The best possible way to remember a true pioneer

BBC4's new biopic of Kenny Everett is compelling TV, says James Rampton

In 1984, Kenny Everett was the biggest star on British TV. His anarchic, groundbreaking BBC1 programme, The Kenny Everett Television Show, was pulling in audiences of some 20 million, a third of the British population, and his catchphrases were parroted in pubs and playgrounds up and down the land.

So when he contemplated coming out to the general public that year and admitting that he was living in a ménage à trois with two men called Pepe and Nikolai, his overwhelming fear was that he would be totalling his own career. A Catholic who once contemplated becoming a priest, he was so petrified about coming out that nine years earlier he had even attempted suicide.

Oliver Lansley, who plays the iconoclastic DJ in a compelling new BBC4 biopic, Best Possible Taste: The Kenny Everett Story, says: "He was terrified of what the press would say if he came out. He thought everyone would turn on him. But when he came out with the now celebrated announcement that 'two husbands are so much better than one', nobody was fussed."

In Best Possible Taste: The Kenny Everett Story, Katherine Kelly portrays Lee Middleton, his long-suffering wife, who remained devoted to him long after the break-up of their 12-year marriage.

She agrees that, "He was really frightened about coming out, which is why he didn't do it for so long. But when he finally plucked up the courage to do it, nobody cared. His ratings didn't go down. His talent was so sublime that it didn't matter what was going on in his private life. That shows how flipping gifted he was!"

Tim Whitnall's drama, partly based on the biography by i's David Lister, In the Best Possible Taste: The Crazy Life of Kenny Everett, shows Everett as the radio and TV pioneer he was, constantly reinventing those media. "He was an astonishing sonic innovator," says Luke Franklin, associate producer on the drama.

"He was a virtuoso when it came to running a radio studio and putting jingles together. When he started on the pirate station Radio London, all the jingles were imported pre-made from the US. Kenny very quickly started to make his own – he was the first person to do that." Everett also had eclectic musical taste and was the first DJ to play both "Strawberry Fields Forever" and "Bohemian Rhapsody" – which he once aired 36 times in one day.

That same questing spirit, however, frequently landed Everett in trouble. Pathologically averse to authority, he was fired from several jobs for failing to obey instructions. Most notoriously, he also caused an almighty row at the Tory Party Conference in 1983 when he ranted "Let's bomb Russia!"

During all this mayhem, the one constant in his life was his amazingly durable relationship with Lee. Kelly says that, "the problem in their relationship was that Kenny was gay. He loved her so much, but fantasised about Burt Reynolds".

Lansley is hopeful that Best Possible Taste will help bring the unique talents of the man who has influenced an entire generation of broadcasters to a whole new audience. "I hope it refreshes people's memories of what a dazzling performer he was. He should be mentioned in every conversation about comedy greats and in the same breath as Tony Hancock, Spike Milligan and Monty Python. He's right up there."

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