Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Welcome To The Dee List

You know that feeling. A removal van pulls up outside your house, so you peer out from an upstairs window and watch as the belongings are unloaded. Ugly couch, white pleather bar stools and a CRT TV. It’s pretty much all you need to know about your new neighbours. And that’s pretty much how I view Big Brother now. I’m usually curious enough to give it a couple of hours’ attention; just long enough to decide I want nothing more to do with the new inhabitants, before switching over to the Family Guy marathon on BBC Three.

The Channel 5 continuity announcer promises “the famous, the fabulous and the filthy,” but forgive me for lowering my expectations somewhat. The audience at Elstree is in good voice, but I have a sneaking suspicion they’ve been locked in here since Friday’s finale. Emma’s looking lovely as always, but her awkward stance makes her look as if she had to drip dry in the onsite Portaloo.  There’s no point showing us around the house, because it’s been on our screens since late May, so let’s dive straight into our new housemates.

About as surprising an appearance as Emma herself, White Dee from Benefits Street has been talked up as a housemate for 12 months now. Despite sounding like outtakes from Cher’s Believe, Dee seems pretty easy to get along with, unless you happened to nick her regular table at the Gala Bingo. Making a mockery of Emma’s earlier comment about Champagne and Michelin starred restaurants, Dee has opted for an unforgiving grey sheath that makes her look like a giant, 43 year-old pupa. Apparently, Dee turned down a role in an ‘X-rated spoof of Benefits Street.’ I’m not sure why – this one might have been played for more laughs, but I’ll bet that everyone who appeared in it still got fucked.

With Wikipedia permanently open in my browser, I can happily tell you that our second housemate is James Jordan, one of the dancers from Strictly Come Dancing. James was recently sacked from the BBC One flagship, and likes to think it’s because he’s the ‘Bad Boy of Ballroom.’ That sobriquet is a lot less exciting when you consider he could have earned it by refusing to wax the parquet. Like many of his contemporaries, James spends most of his time pointing out just how incredibly heterosexual he is, before inviting us to admire his arse. Just don’t get too close – he’s been on the Immodium all day, which at least explains why he’s so full of shit. In the house, he has no idea who Dee is, so makes a point of telling her he’s been on TV for eight years. Of course, Dee knows exactly who he is, because, as the Government would like us to remember, people on benefits live for fags and Sky+.

Claire King is unusual, in that she’s both recognisable and talented, having made her name as the superbitch in Emmerdale. With a smoky laugh that sounds like the faulty transmission on an Austin Princess, she’s trying to compare Emmerdale to Dynasty and Dallas, but she’s not convincing anyone. I don’t remember Krystle and Alexis ever coming to blows over a partially birthed calf. She’s not too worried about criticism, reckoning she’s old enough and ugly enough. That’s a little harsh – if I’m honest, she just looks like she’s here as Helen Lederer’s stand-in. “I’m just a grumpy old woman,” she argues, clearly pitching for a slot on the Loose Women breakfast bar.

David Mackintosh considers himself to be an international heart-throb, having ‘starred’ on the recent unsuccessful reboot of Gladiators. “I’m a muscle-bound eccentric who loves life,” he opines, before launching into a weird anecdote about crashing a van full of dead badgers. “I’m there because I’m an interesting person,” he argues, missing the fact that the casting team was given a tight brief to find someone with the exact same silhouette as Foghorn Leghorn.

Kellie Maloney’s life changed several weeks ago, when a story appeared in one of the tabloids about her gender-swap. Now, I’m assuming that’s the same story she took to the papers ahead of her imminent entry into the Big Brother house. Formerly known as boxing promoter Frank Maloney, Kellie is doing an incredibly brave thing – not least because no-one should have to learn to apply eye-liner in front of a judgmental nation. Even so, she’s looking good, and from behind is completely indistinguishable from Claire King. Kellie seizes on James and says “Are you the dancer? Can you teach me to dance?” I’d advise her to practice walking in heels, before she tries tackling a paso doble.

Audley Harrison is a boxer with size 17 feet and the kind of irrepressible spirit that’d give Kriss Akabusi a migraine. His VT is all very agreeable, which is why I’m more focused on the fact that he’s going into the house dressed as one half of Milli Vanilli. Marcus Bentley tells us that Audley has a degree in sport science and leisure management, which basically makes him Gordon Brittas with a decent right hook.

