Neighbours: All the Pop Hits and More – Channel 5


   Following the sad demise of Neighbours, although it was brilliant to see Scott, Charlene, Mike and Jane reunited in the final episode, Channel 5 treated us to a nostalgia fest of songs by Kylie, Jason, Stefan Dennis and Craig McLachlan.   OK, it featured Natalie Imbruglia and Delta Goodrem too; and their music, although not Holly Valance’s which also belonged to that era, is probably better than the early stuff; but I’d left school and university by the time they came along, and I seemed to have lost my soundtrack by then.  Those halycon late ’80s and early ’90s days of I Should Be So Lucky et al take me back to schooldays, schoolfriends, school buses, schooldays crushes, Smash Hits and Just Seventeen; and this programme will have taken a lot of other people back to that time in their lives too.

Popular culture was a unifying factor for us.  There were certain songs, groups, films, books and TV programmes, and obviously football matches and other sporting events, which nearly everyone, regardless of which social group they were in, could discuss. Cool kids and quiet kids alike, girls and  boys alike.  Neighbours was a big part of that, and so was the music that its alumni produced.

I used to buy a lot of compilation albums – some on tape, some on CDs once we’d acquired a CD player – in the late ’80s and early ’90s, and they inevitably included songs by Kylie and Jason, and even the could-be-worse song by Stefan Dennis and the seriously-dire song by Craig McLachlan.  And they’re all associated with particular memories.  Mona is the school bus, I Should Be So Lucky is an art lesson spent discussing how we’d seen “Charlene” on Top of the Pops and The Roxy, Hand On Your Heart is someone from the year above blasting out that week’s top 10 on the school lawn (the teachers let it go as it was their final day before leaving for pre-GCSE study leave), Sealed With A Kiss and Never Too Late are both associated with tennis … I could go on and on.   Ah, and Especially For You … how wonderful was that?

It was actually very uncool to admit to liking Stock Aitken Waterman music, especially once the Madchester scene got going.   But we all loved it really.  The songs were so catchy.    I can still remember particular people trying to sing them at school and on the bus, but I won’t mention names!   And who would have thought that Kylie, or Charlene as we still called her when I Should Be So Lucky first came out, would go on to have number one hits in five different decades?  Amazing.

Yes, it was a great exercise in nostalgia … and it’s sad to think that Neighbours, such a big part of the zeitgeist of my formative years, is no more.  Thanks for the memories, guys!   We’ll never forget you.  Altogether now … “that’s when good Neighbours become good friends”.


Deep in Vogue – BBC 3


Having enjoyed both series of Pose – I started watching it mainly for the ’80s music, but got really into it! – I was very interested to hear about the vogue ballroom scene in Manchester and Liverpool.  I could have done with more about the history and culture and less about the actual choreography, but, OK, that’s just a personal thing.  The main message coming from it was that this is something which has given a lot of confidence to people who, whether because of their ethnicity, their sexuality, their sexual identity or even their gender (society doesn’t do a very good job of giving women confidence) have felt marginalised and unsure of themselves.  It’s wonderful when anything can do that – and it’s very sad that, because of the current situation, a lot of people are cut off from dancing, singing, sports, religious services, playing cards, or whatever else it is that does that for them.  But this was a lovely, positive, hour’s watching.  Anyone feel like writing a Pose-type series set in North West England 🙂 ?

One of the people interviewed made a very good point about how it’s often minority groups who take the lead when it comes to music or other creative forms.  That’s certainly true, and it’s a point I’ve heard made in other programmes.  At the same time, there was also a lot of talk about inclusivity.  There’s been some criticism of Madonna, as a white, straight woman, for getting into voguing, but everyone interviewed on this programme said that it’s for everyone who wants to be involved, and I thought that was great.  There are obviously issues if something gets over-commercialised and taken away from its roots, but that wasn’t what was happening here.  It was about people expressing themselves in a way that works for them, and about a voguing community that provides friendship and emotional support and a safe place for people.

It was interesting to hear that the voguing style in Manchester and Liverpool is noticeably different from that in London.  In the ’80s – my music collection has never got out of the ’80s! – there was a lot of regional variation in music, and it sometimes seems that everything’s got a bit samey and globalised, in the same way that High Streets and a lot of other things have.  So I was really pleased to hear that different parts of the country are doing their own thing where voguing’s concerned.  We don’t all need to be the same!

And, on that same theme, some points were made about voguing helping people to get away from the pressure to conform to stereotypes – one man was talking about people being refused entry to gay clubs for not “looking” gay.  This is something that’s been in the news lately, with Priti Patel talking about the racism she’s faced because she doesn’t conform to the stereotype of what a British Asian woman should be like, and a lot of assumptions are made about what people should think or wear or look like because of their ethnicity or religion or sexuality or anything else.  Everyone is an individual and everyone should feel free to express themselves in their own way, and that was a lot of what this programme was saying.  As I said, a really nice programme.  Anyone feel like writing a Pose-type series set in North West England 🙂 ?




