Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Kenny Everett - All In The Best Possible Taste

Tonight sees Kenny Everett receive the BBC4 biopic treatment, following the likes of Kenneth Williams and Sir Clive Sinclair in being dramatically immortalised. In some ways it’s surprising that it’s taken this long for Everett’s life to be dramatised as it lends itself so well to a narrative: feeble, artistic child, chafing against his working class upbringing, turned furious, boundary-pushing talent; arriving just in time to crest the wave of popular culture’s takeover and constantly rubbing shoulders with legendary cultural figures, but repeatedly prone to bouts of self sabotage. Having wrestled with his sexuality to the point of entering into a straight marriage, before eventually coming out and finding some kind of happiness, Everett was then swept away in the AIDS epidemic less than four years after his friend Freddie Mercury (who appears in the film as a sort of liberated Virgil to Ken’s more buttoned-up Dante).

As with all films of this nature now, the story is preceded by a warning that certain liberties may have been taken with the truth. But really, Everett’s story requires little colouring up. While the film has certain flaws – lead Oliver Lansley doesn’t quite nail Everett’s voice (a problem when he was such a unique aural presence) – it does a good job of capturing what was so exciting about him as a performer. Endlessly inventive both creatively and technologically, apparently hard wired to irritate anyone in a position of authority and genuinely anarchic, Everett doesn’t just seem weird with hindsight, but always seemed strangely out of step with the times. Apparently distrustful of the communal piety of the sixties pirate radio scene, he found more of a berth in the seventies, essentially playing a corrupted version of the DJs from his fifties youth. With his enunciation and mildly creepy ‘Hello boys and girls’ delivery Everett was like a pervy, pill-fuelled take on a Home Service announcer (David Bowie, who appeared on Everett's show in this memorable clip, was doing something similar with Ziggy Stardust, recreating a supercharged version of a fifties archetype having failed to get along with the hippies).

A commercial success and popular with a huge demographic at the time, Everett has been somewhat forgotten since. Partly it was that his febrile nature meant he never found a long-term role on any of the BBC’s flagship shows. A lot of his material hasn’t aged brilliantly in isolation – particularly in his later TV work, the joke started to take second place to the technological innovation. But he pioneered much of what now passes for standard fare in broadcasting – the fourth-wall breaking and knowing deconstruction of the premise, the involvement of viewers and crew, the cross pollination between TV and pop music, and the figure of an uncontrollable but hugely popular, desk-driving egomaniac which Radio One still struggles with to this day. Cuddly Ken was a genuine one-off who pursued his craft and his vision at no little personal and professional cost to himself, and a performer who instinctively understood that an artist’s job wasn’t to be a pet of the establishment. We could do with a little more of that spirit nowadays.