“What’s the big deal about big boobs?” asks the cosmetically augmented Lauren Goodger as she thrusts her man-made mams at the camera. Her whole VT is a senseless collage of meaningless phrases and pouts that look like she’s disgorging a dinner plate. She’s excited about the chance to appear on a show where she can just be herself, but even the TOWIE viewers are scratching their extensions at that one. As she enters the house, we’re told Lauren was once ‘proposed to in a pub car park,’ which makes me wonder whether that’s a euphemism for the thing she was seen doing in that “intimate video” she mentioned earlier.

If you thought we’d already hit rock bottom, allow me to peel back the underlay and introduce you to George Gilbey – a man who watches telly. Like we’re all doing now. There’s a part of me that wishes Gogglebox was on right now, so we could initiate some kind of meta rift in the space time continuum. As it is, we’re stuck with George sipping gingerly at pints and telling us that wearing no underwear makes him quite ‘Western.’ He’s so nervous that when he pours himself a glass of Rosé it’s like watching Ted Striker trying to overcome his drinking problem.

Our next housemate is a quarter of B*Witched. Edele was the lead-singer in the denim-clad Irish foursome, and seemed to have the biggest problem with everyone when the group reformed for The Big Reunion. She never came across as being particularly likeable, and this VT isn’t exactly swinging things in her favour. Emma seems particularly disengaged during Edele’s interview, probably because the humidity is doing weird things to her hair.

Ricci tells us that he’s “probably best known for the Geordie Shore.” I’m not sure where else his notoriety might come from, unless he’s also featured on cautionary posters in every GUM clinic across the North East. Like Lauren before him, his VT is all about “bringing the party” and obsessing about parts of his body. He’s particularly proud of his six-pack, whipping up his Hollister top to finger the ridges. It’s great that he knows how to do sit-ups, but since the rest of him is so unremarkable, it’s like buying a new car just for the alloys.

Stephanie Pratt is the sister of the universally loathed Spencer, who stupefied audiences last year with his self-involved delusions. Stephanie has appeared on The Hills and Made In Chelsea, and could give Reece Witherspoon chin envy. She’s determined to prove that she’s not ditzy, and seems to be participating in Big Brother for the ‘social experiment’ because she once studied an anthropology module. She reckons that travelling on the Tube is fun, which means she’s never had to use it, and she seems to think that creating a line of belts makes her a designer.

The last three housemates have been separated out in the interests of Big Brother’s first big challenge. Dee has been selected to pose as a distant relative of the Queen, and if she can fool the next three housemates for 24 hours, they’ll all win a luxury food budget. The show’s stylists have simply wrapped her in a window display from Bensons For Beds and backcombed her hair into a beehive, so the Americans may take some convincing.

First up is Leslie Jordan, a genuinely hilarious comedian, raconteur and actor, who most people will recognise from Will & Grace, where he played Karen’s nemesis Beverley Leslie. I also remember him as someone who once got barbecued by Jason Voorhees, but that probably says more about me. As he greets Emma, it’s a lot like seeing Ronnie Corbett playing Elton John in a Comic Relief sketch. We also quickly get a sense that his line about falling out of his mother’s womb into her high heels is a lot like Dolly Parton’s “It costs a lot of money to look this cheap.” I’m going to bet this won’t be the last time we hear that one.

Angelique ‘Frenchy’ Morgan once appeared on a reality show about dating Brett Michaels, and seems to have been stitched together from the pieces they cut off Donatella Versace. She tells us that everything about her is fake, and I’m wondering whether that includes her accent, since she talks like a drunk Inspector Clouseau. “Obviously I like cock. I’m ze worst and ze bitch.” she admits conspiratorially. We also discover that she’s more comfortable when she’s naked, but I imagine she’d be the only one, since she looks more like a Gerald Scarfe sketch than an actual woman.

Our final housemate is Gary Busey – formerly a successful Hollywood actor, and now Clarence the Cross-Eyed Lion on bath salts. Like a set of sentient dentures that have been left overnight in a glass full of crazy, it’s a miracle Gary even got on the plane, never mind made it through Big Brother’s psychiatric evaluation. His interview with Emma is the most uncomfortable thing I’ve seen all year, and I watched every episode of The Voice. I keep reminding myself that this is Gary Busey sober, and wondering if, maybe, we’re all doing it wrong. As Gary staggers towards the house, he insists that Emma accompanies him, and the producers cut her microphone feed, just in case. By the time Dee re-enters as the Duchess of Solihull, it’s clear that there’s one housemate she won’t have to struggle to convince. The state he’s in, you could probably introduce Gary to a ficus and tell him it’s fifth in line to the throne. Mark my words,; no good will come of this.   

