WHAT a fab and groovy thing David Bowie – Five Years was, and what a strange square world we lived in back when its subject first dazzled.
David Bowie – Five Years Saturday, BBC2, 9.20pm
Case Histories Sunday, BBC1, 8.30pm
Australia With Simon Reeve Sunday, BBC2, 9pm
WHAT a fab and groovy thing David Bowie – Five Years was, and what a strange square world we lived in back when its subject first dazzled. Now, I was around then – saw him play Edinburgh’s old Empire in 1973 – so I remember how he stood out: the only one with “screwed-up eyes and screwed-down hairdo, like some cat from Japan”. But was the most flamboyant item worn by the Top Of The Pops audience really a tank-top? Was every record company exec really bald? Was every chat-show host really an oldster in a suit? According to this documentary, yes.
No-one and nothing looked like Bowie then. He was an alien or, at the very least, the most incredibly futuristic pop star there had ever been. But wait… remember his polite manner when interviewed, the cheeky Cockney sparra’ demeanour, always ready with a smile (revealing wonky teeth) and a joke? He wasn’t futuristic; he was Tommy Steele! A vaudevillian! With deference! No sullen, slouching, monosyllabic rock-star rudeness from our Dave. And no cries of “Amateurs!” when Russell Harty got both album and song title wrong in the same intro.
Bowie wasn’t interviewed for this film, but didn’t need to be, such was the quality of recollections from others. Five Years was really five faces of David, beginning in ’71 with Hunky Dory, long girlie hair under a fedora. Rick Wakeman sat at an upright piano and, for the first time in 40 years, tinkled the melody to Life On Mars? He remembered how routine he thought it was, until Bowie chucked in an E flat – bong! – to go with the line “But the film is a saddening bore…”
Another Hunky Dory track was Andy Warhol, but on a pilgrimage to New York Bowie was snubbed by his hero. Feminist Camille Paglia recalled his hurt, articulated in a video with a “hilarious disembowelling mime”. Then it was back to London where we got reacquainted with the Spiders from Mars: Trevor Bolder, looking very Spinal Tap just before his death, and Woody Woodmansey, apparently runner-up in a Jim Bowen lookalike contest. Not even his old band looked like Bowie – not then and certainly not now.
“Orange hair, 98lb, the weirdest man I’d ever seen and I’m not talking pink, he was translucent white!” This was guitarist Carlos Alomar when Bowie went back to the Big Apple and the Harlem Apollo to recruit black musicians for his soul-man reinvention. Another was Dennis Davis, drummer to trade, and a jive-talkin’ joker straight out of Central Casting in the Huggy Bear mould. “David was a character… [comedic pause]… uhuh, I knew he was f***ed up.”
Five Years’ funniest contributor? Actually, that was Robert Fripp. If you know me as a prog-rock fan, you probably think it tediously predictable that I’d nominate someone from King Crimson, but, really, Fripp was hilarious. Did he think he was on Jackanory? Slightly alarmingly, did he think Jackanory was a forum for rude anecdotes (too rude to repeat here)?
Classic children’s TV featured in Case Histories, back for a second run. Not Jackanory but Play School, and a 1970s kid watched while his mother lay dead, until the Edinburgh polis broke into the flat. Superiors ordered a hush-up because the woman had been a prostitute, friendly with the force, but the WPC on the scene never forgot the frightened look on the child’s face. Years later, while working in mall security and being played by Victoria Wood, she saw the look again. Not thinking this girl was having much of a childhood and reckoning she could do a better job, she bought the kid from the shoplifter-mum in the car park.
This was just one strand of a complicated lost-girls story for Jackson Brodie (Jason Isaacs) which he probably didn’t need on top of getting beaten up and chucked in a skip, acquiring a dog, losing his own daughter to his ex in New Zealand and being told by his possible love interest: “Are you enthralling? No, you’re boring.”
At times it was almost too complicated, but no matter: with Case Histories you’re only ever eight seconds away from Edinburgh looking glorious yet again. Maurice Roeves, Frank Gilhooley (very funny) and James Cosmo added to the local colour this time, with the latter addressing our hero in the traditional manner: “Hey bawheid!”
The charms of Australia With Simon Reeve were slow to reveal themselves in the first of his new travelogues. Giant tuna farms, industrial wineries, huge quarries that can be seen from space, the longest straight train line in the world – and the most problematic camels. They’re feral and eat everything, so one solution is to shoot them. Reeve found another: a round-up using utes and choppers.
This week Aidan will be watching
PICK OF THE WEEK The Fall
Monday, BBC2, 9pm
Episode three of the gripping, Belfast-set, serial-killer thriller and there’s some rare humour early on as Stella Gibson (Gillian Anderson) is offered a list of operational names, including Top Hat (“Too posh”), Alamo (“Too Texan”), Eden (“Why must the woman get the blame?”) and Genesis (“My least favourite band… well, aside from U2”). She briefs her team, pointing out that the gaps between the murders are getting shorter. “Think of it as an addiction,” she says. “There’s a law of diminishing returns. The serial killer is like the heroin addict. He’s always seeking that elusive first high. That’s why he’s doomed to fail. But our man will carry on feeding that killing habit unless we stop him.” Cut to an internet cafe and Paul Spector (Jamie Dornan) is finding out a bit more about the woman whose driving licence he stole two episodes ago.
BEST MUSIC Otis Redding: Soul Ambassador
Friday, BBC4, 9pm
Suffering bigotry in his homeland, the ultimate soul voice of America’s south toured Europe in 1967 and, according to this doc, “discovered a new self-confidence and inspired those who saw him”. Among the audiences was a young Bryan Ferry: “It was a Road to Damascus moment. The whole evening blew me away. I decided that was what I was going to do.”
BEST COMEDY My Hero: Hugh Dennis On Ronnie Barker
Sunday, BBC1, 11.25pm
“Desk Dennis” – that’s what they used to call swotty Steve at Cambridge, where for two years he was ignorant of the Footlights. Back then he wasn’t a student of comedy, just a fan like the rest of us, watching Ronnie Barker tell jokes like this: “A ship carrying red paint has collided with a ship carrying purple paint in the English Channel. Both crews have been marooned.”