Best – His Mother’s Son

Michelle Fairley as Ann Best. BBC

BBC 2 drama Best – His Mother’s Son, about George Best, his mother and their futile battles with alcoholism, touched a number of raw nerves for anyone with alcoholism in the family. I say “alcoholism”. Others might say liking a drink or three. It’s all a bit of a blur – that’s the nature of the condition.

You could tell if Ann Best, superbly played by Michelle Fairley, was drunk or not. It was all in the hair. Bouffant at the best of times, it just went slightly skew-whiff when she was under the influence of drink. One of the most upsetting scenes was the one where she distractedly switched channels on the 1960s black and white TV set in front of two young children. She thinks, in her drunken state, that the family’s too soft on them and they need toughening up. An older sister ushers them out of the room. Another sister asks mam Best to go and lie down. “I’m not drunk,” she hisses, between clenched teeth. A terrifyingly accurate portrayal of how families try and fail to cope with an alcoholic in their midst.

Apart from George Best’s celebrity, what is really stunning about his mother’s death from alcohol-related heart disease at the age of 54 is the fact that she was teetotal until she was 44. In just 10 years she succumbed to the addiction and died. Best himself lived for more than 30 years as an alcoholic after retiring from professional football aged 27. Doctors would probably tell us this says something about women’s and men’s relative tolerance for toxins.

All in all, a fantastic drama albeit an uncomfortable one. I, like many, knew nothing of Ann Best’s life. I believed while watching the drama that she’d kicked the drink. Until we saw her in the final scene unpacking her shopping and routinely hiding another bottle of sherry wine under the formica kitchen table. The closing credits, revealing she carried on drinking until her death, said it all.

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Fat is a feminist issue

A hobnob biscuit

Here goes with yet another badly thought-out, hastily written post, tapped straight into the ‘write post’ facility because I can rarely be bothered to write it all out first in Word and then (lawks a-mercy) actually check my copy before publishing it.

A few thoughts on the third and final part of C4’s The Hospital, which aired on Tuesday and which featured lots of overweight people. You’ll recall, if you’ve been paying any attention at all, that The Hospital was a three-part documentary series about the strains put on the NHS by various conditions affecting, nay, plagueing the nation’s young. Namely, alcoholism, teenage pregnancy and obesity.

In Tuesday’s outing we met a number of ginormo-birds (they were all female although at least one of their male soul-mates was also ginormous) who wanted a gastric band fitted to stop them over-eating and help them lose weight. One man in the country, a Mr Super, fits 400 bands a year in up to four operations a day. Another man, who started out with tight curly hair in the film and ended it with a suspiciously gelled and groomed pudding bowl, tried to talk the ladies out of their bad eating habits in weekly 45-minute sessions.

The film explored some of the emotional and physical reasons why these ladies were so spectactularly overweight and took pot shots at the relative effectiveness of gastric bands versus help and support with better eating. The digested version? Gastric bands are v painful and mean you’ll never eat normally again. Some people still try and cheat, even with one fitted. Help and support plus an exercise regime can start shifting pounds in weight.

It was another great piece of documentary, enlivened by the new technique (as far as I can tell) of getting contributors to talk straight to the camera as if they were doing a ‘down the line’ news piece, rather than chatting to a film-maker who is usually out of shot.

What the film didn’t do was support anything that Zoe Williams concluded in an apparently unrelated column about obesity in yesterday’s Guardian. Williams reckons that “doctors at the coalface of the obesity problem, in the gastric-band business … never come up with punitive solutions, they always talk about prevention of obesity, and how hard weight loss is.” Well Mr Super in The Hospital was pretty punitive. He wanted to ban all “beige” foods if he got into power (bread, pasta, crisps) and delighted in wiggling his patients bits of fat while they were out for the count saying: “This bit of fat started life as a biscuit, or a chip.”

