Thursday, December 13, 2012

Colonel Moseley reviews "Best Possible Taste: The Kenny Everett Story"

I meant to post some thoughts regarding "Best Possible Taste: The Kenny Everett Story," which aired on BBC4  several weeks ago, but forgot, so - hopefully better late than never - here goes.

This ninety minute biopic, written by Tim Whitnall and directed by James Strong, charted the life of Liverpudlian Maurice Cole who became Kenny Everett, arguably the most inventive and amusing radio DJ and TV comedian of his generation. His most popular comic creations included Cupid Stunt, Sid Snot and Angry of Mayfair.

As with most such biographies on BBC4, this sympathetic elegy told the story of an outsider, rather a lost soul bathed from childhood in Catholic guilt and tormented by self-loathing. Basically gay, he was doomed to a lifelong battle between chastity and arguably baser instincts. In addition to an inconvenient preference for straight men, this nervous and frightened man-child had an aptitude for zany humour and predilection for hedonism and iconoclasm that inevitably led to trouble.

Impersonated with uncanny accuracy by Oliver Lansley, Kenny entered a passionate yet platonic relationship with an almost maternal Lee Middleton, convincingly played by Katherine Kelly, to whom he declared," I love you but I fancy Burt Reynolds." Their often touching relationship formed the absolute centre of the story in an authentic recreation of the period. The interiors, clothes and music were particularly well presented.

Some key scenes in Everett's life were staged less successfully, such as his lunch with an interestingly cast Simon Callow as Dickie Attenborough, Chairman of Capital Radio.  Freddie Mercury was persuasively presented as the sympathetic friend and mentor in his struggle with his sexuality. The dramatic scene when Kenny announced to a scrum of press on his doorstep that he was gay was deftly and convincingly  handled, topped with the typically memorable quip confirming his unorthodox menage,"Take it from cuddly Ken: if one husband is good, two is better." 

We also see a bravura recreation of his appearance at the Conservative Party Conference in 1983 when, wearing huge hands, he  urged "Let's bomb Russia. Let's kick Michael Foot's stick away" and  bizarely instead of coming out as gay, exposed himself  as a closet Tory.  In the light of this the paradox is never  fully explained as to how he was later dismissed for joking on air that "When England was a kingdom we had a king. When we were an empire we had an emperor. Now we are a country we have Margaret Thatcher." Sometimes perhaps a joke is just a joke with no deeper subtext?

As with all biopics, this one stood or fell by its ending. Referring to his appearance in Desert Island Discs in 1993 Kenny is seen walking calmly and seemingly happily past his comic creations on the beach and  towards the sea with his beloved transistor radio held in the crook of his arm. As the beautiful "Preludio Sinfonico" swells, Kenny declares "Puccini is God with knobs on. " It's all rather "Death in Venice" swapping Puccini for Mahler and perhaps Southport for Venice and seems to point to acceptance in the face of a greater scheme of things. Perhaps the frightened and lost little boy had at last found peace?

Captions at the end  disclose Kenny's diagnosis with AIDS in 1994, weeks after he had received the Sony Gold Award for outstanding contribution to radio and his death on April 4 1995. Given the complexities which must have prevailed in entering into and sustaining his last personal relationships and the traumas involved in his final illness from diagnosis onwards, it is difficult to see how the viewer could obtain a truly meaningful understanding of the life in its entirety without any coverage of those dark and difficult days. This story was well crafted and brilliantly performed, but only so far as it went: it tells the story of Kenny and Lee but perhaps not the whole story of Kenny himself.

 

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