbling 'Je ne regrette rien' over the end titles seemed pedestrian. What would have been nice to follow would have been a season of Bette Davis (which I always unconsciously type as 'Better Divas') films...

© Jan 2000 Megan S. Radclyffe

The Century Speaks: BBC Millennium Oral History Project  BBC radio

Wow. This is - and I quote here - 'unique oral history of the last 100 years' in the UK - with forty parallel programmes broadcast across Britain's local radio stations in 16 parts. Impressive eh? Well it's a very grand title for what is basically some technician sticking a microphone in someone's face and then adding an appropriate track by Doris Day...

Here (among others) we are presented with stories of 'lifestyles at odds with the prevailing morality of the times'. And here's a man who has been 'actively picking up gays since 1938' despite his Mother finding homosexuals 'figures of fun' and despite believing that Freud's concept of homosexuality as a 'phase' was true. He talks briefly about the various 'phases' in his life: his affair with a 21 year old black man from Trinidad which lasted for 7 years, visiting a house packed with gay West Indians in Brixton, his 'not doing the coming out act', going to gay bars such as the Fitzroy in Soho in the 50s and ephemerally describing its spectacular interior carvings of homosexual orgies, and his promiscuity over some 36 years.

If you think my report of recorded history is scant, you should have heard the interviews. Each sound bite is about a minute or so, and two stories are split so our gay chap is mixed with the tale of a Catholic woman who bore a Protestant's child and abruptly followed by chronicles of arranged marriages. Our man claims a 'richly experiencing life' but seems a little regretful that he wasn't 'more out'. If he had been then the technician at the BBC couldn't have used that ol' musical stalwart for programmes on homosexual devotion - 'Secret Love' - could he?

A second tape winged its way to me from the same strand. Oh maybe it's lesbian oral history (no pun intended) but no... it's life and death. There was a second chance for a woman from North Staffordshire who had double pneumonia (must have been the brandy); a chap stationed in Singapore who um... I listened hard to that one - twice - but still can't spin out the thread of his tale; another chap in a Japanese canning factory which was subjected to a thousand or so American bombing raids and who survived the atomic mushroom before being bombarded with 65 gallon drums of tinned fruit after the war finished and I did start to wonder where the verbal sketches of life had gone... Oh here they are: a gay man talking of how he deals with his HIV+ status (''s been bizarre but it's been interesting') and a man who was diagnosed with cancer... sorry, but I woke up that morning feeling quite alright and had to switch this off before it sent me screaming up the road.

Alright so a very laudable project. But to be honest, what is most local radio but a constant oral history project? And to be honest, it's not even here yet and already I am heartily sick of Millennium programmes, commemorative mugs and (failing) projects. And a smattering of applause to the BBC for at least including gay men, but a bit slap across the back of the head for (seemingly, given the scent of the pallid bouquets presented to me) ignoring lesbians YET AGAIN...

© Dec 1999 Megan S. Radclyffe

The Moors Murders Ch5

Manhunt: The Search For The Yorkshire Ripper ITV

It's been nearly 35 years since the Moors covered a terrible series of brutal killings, and almost 20 years since the Ripper was finally - finally! - captured. And in the same week both cases were brushed off, polished up and given a grand airing on television. Now given that - nearly 3 years on - I still can't get a decent reception for Channel 5 (and WHEN are they going to do something about this?) the tapes I made of the Moors Murders were nigh on impossible to watch. But I have to say I feel that using sepia-tinted reenactments of the events leading up to Brady's violent spree was not a wise move. In a way I am glad I was forced to turn the snow-covered, hissing tape off. The programme didn't really offer anything new other than these little filmed pieces. It's hardly an innovative method of treating true live crime on television: other than these sepulchral vignettes, I failed to see what 'new' information the programmes makers brought to an opprobrious series of events.

Neither could I see the actual point of Manhunt but then I have seen overviews of this case before that covered pretty much the same ground... how the Yorkshire police could have saved at least (at least!) three lives had they had a computerised filing system (Sutcliffe was interviewed nine times before being caught out for having false car number plates), or had they bothered to put all the photo fits together (that wasn't done until after the Ripper was sentenced), or ignored the now notorious tape and letters... Of course this is all done with 20-20 hindsight and any programme on the Yorkshire Ripper cannot avoid this, just as any programme on Brady and Hindley cannot shy away from the brutality and sheer depravity of infanticide. They have - pardon the expression - been done to death already and I'm sure those involved - whether grieving relatives or incompetent police officers - won't be thankful for having it all laid bare once again...

