Sunday, January 07, 2007


BBC2 27.12.2006

I've a journalist friend who was born in 1976 and who displays the kind of interest in 1970s filmic hardmen with a zealousness only attributable to the latterly converted. Put it this way - over his first pint he won't shut up about how hard Daniel Craig is as James Bond. Pint two means reminiscences of The Sweeney, The Professionals etc, and how hard Daniel Craig is as the new James Bond. Third pint in cues how women don't understand masculinity and how... you get the picture. He's got a mate in the army... recognise him now? He hails from the eastern side of the Pennines and doesn't look like a cross of Byron and David Essex, unlike Burnleyite Tony Livesey, the presenter of the risible Beefcake. He also may be a better journalist.

This isn't to diminish Livesey's entertaining and very good Crumpet (2005); a bracing but chaste homage to Ekland, Ege et al took on sexual stereotypes to reinforce and titillate but also challenge; none of the interviewees demeaned themselves onscreen. Unlike Beefcake where almost everyone did -amost all charlied-to-the-gills lifestyle mag editorial chums of the presenter. The only redemption of this sorry show was that convicted murderer Frankie Fraser or any of the seemingly endless procession of professional thugs employed by John Blake didn't appear.

Crumpet began with the question; 'who is so lucky as to get this commissioned, and present it? but developed into 'we need a sequel, guys'. '. Beefcake began with 'who will sack the poor sap that took this on?' and developed into 'we need a hitman, guys'.

The whole charade, a routine clip-show puffed beyond proportion by tbe Beeb was built on one of the ills of the modern age; i.e. that otherwise intelligent adults regard Get Carter as a 'classic' film. It's actually a shabbily efficient little piece of tossed-off social realism - it means as much to intelligent people in France as, say, the humour of Coluche does to us. Yet London nurtures an entire generation of men (always men) who wear their shirts out and drink rubbish beer out of bottles who swear it is 'seminal'. Funny, because a decade before, everyone said that Dirty Harry was just as seminal. And they were right, because it was, and is, infinitely better.

And so all this, I fear, does not quite make the likes of Tim Southwell adequately equipped to tell us why so much of the garbage shown on Beefcake - in between quite shockingly blatant plugs for Casino Royale, probably the 764,562nd since the movie's release - was garbage. I'd like to have seen the lad Southwell explain this status as cultural commentator to his school's Gripper Stebson when having his dinner money extorted from him (lad mag culture devotees were always victims and weakies at school). 'You can have it after I've founded Loaded, honest.'

Neither does it explain the almost Stalinist non-personing of Bruce Lee and John Saxon - among the ultimate heroes of wannabe 70s bootboys - not to mention Starsky and Hutch and Jim Rockford for their kid bros.

There was a dark tone to all this - not that the inestimable Kim Newman looks year on year ever more like Lucifer, but his Devil's advocation of The Professionals jarred. It was parodied so much, Kim, because it was so bad, so very, very bad. Because it was hideously reactionary, unoriginal shite. The scenes from Who Dares Wins still annoy when they don't outrage - as Dylan Jones says, this was 'one of the worst British films ever made'. If the Germans had won the last war, this is the cinema they would have produced (despite the fact this was fodder for those who considered themselves military minded and would no doubt have fought them on the beaches etc etc). Mindless, vicious - but, from a filmic/TV point of view, also utterly worthless.

Compare anything that Lewis Collins has ever appeared in, watched, bought a ticket for, auditioned for, heard about, to one scene from The Sweeney where a bleary Regan, in Carter's flat asks, 'ain't you got any clean glasses here?' The Professionals couldn't even ape that humdrum buddy-buddy writing, unless by the shoddiest of imitation. It's possible the Jack Regan yelled 'shut it' as loudly as he did because he knew how it would resound down the years and make successors into the pygmies they were. As one observer put it: 'on The Sweeney sometimes the bad guys got away'. Pace rare exceptions such as Spooks, the Americanisation of British popular culture has ensured that this is no longer a viable script option

Collins turned up for a special showing of Who Dares Wins at SAS HQ in Hereford (you can see it from the train, by the way, so secret is its location, just watch for the rugby posts, on the right as you head towards Newport). Oh, how they laughed. But, as Andy McNab pointed out, nobody booed. Beefcake was on the side of the gods, who are, of course, British. And while we can laugh at Patrick Mower's clothes in Target, you don't laugh at being a man or being British. Irony only goes so far, after all.

No, it's true. You can't laugh. You can only weep at such a tragedy of a show, and its target audience, the Clarksonites, the morons who sent Richard Hammond get-well cards, the 30somethings with Mitchell haircuts and England tops mindlessly chanting at Melbourne - while our cricketers got a good hiding and while my mate's mate is getting shot at in Basra. Never mind. Let's wave the flag, have a laugh.

No cause for celebration in any of that, really, chaps. And neither was there in this very, very detumuscent show.

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