Gavin Friday; A Touch of Frost…

by John Boland

About halfway through the Arts Lives film, Ladies and Gentlemen, Gavin Friday (RTE1), former Virgin Prunes member Guggi spoke of his departure from the avant garde Dublin band in the mid-1980s. “After I left they were shit,” he said. In truth, for those of us who experienced them at the time and whose tolerance didn’t extend to embracing their tuneless posturings, they were always that, and it would have taken a true devotee to distinguish the post-Guggi ensemble from its predecessor.

But this Arts Lives film, though unduly devotional itself, wasn’t interested in such distinctions. Indeed, its awestruck approach to its subject meant that it avoided any kind of analysis,  the viewer instead being requested to accept Gavin Friday and his famous mates at their own evaluation of themselves.

From the outset, the hagiographical intent of Ian Thuillier’s film was clear, as a parade of luminaries – The Edge, Neil Jordan, et al – paid homage to their man, the Edge roundly declaring that his boyhood friend had “got this innate instinct for what is important in art and music.”

His innate instinct for a discernible tune or comprehensible lyrics was less evident from some of the clips that were shown but, hey, who needed melody or even basic sense when what was being offered was a self-invented persona that transcended such humdrum considerations – a persona that began to take shape in his northside teen years when, as lifelong friend Bono recalled, “we’d disappear into the world according to Gavin.”

Gavin at that time was simply Glasnevin boy Fionan Hanvey, Bono was still Paul Hewson, The Edge was Dave Evans, Guggi was Derek Rowen and fellow-Prune Strongman was just Derek’s brother Trevor. The message was clear – if you want to get on in showbiz, think up an intriguing alternative name for yourself.

Gavin’s mother, Anne, was on hand to reminisce fondly about her son, but his disapproving father, now deceased, remained a shadowy presence. I’d have liked to learn more about him, but the film was too busily engaged elsewhere to dwell on such mundane matters, the Edge assuring us that Gavin was “outrageous and confrontational,” Hot Press editor Niall Stokes marvelling at his “experiments with androgyny” and various other admirers rhapsodising about “duality” and “angst” and “creative energy.”

I’ve met Gavin Friday a couple of times and on each occasion I’ve thought him a nice guy, engaging and enthusiastic, but these qualities didn’t come across here. “I’m fifty and I still haven’t grown up yet,” he said just before the end credits, but there was little sense of his boyishness in this overly solemn and earnest film.             

An absorbing documentary could have been made about the demise, after eighteen years, of A Touch of Frost, but instead ITV chose the option of making a rubbish one. Touched by Frost: Goodbye Jack conveyed little sense of how this long-running and much-loved detective series came to be made, what changes it had gone though during its two decades on air, or even how the cast remembered or regarded it.

David Jason was there to offer a few platitudes, as was Bruce Alexander, who played his long-standing nemesis Superintendent Mullett,  but no one who hadn’t watched the show down through the years would have got a glimmer of why it was so appealing.

Happily, the documentary was preceded, on the previous two nights, by the last-ever A Touch of Frost, which was very good indeed, with Adrian Dunbar in splendidly malevolent form as the main villain. At the end, though, the makers screwed it up, spoiling our pleasure in Frost’s new-found romantic happiness by gratuitously killing off his old colleague George.

Still, Jack will remain in our memory as one of the most likeable and least mannered of detectives, though memory may not be required – given ITV’s penchant for repeats, we’ll probably be reminded of his qualities ad infinitum and ad nauseam.

Band of Brothers, which was co-produced by Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks, had already assured anyone who didn’t already know that war is hell, and now the same duo are telling us likewise in another HBO/Dreamworks series, The Pacific (Sky Movies Premiere).

They’ve a harder task here, though, given that, at this historical remove, the war in the Pacific needs a lot more explication to most people than that in Europe. Hence, Hanks’s explanatory introduction over  old newsreel footage and hence the reminiscences of a former Marine, recalling it as “a nasty war” in which “the main thing was to stay alive.”

Hence, too, a pre-combat briefing, the NCOs being informed that they’ll be fighting “on tiny specks of turf you’ve never heard of” against Japanese forces “who are in the process  of taking over half of the world.”

The history lesson duly ended, the series got down to business and it wasn’t long before jittery jungle scenes presaged random slaughter in the manner of Platoon, Saving Private Ryan and The Thin Red Line.

Already, in this two-hour pilot, some principal characters have emerged and it’s up to individual viewers whether they want to accompany them for ten weeks through expertly-executed battle scenes and shudder-inducing carnage.

Or they could retreat to BBC4, which this week has been celebrating the Great American Songbook, with repeats of excellent films on Ella Fitzgerald and Nat ‘King’ Cole, an arresting new profile of Nina Simone and an outstanding portrait of Johnny Mercer.

This last, an Arena film entitled Johnny Mercer: The Dream’s On Me, was produced by Clint Eastwood and was a substantial and loving appreciation of the great lyricist from Savannah, Georgia. “As far as I’m concerned, Johnny Mercer is American literature,” Tony Bennett enthused, while Bing Crosby deemed him “the Huck Finn of popular song.” He collaborated with Jerome Kern, Harold Arlen, Hoagy Carmichael and scores of others and was sung by everyone who cherished literate, elegant and witty lyrics. Some people still do.

An Crisis (TG4) is a six-part comedy series about a lazy and incompetent Irish language department facing cutbacks or worse from a beleagured government. Sound familiar? In the opening episode, the jokes in Antoine O Flaharta’s script were broad but the writing was sprightly and Risteard Cooper and his fellow performers were clearly enjoying themselves. Worth keeping an eye on.

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: