When Pop Ruled My Life: the Fans' Story, BBC4, TV Review: These superfans were a scream

Engaging documentary offered a history of music obsessions

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The Independent Culture

When Pop Ruled My Life: the Fans’ Story started off with some serious screaming: ear-piercing screeching worthy of a horror flick rather than a music documentary. The racket was actually archive footage of Beatles fans. The rest of this engaging documentary was much more tuneful – and good fun to watch.

You got an audio history of pop music obsessions from the Fab Four to One Direction via Iron Maiden and Soul II Soul, interwoven with interviews with devotees (some lapsed, others not) and the subjects of their affections. It was all framed around presenter Kate Mossman’s own Bildungsroman worshipping at the altar of Queen. 

This was BBC4, so the talking heads were eloquent types attempting to analyse the psychology of a fan. They’d managed to find both a “fan historian” and a “fan expert” to explain devotion “forged in the white heat of adolescence” but it was Mossman’s interviews with the superfans that delivered gems.

Beatlemaniac Lillian Adams was one of the screamers (others wet themselves, allegedly): “I don’t think I ever heard a word that was sung or spoken,” she said of the band’s concerts, her pink and leopard creepers and Lennon round glasses a hint at her fandom past.

There was an appearance from Labour MP Alan Johnson. In his youth, Johnson was a McCartney wannabe and later a mod; one of those working-class boys who wore their buttoned-up Fred Perry shirts and perfectly creased trousers as levellers in an unfair society: “There was a mentality to it that you’re as good as anyone else.”

Mossman was an endearing presenter, sharing her cringeworthy Roger Taylor diaries (sample excerpt: “The news from hell: he’s shaved off his beard.”) and trying – fruitlessly– to make sense of it all, not least by enquiring why Lillian and her generation screamed so loud that they couldn’t even hear John, Paul, Ringo and George? “I have absolutely no idea,” said Adams. “You just did.”

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