I’VE always had a soft spot for the flatlands of England, down the right-hand corner, and this is entirely because two absolute and indisputable heroes of my goggle-box childhood, Spike Milligan (for Q5) and Oliver Postgate (Noggin The Nog), resided there and I was fortunate enough to interview both of these great eccentrics at home before they died.
But I’m in no great hurry to visit Margate.
Seen enough of it in True Love, to be honest. Five consecutive nights’ worth. I know all the caffs and nicknack shops, the pier and also that bloody great highrise, built too close to the beach. And the people talk funny. They say things like “Thank you for making me look at life differently” and “I never loved anyone like I loved you” and “We were meant to be together for ever”.
Written down, these lines might not seem so bad. But you should have heard them uttered, in between all the slobbery kissing, all the soulful staring out to sea, all the improvised acting. Yes, they were making it up in this drama. Or at least picking up the beachball handed them by writer-director Dominic Savage and running with it. Fine actors, TV’s most-wanted: David Tennant, Billie Piper, David Morrissey, Ashley Walters, Jane Horrocks. Fine actors, being pretty ordinary.
The five stories were linked: Piper’s lover was Horrocks’ husband; Tennant’s daughter was Morrissey’s schoolgirl stalker. Three stories had happy endings, so it was a narrow win for love. But here was a drama of some indulgence, with viewers basically told: this is talent, you will watch it doing virtually nothing – watch it, watching the tide come in – and be grateful for that. True Love was beautifully filmed but when words failed it, which was often, it over-relied on the potency of cheap music. Morrissey was more convincing in Basic Instinct II, Tennant in his ads for Boots, and only Horrocks emerged with any credit. I felt sorry for Piper as the teacher required to dump her married man and run off with one of her girl pupils inside half an hour – not that I wanted any of the episodes to last a second longer.
Earlier this year, I met three old friends of David Bowie’s, members of the great but forgotten Scottish rock group Clouds. These guys are the same age as Bowie, who helped lug their speakers from van to stage, but look nothing like him now. Neither does Woody Woodmansey, the drummer in the Spiders from Mars, who reminisced in the documentary David Bowie And The Story Of Ziggy Stardust. Everyone who helped Bowie become a superstar – and there are many – looks, at best, normal. Woodmansey, indeed, looks like Jim Bowen.
It’s Bowie’s hair that amazes me. How is it still so lustrous after 101 different styles and perms and colourings in pursuit of fame, while poor Woody, who was obliged to copy his leader’s barnet, has gone bald? Still, he told his story well, as did Trevor Bolder, the bassist with the ginormous sideburns, right up to the point when David ditched them.
I wasn’t expecting much from this – great subject and all, but the story, or at least the key imagery, is very familiar. And my little glam-rock heart sank when, early on, Elton John described Bowie’s Ziggy transformation as a “game-changer”, taking pop to a “different level”. Notwithstanding his chairmanship of Watford FC, why was Dame Elton speaking in footballisms about something as epoch-making as Dame David donning a dress?
No amount of repetition can dull the thrilling music, though, and at least the film spread the credit around. Hardly anyone mentions Anthony Newley these days, but he was a Bowie obsession. Lindsay Kemp, majordomo of mime, remarked: “I was endeavouring to teach David to astonish.” His “incredibly loud, crazy wife” Angie was another important figure, road-testing the Ziggy look when he wasn’t brave enough. Call Bowie a magpie and he’d say: “Yes, but I know which things to steal.”
And of course there were the Spiders: three no-nonsense lads from Hull. The one who’s gone from Bowie to Bowen recalled the day he was handed something especially girlie. “I’m not f***in’ wearing that,” grunted Woodmansey, who stormed off down the railway station. But when David draped an arm round guitarist Mick Ronson on Top Of The Pops, everything changed. Truly, that was a game-changer.
Psychobitches was hilarious: notable women from history psychoanalysed by Rebecca Front. Best was Edith Piaf who lay on the couch and produced a list: “1958, 1959, most of 1960, buying those overpriced dusters from that rough boy who came to the door on Thursday afternoon, my lesbian phase, wearing rollerblades to my father’s funeral, my reggae phase, the hit and run, both hit and runs...” Front: “So quite a few regrets, then?”
True Love, BBC1, Sunday-Wednesday, various times
David Bowie And The Story Of Ziggy Stardust, BBC4, Friday, 9pm
Playhouse Presents: Psychobitches, Sky Arts 1, Thursday, 9pm
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Weather for Edinburgh
Saturday 25 May 2013
Temperature: 6 C to 17 C
Wind Speed: 13 mph
Wind direction: West
Temperature: 9 C to 16 C
Wind Speed: 14 mph
Wind direction: South west