Television Review: Miranda's Chest

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The Independent Culture
"TO ME, it wasn't Miranda losing the breast; it was the cancer going away," insisted her poor, bewildered husband. But Miranda felt otherwise, and Miranda's Chest, the first of Channel 4's week-long season of programmes to mark National Breast Cancer Week, chronicled her struggle to come to terms with the emotional impact of a

double mastectomy.

Miranda Vicente developed a virulent form of breast cancer at only 23, when she was six months' pregnant. Her husband, Franco, a Spanish actor, was concerned only for her survival and the presence or absence of breasts seemed genuinely to be an irrelevance to him provided that she was still alive and safe. "Miranda is the most beautiful woman in the world. I still love her. I still fancy her like mad," he said. He even found that his libido increased as if to prove to her that the change had made no difference. But it would seem that the post-operative trauma of mastectomy has nothing to do with whether your husband still fancies you or not; it's about self- image. "She's never been a confident person," admitted her mother who, like the 52-year-old Franco, rather felt that her daughter was lucky to be alive and that the contents of her bra was a trivial matter: "Nobody would know if she wore the prostheses."

Yes they would. Miranda would know. And Miranda minded enough to have new breasts made, crafted by kindly men at Guy's Hospital from little silicon bags and flaps of flesh from her back. Painful, dangerous, elective surgery was not something that her fatalistic Spanish husband could understand: "Why should a human being go through another six, seven hours to have a boob fitted? Will she be a better person? No."

This was as much a diary of a divorce as anything, because Miranda went off to England with the children, leaving Franco to wonder about the woman who would return. She came back months later proudly displaying her curious, scarred apples of flesh and a brutally short haircut - a strange move for an ex-air stewardess who had grown obsessed with being conventionally pretty and feminine. "They managed to do a 34C, which I was absolutely thrilled about... my cleavage is amazing." The final result looked natural with clothes on but, stripped bare, she looked no more "normal" than she did with her scars. This was about how she felt in public; being fit and healthy with two children and the love of a good man would never have been enough.

The shots of her scarred ribcage, which she revealed with masochistic relish, and the gruesome reconstructive surgery were not for the squeamish, but it was an unsettling film for other reasons. As always, one wondered how much the understanding ear of the camera team affected the subject's decisions, what part their slick video diary of events contributed to the marital breakdown. Allowing a woman still in the early stages of recovery to open up in this way seemed questionable to me. The mere fact of her consent didn't stop it being exploitation.

"It was hip to say you weren't going to live very long," recalled one of Billy Fury's old sidekicks in the Omnibus (BBC1) tribute to the pop star. Fury's childhood bouts of rheumatic fever left him with a severely weakened heart and he died in 1983 at the age of 42. He was born to quiff. His father took exception to his drainpipe trousers, but his obliging mother would hide them in the outside loo so that he could double-back and change into them on his nights out.

Various ageing rockers remembered him with affection, but the film was unconvincing and none of the footage showed us anything more than a poor man's Elvis Presley. Unusually for the period, Fury did have a crack at writing his own material, but his biggest successes were cover versions and he didn't just share the billing with the likes of Eddie Cochrane and Joe Brown; he shared a repertoire: "They literally used to have fist fights over who was going to sing `Hound Dog'." Like Marty Wilde, Vince Eager, Nelson Keene and Johnny Gentle, Fury was catapulted to stardom by Larry Parnes. His puckish good looks and curling lips were central to his success. One Liverpudlian remembered: "He was a sexy sod, wasn't he? He just oozed it. You'd see blobs of oil on the couch where the girls used to be. They just melted."

Thomas Sutcliffe is away