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Nanu Nanu Robin

"Mork calling Orson, come in Orson." As familiar to me as the taste of cheese Hula Hoops or Tizer, my favourite half hour of TV would always end the same way - as the bemused and befuddled Orkan would post his weekly report on human behaviour, long before E.T. ever reappropriated the insides of a Speak N Spell. Many people forget that Mork & Mindy started out as a spin-off of long-running nostalgia-fest Happy Days. While Fonzy was busy waterskiing over an unconvincing shark and entering the lexicon of jaded TV viewers everywhere, Robin Williams was a shot of pure adrenalin into the chest of lazy sitcoms. With his rainbow braces and a rug of uncontrollable chest hair that completed his image as a live action Tazmanian Devil, Mork brought irreverence and improvisation to a format that, Norman Lear's output aside, was usually content to lean against boundaries, rather than push them.

After four successful years, Hollywood came calling, as did the dealers. Williams famously noted that, unlike most people who took cocaine to get hyper, he used it to slow down. After all, when talking a mile a minute is your default setting, where else is there to go? His first bout of cold turkey came after the death of John Belushi, having been in the big man's company the night of his fatal speedball. Having kicked the habit (for the time being, at least), Williams launched into a largely fruitless big screen career. Struggling to reconcile his anarchic persona with the dramatic roles that appealed to him, most of his early eighties material was forgettable at best - the sole exception being The World According To Garp.

In fact, it wasn't until 1987's Good Morning, Vietnam, that he found a vehicle that played to his strengths as both a virtuoso comedic force of nature, and an empathetic dramatic actor. Despite triggering several years' worth of shrill and unfunny impersonations, Vietnam was a smash hit. It also provided Hollywood with an instant shortcut whenever they needed a combination of laugh-out-loud humour, as well as calculated moments of pathos. Awakenings, Dead Poets Society and The Fisher King all followed, achieving varied levels of success and helping Williams develop his standing as a 'serious' actor. One high profile misfire was Hook, which seemed to fly in the face of Steven Spielberg's long stated ambition to avoid casting celebrities in lead roles. The combination of Robin Williams, Dustin Hoffman and a 'troubled' Julia Roberts resulted in a gaudy, interminable pantomime, redeemed only by Williams' all-too-rare flights of literal and figurative fancy - calling one unlikeable brat "You lewd, crude, rude bag of pre-chewed food dude."

Williams' next breakthrough came from the most unlikely of sources - the Walt Disney Company. Much like Spielberg, the House of Mouse had always studiously avoided stunt casting, instead allowing the animation and, more recently, the songs of Ashman and Menken, to reverse the troubled studio's fortunes. With their latest animated adventure sent back to the drawing board by a disappointed Jeffrey Katzenberg, it fell to Williams to revive the floundering project. His chaotic, heavily improvised shtick paired perfectly with the Al Hirschfeld-inspired animation style, and helped create the studio's first animated comedy. Since then, hundreds of high profile comics, from Ray Romano and Sarah Silverman, to Ellen Degeneres and Eddie Murphy, have made a beeline (sorry, almost forgot Jerry Seinfeld there) for the recording booth. The results may have varied, but the impact is inarguable.

The nineties were probably Williams' golden period, as he juggled high concept comedies (Mrs Doubtfire, Jumanji) with more esoteric work, (Barry Levinson's much-maligned Toys, and Vincent Ward's What Dreams May Come). Although the choices were always interesting and rarely predictable, audiences still seemed to connect best when he was in full comedy mode. One of his biggest hits was the Hollywood take on La Cage aux Folles, retitled The Birdcage for American audiences. Not only did he achieve his own moments of sublime brilliance (particularly the whistle-stop choreography demo), he was content to play the 'straight' man to Nathan Lane's more showy breakout role.

It wasn't until 1997 that he finally won a long-deserved Oscar for his supporting role in Good Will Hunting. Unfortunately, audience goodwill was more fleeting, as a series of mawkish flops, including Patch Adams, Bicentennial Man and Jakob The Liar, ended his incredible box office run. Unlike some of his contemporaries, who might have attempted to revisit former glories, Williams found in his exile from blockbusters a new kind of freedom. He courted darker material; thrillers and sombre character studies that no longer attempted to straddle comedy and drama. Instead, these were pared down, subtle and haunting performances. His turn in Armistead Maupin's proto-Catfish The Night Listener was a masterclass in confused melancholy; a subtle variation on his first villainous roles in One Hour Photo and Insomnia.

Coming full circle, his most recent role was in a new sitcom called The Crazy Ones, where he played the head of an ad agency alongside Sarah Michelle Gellar. The show was cancelled in May after an inauspicious first season, although network executives had expressed delight at having Williams back on TV after all these years.

