Oh! You Pretty Things: the Story of Music and Fashion, TV review: It's the same old song - a Sixties pop doc with style but little substance

 

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The Independent Culture

To anyone who's ever read The Face or, you know, watched Top of the Pops or seen what a band looks like, it's fairly obvious that fashion has played a major role in the history of British pop music. All pop music. But especially British pop music from the Sixties to the present day – a period in cultural history rarely covered except by a niche group of scholars. And 18 documentaries a week on BBC4, doing their best to prove the adage that if you can remember the Sixties, then you'd best do a piece to camera for Alan Yentob.

Last night's Oh! You Pretty Things: the Story of Music and Fashion (BBC4) was the first part of three in a series looking at how British fashion and British music exist in a symbiotic world. To wit, had the Beatles played Ed Sullivan in Gap hoodies rather than matching suits, would they have conquered the world? A philosophical question too large to discuss here perhaps, but I'd suggest not. The films are part of a collaborative season between BBC4 and Radio 6 Music entitled The Sound of Style. As part of that season, each episode of the series has music "curated" by 6 Music DJs. Last night's was chosen by Don Letts who ran the clothes shop Acme Attractions before going on to a career in music. Look, symbiosis!

Anyway, Oh! You Pretty Things began with a teaser of a later interview, with Cilla holding up a Biba dress and detailing the sartorial rigours of the age: "I DID wear knickers underneath... Though I might not have worn a bra."

Enter narrator Lauren Laverne on the Sixties, where we began. These were, as we've been told many times, the years when sex was invented and "exhilarating new music was entwined with fashion".

At least, rather than starting with the Beatles, we alighted at a Small Faces gig before pulling back to the present day where the band's drummer Kenney Jones watched with a nostalgic glow. "We were all so young then," he said, factually. Jones was an interesting example, though. Part of a working-class style movement that perhaps doesn't exist in the same way in 2014 Britain. The clothes still fit, too.

We later met Cilla, talking about the aforementioned Biba dress she wore for the 1964 Royal Variety Performance. Cilla's voice has slowed down to about six words per minute in the last decade. "I love that dress. It was what the Sixties were about," she said. Slow-ly. Arthur Brown, who's left his crazy world for a yurt in the Sussex countryside, explained his dress choices too, as did designer Antony Price, who styled Roxy Music and dressed Bryan Ferry like a metallic snake dangling on a Christmas tree.

But the best contributions came from the fans inspired by their idols' dress. There was a Quo fan keeping Levi's executives in hot meals, John the Mod who revealed that he would buy copies of Jackie for pictures of Steve Marriott and Ronnie Lane to copy their clothes. I also loved Nigel and Jenny, a couple who now look like they spend their downtime writing letters about planning applications. They discussed their wild Sixties dress and the pleasures of LSD shipped straight in from Albert Hofmann's Sandoz Lab.

The first part of OYPTs was fun enough for what is an interesting cultural intersection. But even as a lay observer of fashion, I felt like I'd heard many of these stories before. Perhaps there was a clue in Oh! You Pretty Things' title's grammar that we weren't going to be learning anything greatly new. Your man David Bowie – whose design-led iterations as Ziggy Stardust feature next week – punctuated that song with an "Oh!" This, sadly, was more of an "oh".

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