Captain Tom’s War – ITV, and VE Day: the People’s Celebration – BBC 1


Two excellent programmes, both shown on the 75th anniversary of VE Day.  The Burma campaign during the Second World War, involving a vast number of men from Britain, India, East Africa and West Africa, has always been strangely overlooked; and I understand that that’s why Captain Tom Moore, who’s become a national hero thanks to his fundraising efforts during the current crisis, agreed to make this programme with ITV.  It was a fascinating account of riding motorbikes though the jungle, coping with monsoons, snakes and gigantic spiders, dealing with malaria and dengue fever, and the fear of ending up in one of the notorious POW camps.  We were also shown footage of Vera Lynn’s visit there, and told what it meant to the troops to see a pretty girl, hear her lovely voice, and know that they hadn’t been forgotten.

Over on the BBC, the VE Day celebration programme nearly had me in tears several times, as we were treated to socially distanced music from the grounds of Buckingham Palace and from an empty Royal Albert Hall, and saw veterans receive video calls from the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and a number of celebrities.   I think that my three favourite video calls were those with a man who’d just turned 100, and was linked up by video to his relatives in Australia, a couple celebrating their 75th wedding anniversary, and a lady finally being presented (from a distance!) with her wartime medal, with Scottish pipers playing in the background.

This wasn’t how we’d expected the 75th anniversary of VE Day to be, but well done to both ITV and the BBC for helping to make this a special evening – culminating in the address by the Queen.  Nice to see William and Kate involved, and Charles and Camilla earlier in the day.  The Royal Family are doing a sterling job during this crisis, insofar as they can.  And, whilst I’ve got mixed views on some of the media reaction to the coronavirus situation, all aspects of the media did a superb job as far as “VE Day 75” was concerned.  Well, apart from the Guardian, which doesn’t think that the defeat of the Nazism should be commemorated or that those who fought for freedom should be honoured, but that sort of attitude is best ignored.  Well done to both ITV and the BBC, and also to Sky News for their excellent coverage throughout the day.

Going back to the programme about Captain Tom Moore, it really was fascinating.  It’s strange that the Burma campaign’s so overlooked, especially given the involvement of Lord Mountbatten, and also Orde Wingate, who’s quite well-known in his own way, and Viscount Slim.  But it is.  We heard how the young Tom Moore from Keighley, aged only 20, played a vital part due to his pre-war position as an engineering apprentice, in Burma and later back in Britain.

At a time when few people could drive, he was heavily involved in training his comrades, both British and Indian, to drive tanks.  Motorbikes were crucial too … you don’t particularly associate motorbikes with the Second World War (I do wish people would use the proper expression, rather than “World War II !), but they were used for delivering dispatches, and, and I never knew this, were vital in combat because the Japanese tended to mount attacks at night, when tanks couldn’t be used because of visibility issues.  The Fourteenth Army had to park their tanks about seven miles from the front, and send everyone in by bike!

And the conditions.  Talk about “It Ain’t Half Hot, Mum”.  The heat, and the humidity, and the long monsoon season.  Trekking across the jungle.  Poisonous snakes and spiders. All the time, the fear of being taken prisoner, and being sent to one of those horrific POW camps.  Captain Tom contracted dengue fever, and, at one point, up to 12,500 men per day were having to be taken out of the actual combat force due to malaria.  In 1943, 120 men were falling sick, many not to recover, per every one battle casualty.  You associate those sorts of figures with far earlier wars.  I honestly never realised just how bad it was.  We just hear so little about the Burma campaign.

I’m so pleased that the wonderful Captain Tom agreed to take part in this programme, and hope that it might raise the profile of the campaign, for the sake of all those brave men who fought in those terrible conditions.  It was wonderful to see him, and to see the veterans involved in the BBC programme too.  There should have been parades and other events all over this country and in so many other countries across the world, to honour them and mark the 75th anniversary of the defeat of Nazism.  It wasn’t to be, but many of us marked it in our own ways, and watching these two programmes was a big part of that.





The Pet Shop Boys concert to which I was due to go at the end of May’s just been postponed … and I keep thinking that I must play some of their music anyway, because Left To My Own Devices, Being Boring, Suburbia, Always On My Mind, It’s Alright and, perhaps most of all, Se A Vida E all fit the present situation pretty well.  It’ll be interesting to see (or indeed hear) the songs that come out of this sad, strange time, because there’ll be some.  Going back to my era, there are plenty of songs which relate to particular times and events: Wind of Change is the one which immediately springs to mind, and Right Here, Right Now and Read My Lips are another two.  Then there are all the “Madchester” songs, which belong to a “scene”, and maybe wouldn’t have worked so well as stand-alones .  But good songs have universal appeal, and work at any time … but would they work so well if sung by someone different, and out of their original context?

Well, according to this film, yes, they would.  A struggling aspiring musician (Tamwar from EastEnders) is involved in an accident during a global blackout.  When he comes round, he’s the only person who remembers The Beatles: they’ve been wiped from history.  So he becomes an international megastar by singing all their songs, and claiming that he composed them.  If the music-stealing storyline sounds familiar, you’re probably thinking of Nicholas Lyndhurst’s character in Goodnight Sweetheart.  There’s also a romance with Lily James.  And quite a few shots of Liverpool.  And celebs playing themselves, which is a bit weird.

