Sunday, 14 August 2011

On BBC biopics

I read today, news that a new comedy biopic is coming from the BBC. Holy Flying Circus tells the story of the Monty Python team and the furore at the release of Life Of Brian in 1979. Which sounds like fun and I'm sure it will be.

It's written by Tony Roche, whose writing on The Thick Of It and Twenty Twelve is brilliant, and it has a fine cast and wonderful director. It'll be grand. Why should I complain?

Just one question keeps popping into my mind. Why do we need another biopic about a celebrity? Does this not show a crippling lack of imagination on the part of the BBC?

I loved Fantabulosa, where Michael Sheen played Kenneth Williams in the story of his life. And I liked it when he played Brian Clough. And David Frost. And Tony Blair. And Tony Blair again. And that other time he played Tony Blair. And the time he played Jeremy out of League of Gentlemen, but that doesn't fit this argument so forget I said it.

Then having done the life of popular entertainer-with-a-dark-side Kenneth Williams, the BBC did the life of popular entertainer-with-a-dark-side Tony Hancock. Then the BBC did the life of popular entertainers-with-a-dark-side Steptoe and Son. Then the life of popular entertainer-with-a-dark-side Hughie Green (who no viewer under 50 had heard of). Then the life of popular entertainer-with-a-dark-side Frankie Howerd, Then the lives of popular entertainers-without much of-a-dark-side Morecambe & Wise. Then the life of popular entertainer-with-a-dark-side Hattie Jacques, and John LeMesurier, including an appearance by Eric Sykes, all of whom would have been similarly mystifying to younger viewers.

And what with other TV shows having already given us the lives of the Carry On Team, Peter Cook & Dudley Moore (watch the entire Not Only But Also drama here on 4OD) and Diana Dors, we've now given the lives of the comedians of the 60s and 70s such saturation coverage you could piece those various dramas together to form a week long soap opera whose plot, involving mostly alcoholism and bed-hopping, amounts to a below-average afternoon in Eastenders.

And these BBC biopics haven't settled for the lives of comedians, having also given us Jane Horrocks as Gracie Fields, Christopher Eccleston as John Lennon, Helena Bonham Carter as Enid Blyton, Hilary Duff as Margot Fonteyn, and some bloke who couldn't have looked less like Boy George if he'd tried as Boy George. Some of these dramas have been very good indeed, The Road To Coronation Street being a personal favourite, but is it not starting to look a little unimaginative?

These biopics usually follow a familiar formula. We begin in a dramatic and traumatic moment from later in the star's life, then we have a flashback to the star's youth, work chronologically through their life with assorted famous people being introduced in awkward and contrived ways, along the lines of "why, if it isn't head of light entertainment at the BBC Sidney Lotterby, as I live and breathe!". Then we reach the traumatic moment with which we began the hour, and have a final scene in which the star either resolves their problems or dies, or ideally both.

And there are many dead stars still to come, I have no doubt. I know there's a Kenny Everett film in production, and Karen Gillan is about to appear as Jean Shrimpton, her legs being long enough to perform the scraping-of-the-bottom-of-the-barrel required. And it can't be long before some commissioning editor stands up with pride and no sense of irony whatsoever to announce BBC 4 will be making the biopics of Spike Milligan, Bob Monkhouse, Sid Field, Marty Feldman, Arthur Mullard and Hilda Baker - you could write this list yourself couldn't you? I can see The Road To Top Of The Pops with Rhys Ifans as Jimmy Savile already, and I wouldn't be surprised to find Adam Woodyat is taking time off Eastenders to play David Bowie in Starman.

Enough BBC! Enough! Does anyone remember a time, it must be oooh five years ago now, when channel commissioners could think of commissioning original dramas that weren't either cop shows, period dramas or sodding biopics of sodding dead light entertainment stars from the 60s and 70s?

I swear, if Dennis Potter were alive today, if he were to walk into the BBC as a brand new writing talent, they'd say to him "yes, Dennis, these are very nice ideas. But the kids don't want to read about salesmen from the 1930s breaking into popular song and inventing postmodern TV drama. Why don't you go off and write us a 60 minute biopic of the life of popular entertainer-with-a-dark-side Lena Zavaroni?"

(Oh god, I bet someone's writing that Lena Zavaroni biopic this very second. Dammit, why don't I just pop off and write it myself? "Ma, he's making eyes at me.." I can see it now. Quick, someone get Paloma Faith on the phone.)

Kev F

1 comment:

Lew Stringer said...

I always feel those biopics look very low budget. Apart from a few small props and the costumes they don't really convey the feel of the period. Presumably because money is tight they rarely, if ever, have a street scene for example. It's all small sets and close ups. That said, I think the Morecambe and Wise one was a bit more ambitious (and better for it).

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...