Last Night's TV: Alan Davies' Teenage Revolution/Channel 4
Gareth Malone's Extraordinary School for Boys/BBC2
Friday 10 September 2010
Alan Davies' Teenage Revolution may have been the quietest revolution in history. His youth, it's safe to say, was not a wild one. Instead, it was the predictable suburban existence of most self-described "tearaways". He liked Citizen Smith because he was "cheeky"; John McEnroe was his icon of rebellion. It was all pleasingly realistic. Refreshing, too, was the era we got: the bad-taste 1970s and 1980s, rather than the much-reminisced-about 1960s.
Davies also liked Margaret Thatcher, because his parents did. He would describe the local corner store as "the Paki shop". Shamefacedly, he confessed to tormenting the storekeeper by asking for sweets that didn't exist ("Lamborghini sticks", anyone?) and banging on the windows before running away – crimes which, given the racial undertones of the late 1970s, have assumed a significance far more unpleasant than the acts themselves.
Anyway, last night, he went part way towards atonement, tracking down the owner of the store (somewhat miraculously, given that it was now closed and boarded up) to apologise. "At least you enjoyed your sweets," chuckled Mr Sha. There, that wasn't so bad, was it?
Naturally, this being 1979, not all racism was of the latent sort. This was the heyday of the National Front, whose anti-immigration tabloid was readily available to the impressionable schoolboys of Davies's posh institution. More than that, it was available to the Harrington jacket-wearing skinheads of Debden. To Davies, the skins represented a passing menace at friends' gigs (though not, necessarily, as much of a menace as the contemporary practice of "gobbing" on the band). To the residents of Brick Lane, they represented more: a force for destruction who liked to chase them around town on weekend expeditions. Revisiting one of the skins, Ian, it was difficult to believe he meant too much harm, though the old prejudices are without doubt still there. Ian's dad claimed the family left Hackney because there were "too many coloureds" and will soon move again for the same reason. Curiously, he came over rather bashful before admitting this to the cameras. "I'm not sure I should say this on here," he mumbled, a confession that would indicate either an awareness of his views' inherent wrongness, or a belief that the TV-watching masses exist in a kind of liberal conspiracy against him. Either way, it was all a little disconcerting.
Still, it wasn't all race and violence. No matter how tame one's adolescence, pop music is bound to intrude in some form. Happily, in Davies's case, this was in the form of record stores in Walthamstow and Paul Weller and The Jam. Having failed to get Weller to sign a copy of All Mod Cons after a gig in 1981, Davies made a second attempt. His "A-list celebrity status" didn't get him terribly far with the bouncers, nor with Noel Gallagher, though he did get Weller's autograph in the end, and did a pleasingly goofy wiggle to celebrate.
To a different kind of music. I saw Gareth Malone last week. In the pub! In the Hawley Arms, in fact, a bar beloved by Amy Winehouse, Mischa Barton and assorted other Camden caners. It's the sort of place you go half-expecting to see a celebrity. Though not Gareth Malone, lovely, schoolboyish, choirmaster Malone. When I clocked him, I almost knocked the table over in excitement, before spending a good 15 minutes debating whether or not I should approach, introduce myself, and tell him I would be reviewing his show. Having not seen it at the time, I had no idea whether it was any good. Perhaps, I pondered, I should pretend it was rubbish. See what he says. I decided not to in the end. Probably for the best.
Anyway, if I had, it would have been untrue. Gareth Malone's Extraordinary School for Boys is very good, just like The Choir and Gareth Malone Goes to Glyndebourne were very good. In fact, it's almost exactly the same thing, just transported to a different setting: Gareth went in, identified an under-privileged group (in this case, boys, something one or two girls might have something to say about), and – against the odds – took them on a fabulous, soul-searching, coming-of-age journey with him. Last night was only episode one, but something tells me all will end well.
The problem with boys, said Gareth, is that school is boring. But then he would say that, wouldn't he? He's one of them. He meant well, though, and the boys in question (from a mixed comprehensive in Essex) were understandably delighted with their new teacher's attitude. When he started teaching literacy using football commentary, you suspected he may be on to something. His young wards looked twice as healthy, charging around a field, as they did in the classroom – and they all learnt the meaning of "superlative". Likewise, his decision to introduce debating competitions was a stroke of genius.
Still, it was not all roses. Thanks to the special attention being showered on the boys, they started to play up, talking back to the overwhelmingly female teaching staff and taunting the girls. It was inevitable, really. You can't offer a select group something extra, and expect the rest to be hunky-dory. And I'm not too sure about his emphasis on talking. Boys may keep quiet in the classroom because they want to look cool, but they don't during their lunch break. But let's not be too harsh on Gareth. After all, he'll get there in the end. And he is just so very watchable.
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