Given how many young actors fade into obscurity after leaving soap operas, all credit to Himesh Patel for playing the lead role, Jack, in this, especially as he does the singing, guitar-playing and piano-playing himself, but it’s not a particularly great film.  However, it’s quite good fun, and anything involving Beatles songs is always worth watching.  And, at the end, Himesh Patel/Tamwar/Jack says “Isn’t normal wonderful?” and sings “Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da, life goes on”.  Yes.  That.

Ed Sheeran has quite a big role in it, as himself, and James Corden also plays himself.  Cheryl was in Four Kids and It.  Is this a thing now?  Are celebs also going to start turning up in soap opera and TV drama series … when they can eventually start filming again?  It’s a bit strange.  Meanwhile, Lily James doesn’t want to live a celeb lifestyle, and has started going out with someone else.  Then Sarah Lancashire and a bloke doing a bad Russian accent turn up at a press conference, waving a plastic yellow submarine, tell our man Jack that they remember The Beatles too, and give him John Lennon’s address.

So he goes to see John Lennon … played by Robert Carlyle.  I’m not sure that a parallel universe in which someone who was murdered nearly four decades ago is alive and well is particularly tasteful, and Robert Carlyle could have at least tried to do a Scouse accent, but never mind.  He persuades Jack  to give up the music thing, release all the songs for free, abandon the life of stardom he’s living in Los Angeles, go back home to Lowestoft, and live happily ever after with Lily James.  So Jack ‘fesses up in front of a packed Wembley crowd, marries Ellie (Lily), and they have two kids and live happily ever after.  Sorted.

The idea that no-one else knows where the songs have come from and that someone claims them as their own isn’t original, but it is quite funny, and the main parts are all acted well.  The romance between the person who’s become a star and the boy/girl back in their home town who doesn’t want to lead the celeb life isn’t original either, but it’s rather sweet.  But the fact that The Beatles had been wiped out of history didn’t seem to have had any effect other than that no-one knew their songs, which is rather insulting to probably the most influential band of all time.

And would their songs have worked so well if sung by someone else, at a different time in history?  I feel as if I should say no, but look at all the cover versions that have worked well for different generations.  A great song’s a great song.   Jack didn’t sing the more bonkers/trippy songs, admittedly – they probably wouldn’t have worked!

Anyway, as I said, this isn’t a particularly great film, but it’s watchable.  And it might all seem like A Hard Day’s Night at the moment, but We Can Work It Out, With A Little Help From Our Friends.  We need to Come Together (but no close than six feet) and Help!, send All Our Loving to the people we can’t be with and trust that, at some point, it’ll be Here Comes The Sun and we can Get Back! to being Day Tripper(s), driving along Long and Winding Road(s) and buying Ticket(s) to Ride … and having our families and friends beside us Here, There and Everywhere.  Yes, I do know that that was completely naff, but it kept me amused for a few minutes.  If you’ve read this, thank you, and stay safe x.


Back To The Future The Musical – Manchester Opera House


Great Scott – it’s Back To the Future, The Musical!  I’m absolutely delighted that Manchester is the first place in the world to get to see this new stage adaptation of one of the greatest cult films of the ’80s, and indeed of all time; and what an absolutely amazing spectacle it is!  1.21 gigawatts of spectacle, in fact (sorry, that had to be said!).  Flying cars, flashing lights and lightning strikes. I’ve never heard so many men yelling and screaming at a musical: it’s usually only we ladies doing that 🙂 .If you’re looking for Les Miserables, you’re not going to get it: apart from the original songs from the film, the music isn’t really that memorable. But, if you’re looking for Back To The Future and you’re not sure that it’s going to work on stage – believe me, it does!  If you’re worried that someone’s going to spoil a sacred bit of your ’80s childhood – it’ s fine, they’re not!   And, yes, the DeLorean flies!

It’s a bit surreal when you stop to think that we’re now going back further to get to 1985 than Marty’s going to get from 1985 to 1955.  It’s especially surreal if, like me, you’ve never entirely got out of the 1980s.  But the story works for any age. When you look beyond the sci-fi/time travelling elements, it’s a story of learning to stand up for yourself, overcoming bullying, trying not to worry that people are going to laugh at you for not being cool or trendy, and making a success of things by being yourself and doing what interests you.  That’s pretty inspiring in any decade. I think that the musical actually gets that side of it across better than the film does.

And it is definitely entertaining. I’m not someone who usually gets excited about special effects, but this is really something. It’s on a 12 week debut run at the Opera House, the 5th night of which happily coincided with my birthday, and I believe that people are travelling from all over the UK and even from the US for the chance to see it; but it’s going to run and run. When this baby hits 88 miles per hour …

Obviously, you can’t do everything on stage that you can on screen. For a kick off, you can’t spend 3 hours slapping make-up on people to make them look 30 years older, so, in the scenes in the 1980s, the McFly parents look around the same age as their kids 🙂  – but just try to ignore that! There’s not much skateboarding, and (hooray!!!) there are no dogs. George falls out of a tree, rather than being hit by a car.   Also – and it’s killing me to say this, because I am a child of the ’80s, and I got quite upset when it hit me that no-one much under 40 will even remember 1985 – there are things which worked in the ’80s which just wouldn’t work now.  References to Libyan terrorists, and indeed any terrorists, have been removed … and, thinking about it,  it’s kind of weird that they were considered suitable at the time, TBH.  And Doc Brown’s bemusement on learning that Ronald Reagan the film star is now the President of the United States, which was hilarious in 1985, falls a bit flat now.

