Ellen E Jones: The Weekend's TV from The Trial of Gillian Taylforth to From Scotland with Love

Misogyny in the dock features in this salacious re-creation of a soap star’s humiliation
  • @MsEllenEJones

Some may question the cultural merit of Channel 5’s The Trial of Gillian Taylforth. Can we at least agree that on a weekend when ITV and BBC1 were both devoted to minimally varying coverage of the exact same football match, there’s value to a channel with its own peculiar remit?

Channel 5 was at its most “Channel 5” on Saturday evening with this part-dramatised account of a soap star, a Sun headline and a sex act by the side of a motorway.

Actually, Taylforth who played Kathy Beale in EastEnders from 1985 to 2000 was never, strictly speaking, on trial herself. In 1994 she brought a libel action against the Sun newspaper for printing the allegation.

Some of the talking heads in this programme speculated that Taylforth hadn’t even instigated the suit, but had been pressured into it by her then partner, the alleged BJ’s alleged recipient, Geoff Knights. It was to be Taylforth, however, who paid the heaviest price: a legal bill for half a million and a permanent punchline status.

Delicately leaving aside one woman’s humiliation for the moment, The Trial mostly played like a low-on-laughs episode of Star Stories, with future soap star Jenny Gayner as Taylforth. It even had John Sessions from Stella Street playing the Sun’s merciless defence counsel, George Carman. He delivered his innuendo-laden lines with obvious relish, rolling the r’s around his mouth like a courtesan with a cherry stem.

Should you require them, there were also some more high-minded justifications for taking another gawp at this legal low point. The most damning evidence at the time was video footage of a drunk Taylforth simulating oral sex on a German sausage (As journalist John McVicar commented: “I just wondered how they knew it was a German sausage”).

This was relevant, apparently, because it cast doubt on the character Taylforth had presented to court. In other words, it provided grounds for some good, old-fashioned slut-shaming. Reminds you, doesn’t it, of the coverage of the now infamous Magaluf video. Attitudes have changed a lot since the Taylforth trial said one interviewee, because of Sex and the City.... blah, blah.... 50 Shades of Grey... blah. Apparently not that much.

A Century in Film: from Scotland with Love on BBC4 last night took an even wider view of British history. This 70-minute “visual and musical experience” combined archive footage from the very earliest days of the moving image right up to the Seventies, sourced by director Virginia Heath and cleverly edited together by Colin Monie.

The soundtrack was made up of tracks composed by Kenny Anderson aka Fife-born musician King Creosote. Watch it once to let the whole wash over you and a second time to appreciate all the clever ways the image and the music are linked.

This was a historical record, which also had its own hypnotic lyricism. Just to listen to several complete tracks by the same artist in a row created a sense of immersion that’s rare in our multiple device, on-demand entertainment age. The cumulative effect was to show the great, variety, beauty, humour and hardship of Scottish life since the invention of the film camera.

Scottish people with a close connection to the places and activities depicted here will obviously find this film especially resonant, but they aren’t the only potential audience. In the same way that Terence Davies’ Of Time and the City made sense to non-Liverpudlians, From Scotland with Love also bore a message for the rest of the UK. As Dear John letters go, it was  pretty heartbreaking.