© Dec 1999 Megan S. Radclyffe

Walking With Dinosaurs  BBC1

I am not sure whether I find what I have seen so far of this series ('220 millions years in the making') is purely astounding or merely bizarre. While the concept and realisation is undoubtably fantastic and makes for superbly eye-popping and gob-smacking viewing, placing these lumbering dinosaurs and scampering reptiles in a present tense narration is an odd education. There's no doubt that dinosaurs are a fascination, not least because we really had no idea what they looked like. Were they green, as my old Look & Learn books suggested, or a vast array of muted tones with the occasional splash or red or yellow, as seen here? Were there really little rat-dog creatures that faced off against tall duck-like reptiles with rapid movement and quick-snap jaws? And did I ever imagine as a sponge-brained youth hunched over a dogeared library book on Tyrannosaurus Rex that we would one day see dinosaurs making lil' newborn 'saurs and dropping faeces hither thither across the landscape? Can't say I did... when I was growing up, neither dinosaurs or the Osmonds ever defecated...

But I digress. Just in case you were wondering if they really where made up mythical monsters (a friend has queried the actual existence of the raptor each time we see Jurassic Park) the BBC did draft in a number of dino experts to prove it all, while the technobods do wonders with glove puppets, computer mice and animatronics. For those who may have thought they had truly stumbled across a dark continent where these strange, deadly and quite magnificent creatures lived, the BBC provided The Making of Walking With Dinosaurs - just to completely shatter your illusions - and aired it in the same week that the first of the series appeared.

No doubt Walking With Dinosaurs will sweep up every single award for televisual technical ability going and I must say - somewhat strange as it is to watch - they would be thoroughly deserved. Only question now is: what on earth can they show us next?

© Dec 1999 Megan S. Radclyffe

Let Them Eat Cake  BBC1

Hmmm ... not entirely sure about this one. Imagine it: Versaille, 1782 (cue sumptuous costumes and sets positively awash with beige and sprouting with blooms) and Jennifer Saunders appears as Colombine, the Countess de Vache (oh, it means cow) with her trusted country bumpkin servant Lisette (Dawn French) at her side. My initial thought centred around whether this is it now - Jen as the harridan, Dawn as the hired hand - forever. But I digress...

Her husband - 'The Old Cont' (audience laugh) - is no more than 'a mass of superated pustules' and the Countess is running out of ostensible suitors. As a result, she digs gleefully through the detritus of other members of Parisian high society, aided by Lisette (who attempts to 'selflessly catapult' herself into the britches of potential paramours 'for the glory of my Mistress') and Bouffant, her couturier (Adrian Scarborough). Oh and yes, Bouffant is 'an 'omosexual', so far resigned to making outrageous wigs for Madame and sighing heavily behind her shoulder when aggravated by her stupidity, with the slightest of temper tantrum thrown in for 'type'.

There's a great closing theme by Nick Bicát. Alison Steadman has been tethered, with ample cleavage as sidekick, in the guise of Madame de Plonge (rather, 'Ploooonngè!'), Kathy Burke snivels and bobs as Vache's less fortunate sister, and all of them get lines aimed at what appears to be barely above the common denominator (maybe even a slight smattering of applause hither and thither) for a victorious BBC sitcom. Most of the criticism of Let Them Eat Cake has been over the quality of the scripts. I do not know much of the writer, Peter Learmouth - screenwriter for Surgical Spirit - but the 30 minutes I viewed of it is of standard fayre, rather than a seven-course repast. I would admit to maybe one titter, a couple of small laughs, and one almighty groan, preferring to watch French meander but sparkle in the background. Where this sitcom's strengths and weaknesses lie - well I'm loathe to say this early on. Please come back and ask again when I've seen are few more of these...

© Nov 1999 Megan S. Radclyffe

Adult Lives  BBC2

Touted as a 'frank and explicit' peek (from behind the curtains, I imagine) at what sex and sexuality mean to Britons as we (yawn) approach the Millenium, Adult Lives was humdrum and grizzled. But then how could it be otherwise? Us Brits seem to stuff so much into our closets while sweeping the rest under carpets that any glance would be an askance and slightly repulsed one. No, I don't want sex on TV to be all swinging from a chandelier in a full rubber suit with a carrot stuck in the arse, but watching celebate Christians getting married, and kitchen table discussions on monogamy (even if two of the contributors were gay) or even 'the refined and superior' Mistress Maria, just brought on a sense of ennui. If we really want to explore the 'eccentric' proclivities of our nation, why the mysterious fogging on screen of certain body parts, and why the innane questions? Can't we look at this honestly, rather than keep it all hush-hush, and on the periphery of the viewer's experience? None of them were asked how the Millenium affected their sexual lifestyles. Admittedly, I would have switched off it they had. Maybe I should have anyway.