However, I’m pleased to say that the Thought Police haven’t been allowed to get to it and take away the ’80s and ’50s feel of it. I know there’s been some whingeing about recent musicals being made of An Officer and a Gentleman and Pretty Woman, from people saying that they’re sexist, but can we just accept that times change and that you can’t and shouldn’t try to change the past to match? Lorraine being impressed by first Marty and then George rescuing her from the unwanted attentions of Biff, largely by walloping him, works in the context of the 1950s. And, whilst no-one is more paranoid about their weight than I am, the thing about original 1985 Lorraine being fat and new model 1985 Lorraine being slim works in the context of the 1980s.  Talking about the prospect of “a coloured man” becoming mayor is the language that would have been used in the 1950s – and, of course, Goldie, who starts off sweeping the floor in a café, does indeed work his way up to the position of mayor, and he does it through his own hard work, without anyone having to change to change history for him!  I don’t know if anyone now would make a film in which a girl fancies a boy whom she’s unaware is her son. And even a friendship between a teenage boy and an older man might be considered dangerous territory now – which is a shame, because Marty and Doc Brown are such a great team.  But we’re not writing the story for 2020.  It was written for 1985.  And it’s largely been left as such.  Good.

So, yes, this is Back To The Future, and this is the 1980s!  As I said, it’s quite strange when you realise that, to younger members of the audience, the ’80s clothes, hairstyles and music, and things like the ’80s phone and TV in the McFlys’ kitchen, look like something from history.  It’s like when you’re walking round a museum and you see stuff that you remember using.  Most of it’s set in the 1950s, of course, though … and people who are 30 years older than me will probably feel exactly the same about the ’50s as I  do about the ’80s!  The music and dancing are part ’80s and part ’50s. And there’s a lot of music and dancing, because, well, it is a musical.  In fact, it had a bit of a feeling of Grease about it, because, as they couldn’t show scenes in as many parts of town as they did in the film, quite a lot of it was set in the high school attended by teenage George, Lorraine and Biff.

The new songs aren’t that great, as I said, but the original songs are still great, and the new ones are lively and upbeat even if not very memorable.  I’m a purist and a traditionalist and I would normally howl with indignation at the slightest suggestion that the main attraction of a musical was anything other than the music, but this is an adaptation of a particular film and so the special effects were always going to be the big thing.  And, if you’re looking for special effects, then, yep, you are going to get them, big style!  There are a lot of flashing coloured lights.  There is dry ice.  It has actually been made to look as if the car is going through time.  Well, OK, we don’t actually know what time travel looks like, but you know what I mean!  And, yes, all right, all right, we now know that 2015 was not an age of flying cars, but we didn’t know that in 1985. There is a flying car at the end, because, where we’re going, we don’t need roads!

It’s more than that, though.  It’s genuinely very funny – the comedy element is great.  And it’s genuinely inspiring.  Because you can’t do as much on stage as you can on screen, there’s more about the characters.  Or maybe I’m just getting old – and, yes, that is part of it.  When you’re a kid, it’s all about Marty.  When you’re older – and birthdays always make me feel like Methuselah – you feel much more for young George, shoved around by the school bullies, never able to stand up for himself, and hiding his love of sci-fi and the stories he’s writing because he’s convinced that people are going to laugh at him.  And you feel much more for the original version of adult Lorraine, who’s turned from a lively, vivacious teenager into an unhappy woman, turning to food and drink for comfort.  Well, unless you were a Biff-type kid at school, but, if you were, you probably won’t be reading anything written by me.

This is a brilliant fantasy time travel story.  And it’s a brilliant comedy, because of the way that Marty accidentally messes up the past and then has to try to sort it out, and because of all the time travel jokes such as Lorraine thinking Marty’s called Calvin Klein because that’s what the name tapes on his underpants say.  But, when you think about it more deeply,  it’s a story about the shy, uncool kid, who’s got zero self confidence and gets pushed around by bullies, becoming Mr Happy and Successful.  And it’s about Doc Brown’s years of trying to invent something that works finally paying off.  And I love that.

Oh, all right, it’s about the flying car, as well!  Because, where we’re going, we don’t need roads …


Lucy Worsley’s Christmas Carol Odyssey – BBC 4


I was expecting this to be just a bit of festive fun, but it was actually surprisingly moving. Lucy Worsley really can do moving, when she’s not dressing up and being irritating. We love to sing. Even when you’re me, and you were told to mouth the words at the school Christmas concert because your voice was so bad that you were putting the other girls off. We feel a need to sing together, whether we’re cheering our team on at football matches or singing Don’t Look Back In Anger when we’re trying to come to terms with a devastating terrorist attack.

