Television Review

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The Independent Culture
THE BAY CITY ROLLERS - REMEMBER? (BBC1) was some consolation in the cultural desert of Easter Monday television. In 1975, for those who don't remember, the Bay City Rollers were given their very own "shop window", a television series entitled Shang a Lang. On the programme, Alan, Derek, Les, Woody and Eric - a roll call lacking the impact of, say, John, Paul, George and Ringo - rode around on choppers and had to have police escorts when they went to the toilet, such was the studio hysteria.

A patronising English TV producer sniffed her way through an anecdote. "Quite apart from being very Scottish," she remarked snootily, "they had a habit of all talking at once, you see. I was bombarded by this sound and I had to say `stop, stop, please stop'. I didn't insult them by saying `please speak English', but I did say `one at a time, and please speak slowly'."

John Peel introduced some surreal absurdity - a quality invariably absent from ironic retro-celebratory films such as this - with footage of a Radio 1 roadshow at Mallory Park as the band prepared to perform in the middle of a small island. One by one the Rollers were helicoptered across the water, increasing the hormonal frenzy of waiting post- and pre- pubescents. Security, which was provided by members of the BBC sub-aqua club, was soon overstretched as fans tried to swim across to their heroes. Meanwhile, Tony Blackburn zoomed up and down the lagoon in a speedboat driven by a Womble.

The scale of their popularity was remarkable. Johnnie Walker received hate mail after fans detected a lack of reverence in an introduction during the top 40. On arriving for a concert in Toronto, 70,000 people came to meet the band at the airport. The subsequent open- air gig was called off by the police after one song when 120,000 fans arrived.

It was extraordinary to learn that the group had sold 120 million records between 1974 and 1980, but what I yearned for, when the credits rolled, was that the programme had been more investigative. The band were properly placed in pop-historical context as the biggest band since the Beatles. Given their cultural impact, the story of how they were cheated of all the money they ever made, and then presented with the tax bill, is a huge one. This was no fight for a lightweight; it was a job for Panorama or Dispatches.

There were some nice lines in The Man (BBC1), a pleasant comedy drama, but sadly not enough of them. "It's gonna be like business and pleasure mixed up all together... totally Branson," Lenny Henry intoned as Dennis Jackson, Birmingham travel agent and aspiring soul singer - a day-dream believer who flew to Tenerife with his band, the Jackson Six, in fruitless pursuit of a singing career as his business went quietly bankrupt.

The most surprising thing about The Man was to see Lenny Henry out-act Marianne Jean-Baptiste, and Jean-Baptiste out-sing Henry. Jean-Baptiste had a stinker of a part as Henry's wife Michelle - unfortunately this was only one of a number of weakly written and indistinct characters that let down the programme.

Robert Hanks is away

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