On the box
HOGMANAY ON TV – THE GLORY YEARS BBC1 Sunday, 10.45pm
THE TRUTH ABOUT BINGE DRINKING
STV Wednesday, 9pm
Channel 4 Tuesday, 10.10pm
ANEW year dawns and the notebook by my bed is a mess of scribbles from the evening before. The combination of Crabbie's Green Ginger Wine and Night Nurse eventually renders my thoughts unintelligible, so the last readable comment takes on doom-laden significance, like I was just about to venture into the ice-bound oblivion, unaware of when I would return to the tent.
"Help! Bring back Celebrity Squares!" Of course this pales next to "I may be some time". But it does hint at delirium. Maybe things weren't so bad that my toes had frozen and fallen off. But maybe they were still bad enough to make them curl.
I check further back in my notes where I've written "The 'fabulous' Graham Norton?????" and this jogs the memory. The Big Finish (BBC1, Monday, 9.15pm), hosted by the so-billed Norton, was a Hogmanay spectacular in the current style. A-list presenter. Review-of-the-year format. And absolutely no tartan anywhere.
There was a competition element, and the teams were presented on screen in grid-form, which explains the remark about Celebrity Squares. John Barrowman was involved, hence my desperation in calling for that hoary show's return. Barrowman is, by some distance, the most annoying person on TV. And to think that The White Heather Club died so that he could mince on about such a momentous night, laughing hysterically at his own jokes and inviting the observation: "It can't be Tom Cruise because that man's so camp."
Hogmanay On TV – The Glory Years perfectly explained how we'd arrived at this sorry state of affairs. I haven't seen as good a BBC Scotland programme for yonks. Ironically it was mainly about bad BBC Scotland programmes. The use of the word "glory" was a joke.
Half a century ago, Scotland was first entrusted with the task, for all Britain, of ringing out the old and in the new. It was, remarked comedian Lynn Ferguson, the one time of year when we got "a shot" at dictating the schedules. The White Heather Club was broadcast live on Hogmanay in 1958. It ran for 10 years. By the end, TWHC had become a national embarrassment but Scotland didn't feel like giving up its shot. Producer Iain McFadyen, dubbed the "Ayatollah Hogmanay", would concoct heather 'n' haggis-stuffed entertainment for Auld Year's Night for a further 12 years.
Moira Anderson in a tartan tent. Kenneth McKellar hogging a roaring fire. Effete dancing which would doubtless delight John Barrowman. And Andy Stewart striding confidently into the new twelvemonth with his funny Woodentop walk. This was the Scotland we gave to the world, or more crucially, England.
And how England laughed. Former head of BBC Entertainment John Howard Davies described the fare as "perennially out of date... like coming from a small television station on South Island, New Zealand... the worst possible introduction to a new year that could be conceived." But even worse was to follow.
BBC Scotland were brave in this programme: they 'fessed up to a whole load of tosh, and admitted that all that Hogmanay heuching spilled into the rest of their output, with Scotland being portrayed as a "Highland paradise" where Roddy McMillan always had a pot of salted herring on the go. They were braver still when they dug out extended footage of Live Into '85. This is the Hogmanay show permanently transmitting in hell. The one where Chic Murray "died" and John Grieve "corpsed" and a drunken reveller groped Maggie Moone while in full song. BBC Scotland were never allowed near December 31 for another 14 years.
At last for England, Hogmanay was a tartan-free zone. Liberated from Scottish rule, they could celebrate it their way. This meant Michael Barrymore. Oh, and the Shadows. Out on the streets, the ordinary Englishman was asked by an excited voxpopper what the arrival of a new year meant to him and he replied: "Leisure time. We want to make better use of family leisure time." Well done to the researcher who unearthed that gem of a clip.
Really, I cannot praise this programme highly enough. Scottish culture, indeed Scotland itself, was under rigorous examination throughout. Maybe it's a curse that Scotland invented Hogmanay and television. Perhaps it's a combination on a par with "Mad" Frankie Fraser joining the Richardson Gang, which was reckoned to be "like China getting the atom bomb". But, better white heather than white hankies and bells and a Morris dancing marathon. Or John Barrowman.
In The Truth About Binge Drinking, Michelle Heaton attempted 30 Hogmanays, one after the other. If you don't count the primetime exposure for a flagging pop career, this was a selfless act – an experiment by a ladettes' role model with the aim of demonstrating that excessive bevvying is bad for you.
Heaton, once of Liberty X, and a borderline binger at the start, was shown pictures of a man who had his nose bitten off in a drunken brawl, but battled on. She gave up after three weeks, by which time she'd consumed 349 units – nearly half of her yearly recommended amount. Her looks suffered (though they seemed fine to this correspondent throughout) and so did her work. She forgot her lines. To a panto.
By the end, the infection-fighting blood cells in Heaton's liver had been reduced from 16% not working to 80%. Do you suppose there's even one still functioning inside Frank Gallagher, legendary drinker of Shameless?
The fifth series began with warnings of very strong language, violence and sex – the complete set, all from the start. "It's like a f***in' black pudding!" wailed our hero (David Threlfall) as he inspected the damage after peeing on a generator and electrocuting himself. He was told he'd be dead by the weekend. This turned out to be a wind-up, though Frank only discovered this after a full episode of what passes for self-analysis on the Chatsworth estate. What had he achieved? Was there a God? Where's the drugs?
His verdict – in a show which still produces great one-liners – was that he'd contributed "slightly less than Einstein to the human condition, and slightly more than Fred West".
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Thursday 23 May 2013
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