Last Night's Viewing: Best Possible Taste: the Kenny Everett Story, BBC4
Welcome to India, BBC2
Everett drama aimed to reinforce nostalgic affection, not make nostalgia impossible
You were spoilt for choice last night if you were interested in the secret sex lives of famous DJs. BBC4 started things off with Best Possible Taste: the Kenny Everett Story and then ITV's Exposure continued with their much-noised documentary about Jimmy Savile's alleged abuse of underage girls. But if you didn't want to be left with a nasty taste in your mouth, you'd have been advised to switch off at 11pm. True, Tim Whitnall's account of Everett's struggle with his own sexuality presented the story as a kind of tragedy, but it was one with a thin silver lining, a drama that at least aimed to reinforce nostalgic affection, not make nostalgia impossible.
Like any self-respecting biopic it began halfway through. You got a tracking shot towards a defining life-crisis, the camera slowly advancing through an empty house to find the subject of the drama lying on the floor, with just enough consciousness left to phone for help: "I've been a silly boy," he said to his wife, Lee. "I've gone a teensy bit too far." And then Kenny Everett's alter egos – Sid Snot, Marcel Wave and Angry of Mayfair – took over, cueing up the highlights of the story to come, before we briefly returned to the hero, recuperating in a hospital bed. "So you can get a cuppa in Heaven," he said ruefully.
Going a teensy bit too far was, of course, how Kenny Everett made his name as a broadcaster, perpetually seeking out the edge of the permissible and stepping over it. Whitnall marked the regular recurrence of these moments in Everett's career with a red, rubber-stamped "Sacked", thumping down on the freeze-frame of the latest outrage. But he also filled in the background story, beginning with a bullied schoolboy, Maurice Cole, who found a refuge tinkering with tape recorders in his bedroom. These days, Maurice would have been making a fortune on YouTube by the time he was 16. But back then it was the either the BBC – a caricature of Fifties stuffiness – or pirate radio.
The heart of Whitnall's story wasn't Everett's success as a broadcaster, though, but the fear that lay behind it, and possibly fuelled its manic appetite for masquerade. It was also a love story, detailing Everett's intense relationship with his wife, Lee, which (almost) triumphed over his sexuality. "Is marrying a woman really what you want?" she asked here, after he put the question in a haze of Sixties acid. And the truth is that it wasn't, but that he did really want to marry her. By Whitnall's account, this long-odds arrangement didn't fail for want of broadmindedness on Lee's part but because of Everett's self-loathing, which drove him to drink and tranquillizers before Lee and Freddie Mercury coaxed him out of the closet.
Oliver Lansley's performance as Everett and his characters was uncanny, though its precision was telling in itself, a perfect replica of a set of caricature masks, which concealed real distress and unhappiness. And although the drama was framed as a movement out into the light the true ending (death from an Aids-related disease) withheld any kind of real upbeat. Devoted fans of Everett will have found it bittersweet at best. And those with less commitment to the subject may have been left feeling that the real sorrow of Maurice Cole's life was that he became the only person in Britain who couldn't switch Kenny Everett off.
I'll return to Welcome to India, which, on the evidence of the first episode, combines a troubling narration and some appalling soundtrack music with an account of the lives of Kolkata's marginal citizens that is utterly gripping. "Dickensian" has become a callow cliché when describing depictions of the urban poor, but if we deny ourselves that, we'll have to find another adjective for touching, funny, rich, and confounding of preconception.
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