Christmas carols go back to the days of wassailing, long before the winter festivities were taken over by the Church. The Puritans wanted rid of them, and any religious-themed music not actually using words from the Bible was frowned on for decades after that, well into the mid-18th century. But people wanted to sing, and, as Lucy said, carols were “the people’s music” – and the religious authorities had to give in. During the famous Christmas truce of 1914, carols were sung, and “Just for a little while, they brought comfort and comradeship, and a little bit of peace”. I think we could all do with some of that. Let the midwinter festivities, regardless of whatever form of religion, if any, they’re associated with for you, be about coming together. Singing’s a really good way of doing that. Even when you’re me, and you were banned from singing out loud during the school concert!

The programme started off with wassailing, and a reminder that midwinter celebrations go back long before they became associated with the Nativity story. We then got some Tudor jollification, complete with a picture of a Tudor Father Christmas. I’ve always rather fancied the Tudor court idea of stuffing yourself for twelve days, but I’m fat enough already – not that that seemed to bother Henry VIII, in his later years. Then the Reformation, and the infamous Commonwealth period – which I prefer to call the Interregnum, but no-one else seems to use that term these days! – when the Puritans were calling the shots and, as we all know, a lot of the Christmas traditions were banned. Out went any form of singing in church other than psalms set to melodies.  Even long after that, the Church of England wasn’t keen on carols –  and the Methodists deserve a big festive gold star for promoting them.  Eventually, the Established Church gave in – the first non-Biblical one it OKd being Hark the Herald Angels sing.

It was quite hard to get it all to fit in with the history of carols, because we don’t actually know how or where most of them came from, and that’s complicated by the fact that, in most cases, the words and the music originated separately! And we honestly don’t know if there are hidden meanings behind, say, The Twelve Days of Christmas. But we did hear quite a bit about the history of some individual carols. Is O Come All Ye Faithful actually a Jacobite song, referring to Bonnie Prince Charlie rather than having anything to do with Christmas? Yes, probably! How far does In The Bleak Midwinter reflect Christina Rosetti’s struggles with mental and physical health problems? I didn’t know that O Little Town of Bethlehem was written by an American minister who’d gone on a pilgrimage to Bethlehem to get away from the Civil War – why did I not know that?!

And, whilst the story of the Silent Night music and the flooded church organ is well-known, something that’s never really mentioned is the fact that the actual words date from slightly earlier, 1816, the year after the end of the Napoleonic Wars which brought such upheaval to the Salzburg area, passed around like a parcel from ruler to ruler. It was the first year of “heavenly peace” for a long time. And that’s the carol most closely associated with the Christmas truce of 1914. Lucy seemed quite emotional whilst she was talking about it. I really hadn’t expected this programme to be quite so moving. It was lovely.

This isn’t a carol (nor was it in the programme, but I’m sticking it in anyway) but it is a Christmas song – Queen’s Thank God It’s Christmas, sung by the late, great, Freddie Mercury.

Oh my love
We live in troubled days
Oh my friend
We have the strangest ways
All my friends
On this one day of days
Thank God it’s Christmas
Yes it’s Christmas
Thank God it’s Christmas

Could we have some peace and goodwill to all men (and women), please?  Some tidings of comfort and joy?  And some heavenly peace?   Waes Hael (good health)!!   Well done, Lucy.  I really enjoyed this.

Last Christmas


I’ve still got my vinyl copy of Last Christmas, after 35 years.  No idea whether it still works or not – but one of the all-time classic Christmas songs, and the late, great, George Michael, deserve so much more than this rather disappointing film.  The lead character needed a good slap, there’d been a ridiculously careless error over the dates of the Yugoslav Wars, and there weren’t even that many Wham! songs in it.  And why are these things always set in London?!  There were moments of promise, mostly involving minor characters, but none of them were fulfilled.  It was watchable, but certainly not memorable.

The main character, Kate (Katarina) was just irritating.  She was sofa surfing in London, but it was entirely her own fault that she kept being asked to leave: she showed no respect for her friends’ homes, and kept wrecking their treasured possessions and inviting strange blokes back without asking if it was OK.  And whingeing about being “homeless” when her old room at her parents’ home was ready and waiting for her. Not to mention rushing out of work – a Christmas shop, where she dressed up as an elf all day –  without locking up, as a result of which there was a break-in and the place got trashed.  She didn’t even apologise to her boss.  People’s lives do get in a mess sometimes, but you need to be able to sympathise with the person, and instead I just wanted to slap her!

And, as I said, why are these things always set in London?  And why do they always involve with people with posh Home Counties accents?  I was just waiting for Hugh Grant to turn up like he usually does!   Although, in this case, the main character with the posh Home Counties accent was supposed to have been a child refugee from “former Yugoslavia”.