Early reports suggest that Williams may have taken his own life after a long struggle with depression and a relapse into alcoholism. He was always matter of fact about his demons, often incorporating them into his rapid-fire stand up material. Perhaps he believed that old adage about laughter being the best medicine. After all, when I was sixteen, I wrote him a fan letter, to which he replied just a couple of weeks later. Inside the envelope was a signed publicity still from Toys, onto which he'd scribbled 'Make fun, not war.' In these troubled times of conflict and intolerance, I can't think of a more appropriate epitaph.

Friday, 6 June 2014

Meet the Young Conservatives

There was a time when a new series of Big Brother carried with it a sense of occasion. In the final days before the premiere, the red tops would speculate about who was going in, and we’d all start practicing excuses for turning down social engagements, just in case it got really good. But ever since its Lazarus-like reappearance on Channel 5, the format has reached an exhausting level of ubiquity. Emma can do her best to sound excited about the new line-up, but anyone who’s been on holiday for more than a couple of weeks would be forgiven for thinking that it never actually went off the air. From must-see TV, to inexplicably omnipresent fixture. Kind of like Last Of The Summer Wine, if Nora Batty punched a hole in those wrinkly tights with an empty wine bottle.

Maybe Endemol has started to get the message, as the show starts with a weird moment as Big Brother announces a system failure and attempts a reboot. Meanwhile, Emma’s doing her best to get a largely disinterested audience engaged in what’s going on. “Welcome to Big Brother Power Trip,” she announces, fully aware that she could be talking about her one-woman media takeover. “I’m so excited,”she shrieks, but given how often she has to do this, her hysterical reaction is a little like me wetting myself about renewing my travelcard.

The walkaround the newly redecorated house is as rushed and shambolic as usual – with a standout moment being the shot of Emma demonstrating how to use the toilet. Somewhere, someone’s taking some high-res screen grabs and will spend the rest of the week on Photoshop. The entire house seems to have been kitted out in Perspex, as though they’re planning to imprison Magneto in there. It’s also worth acknowledging GlobalCasino.com, who’ve managed to hit a new low in poor quality sponsorship idents. Looking like she should be advertising premium chatlines at 2.30 in the morning, the chatty croupier in a Primark party dress offers teasing snippets of insight along the lines of “Just wait till they all get to know each other.” It’s all so incredibly cheap and low-tech, I’m almost surprised they didn’t just use a zoetrope instead. 

Time to meet the hamsters who’ll be spending the next four months in this glorified Habitrail. First up is Tamara – she’s a “global oil and gas headhunter,” which is LinkedIn-ese for ‘recruitment consultant.’ Despite telling us how fearsome and intelligent she is, the statement “I revel from authority” suggests she’s unlikely to be vying for Stephen Fry’s slot on QI. She seems quite insistent that no man can tame her, and it looks as though most of her tops suffer from a similar struggle. Clearly cast as this series’ villain, Tamara thinks she’s better than everyone, but given the low bar of previous line-ups, her assertion may yet prove pertinent. In a final flurry of tabloid baiting, she announces that she’s looking for a ‘man buffet,’ so I’d advise her to steer clear of the mayonnaise.

Mark is a visual merchandiser for Liverpool and looks like a dumpier version of Marcus Collins, or George Michael in a pair of comedy Scouse brows. He spends all his time and money on a painfully tedious beauty regimen, but the results demonstrate a poor return on his investment. In fact, a gym membership might have been a better idea.

Here to fog the boundaries between Celebrity Big Brother and the regular edition, is Helen, who owns a salon in Bolton and once fucked Wayne Rooney. She just wants to move on and stop talking about it, so it’s interesting that she chose to bring it in the first instance. Frank and straight-talking, she thinks that she’s quite easy to not like, and I’m willing to respect her for being right on the money. She’s arrived at the house in a cheaper knock-off of Tamara’s black and white dress, so the sparks should be flying before the first Champagne cork is popped. She might look the part, but her comment “I was shittin’ it I was gonna fall” ensures that she’s unlikely to be mistaken for Pippa Middleton too often.

Steven is a 23 year-old turd who set up his first company in competition with his parents, and now counts them amongst his employees. Now, call me cynical, but that sounds more like a smart way to avoid inheritance tax than any sign of business acumen. He turned over his first million two years ago, but neglects to mention how much of that was profit, and he boasts “I’ve got THE car.” To be fair, he’s got A car, but from the close crop, it could be a Renault Megane. He’s also been to 119 countries – but who counts that shit? “Oh, we like you,” lies Emma through her teeth, as Steven heads into the house. Four down, and so far the men are the ones with the most ridiculous eyebrows.  