The Hospital also put the lie to another of Williams’ conclusions. “A most cursory examination of the impulses behind overeating, after you’ve filtered out considerations like fatty food costing less, reveals that they have nothing to do with people being ignorant, or insufficiently reprimanded,” she wrote. “They are all about boredom, hopelessness, demoralisation and a low sense of self-worth.” Yes, but what about the woman in The Hospital who looked at the pack of Hob Nobs while eating one to discover (apparently for the first time) that one Hob Nob contains 67 calories?

It’s all just a bit more complicated than either Williams, I or The Hospital film-makers can account for. Which is why cheap, easy measures to tackle obesity like encouraging people to eat less fat and get out more will always be on the social policy agenda alongside the really big, long-term challenges such as eradicating poverty.

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Separated at birth: Susan Boyle and Al Murray

I know this is beneath me. It’s beneath all of us, frankly, to judge the proverbial book by the cover, the 47-year-old life-long singleton and newly created reality TV star Susan Boyle by her appearance.

But it was, inevitably, Boyle’s appearance – complete with bra strap falling down a plump upper arm – that created the dramatic irony behind her tear-jerking performance of Les Miserables’ I Dreamed A Dream on ITV 1’s Britain’s Got Talent last week. A performance that, thanks to t’internet, has propelled her to global star status within a week.

But hang on, y’all. Shurely shome mishtake? She’s not a West Lothian spinster after all, but another product of Al Murray’s Multiple Personality Disorder. Judge for yourselves.

Al Murray as Peter Taylor. ITV Susan Boyle

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My inner Daily Mail reader

The Hospital. Channel 4/North One Television

Yes, within me lurks the sort of devil that might read the Daily Mail. The sort of person who, when confronted with images of vulnerable, poorly educated people enduring harsh social disadvantages, might say: “They shouldn’t be allowed to breed.”

This inner devil came out for about 20 minutes last night, at the start of the second instalment of Channel 4‘s The Hospital, made with loving attention to detail by independent producer North One.

Last night’s ep was all about teenage pregnancy. Like that of a girl who was overweight to begin with, who retained water like the proverbial melon during pregnancy and who smoked throughout the 40 weeks. She insisted on being “asleep” while she gave birth but it was only after the safe delivery of her baby daughter, at a cost of more than £10,000, that medical staff conceded she was probably scared, rather than just full of “attitude”.

So by the end of the programme and having watched the experiences of several teenage mums-to-be becoming mums, that inner Daily Mail reader was back in its box as the complexity of all those girls, their families and the NHS staff who help them came into focus. Our friend, watermelon mum, summed it up as she turned away from her own also overweight mother towards her new baby while saying in voiceover that she wanted to start afresh, with her own family and nothing to mess it up.

As a midwife employed to work with teenage mothers suggested, ours is not to stand in judgement about the rights and wrongs of teenage pregnancy. But of course we do, and the UK has the highest rate of teenage pregnancy in Europe.

This programme aimed to show what that means for the NHS and its staff but it works just as well as a sex education film, to be shown to girls and boys aged, say, 14 upwards in schools. Each of the three teenagers who were most on camera last night started out saying they wanted a baby. Watermelon girl and her boyfriend started trying after they’d been together for one month. But once they’d had their babies, all three young mums agreed they’d advise other girls their age to “wait a bit” before doing the same.

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Happy Sissinghurst. I mean, Easter

Sissinghurst towers. National Trust

Oh, this was a deeply uncool programme to have found on BBC 4 on Good Friday and to have really enjoyed. Featuring posh people, the National Trust and Sissinghurst, the gardens famously created by writer Vita Sackville-West and her husband Harold Nicholson, it couldn’t have been further removed from groovy metro media types.

But I did enjoy the two episodes I saw of this, for lots of reasons. Firstly there was the fascinating set-up whereby Adam Nicholson, the grand-son of Vita and Harold, is now apparently living at Sissinghurst although he doesn’t own it. The National Trust does and so he is not lord of all he surveys. Far from it.

