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GIMME GIMME GIMME BBC2

Gimme Gimme Gimme celebrates a number of firsts for British television. It's the first to centre on the relationship between a gay man and a straight woman, and it is the first sitcom to flow from the pen of Jonathan Beautiful Thing Harvey. It's also the first time Kathy Burke has ventured into sitcom land since... well, since ever really, unless you count Ab Fab. And finally, it's the first time I have had to write eight hundred words on a single thirty minute episode...

It is a difficult job to do, trust me. One programme a whole series doth not make and, as has been witnessed by Victoria Wood's recent sortie into situation comedy with dinnerladies, the opener is no predictor for the next five, either for richer or poorer. And I was already at a disadvantage as I am not a fan of the male protagonist, James Dreyfus. I've always held his acting to be the ultimate in ditzy queening and shrill camp that did little to further the progression of gays on television. Even worse, Dreyfus's constant denial of his own homosexuality while playing such outrageous queer stereotypes just stuck in my throat. Still I thought, I can offset this disappointment with the delightful prospect of Kathy Burke.

So... welcome to the world of Tom and Linda, a world of "lives, loves and laundry" says the PR, then continues: "She's a girl, he's a boy and they both have the same taste in men" - a potential predicament blatantly played out in the opening cartoon titles. Forgive my inherent cynicism, but it could be argued that this is a pretty thin basis for three hundred minutes of air time... So can anything save this new sitcom in my jaded eyes?

Let's see. The first thing that struck me was the scenery: a stomach-churning mixture of geometrically patterned brown and biege wallpaper, orange and shit-coloured furnishings, olive green bath fixings and Linda's fuzzy pink and swirly purple palace might have been enough to send me scuttling to the Off button. But hang on... this could just be another way that the BBC have allowed Harvey et al to queer the pitch, so to speak, and present gay lifestyle under non-IKEA, light!

Well, it was a nanosecond of nice thought. You only have to briefly watch Tom Farrell (Dreyfus), a resting actor (and no wonder) who wears "velour-look combat slacks and Baby Spice pumps" and launches with little warning into pansy slapping fights with his flatmate Linda la Hughes (Burke). His CV marks his special skill as "lisping". He is privy to panic attacks that would shame the acting repertoire of a seaside panto dame and his wrist is limper than the proverbial lettuce leaf.

Admittedly, Linda is all caricature too, with a frightful orange coiffure atop some Timothy Mallet specs, an obsession with Liam Gallagher that borders on psychotic (but allows for some delightful physical and visual comedy) and a night job with a firm called 'Mattress Busters'. But oddly, I found myself saying, "I ask you, what else does any self-respecting sitcom viewer need?" Am I letting my thespian preferences hinder my judgment?

No, and I'll stand firm on that. Within the first five minutes, it is obvious Burke is the saviour of this piece. She has all of the prime lines, all of the optimum moves, far superior facial expressions and a knack for comic timing that just tramples over anyone else. Her portrayal of a woman with "the functions of an angel" who throws her knickers over the lamp and sincerely believes that lesbians are attracted to her "like flies round shit" is certainly novel, no doubt aided by Harvey's someties abrasive, often surreal and occasionally hilarious dialogue. Maybe it's just because she spends most of the time berating Dreyfus as a "overgrown streak of piss" that enamoured me to her character...

Okay, time to be fair. Keeping in mind that I am a huge fan of Burke and Harvey's previous work (in particular, Boom Bang A Bang) but not of Dreyfus (or of a surfeit of Seventies decor) I guess I'd have to say that, on balance, I do like Gimme Gimme Gimme. If you find episodes two through six appalling, don't blame me that you're still watching: I've only seen thirty minutes! So far, I find it quirky enough to be engaging, peculiar enough to maintain my attention and whatever you think about it, it's still a step forward in mainstream BBC2 programming, although maybe not as far as the press release would have you believe ("bizarre and always hilarious"). Ask me again when it's all over.

©Megan Radclyffe Publ. Millivres 1999

GAYTIME TV BBC2

Could it really be twelve months since Gaytime TV last blessed the airwaves ? Hold your breath no more, as the light entertainment strand of gay television is back. Are you excited ? I thought for a brief moment that I might be, but I stand corrected.