Time to stir things up a bit, with a healthy dose of controversy. Businesswoman, and Janine Duvitski lookalike Danielle is an old fashioned girl. She doesn’t believe in pre-marital sex, contraception or gay marriage, but she does believe in posing in her underwear as a part-time lingerie model. According to Marcus Bentley, she goes to church every Sunday (that’s British fundamentalism for you), but her VT seems to suggest she spends most of that time walking her dog round the graveyard.

Winston is a business development manager, which I think means that he tells Ukrainian women whether they can have £15k loan to open a nail bar.  He’s a lot like Joey Essex, but with bigger arms and “a bit more smarter.” He’s a real ladies man, and enjoys a diversity of types, from nines all the way through to tens. He also knows that, if they’re not interested, they’re most likely lesbians. When he’s not busy obsessing about “birds’ arses and breasts,” he’s contemplating the likelihood of his victory in the house: “My name’s Winston. WIN.” Presumably, he’s planning to learn how to spell the other half once he’s been crowned.

Matthew is a media graduate who’s too posh for socks. Everyone thinks he’s gay, apart from his girlfriend of six years, who’s in for a cruel awakening. Continuing tonight’s theme of ‘Cameron’s Britain,’ Matthew is yet another self-important, entitled little prick, with all the impact of a soiled handkerchief. He has a panic attack at the base of the stairs, and given that he’s terrified of failure, the next few weeks could constitute some pretty effective aversion therapy.

Kimberly is yet another business woman and Playboy model – which means we’re dangerously close to turning this series of Big Brother into The Apprentice in D cups. She’s got a law degree and an MBA, prompting Emma to observe that “Brains and beauty are a lethal combination.” She’s going in there to make porridge and sunbathe, not take out an Al Qaeda sleeper cell. Marcus attempts to regale us with fascinating facts about Kimberly’s life, but he’s mustering all the enthusiasm of a narcoleptic reading the shipping forecast.

Our ninth housemate is another pleasant looking, 23 year-old media graduate. So far, the cast of this series is making the Bullingdon Club look refreshingly diverse. Christopher is a journalist who hates celebrities like Kim Kardashian who see fame as a viable career option. Don’t worry folks, we’ve got 16 weeks to call him on his hypocrisy. Christopher admires Katie Hopkins and idolises Madonna. That’s code, you know. As he enters the house, the men all stand together in their skinny jeans, like they’re waiting for an American Apparel fashion shoot.

Finally, we’re treated to a housemate who’s over 25. In fact, she’s almost twice that. 49 year-old Pauline is a dance teacher who, in a former life, went by the name of Jazzi P and provided the rap for Kylie’s Shocked. Pauline doesn’t suffer fools gladly, which means she’s in for a miserable few weeks. She’s cast aside the sweatpants for her big entrance, and goes into the house looking like she’s been styled by the Andrex puppy. She keeps breaking out the dance moves, but to my untrained eye, it looks like she’s suffering from an inner-ear problem.

Now, we’ve got nine obnoxious twenty-somethings, who seem to think that holding down a job warrants a standing ovation, and a take-no-prisoners 49 year old. Who do you think the audience will give the power to? In a shocking twist, the viewers decide to put Pauline in control, so she’s sent off to the control room to watch some ‘top secret footage’ of the other housemates. In reality, the poor woman has to sit through all their introductory VTs, so at least we can understand her pained expression. She then has to decide who will be rewarded, and who will be punished.  In the garden, Mark and Matthew are stuck in Perspex boxes. Mark’s box is filled with cash as a reward for being nice, and Matthew is simply stuck in the air. Not to worry - David Blaine made a fortune doing that. By the time Emma hands over to Rylan, who’s now turned into Kenny Everett’s impression of Janet Street Porter, I’ve already had my fill. Six more housemates will be entering later in the week, and it’s welcome to them.

Friday, 11 April 2014

Adrian Mole - A Hero For Our Time

My fifteen year-old self is lying on his bed. In front of him, spread out across the duvet, a collection of binders and barely legible hand-written history notes. My mum pops her head through the door: “Are you revising? Your exams are only a week away.” She’s a teacher, so this kind of behaviour is not unexpected. Fifteen year-old me sighs as dramatically as he can, before assuring the retreating face that, yes, I’m getting stuck in.

