Grace Dent on Television: Best Possible Taste: The Kenny Everett Story, BBC4
Annoyingly, the Beeb's Kenny Everett story really was in the best possible taste
One of the curses of being famous and then dying, aside from the enormous hassle of being dead, must be one's beyond-the-grave fear about one's BBC4 bio-pic.
Ever since I watched the Enid Blyton story that portrayed assertive Enid as a sort of pre-menstrual Darth Vader with a portable typewriter, these dramas have fascinated me. Lovely Hattie Jacques, it transpires, was simply a large lady in a shift frock who had affairs. That's her that is. Morecambe and Wise squabbled a lot and stayed in bad guest-houses; not a lot of sunshine was brought in that hour and a half. Oh and Frankie Howerd (flubbers lips, rolls eyes) was tormented by inner demons, ooh they entered him by all means they did, titter ye not! (puts hands on hips, denies being gay for 90 minutes then dies).
Yes, I've been let down by these dramas time and again, yet still I throw myself upon them hoping to shine light upon hazy pieces of my childhood memory, those bygone feel-good times which live in a pocket of cells behind my ear marked "nice, confusing formative moments". Monty Python, Eric and Ernie or Kenny Everett; those delicious TV times of being extra-quiet on the couch hoping the grown-ups won't notice I've dodged the bedtime bullet. TV I loved but didn't understand, but that's OK, because here's the modern-day Beeb with writers, a wardrobe budget, a prop department of vintage tat and a clear vision. Or that's the plan, surely. By the end of the BBC4 Monty Python drama Holy Flying Circus all I was clear about was these men seemed precious, exhausting and not particularly jocund in the company of women.
It should be mentioned here that BBC4's The Road to Coronation Street – their Corrie bio-pic starring Jessie Wallace as Pat Phoenix playing Elsie Tanner – was utter bliss. But, then, I'd watch David Dawson, who played Tony Warren, if he was taking wallpaper off a back-bedroom wall with a fish knife very slowly for upwards of six to seven hours. He's marvellous. Add Lynda Barron, Celia Imrie and Jane Horrocks clomping about in cardigans and twin-sets being caustic and stalwart and there lies TV magic.
Yet, with hindsight, I rather wish I'd not watched Best Possible Taste: The Kenny Everett Story. My feelings about Everett are giddy and fond, him being an injection of weapons-grade exuberance into my grey 1980s world. A pop-culture imp; swivel-eyed, windmill arms, bowler hat with stockings'*'suspenders, enormo-plastic gospel hands and neon fizzing graphics. Kenny Everett taught me surreal, before I'd even mastered real. He invited David Bowie, Kate Bush and Freddie Mercury onto his show, charmed them to join in on comedy skits and convinced bigwigs to chuck money at lavish live performances. Everett became firm friends with Mercury; a friendship which included all the largesse and glamour 1980s London allowed. He found a muse in Cleo Rocos, the Brazilian-born, knowingly saucy panto-strumpet. Rocos was a national anti-sweetheart, her image burned into the happy places of a millions British male minds to this day. I linger on Cleo here as she doesn't seem to feature in this drama. Neither do Bowie, Bush or any of the 1980s fabulousness. If you want all of this watch the Channel 4 documentary When Freddie Mercury Met Kenny Everett, which glamorously cartwheels from their 1974 meeting on Everett's Capital Radio breakfast show to the party's end in the 1990s. No, Best Possible Taste was mainly about Everett's relationship with wife Lee Middleton, and his struggle with being gay, although this doesn't seem much of a struggle as Lee asks her husband if he's gay on their very first meeting, which he only slenderly denies, before then having boyfriends continually through the 90 minutes.
We got little feel of Everett's enormous fame, as I'm guessing crowd scenes or any evidence of flamboyance are expensive to film. A David Bowie impersonator doesn't cost much though, in fairness. You can get one for a half day off Loot for £50. Everett worked in a number of small recording studios which represented Radio 1 or Capital, where he would say something slightly nefarious and then be fired, where he would go home and argue with Middleton about being gay. Except Middleton, in this drama, didn't seem to mind; she just wanted Everett to divorce her so she could move on.
I waited for Bowie to perform "Boys Keep Swinging" while Everett chased him about dressed as a transvestite city-broker, but this glee was unforthcoming. Freddie Mercury appeared occasionally with words of advice, played a bit like that bloke from 'Allo 'Allo! who'd say, "listen carefully, I will say zis only once". All the largesse was portrayed safely before Everett waved everyone off on a beach and went to heaven. Dull and in the best possible taste.
Grace's Marmalade dropper:
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