I met with the producers Neil Crombie and Danielle Nay at the concrete carbuncle that is the Planet 24 Building in Docklands, with only a month to go till showtime. After a short walk (past buildings blown to smithereens by the IRA a stone's throw away) we settled down to Spanish sausage, Russian salad and squid rings, and they laid bare the plans for the second, seven-part series. "This was the longest consecutive run we could get," Neil explained, stumping rumours of a 12-part run, which would have been interrupted by a grand sporting fixture.

No doubt you'll be chuffed to hear that Rhona Cameron and Bert Tyler-Moore's contracts have been renewed, while Amy Lamé has been re-deployed to cover the wonderful world of American queers. But poor old Mark Anthony won't be seen flexing his pecs on windswept, sandy beaches and frankly, who wanted to tighten their tush at 11.15pm at night? It's no loss. As the content for 210 fun-packed minutes of TV ? Not much has been absolutely finalised, although a piece profiling the work of the Albert Kennedy Trust and a look at Mr Gay UK has been promised. But is Gaytime TV celebrity'd-up ? "Quentin Crisp is coming over from New York. We promised to give him an escort, so we sent the prettiest boy in the office, but he's straight!" he snickered, almost rubbing his hands in glee.

Beryl Reid has been persuaded to leave Honeypot Cottage and her dozen darling cats to perform "Every Time You Say Goodbye", Boy George will be back (but warbling this time), as will McAlmont and Sandra Bernhard. There'll be a spot for the more unusual lesbian and gay groups, and a torch song at the end. Ooh, my head's gone all funny. I had an awful sense of déja-vù... I desperately needed to know if there have been any changes. I was assured that some changes have been made. For those who thought the studio set was a nightmare, there's a resplendent new one - "It's a sort of 1950's Hollywood Roman," Neil said, showing me some "extremely rough" pencil sketches - "and there'll be an audience of about sixty people," Danielle said. "Hopefully, they'll react to items that have been on. We might even get Rhona to wander around like Esther," she continued, almost bubbling over with the prospect of it all. "We're hoping that a live audience will benefit Rhona and Bert because they both started in stand-up."

Of course, it's too dangerous as a live concept, so each programme will be pre-recorded a few days in advance. "We didn't want a Word-style audience," Neil staunchly informed me, scuppering further any plans one might have to upset their rosy-coloured apple cart. "It'll be more in-the-round, an intimate club atmosphere."

"Will there be more items based in Britain, or even Europe ?"

"Ah," said Neil. "I remember you kept banging on and on about the American bias. You see, all the best stories are in America - the scene out there is fabulous - and Americans will speak to us. British gays don't like going on camera. They're scared their parents or a neighbour or their boss will see them."

"And we did something on Europe last year," Danielle chipped in. Ah yes, I do recall something about European boys being used for gay soft porn films, but precious little else.

"And will you be covering Pride this year?" I asked.

"Well," they both hummed and aahed. "It's difficult to get a new angle on it..."

"You could do a critical overview," I suggested. "Ask why people have been complaining over the last few years, whether Pride has outgrown itself..."

"Oh, you're just so negative!" Danielle snapped.

But not negative enough for them to refuse a viewing. We traipsed back to Neil's office ("It used to be the photocopy room") to glimpse at the only piece that's been completed: Amy Lamé's trip aboard a women-only cruise. Now I think Amy's a scream, but presenting does not appear to be her forté. It's possible that standing on a ship surrounded by 650 dykes gave her the collywobbles, but lively she was not. You'll be treated to a woman who has three sequined outfits for dinner and dancing, single women who are tagged to ID them, and lesbians dressing each other in scanty lingerie in a swimming pool. Two interesting aspects of the trip hit the cutting room floor: the fact that none other than Candice Gingrich and Margaret Camameyer were cruising too (although you'd never know), and that most of the women on board started menstruating at the same time. Obviously too contentious (or squeamish) for viewers of late-night TV...

I left with the distinct impression that Neil and Danielle are far better at PR for Gaytime TV than they were at spotting a good scoop, and I believe that they were tremendously skeptical about the chances of a fair review. Maybe if I hold my breath when it's on air, the lack of oxygen to my brain will help me to be objective about it.

©Megan Radclyffe Publ. Millivres 1997

TINKY WINKY of THE TELETUBBIES BBC1

'The Outing Of Tinky Winky' declared the Mirror. 'Tinky Winky A Gay Pinky?' asked the Express. 'Teletubby Gay Shock' the Guardian cried. There I was thinking that the chap inside the costume had revealed his true sexuality, but no!- nothing as truly newsworthy as that! It emerged that Jerry Falwell, founder of the defunct Moral Majority movement in America, had claimed that Tinky Winky was gay! (Tinky Winky was not available for comment, but Dipsy said: 'Eh-oh!')
How could this be?