As the door closes behind her, he reaches under the canopy of school work, and extracts a dog-eared copy of The Growing Pains of Adrian Mole. It’s been read so many times that the binding has all but given up. The pages have been carelessly jammed back between the covers, like a half-written manuscript in an Oxford Don’s leather satchel. Young me looks at his watch. “I’ve got a good half-hour before dinner; I can probably finish this and start Secret Diary again,” the conspiratorial voice whispers inside his head. Revision will have to wait. Adrian’s on his way to Skegness, and I can’t wait to rediscover the singular joys of Bernard Porke and the Rio Grande Guest House.    

Although there are other books that may have moved me more; some have even changed my life; none have maintained as constant a presence as the Adrian Mole diaries. I first met Adrian when I was about nine. My Grandma had taken the first volume out of the library, and enjoyed it so much, she allowed me to read it before returning it. And although I was a few years younger than Adrian, I felt he was a kindred spirit. Sure, he was pompous and laughably naïve, but we shared a love of the written word, and a general air of confusion about the way that grown-ups behaved.

Whereas an older reader might have picked up on the foreshadowing of future events, a standard device in most epistolary novels, I shared Adrian’s innocence - although even I could spot Mr Lucas’ intentions before Adrian did. Of course, each time I revisited Adrian’s diaries, which was a lot in those days since there were only two volumes to choose from, I’d pick up on more of the detail. The politics of the time, the complex familial relationships, and the coruscating social satire, all added fresh layers to every rereading. Adrian was the ideal commentator on society – all seeing, if not exactly all-knowing.

Aged just 14, he diligently reported the outcry that occurred when he accidentally delivered tabloids to the tree-lined middle class avenues, and broadsheets to the council estate, but expressed surprise at their response: “I don’t know why everybody went so mad. You’d think they would enjoy reading a different paper for a change.” Neither did it escape his notice, in True Confessions, that on the day of Andrew and Fergie’s wedding: “I passed the Co-op where the Union Jack hung upside down, and the Sikh temple where it was hung correctly.” Tiny moments, that spoke loudly about the tensions of modern British life.

As the years passed, Adrian and I both grew up, but never apart. I kept track of his first, ill-fated move to London. I shared his heartbreak as his beloved Bianca left him for his stepfather, Martin Muffet. And I delighted in his, albeit short-lived, success as a TV chef. Crippling debt, appearances on reality TV talkshows and a particularly threatening swan, all played vital roles in Adrian’s tragicomic existence.

But, once a diarist, always a diarist. With his maturity came a newfound awareness of politics, not least when his fearsomely ambitious old flame Pandora Braithwaite became one of Blair’s Babes. Even so, his unerring ability to miss the point never seemed to fail him. Most of the time, his lack of prescience was mined for ironic humour, but things took a dark turn in Adrian Mole and the Weapons of Mass Destruction. Having tirelessly campaigned in support of Blair’s war, putting his unwavering trust in the Labour leader’s integrity, he’s shocked out of his ignorance when Robbie Stainforth, his son’s best friend, is killed in a bomb explosion in Iraq. Adrian’s grief is palpable, reflecting a raw anger that we hadn’t encountered before. Gone were the playful jabs at British politics; in their place, a profound sense of betrayal.

The last time I saw Adrian, he seemed to be on the road to recovery, following a gruelling battle with prostate cancer. Middle-aged and once again separated from another wife, he seemed to have finally made peace with his life. Able to set aside three decades of unrealistic aspirations and underwhelming accomplishments, he was looking forward to life as a grandfather, perhaps alongside Pandora – the one that never quite got away. And that’s how I’ll chose to remember him, even though I know he’s gone forever.  

He and I were more alike than I’d perhaps care to admit. But then, wasn’t that always the secret of his enduring appeal? Adrian Mole truly was an everyman. Reflecting the frustrations, obsessions and idiosyncrasies of this weird and wonderful nation. Cataloguing its foibles with alarming precision, and yet managing to spectacularly miss the point, more often than not. Adrian Mole; a hero in idiot’s clothing.

Monday, 7 April 2014

The BBC Gets Its Rocks Off - The Voice Grand Final

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from this series of The Voice, other than the fact that Kylie could probably flirt with a park bench, it’s that I miss commercial breaks. There’s something about the relentless pace of these talent shows that requires regular respite; without it, they can become incessantly draining. So it’s a weakened husk of a man that sits down to recap tonight’s grand final. It’s taken 14 weeks, but we’re finally at a stage where there are few enough contestants that we can actually remember all their names. But before we get to them, we’ll have to sit through another performance from our judges. As they launch into a self-congratulatory rendition of Get Your Rocks Off, Ricky leans on a motorbike, Will models a rather fetching parachute harness, Tom sits on a throne, and Kylie’s suspended on a neon pair of lips. This is either the BBC’s idea of Saturday night primetime, or I ate a wheel of brie right before my afternoon nap. Weirdly, the film keeps switching to slow motion, as if the producers are attempting a metaphor for the sensation of actually watching the show.