Also because a massive piece of the celebrity gardening jigsaw fell into place when it was revealed Adam Nicholson’s wife is Sarah Raven, gardening columnist and sometime Gardeners’ World presenter. No wonder she’s always floating around massive cut-flower beds in muslins: she’s married to a real toff. And Raven gardens at Perch Hill in Sussex, just down the road from Sissinghurst which set up another fantastic tension in the film – where do the Nicholson/Ravens really live?

This seemed to come to a head in the final scene when Adam and Sarah surveyed the Sissinghurst estate from a hot-air balloon, both cooing over its beauty. “Doesn’t it look like somewhere where me might be happy?” asked Adam, in his posh, slightly feckless yet hopeful way. (I really liked him – especially when he confessed to ignoring Sarah’s artistically written lists and surviving on treacle tart and houmous while she was away.) 

“The jury’s out,” snapped back Sarah, from under a hat fashioned out of baby bearskin. Let’s have more on this couple. And, OK, more on how Sarah upset the National Trust catering staff with talk of tagines and spinach tarts instead of plain old English fayre.

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Five Minutes of Heaven and more

Liam Neeson and James Nesbitt in Five Minutes of Heaven. BBC

I would have posted this yesterday but I was rinsing vomit out of bedclothes. Not my own. Those days are (almost) over.

BBC 1’s Sunday night drama starring Liam Neeson and James Nesbitt, Five Minutes of Heaven, was good in a ‘norr’n Ireland, we-all-know-about-the-Troubles’ way but with a new twist. Although fictional, it was inspired by real people living with “the legacy” of a sectarian murder.

Neeson and Nesbitt acted their respective woollen and towelling socks off and, apart from some stage grunting in the film’s one fight scene, both were utterly convincing as the troubled and remorseful murderer and equally troubled but less thoughtful brother of the victim.

Currently on screen as I write is Channel 4’s The Hospital giving a totally real insight into the A&E goings on with a load of pissed up teenagers. Without the freneticism of ER, it has all the drama, blood and gore you’d expect of an A&E ward. Oh, things have just got a bit frenetic with a painkiller overdose sending a patient into cardiac arrest. I think they said she was give ketamine aka horse tranquilliser. Ten times the required amount.

C4 head of documentaries Hamish Mykura says this three-part series is meant to show the pressure young people are putting on the NHS. That’s something we viewers may not be as aware of as, say, the demands the elderly put the NHS. What this does for the demonisation of teenagers, I don’t know. Perhaps they are all no-hoper binge drinkers. I brace myself for more vomit.

At least all this is more meaningful than Willy Harcourt-Cooze‘s quest to promote his brand of ‘real’ chocolate made with the finest Venezuelan cacao. Seriously. Chocolate. Who cares?

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Anna Richardson on porn

Anna Richardson presents The Sex Education Show vs Pornography. Channel 4

Strictly speaking, the series being stripped across Channel 4 at 9pm this week is a second series of The Sex Education Show which first appeared last year. But this time presenter Anna Richardson is comparing and contrasting the reality of various aspects of sex with porn on the basis that “young people use porn to learn about sex”.

This four-part series is the same warts and all (quite literally) exploration of sex as the first series and is clearly aimed at teenagers, with episodes dedicated to penis size and the quality and reality of orgasms. The programme is also campaigning for tighter controls on internet access to porn to protect young people from adult material.

It’s all highly laudable and, as in the first series, it’s deliberately explicit. You have to pity the school children asked to look at an array of different penises but after an hour of this stuff the shock value of the full frontals has already begun to fade. Apart from the unhygienic smegma-covered one, that is; or the one where the foreskin had fused to the shaft, as it’s technically known.

What intrigues me is that this second series is on at 9pm. Back in September last year, the Sex Education Show went out at 8pm and got a lot of flak for doing so. But C4 could justifiably argue that it was breaking taboos and bringing sex education to a younger, pre-watershed audience. That strategy must have been too risky to repeat so we’re safely post-watershed with this stuff. Let’s hope the teens are still tuning in.

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