Last Night's TV - The Day John Lennon Died, ITV1; Accused, BBC1; Coronation Street: the Historic First Episode, ITV1

A tragic day in the life

Those of us who are slightly too young to remember where we were when news broke of the momentous political assassinations of the 1960s at least have vivid compensation in the big music-biz deaths of the 1970s and 1980s. I won't bore you by explaining where I was when I heard that Elvis Presley, Keith Moon and John Lennon had snuffed it, but it is of almost inexhaustible interest to me.

The Day John Lennon Died brought it all back; indeed, so numerous were the talking heads that I felt I was only one step away from being asked to contribute my own rather prosaic memories of 8 December 1980. After all, the quotidian are what these celebrity-death documentaries are mainly about. Apparently, John Lennon went for a haircut on the morning of the day he died. "Maybe I have those hairs still, I don't know," said Yoko Ono.

Paul Goresh certainly would have kept them. He was a devoted fan of Lennon's, so devoted that he spent hours standing vigil outside the Dakota building in Manhattan even while the Beatle was alive. Like Abraham Zapruder, the dress manufacturer who happened to take some cine-film of President John F Kennedy's motorcade through Dallas on 22 November 1963, Goresh rather unexpectedly found one day that the whole world was interested in his camera skills, for the fellow-fan he snapped having an album signed by Lennon turned out to be Mark Chapman, the weirdo who later that evening would end Lennon's life.

There are, of course, different grades of weirdo, and while we shouldn't judge Goresh by the beard he sports 30 years later, almost big enough to accommodate Eleanor Rigby and a yellow submarine, there was plainly something more than a little unnatural about his own Lennon worship. Still, the difference between a zealous but harmless fan and a crazed and dangerous fan, and it's never easy to tell them apart, is the difference between life and death.

Commendably, there wasn't much else in this programme about Chapman. He's had more than enough media attention in the three decades since he achieved his warped ambition to attach his name in perpetuity to Lennon's. And just as commendably, it resisted presenting Lennon as a saint.

Thelma Pickles, briefly the future superstar's girlfriend when they were both teenagers at art college, popped up to recall an evening when she refused to have sex with him. "He absolutely whacked me one, and I didn't speak to him after that. I didn't care who he was, how interesting he was, how funny he was, how caring he was, I was not going to be hit by a lad and continue a relationship." Whether she later wished she had, she didn't say. Whatever, she was working as a journalist for Granada TV when more than two decades later she got a call in the middle of the night calling her into the studio.

Actually, an interest in journalism was a prerequisite for enjoying this programme almost as much as an interest in Lennon, notably the testimony of Alan Weiss, who had been a young ABC news producer at the time, and fortuitously had just suffered a motorcycle accident in Central Park on the fateful evening. At Roosevelt Hospital the doctor about to treat him was suddenly called away to attend to a shooting victim. It was Weiss who made the breathless phone call breaking the news that the victim was Lennon. He also recalled, poignantly, that the Beatles song "All My Loving" had just played over the hospital's muzak system when he heard Yoko screaming her disbelief.

It is sometimes hard to know, though, where poignancy ends and mawkishness begins. I'm still not sure what to make of the recollection that ended this documentary, that of the doctor himself, Steven Lynn, who tried to massage life back into his famous patient. "John Lennon's heart looked like everybody else's heart," he said. "Unfortunately, at the moment I found it, it was empty and devoid of blood and lifeless and not beating. But it was a good heart." And it was a good moment for the credits to roll. Otherwise, I might have switched channels.

There's no switching channels when Accused is on, unremittingly miserable though it continues to be. Last night's episode was as superb as it was grim, with a mesmerising performance by Andy Serkis as Liam, a Manchester minicab driver whose life, already on the brink of collapse, caved in completely as a consequence of his obsession with an attractive young fare (Jodie Whittaker). Serkis's considerable feat – with the considerable help, of course, of writers Danny Brocklehurst and Jimmy McGovern – was to imbue Liam, compulsive gambler, housebreaker, stalker and out-and-out creep, with a degree of humanity. That said, McGovern, who in a previous episode had his main character convicted after finding £20,000 of forged banknotes in the back of a taxi, has done nothing for the minicab industry.

It wasn't the most perilous mode of transport in the Greater Manchester area last night, however. There was a spectacular 50th anniversary tram crash in Weatherfield, which presented a slightly dispiriting contrast with Coronation Street: the Historic First Episode, in which not much happened, but happened beautifully. Death and destruction is all very well, but I'd rather have Ena Sharples telling Florrie Lindley that "it's very bay window" down Esmerelda Street.

Comments