Emma’s wearing a curious evening gown/trouser suit, that looks like something Heather Locklear might have worn before pushing someone down the stairs. “Are you ready to meet the best of the best?” asks Marvin angrily, before introducing our four finalists with no small amount of hyperbole. I’m all for encouragement, but it’s a little premature to be calling Christina Marie a superstar.

Speaking of Bristol’s answer to Katy Perry; she’s gone home to undo all the hard work she’s put into those elocution lessons. Her homecoming is less than spectacular, and amounts to little more than hanging around on someone’s driveway with an assortment of Vicky Pollards. Her opening performance is Coldplay’s Fix You, accompanied by a strange floor projection that looks as if she’s doing karaoke in a smelting plant. It starts off nicely enough, but the constant threat of shouting is always there, and by the second half of the song, one of my dogs has left the room in search of a quiet space. Thankfully, all of the over-singing is redeemed by an admittedly impressive falsetto run. Emma is feeding the judges their lines and giving the contestants more non-questions for them to shake their heads at. Meanwhile, Ricky has an emotional breakdown and starts pointing at the camera and commanding us to vote, like Kitchener in a tweed waistcoat.

This week, Sally was crowned the new Queen of Leicester, with no word on what happened to the old one. Presumably, Rosemary Conley’s been thrown into a dungeon to live out the rest of her days eating low calorie ready meals with her fingers. Sally tells us how much she enjoyed visiting home, but she still scowls like she’s been stuck in all morning, waiting for the aga repairman. Her family have printed a banner to implore people to vote, but it’s so politely worded that it’s unlikely to have much of an impact. It seems that enthusiasm is in short supply in Sally’s family, as they attempt to convey their excitement about her success without changing their facial expressions or the tone of their voice. As for Sally, she’s actively resisting the effects of her TV makeover, and looks like the RNLI just fished her out of the North Sea. Of course, feedback on her image is purely academic, since this is The Voice, and on that front Sally has it nailed. Her rendition of Joni Mitchell’s Both Sides Now is hauntingly melancholy. It’s clearly one of those songs she’s been performing for thirty years, so she deserves credit for picking something that’s personal to her, with a wider audience appeal. Tom repeatedly references the fact that Sally has touched him, and hopes that she’s touched everybody in the audience. Poor Will is still struggling with the pressures of live TV and fumbles a compliment, ultimately comparing Sally’s performance to “something from a Disney cartoon.” Like most of his back catalogue, I imagine that sounded a lot better in his head. 

Introducing Jermain, Emma comments obliquely that “all roads lead to Hackney,” but that really depends on which exit of the A12 you take. Jermain heads home to you-know-where and heads straight for a community centre full of well-wishers. Well, I say full. There’s certainly a good turnout, but Jermain’s claim that he struggled to fight his way through the crowd represents a true politico’s misremembrance of events. Performing Miley Cyrus’ Wrecking Ball, he’s flies into the studio on something that’s part microphone stand, part ski lift. The song suits his voice surprisingly well, although the obligatory baritone notes are more than a little comical. The key change is better, but it all falls apart on the last few off-key notes. Will stops giving his feedback to take a call from Cheryl Cole, who obviously hasn’t read the small print in her new X-Factor contract about fraternising with the enemy. Ricky adds that “Jermain brings a different vibe to the show; he’s a guy with a social conscience.” Meanwhile, Sally’s out back, burning tyres in the car park, as Christina Marie beats a swan to death with her shoe.

Jamie’s thrilled to be in the final of the Voice, but he’s so smiley and happy, he probably pisses himself with excitement when he fills out a Road Tax form. His performance of Missing You is pretty good, but the loud bits are a little too shouty, and the softer bits a little too quiet. Emma’s excited to see “all the Johnsons out in the audience,” which makes me wonder if she has to picture the crowd naked, to conquer her nerves. Will references Justin Timberlake in his appraisal (more on that, later), but I think Joey Fatone makes for a more effective N*SYNC simile.

Remember Marvin? He’s been dumped back in the V-Room where he can play Candy Crush on his iPad and keep out of trouble. With all four singers having performed their first song, Marvin’s ready to give them a light grilling. I could recap these conversations for you, but every time I do, a little part of my brain dies. If I tried to transcribe everything, I’d forget how to tie my own shoelaces.

