Simon Hoggart

Emotional ties

Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be.

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Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be.

Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be. There is so much demand that the past is constantly creeping nearer to the present. The BBC is running an Eighties season in which it celebrates events that seem pretty close to most of us. Soon it’ll be looking back, misty-eyed, on early 2010, distant days when Lady Gaga was top of the ‘hit parade’, Gordon Brown was prime minister and you could get a pint for £3.75.

This week they showed Worried about the Boy on BBC2 (Sunday) on the early life of Boy George. This was an intriguing programme; neither an old-fashioned biopic (‘Hey, tell you something, that kid can sing!’) nor a rags-to-rags story of a star descending into a heroin hell. What made it particularly sensitive was the relationship between the singer, effete yet ruthlessly determined, and his father. Apparently, Jerry O’Dowd was raised in London, but he was played with a thick Irish accent by Francis Magee. That didn’t matter because the father’s bafflement, resentment, yet devotion to his son infused the film. At one point George comes back to his flat to find his father burning his designer dresses, having flushed his drugs down the toilet. He was refusing to let go of the boy, and was desperate to understand how he lived and why — the destruction was his way of reaching out. George was furious, yet in spite of everything needed his father’s emotional strength. It was a tender scene, and was quite different from most ‘rockumentaries’, in which the father would have been depicted as a brain-dead bourgeois, pushing his child towards a career in accountancy.

Tony Basgallop’s script was full of George’s wry humour, close to despair. He had an affair with his drummer, Jon Moss, played by Matthew Horne, who was Gavin in Gavin and Stacey, which felt strange, since Gav is an amiable, slightly soppy husband, and Moss was a macho bisexual. I know that good actors can play anything from Macbeth to Bosie, but that rarely happens on television.

After flashbacks and -forwards almost as fast as strobe lighting — the more confusing because much took place in underlit clubs and narrow hallways — we saw George pulling himself together to appear for the first time on Top of The Pops. Now that made me feel nostalgic.

Charlie Hamilton James is a BBC wildlife photographer. He and his wife live by a river in Gloucestershire, and spent a year filming the creatures to be found there, while drawing their three young sons into nature’s mysteries. The result was Halcyon River Diaries (BBC1, Sunday). This was not quite as affecting as billed. As the sons discovered, you can have just a few too many otters and sticklebacks. I enjoyed it, but it made me want to get on a commuter train and join the rat race.

Do catch Derren Brown Investigates on Channel 4 — the last is next Monday. Too often TV programmes about the paranormal present absurd claims, then say, ‘you the viewer can decide!’ No, we can’t. It’s like being asked to decide how a magician saws a woman in half. As James Delingpole wrote last week, Brown reveals how spiritualists and so forth con their trusting audiences, and sometimes themselves. Brown is pleasantly open-minded — possibly because of the libel laws, possibly because he realised that spiritualists do bring a degree of — fake — comfort to bereaved people.