Peter Conchie: Television Review

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The Independent Culture
ON SATURDAY night, Parkinson Meets George Michael (BBC1) made an important cultural transition for a country which has been going through a particularly awkward, drawn-out and painful moral pubescence since the early Sixties. An interview full of affirmation and mutual respect spoke eloquently of that peculiar thing, the collective British sexuality, which is so uptight yet can be so accepting when one of its own pushes open the closet door.

Almost before you'd taken your seat for one of the most anticipated television interviews of the decade - up there with Martin Bashir's Spencer and Woodward - George had broken the ice with a self-deprecating remark about not being invited on if he "hadn't got his willy out". From that point on, it was a case of Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About George Michael But Were Afraid To Ask. Thankfully, Parkinson wasn't. George exploited the new exoticism which the recent public unmasking of his sexuality has given him - he was funny, open and at ease, both with himself and with his benevolent interrogator, in front of a "home" crowd.

Given that what we were witnessing was two people from different generations talking about "cottaging" - the practice whereby gay men use public toilets as a rendezvous for casual sex - what impressed most was Parky's affirmative, open body language. It was so Nineties. He was sitting back in his chair with his legs open, swinging happily from side to side, leaning forward and grinning. At one point he actually rubbed his knees like Vic Reeves. It was as if the world's coolest father was putting his errant son at ease. As Parky functions as the nation's absent father, if it's fine with Parky, well, it's fine with us too. At the end, I felt like buying him a terrific new cardigan for Christmas and telling him what a great (surrogate) dad he was.

Veracity was also the aim of The Truth About Art (Sun, C4), an interesting, if jumbled, new series. Frustrated with the Germano-centric approach, the art critic Waldemar Januszczak aimed to dishevel the tidy past of art history and therein, for the viewer at least, lay the difficulty.

Animals provided the intellectual stepping stones for Januszczak's ambitious yet disparate thesis, but only those with a giant's stride could have made the three-stage leap from cave paintings to Damien Hirst. Januszczak started in southern Africa, where he affected awe at cave paintings. While I swallowed his thesis that these are not "primitive" scratchings, it still left me cold.

The different elements were so distinct you could, at times, have been watching a different programme; the Attenborough tour of Africa, the funny lady who sketched mutant leaf-bugs in Chernobyl and Sellafield and the interview on a hillside with Damien Hirstwho, in his chunky jumper and beard, looked for all the world like Bill Oddie. That said, I'll watch again; stimulating programmes about art don't come along often enough.