With the solo performances out of the way, it’s time for the finalists to sing with their mentors. Christina Marie and the Kaiser Chiefs sing the band’s new single Coming Home. It’s a song that suits both their voices well, but the arrangement could see Ricky sued for plagiarism by U2 and Simple Minds. Ricky has an awkward smirk on his face, like he’s a little too pleased with himself about being able to get into those size 28 trousers. As for Christina, she’s still struggling to sell sincerity, especially when she does her “Oh my God, I’m so honoured…” humility giggle.

Sally and Tom have gone off to church and she’s still wearing that fucking anorak. Fair play to her; at least she’s more pragmatic about the nature of her relationship with her celebrity mentor: “My highlight has been working with Sir Tom. It feels like we’re friends, and I hope we are.” Their duet of Walking In Memphis is lovely, but Tom’s booming voice has a tendency to drown out Sally, leaving her only the harmonies to distinguish herself. Tom promises to sing on Sally’s album, and she’s already thinking “Maybe a bonus track, if you’re lucky.”

Will and Jermain head off to Buckingham Palace to launch a new social initiative with Prince Andrew. Jermain’s surprise that the Prince knew who he was betrays his naiveté – surely he knows that these people are briefed by advisors? Their performance of Pure Imagination is weird and stilted, with awkward dancing, stuttering beats and Will’s utterly terrible vocals. Will talks about the song choice as representing how it feels to try and get out of a ‘nightmare neighbourhood,’ which probably has the good people of Hackney feeling a little down in the mouth.

Kylie takes Jamie to the O2 to meet Justin Timberlake, before singing on stage to an empty auditorium. Is this a commentary on the kind of success that the winner can look forward to? They’re doing The Eurythmics’ There Must Be An Angel, and although it starts with an odd tempo, it’s much better once the beat kicks in. They’re quite well suited as a duo, with Kylie handling the basics and Jamie rocking the big gospelly notes.

With a little time to fill before the last round, Paloma Faith takes to the stage to do her Tori Amos-on-ecstasy routine. The song has attitude to spare, but melody is in short supply. And her RnB “come on wi’it” growl, seems a little disingenuous, given her plummily eccentric speaking voice.

It’s standard, at this stage in the show, to give us a quick recap of the season. This largely involves seeing viewers at home trying to turn their own chairs, which is great if you always wanted to peer behind someone’s DFS sofa. As the phonelines are temporarily frozen, Jamie gets the news that he’s out of the competition. Emma asks Kylie if he’ll be going on tour with her, and she diplomatically avoids answering the question; choosing instead to thank everyone who was part of the show. With a final call for phone votes, Emma implores us to pick up the phone: “You can change someone’s life by taking them from this show to the charts and beyond.” That seems a little ambitious for a show that’s never troubled the inside of the top 30.

For her final performance, Christina Marie sings The Power Of Love, and it brings out the sweet clarity of her voice. Sally has also picked her battle song; Olly Murs’ Dear Darlin’. Her dress looks like a fortune-teller’s tablecloth, but the vocal is mesmerising. The only downside is that we only get half the song, which means the performance winds down, rather than reaching a crescendo. Finally, Jermain bellows And I’m Telling You, and it’s a smart song choice for his last ever performance. Get this one right, and the vocal fireworks can all but guarantee those all-important final votes. Despite its ubiquity on these talent shows, it’s not a track that works well as a 100 second showcase – sounding more like a greatest hits compilation of massive notes, rather than an actual song. After wiping his eyes, Will volunteers his dead grandma as part of Jermain’s new entourage. Still, at least he won’t have to spring for a seat in business class for her.

Aloe Blacc is here to make use of that monochrome photographic effect that the producers of The Voice like so much. He’s singing The Man, which is on course to be number one tomorrow. It uses the refrain from Elton John’s Your Song, but at this stage in the game, I’m just relieved it’s not Ellie Goulding’s version.

After two hours of edging, we’re finally ready to announce the winner – it’s Jermain. His mum’s praying, Will looks pensive, and Sally seems entirely thrilled for him. Will gives him counsel on how to go about achieving his goal of being the first black British Prime Minister, which doesn’t give much of a hint of what his first album will be like. Jermain gives thanks to God, which has the production team scrabbling to check whether this warrants recategorising The Voice under its Religion and Ethics banner. There’s just time for one more facepalm, as Jermain sings his recap of the song from Dreamgirls, but changes the lyric to “you’re the best Mum I’ve ever known.” Cue the cameraman cutting to Jermain’s granny in the audience. Well done everyone.