© Nov 1999 Megan S. Radclyffe

Pornography: The Secret History of Civilisation  Ch4

Now this is more like it! And let's nip this in the bud before anyone starts blustering and barking about morality. This is an academic, historical and illustrative guide through centuries - yes, centuries - of pornography. Its aim is to lay bare (yes, I know...) the connection between state, church and graphic sexual imagery with the latter being 'a potent subversive source', and to show how evolving technologies have 'revolutionised' pornography.

I didn't see Part 1 - slapped wrist for Ch4 - which dealt with the science of archæology from Cerne Abbas man to the murals of Pompeii. Part 2 - The Sacred and Profane which deals with Art and Print - the viewer is taken on a European tour of extravagant impurity that makes you query why contemporary statues around sex and sexuality exist now. There are 13th Century prayer books with margin images of - among many other heathen and ungodly acts - two men in coitus, surrounded by a golden glow; the fantastic Bourges cathedral in France where the stonework includes an arse - rumoured to be that of a priest - being buggered; and the Case of the 16 Positions - the infamous Modi - where the artist Romané was given free reign to create vast frescos in a private palace, but a printer who bought sketches legally was jailed for replicating them. In 1527 they ended up in a book with salacious sonnets by Aretin, which was only uncovered 21 years ago.

These unequivocally realistic carvings and finely drawn depictions were intended to scare the living daylights out of the proletariat by giving a staunch message that such acts were unholy, but to gain money from the rich who paid up to a penny per picture. During what was known as the Englightenment Period, philosophers 'lifted the skirts of whores and the cassocks of priests' to inform the commoner of the rights of the inidivual over church and state. The Aristocrats meanwhile were turning their hand to written erotica, which was printed en masse for the masses. High court members were targetted as sexual monstrosities in these publications: once they were all beheaded, the mood turned moral again.

I was fascinated by all this, comfortably guided by the narration and acquainted by a skiffload of experts. The third part (The Mechanical Eye) - charting the hand-in-hand advancement of camera technology and the spread (alright! alright!) of pornography - did nothing to close my dropped jaw. The 'real and elusive' quality of these early sepia snaps was extraordinary: stiff limbs and frozen smiles, an arm draped over a chairback was the provocative pose many could muster. The invention of halftone printing spiralled the availability with 'tame pictures and spicier texts' and with it the obsession with body parts, and a fragmentation of the industry which catered for sexual variants. Sound boring does it? No, not if you consider that, particularly with gay pornography, it is an 'enduring allie'... And this series presents it in a light which isn't tinted a sordid shade of red. Hope you didn't miss it...

© Nov 1999 Megan S. Radclyffe

Sex & The Swastika  Ch4

More on the use of propaganda that plays merry hell with the influence and popularity of governments came with a one-off exploration of the secret sex services of WWII. The aim was to undermine the Germans by presenting radio broadcasts and phoney resistance leaflets which portrayed them as rampant homosexuals, 'whoring old drunks' and/or shit-eating, dog-fucking deviants (call that last bit aristic licence on my part). These scripts took 'accurate information' - gathered from a number of 'reliable' scources - and distored it. You may have seen some of this pictorial propaganda here and there, perhaps the poster of Hitler with a dick in his fist? It was all part of the Moral Operations Department's attempts to bring the Furher to his knees without the aid of a good sound kicking by a woman in fuck-me heels.

The second half was taken up with the exhaustive study by Walter Langer of Hitler's psychology, the S Project. The report eventually ran to 11000 pages with some 269 entries, concluding that 'extreme forms of masochism [including women 'passing and shitting' on the Furher] are at the heart of Hitler's madness' which turned into self-loathing and ergo, a hatred of other nations. Easy when you know the right friends and defectors to talk to... The report was never even used for blackmail, let alone to bring him down. Part of Langer's report stated that Hitler would 'most probably' commit suicide. He did and the titles rolled, giving a rather rushed, abrupt conclusion to what was an intriguing disclosure.

© Nov 1999 Megan S. Radclyffe

Two Fat Ladies  BBC2

The final 'series' starts in Jersey, as Jennifer Paterson and Clarissa Dickinson-Wright trundle past a 'jolly gang of Maderan potato pickers' onwards towards cabbage-baked bread and a kitchen stacked with magnificently hefty pans. A vision in a hot pink smock, Jennifer - her green stone ring and blood red nails catching the light - started in on an 18th century chocolate pye and a fillet steak beouf stroganoff, discussing the Indian onion shortage and almost barking 'Ha ha! Doesn't that look lovely!' She obviously luxuriated in her mixture of mustard, port and soured cream, and her surprise at Clarissa's use of yellow flower petals for garnish ('Goodness! That's very far fetched!') and had no qualms over sitting on a wet rock in red wellies, wax jacket and headscarf singing 'The Gay Cabalero'. Half an hour and already it felt like a classical moment. Many will profoundly miss her very presence on television.

© Nov 1999 Megan S. Radclyffe

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