Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Review: Colonel Moseley reviews "Hughie Green, Most Sincerely" from 4.4.2008

This piece was written in 2008 and taken from my reviewblog

The Curse of Comedy season reached its third part with Tony Basgallop’s Hughie Green, Most Sincerely on BBC4.

I did wonder why this piece was part of the season. Hughie Green may have been Mr Showbiz and a household name for decades, but he wasn’t a comedian or comic actor; he was a TV personality and presenter. He didn’t even use the catchphrase “..and I mean that most sincerely folks” enshrined in the title; it was invented by Mike Yarwood.

The play tells the story in more-or-less chronological order of his adult career. He was a highly-paid child star with his own BBC radio show at the age of 14 and toured in his children’s concert party Hughie Green and his Gang. After touring Canada, he appeared in the film Midshipman Easy in 1935 and went to Hollywood for Tom Brown’s Schooldays.

Green’s unstable childhood is reflected in flashbacks of his father pushing him onstage and crying bitterly as his son walks in on his adulterous mother in flagrante delicto. The viewer is supposed to work out how this impacts on Green’s later behaviour.

In real life, according to Wikipedia, he fathered an illegitimate child by a Canadian usherette at the age of 17. The play charts the progress of his career through Double Your Money in black and white on to colour with Opportunity Knocks and the less successful The Sky’s the Limit. It is suggested – not entirely convincingly - that his work may have validity as an early precursor of reality TV.

As Hughie Green, Trevor Eve cleverly captures his oleaginous mid-Atlantic drawl and the facial and physical mannerisms of the man who, for many, personified insincerity. He re-created his asthmatic interludes and later respiratory problems with particular authenticity.

One common thread running through this season so far has been the sheer tawdry, sleaziness of the business they call "show." Accordingly we see Green continuously cheating on his wife and drinking to excess. He obnoxiously punches a crewman, who comes to help him when he trips over on-set and generally behaves arrogantly.

At home, he appears distant, aloof and entirely selfish – as when he monopolises a train set and literally locks his children out.

Whilst touring in Wales, he stays in the hotel run by Jess Yates (Mark Benton) and his new wife and before-long has cuckolded him. He later learns that this liaison resulted in the birth of Paula Yates.

Personally and professionally Green is presented as self-obsessed and unkind. When Yates becomes his producer on Opportunity Knocks, they argue viciously over a tie Yates wishes Green to wear. Yates' loathing for Green by this stage results in a hysterical outburst in the control room. By way of pay-back, it appears that Green ultimately destroyed Yates professionally as a religious broadcaster by planting with the press the story of his affair with an actress.

We see Green use Opportunity Knocks as a soapbox for a right-wing rant on air about the state of the country and urge viewers to stand up and be counted, where the managers manage and the workers don’t go on strike.

After many complaints and attempts to discipline him, the show was axed despite continuing to achieve high ratings.

There followed a period of presenting similar programmes in Ireland, Australia and even the USSR and strange ideas such as televised bingo and a combined fishing and quiz show, which never saw the light of day.

Much of the later part of the play follows Green’s fascination with the rising media career of his natural daughter Paula Yates. He appears proud of her success yet, with typically misjudged priorities, was outraged at the language of Bob Geldof at Live Aid in 1985.

Just before his death we see him struggle into black tie to attend a reception apparently to meet Paula Yates. She arrives and is whisked away in an attendant media throng and in the scrum he humiliatingly has a drink poured over him.

By the time of the death of his former wife Claire, Green is hardly on speaking terms with his children Christopher and Linda and yet seems surprised when excluded from her funeral. We are being invited to feel sorry for his loneliness and pain, but can only reflect that they were probably his just deserts.

After Hughie Green’s death, an article by his friend at the News of the World, Noel Botham disclosed that Green was the father of Paula Yates. Following her recent tragic loss of Michael Hutchence, Paula reportedly commented: “I’m horrified. I thought I was at the darkest point of my life – now this.

So, we have a sad story about an apparently selfish and immoral man with no obvious redeeming features. To be fair, at one point he does take time to comfort a nervous young trombonist about to appear on Opportunity Knocks, perhaps mainly because it triggers memories of similar humiliation in his youth.

Otherwise we see no trace of tenderness or compassion either as a performer, husband, father, lover or friend. His life is depicted as a sequence of excess, anger and self-pity. His main recreations are presented as drink, drugs and promiscuity and he left a trail of broken relationships, betrayal and unhappiness.

It is suggested that his disordered personality may have resulted from his dysfunctional childhood with his adulterous mother and bankrupt father. For me however the root cause of his conduct is never really persuasively explained.

His legitimate children understandably appear bitter about his effect on them. Paula Yates seems to have been deeply hurt by his intrusion into her life. His various mistresses must have achieved something from their relationships with him, but this is not clearly explained.

The other sufferers from the alleged curse of comedy, Messrs Corbett, Brambell and Hancock were, to say the least, fully paid-up members of the awkward squad. Each bore the scars of a difficult life. The first two plays in this series however managed to piece together some kind of answer as to why they became what they did. The viewer ended up with respect for their talent and a greater understanding of the evolution of their personality.

Notwithstanding Trevor Eve’s admirable performance and a fine cast, this play left me without much respect for Hughie Green as a performer and – given the havoc he left in his wake - even less as a person.

To be truly satisfying, biographies such as this need to paint an accurate picture of their subject and give a plausible explanation as to how and why that person developed in a particular way. Unfortunately for me Hughie Green, Most Sincerely did not give a sufficiently meaningful insight into what made the man and thus failed to deliver in this respect; it simply did not compute.

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