At the start of the film, we got a picture of children’s choir in an Orthodox church in “Yugoslavia” in 1999.  Well, OK, technically the name “Serbia and Montenegro” wasn’t adopted until 2003.  But we were then told that the irritating Kate and her family had moved to London from “former Yugoslavia” because of “the wars”.  For a kick off, no-one says “former Yugoslavia” any more.  Everyone says Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, etc.  And whereabouts were they from, and which of the wars had they fled from?  The mum mentioned Croatia, but the war in Croatia was long over by 1995.  And it was definitely a Serbian-looking church.  OK, they could have been Croatian Serbs from Krajina, but why would they have been fleeing in 1999?!  There was fighting in Kosovo in 1999, but most of the people who left were Kosovo Albanians, who do not have Slavic names, speak a Slavic language, or, as a general rule, attend Orthodox churches or any other churches.  It just all gave the impression that the scriptwriters didn’t know what they were talking about.

Presumably Emma Thompson, she who flew from California to London on a carbon-emitting plane just to protest about climate change, was trying to show how right on/woke she was by having a main character who was a refugee, but the fact that no-one could even be bothered to check the dates was really rather insulting to the many people who suffered so terribly as a result of the collapse of the former Yugoslavia and the wars that followed.  Not impressed.  /rant

We learnt that Kate had had a heart transplant, and that that was supposedly why she was so flaky and irresponsible, but she was so annoying that I was hard to sympathise – although it was easier to sympathise with her worried mum, whose phone calls kept being ignored.   In fact, several of the minor characters were far more appealing than Kate (which wasn’t hard), but sadly we didn’t get to see much of them.  The mum, who’d been traumatised by her experiences in the wars – although that would have worked better if a) they’d actually bothered to check the dates of the wars and b) Emma Thompson hadn’t played her like a stereotype in a ’70s sitcom.  The dad, who’d been a lawyer in “former Yugoslavia” but hadn’t been able to retrain and was working as a taxi driver.  The sister, who’d felt pressurised into becoming a lawyer to live her dad’s dream for him, and hadn’t told her parents that her “flatmate” was actually her girlfriend.  All the people at the homeless centre where she ended up volunteering – what were their stories?  Kate’s boss, played by Michelle Yeoh, who seemed to have had umpteen different jobs and was obsessed with Christmas – what was her story?

And Tom, the really nice, if totally uncharismatic, guy – why do really nice guys in films always chase after horrible partners?!  – who was a volunteer at a homeless centre, and managed to show Kate the error of her ways … before a sad twist in the tale.  She ended up organising a fundraising concert and apologising to all the people she’d upset.  It was all pretty cheesy, but that’s fine in a Christmas rom-com as long as the film’s OK and the characters are nice.  This, unfortunately, was all a bit of a let-down.  And I was expecting it to be full of Wham! songs, but in fact there were only a few.  It didn’t even include Careless Whisper!

It wasn’t a bad idea, I suppose.  Nasty character is redeemed in time for Christmas – very Charles Dickens.  But Scrooge isn’t the hero, and Kate was supposed to be the heroine.  Getting the dates of the wars wrong was appalling, and it was all just a bit silly.   Last Christmas, one of the greatest Christmas songs ever, deserved better!


Pose (Season 2) – BBC 2


It was lovely to hear Pose‘s Dyllon Burnside singing “God Bless America” before the Rafa versus Medvedev US Open final last month … even when you were as nervous about the match as I was!  He’s spoken very powerfully about the issues he faced growing up as a gay black churchgoing Christian in the Deep South; and Pose in general seems to be having quite an impact.  The first episode of the second season certainly didn’t pull any punches, with scenes including a depiction of a much-discussed December 1989 protest during mass at St Patrick’s Cathedral in New York, against the Archdiocese’s attitude towards the HIV and AIDS crisis at that time.  On a lighter note, we got Madonna – where is Madonna these days, incidentally? – popularising “vogue” music, in the year of the pointy bra tour.  Sorry, the “Blond Ambition” tour.

Hands up, I was never particularly keen on all that dance stuff – give me “Like a Prayer” over “Vogue” any day – so I was very pleased to hear music from Roxette and Soul II Soul, much more my thing, as well!  The standout characters of the first episode, though, weren’t just the dancers and models but also the doctors and nurses who showed such compassion to people living with, and dying from, HIV and AIDS at a time when political and religious leaders were handling the situation very poorly.  The world badly needs more compassion, and less aggression.

I’m trying not to dwell on the fact that a lot of the cast won’t remember Vogue being number one, or the pointy bra thing.  The lad who plays sweet little Damon, who disappointingly didn’t feature much in this first episode, wasn’t born until 1999.  1999!  It was rather nice to see Sandra Bernhard and Trudie Styler: that stopped me feeling so old!   Ask me what’s number one now and I will not have the remotest clue, but name any number one from 1990 and I’ll be able to sing it.  OK, caterwaul it.  It’s quite strange seeing my time portrayed on TV.

Anyway.  This was a pretty hard-hitting first episode, with much of the emphasis on the HIV/AIDS epidemic.  As I said, it didn’t pull any punches.  As well as the “Stop The Church” protest, we saw funerals, coffins lined up, and even someone in a coffin.  We heard characters discussing how many people they knew had died of AIDS, and we were also told how less well-off patients were unable to access medication and had to rely on supplies left by better-off people who’d died.  It certainly got the point across.

