Sport on TV: Frank Bruno's hardest fight – a frank look at bipolar hell
Sunday 28 July 2013
There is seemingly no cure for the rash of documentary offerings determined to get under the hospital gown. Last week you could have watched Botched Up Bodies, Channel 5's latex-gloved answer to Channel 4's Embarrassing Bodies, and if you still had the stomach for more after wincing at gastric-bypass disasters there was always a repeat on More4 of The Man With The 10-Stone Testicles.
Mental rather than physical illness doesn't offer the same "Oh my God, Doris, look at the state of that" televisual impact, which is presumably why no-one has yet made a series entitled Botched Up Minds. Nevertheless, the worry was that Rachel Bruno – My Dad & Me (BBC3, Tuesday), in which Frank's younger daughter tried to come to terms with her famous father's bipolar disorder, would be sensationalised, invasive rather than illuminating.
Instead, it was a revelation in every sense. Rachel, a sensible and sensitive 26-year-old, wanted to understand what had turned her father from a well-loved world heavyweight champion into a deeply troubled soul who had been sectioned first in 2003 against his wishes and twice more with his agreement in the past year under the Mental Health Act.
Divorced from his childhood sweetheart, Laura, over the past decade his contact with his three children had been sporadic, something Rachel was determined to change. She talked to the psychiatrist who originally treated him and visited other bipolar sufferers in an effort to learn more about the condition, and discussed it in detail with her father for the first time.
This last made for painful viewing. Frank, now 51, lives alone in a gated mansion, and was struggling to organise his days. "I don't want to be like a zombie for the rest of my life," he said. "I keep busy all the time, clean up the house, dust up, Hoover…" But when asked whether he had been to the gym lately he said, with unintentional irony: "No. I haven't lost my motivation, I just can't be bothered."
Watching old family videos brought up bittersweet memories for Rachel: remembrance of happier times was mingled with scenes of a boisterous Frank that in retrospect might have contained the seeds of what he called his "bipolo". But when she gently suggested that some of his earlier behaviour, such as installing fairy lights in his car and returning from a trip to the States with four suitcases full of tracksuits, had not been normal, he defensively brushed off the idea.
Yet the programme ended on a hopeful note as Frank, as promised, turned up to see Rachel run in the London Marathon, chatting cheerfully to runners and spectators before folding her in his arms as she reached the finish. Thoughtful, pragmatic, loving, Rachel turned out to be as big a star as her father once was.
* Credit to More4 for their extended live coverage last week of the International Paralympic Committee World Championships in Lyon. Last year's Paralympics in London proved to be a watershed, playing to sell-out crowds with over 150 hours of TV programming, and Channel 4 have continued their commitment to disability sport.
Competently if not charismatically anchored by the former triple-jump champion Jonathan Edwards, the package did a good job of explaining the myriad disability classifications, but once the action started it didn't really matter; a race is a race, and there was plenty to cheer from a British point of view.
Feelgood stuff; if you missed it, many of the same competitors are in action in the Anniversary Games this afternoon (Channel 4).
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