TELEVISION / Funny, funny, funny
Wednesday 21 July 1993
And last night, in the unlikely context of A for Abba (BBC 1), a joyous investigation into the appeal of Sweden's finest pop group, we warmed to him again. The programme opened with a clip from Eurovision 1974. Abba were on stage, Vine was on voice-over. 'These are the Abba group,' he said, apparently translating from the Swedish.
To think this was the first we had heard of them. After that faltering introduction, Abba sang 'Waterloo', sold 240 million records, divorced one another, sued their manager and split up without ever actually announcing that they had. Now, two decades on, it's OK to like them again - although, to be fair, not everyone has had a problem admitting to this in the intervening years. The difference is, now it's safe to go on television and say so. This tribute was presented by John Peel, who demonstrated his fitness for the task early on by daring to suggest the Eurovision Song Contest should go monthly.
Stressing his kinship with the period, Peel spoke from deep inside a variety of tasteless outfits, including something horrible in white leather with studs. And even then, beside the group, he looked under-dressed. In the past, it was chiefly Agnetha and Frida who got ticked off for sartorial inelegance - the hideous kimono variations, the space-age usherette numbers. But hats off - or, perhaps better, hats on - to Bjorn and Benny, pioneers of the tie-without-the-shirt arrangement and only too willing, as copious old footage showed, to don Tupperware shorts whenever the need arose, which was frequently. Conversely, when the accusations of bad hair-styling were being thrown around (which was often), it was commonly Benny and Bjorn who got it in the neck. True, Benny in particular tended to keep his blond hair in a giant swathe, resembling a field in which someone had started, but failed to finish, a corn circle - a style now only seen in obscure, period photographs and on top of Noel Edmonds. But last night we kept returning to the girls and their array of molten perms and lethal flicks, such that one of the main upshots of the programme was that, for genuinely heinous crimes against hairdressing, it is the women who should, quite literally, shoulder the blame.
This may be hard to swallow, but it is just possible that Abba weren't sincere about their image. In a coruscating interview for the BBC's Blue Peter programme at the height of the group's fame, Lesley Judd asked Agnetha what, among the thousands of outfits, her favourite was. Without hesitating, she declared it was jeans and a T-shirt. And Frida? 'I like about the same stuff yes.'
Given these crucial issues, it was extraordinary that the programme wasn't blinded to the music. Ray Davies praised Abba's innocence and their courage with 'rinky-dink sounds'. Elvis Costello raised the matter of the poignant pronunciation that they share with David Vine, and spoke movingly of the video for 'Knowing Me, Knowing You', in which Agnetha appeared through a 'gauze halo'. The contributor who claimed that Abba's gift to us was muzak and that 'when you heard an Abba record, you never really listened to it', was singing a different song from everybody else involved.
Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 This 'woman calls police to order pizza' story isn't going where you're expecting
- 2 Marijuana use by teenagers does not result in a lower IQ or worse exam results, study finds
- 3 Watch what happened when food critics were unknowingly served McDonald's
- 4 Jimmy Carr's controversial Oscar Pistorius joke goes too far at the Q Awards
- 5 NHS staff banned from drinking tea or coffee on the job because it looks like they're not working hard enough
MOBO Awards 2014: Jess Glynne hits back at 'ridiculous' criticism of nominated white artists
American Horror Story season 4, Fox - review: Silly, sensational and sensitive
The Apprentice 2014: Nurun Ahmed and Lindsay Booth fired in double elimination
MOBO Awards 2014: Sam Smith sweeps the board with four gongs
The Apprentice, episode 3 - review: Lord Sugar hacks away at the deadwood with double elimination
Of course, teenage girls need role models – but not like beauty vlogger Zoella
Cameron is warned 'no possibility' of UK reducing immigration and that bid to bring in quota on migrant workers would be illegal
Support for EU membership 'at highest level since 1991' with most Brits wanting to stay 'in'
Thousands with degenerative conditions classified as 'fit to work in future' – despite no possibility of improvement
Residents should throw a street party and mix with immigrant neighbours, councils told
Russell Brand threatened with arrest after filming outside Fox News headquarters