However, there was plenty of music and dancing and ballroom competition as well – although sadly no Dynasty costumes as well!  It’s much darker than the first series was, though: there was no romance in the first episode of the new series and nothing about how Damon’s getting on at his Fame-like music school, and there were some quite violent scenes after one of the characters was mistreated by a photographer and other members of the House of Evangelista took revenge.  It wasn’t always easy watching, but it was absolutely gripping.  I started watching the first series for the ’80s music, but I’ve got really involved with the characters and the storylines now.  I’m not sure how many people in the UK are watching this, but I hope it’s a lot, because it’s something really different and it’s well worth the watching.

Bohemian Rhapsody


Coming late to the party with this, but that probably reflects my relationship with Queen and Freddie Mercury very well!  I’ve got tapes (if they still work) of the 1991 re-release of “Bohemian Rhapsody”, the 1992 re-release of “Barcelona” (the theme song of both the 1992 Olympics and the legendary 1999 Champions League final) and the 1993 Now Music version of “We Are The Champions”, but I haven’t got the originals. I *have* got the originals of “Innuendo” (taped off the Top 40 countdown on Radio 1, as you did in those days) and the superb “The Show Must Go On”, but I was a baby when “Bohemian Rhapsody” first hit the number one spot!

And, weirdly, I remember the day we heard of Freddie’s death much more clearly than I remember Live Aid. The news came through early on a Monday morning, and everyone was talking about it on the bus on the way to school, instead of talking about football like we usually did. No-one could talk about much else for the rest of the day. He was such a giant figure of music and popular culture.

Anyway, late or not, I loved this film. I know that it’s taken some liberties with the facts, partly for dramatic effect and partly because a 12-rated film’s never going to be able to do sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll properly; and parts of it were quite disjointed; but Rami Malek was just brilliant. He looked so much like Freddie Mercury that it was almost spooky.

I thought that the early part, especially the portrayal of the Bulsara family was very good, although I could have screamed when Freddie referred to *the* Queen as “Her Royal Highness” rather than “Her Majesty”. I bet the real Freddie would never have made such a silly mistake! The film didn’t say a lot about his background and early life, but you can only fit so much into a couple of hours, and what it did show was well done.

How much did we know about Freddie’s background?  Mention Zoroastrians, and everyone (well, everyone my age or a bit older!) will pipe up “Freddie Mercury”. Mention Zanzibar, ditto. But if you ask people to name famous British Asians, no-one’s going to mention Freddie Mercury, because his ethnic background wasn’t really part of his public persona. A lot of showbusiness people have Anglicised their names, ironically probably more so in “melting pot” America than in Britain, but with some people their background has been a big part of their public persona, and with others it hasn’t. That’s their choice. No-one is obliged to be a spokesperson for any particular demographic group to which they may happen to belong … but whether they are or not has to be the person’s choice, rather than something they feel either obliged to do or unable to do because of prejudice, and that leads into the controversy that’s attached to this film because of some critics claiming that it doesn’t accurately reflect Freddie’s sexuality.

It does show his relationships with both women and men, but it’s been criticised for focusing far more on his relationship with Mary Austin than on his relationship with Jim Hutton, and even for being negative about his relationships with men. I personally didn’t feel that the film said anything negative.  It did show negative comments from journalists, but that was only reflecting how things were at that time. And I think it’s important to remember that the film was meant to be about Freddie’s life as a musician, and about Queen in general, and not just about his sexuality. With TV programmes, soaps, hospital dramas, etc we’re now at a point where a character’s sexuality, gender identity, ethnicity, religion, etc, is not the be all and end all of the character, and they’re not constantly expected to represent a particular community in every plotline written for them, but we don’t seem to be there with biopics, yet … which is a shame.

Where it’s more deservedly been criticised is in its underplaying of the “hedonistic” lifestyle led by the members of Queen back in the day, but it was hamstrung by aiming for a PG/12 certificate, presumably to try to get kids into Queen’s music, so there’s not a lot to be said about that. More of an issue is the messing around with the facts for dramatic effect. It gives the impression that Queen had split up well before Live Aid, and got back together at the last minute because they wanted to be part of such a big event, which just isn’t true at all: they’d done a tour just beforehand. And it also suggested that Freddie came out to his parents and told his the rest of the band that he had AIDS on the actual day of the Live Aid concert, whereas in fact he hadn’t even been diagnosed at that point.

But, much as I dislike historical inaccuracies, films do need to be dramatic, and you can only fit so much into a couple of hours: the Live Aid concert was the denouement of the film, and there wasn’t time to go on to the late 1980s.  Shoving everything into one single day like that was overdoing it, but there wasn’t time to show the real timescale.  It’s always a problem with films: you can only fit so much in.

But it didn’t claim to be a documentary.  OK, that doesn’t excuse inaccuracies, but where the film did score big time was in being entertaining.  That, it certainly was. It had all that glorious music, and it was a well-deserved celebration of Queen and of Freddie Mercury.