Very simple really. In an article entitled 'Parent Alert: Tinky Winky Comes Out Of The Closet' Falwell said that Tinky Winky is purple, has a triangular antenna and carries a handbag ergo he must be gay. Now, run that by me again?
'He is purple - the Gay Pride colour,' Falwell wrote in his own 'National Liberty Review'. Well actually Jez, a generic gay pride colour does not exist and purple is the recognised colour for lesbians, but go on. 'And his antenna is shaped like a triangle - the Gay Pride symbol.' Fair enough. Yes, the pink (or black) triangle is an accepted gay (or lesbian) emblem but then it's also a musical instrument and a plane figure with three sides and three angles. And finally, Jez says that while Tinky Winky has a 'boy' voice he carries a handbag. This means the Teletubby is a 'gay role model' and that's a bad, bad thing. No! It's a magic bag and is not jam packed with Teletubby lipstick or Teletubby lube.

But in a classic 'Shock Horror!' way the tabloids, obviously lacking more crucial news to cover, became frantic. The story ran for days, as more and more characters from children's television were 'outed' by - who else? - the Sun. Reports that masses of under-4s flocking to the nearest gay club were not posted.

Really, this is sodding preposterous!

Would any self-respecting 'gay role model' really wear purple then accessorise it with a red bag? I doubt it. And while we're on the colour thing, the 'Gay Pride Group' Falwell referred to has eight - including green, yellow and red. Wait a minute! The the other Tubs are those colours - aren't they gay too? Well no, they seem to have missed Falwell's eagle eye. Dipsy (who is 'dreadlocked and black') has a large erection on his head. Is this not racist? Po (the red one who, it is rumoured, is a radical Left-wing Cantonese woman) has a hole. Is this not sexist? And Laa-Laa (the yellow one) has a definite kink to his antenna. Now what an earth could that mean? I was initially bemused by Laa-Laa's tutu as I thought all four Teletubbies were male. Hold on a minute! If Po's the girl, then Laa-Laa's a boy and he wears a tutu - hey, Jez! Isn't that one of those 'subtle depictions' you were waffling on about?

I have watched Teletubbies a number of times since it started broadcasting two years ago. I make no apologies for that. I ignored all the crap about it hindering the development of children's language skills. After all, I thought, I was brought up with the mutes of 'Playschool' and 'Bill and Ben' and I never said 'Flob-a-lob'. (Just an aside - Hambel was a dyke if ever I saw one.) I was more curious about the pink and gold sparkling dust that blew gently across Teletubbyland and sent them all to sleep! But it's just a kid's programme. Kids like bright colours, rabbits and counting games. They're not thinking about being gay: they just want the see the balloon 'Again! Again!' and eat Teletubby toast.
While I would roundly condemn Falwell for being a hopeless idiot with way too much time on his hands, it could get worse. He could get hold of a copy of the BBC's official Teletubbies magazine. There on page one, in orange and yellow, it lays out the Tubs' philosophy:
'Teletubbies' world, full of love and hugs, creates a secure atmosphere where children are made to feel everything is right and acceptable.' So far so very good. 'Young children love the Teletubbies because they recognise themselves in everything they do.' Oo-er. Let's misinterpret that, shall we?

Teletubbies and kids like 'Waving hello and goodbye'. Gays do that but then so do 'normal' people like Falwell and his fetid followers. The Tubs love 'Jumping up and down, rolling and falling' - they've been to a gay club then. And then they enjoy 'Dancing and marching, together and on their own' - I'm thinking any gay club and any Pride march here... 'Singing, talking, thinking out loud...' hang on! Those are gay things! Definitely! And there on the cover, the words 'Up and Down'... well, that settles it! They're all bloody pinko subversives hell bent on encouraging young kiddies to have deviant sex! Falwell would no doubt turn to page 11 and see the photo caption, 'Now I'm down at the bottom and he's up at the top' as something worthy of criminal investigation and moral condemnation. Actually, it's two kids playing on a see-saw.
As far as I'm concerned, the Americans should keep their opinions to themselves when it comes to British television programmes. Teletubbies is one of the few programmes around that teaches the dying art of 'big hugs'. Putting sexual innuendo onto something like a bag and the colour purple in a simple children's programme is the real immorality here.

©Megan Radclyffe Publ. Millivres 1999

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