As I said, on the morning we heard of Freddie Mercury’s death, we talked about him on the bus all the way to school. Two silly boys started singing “Freddie’s dead, Freddie’s dead, Freddie’s dead,” to the tune of “Here we go,” and everyone else yelled at them to shut up and show some respect for a great entertainer who’d died so young. We weren’t bothered whether he was bisexual, gay or straight, Asian or white, Zoroastrian or any other religion, and, whilst we were shocked and saddened by the news of his death, the fact that he’d died of AIDS wasn’t an issue for us (perhaps due partly to the Mark Fowler storyline in EastEnders earlier that year). We were just very sorry that such a huge figure in the music world and in popular culture had gone. Rami Malek does a superb job of portraying that huge figure, and I’m so glad that, whatever criticisms the film’s attracted, he won an Oscar for his performance. He deserves that. So does Freddie.

Blinded By The Light


This started so well!  A Pet Shop Boys song, an A-ha song, and a shot of someone reading Smash Hits.  It doesn’t get much more promising than that!   Unfortunately, it wasn’t actually very good: it wasn’t a bad idea, but it was too full of tropes, stereotypes and negativity.  However, it was still worth seeing, for the glorious music – I thought it was all going to be Bruce Springsteen music, but, even better, it was like Greatest Hits of 1987 – and the ’80s nostalgia.  Pound notes, Walkmans, those traffic light thingies you hung from car mirrors, wearing too much eyeshadow … !  It wasn’t a great film, but it did get a lot of aspects of the ’80s across pretty accurately, and also highlighted the fundamental importance of music, especially during your so-called formative years.  Did anyone’s school actually have a radio station in the 1980s, though?  Mine certainly didn’t!

It was supposed to be a feelgood film.  I suppose it was, in some ways.  Plenty of music and dancing, and a happy ending.  British-Pakistani teenage boy growing up in Luton in the 1980s, and not feeling very happy about anything.  His dad had been made redundant, his mum was having to work all hours to pay the bills, he felt like a misfit at school, he couldn’t get a girlfriend, his parents had expectations of him that weren’t what he wanted, there were issues with racism in the area … and then a friend introduced him to Bruce Springsteen’s music, and the lyrics inspired him, and everything came right for him in the end.  It sounded great, but it just didn’t quite hit the right spots.

Too many tropes?  Most of them were tropes that could have been done so well, though. Loving but overly controlling British-Pakistani father, teenage kids who want to assimilate into British society but also stay close to their families – done brilliantly in East is East.  Geeky teenage boy who’s into politics, writes poems and somehow manages to get together with the cool girl – done brilliantly in the Adrian Mole books.  Supportive, inspirational teacher – done brilliantly in numerous films.  Teenager who wants to become a writer (/artist/singer/dancer/whatever), rather than get what his parents consider a “proper” job – again, done brilliantly in numerous films, and books.  There was nothing wrong with the tropes as such: the film just wasn’t all that convincing.  Maybe the characters didn’t work.  Everyone was so stereotypical.  And they were all, apart from the dad who was a bit of both, either goodies or baddies: there were no nuances at all.

It wasn’t exactly very realistic, either.  OK, fiction would be pretty boring if it was entirely realistic, but there are limits – at least make it believable!  The aforementioned supportive teacher entered one of our hero’s essays in a competition, and, whaddaya know, it won, and the prize was a trip to a writers’ conference in New Jersey, just near Bruce Springsteen’s home town.  Right, because stuff like that happens all the time.  He’d probably have got a £10 book token.  Also, no-one in Britain in the ’80s said “You did good” or referred to their homework as an “assignment”.

Then there was all this American Dream stuff.  In America, anyone can achieve anything!  No-one cares where you come from.  No-one feels negatively about anyone else.  Er, what??  Don’t get me wrong, I love America, but was that idea not all rather more 1890s than 1980s?  And it kept slagging off Luton.  What’s poor Luton ever done to anyone?  Maybe it was meant to be taken humorously, but I don’t like films or songs or books that sneer at places like that.  Why does Gurinder Chadha have to be so negative – not just about Luton, but about Britain in general?  See also Beecham House and Viceroy’s House !  I thought she overdid the controlling dad bit, as well.   But then Bend It Like Beckham was so good – that was everything this could have been and wasn’t, a really lovely feelgood film about a British-Asian teenager. Please, dear, get back to doing what you did so well in 2002!

Our hero did not, incidentally, end up in America.  He went to university in Manchester.  Nothing negative was said about Manchester, at least – that really would have been the final straw!   That was if they ever actually got to Manchester, given that they were rather worryingly following a signpost for “M1 London”.  And he suddenly realised that his dad was actually a really great guy who’d always done his best for his family, and his dad realised that he was really wonderful as well – yeah, yeah, yeah!  Subtle as a sledgehammer.

At one point, our hero and his mate took over the school radio station, blasted out Bruce Springsteen music, and damaged the DJ’s Tiffany record.  There are some Tiffany lyrics which sum this film up pretty well.  “Could’ve been so beautiful, could’ve been so right.”  Er, yes,  Could’ve been …