140. Headcase

Tapehead no 140

Television, increasingly, is just becoming a study of madness. 

This week we have a veritable Blind Date of dementia with veteran contestants Rutger “the Hitcher” Hauer, “Mad” Frankie Fraser, and “Doolally” David Icke.

These days Frankie Fraser is on TV more often than the weatherman. (He was last seen on Brass Eye being branded “as mad as a lorry”.)

Frankie, it seems, has turned into a right old tart; a media tart. He even turns up on yet another bout of gangster nostalgia, Inside Story’s examination of gangsters and their women, Molls. (Next week it’ll be Gangsters and Their Pets.)

Frankie’s other half, Marilyn, is the daughter of one of he great train robbers. Her mum remembers realising he was up to somefink when they bought a van and some frilly curtains (hopefully not together).

“I knew there woz gunna be a rob’ry,” she remembers, sounding eerily like Waynetta. “Because ‘e told me to keep the kids away from the toy cupboard.”

The programme’s central premise – “behind every successful gangster, there’s a strong woman” – is, of course, nonsense. Usually behind every successful gangster is a woman who does what she’s told, doesn’t mind a smack now and again, and above all doesn’t know what her boyfriend’s up to. (Serious villains never tell their women anyfink.)

They wheel out done-to-death old lags like Charlie Wilson, Tony Lambrianou, and numerous old molls who have been involved with various armed blaggers Kray twins associates, and blokes like Dave Courtney who organised Ronnie Kray’s funeral and famously never goes anywhere without a knuckleduster (usually on his knuckles).

One typically astute moll, Jo-Jo Laine, the former girlfriend of one of the geezers what done the Knightsbridge safe-deposit job in ’87, declares: “I actually fell protected by dangerous men.” Which is okay for her, but what about the rest of us ?

Later she reveals: ” ‘E tried to bite my nose off.”

Like all at the other nonsense the BBC’s Oxbridge graduates come up with, Molls conveniently brushes over the fact that these geezers run protection rackets, loan-sharking, drug-dealing and committing acts of fantastic, sometimes random violence usually aimed at the general public. 

Marilyn Wisbey also contributed to the stream of racist rubbish Fraser came up with when he was (absurdly) on If I Were Prime Minister.

Tapehead says: stick ’em all back inside. It’s the only language they understand.

Rutger Hauer’s peculiarly amusing/amused form of madness has been on the wane somewhat of late.

But his performance as a Soviet Nuclear submarine captain in Hostile Waters is salvaged (unlike his submarine) by his depiction of the captain as a cross between an East German centre-half from the seventies and Coronation Street’s Jim MacDonald.

The moderately pointless moustache, tired greasy quiff, and failed air of resignation are all in place. All that’s missing, Tapehead feels, is Jim’s parka.

It’s even got Gail Tilsely’s Canadian brother in it as a suit from the White House.

Other bit-parts seem to be played by Ian Hislop, Tony Hancock, and Chelsea’s token Englishman, Dennis Wise. Martin “Charlie’s Dad” Sheen is resplendent in a Captain Bird’s Eye beard of the highest order.

The matte shots of the submarine are, to its credit, better than Scorsese’s Blue Peter efforts in Cape Fear but it all becomes a bit too much like an underwater Star Trek. (“Captain, the power’s gone.” “Switch to batteries.”)

Rutger saunters through it all with considerable aplomb, bestowing upon even his most staccato speeches a kind of suave grandeur, like Clark Gable in The Misfits.

On the evidence of The Chair, much like “Mad” Frank, poor David Icke should be locked up out of harm’s way.

We would have learned more about him if Oliver James, the Chair’s resident (querulous) psychiatrist, could stop interrupting. (Just get Anthony Clare for the next series.).

Icke reveals that as a toddler, he used to cross the road to avoid people (now it’s vice versa) and that football was his saviour.

When he recalls the time people would laugh at him wherever he went, the juvenile James sniggers. Even when Oliver clears him of being schizophrenic – on the (erroneous) grounds that he has none of the classic symptoms – Icke scents a conspiracy.

“But who decided what the classic symptoms are ? And who told us them, you see ?”

His paranoia certainly seems clinical and terminal.

Oliver James cops out from giving his conclusion.

But in Tapehead’s view, the medical term of it is: bananas.


Hostile Water: Sat, 9pm, BBC1

The Chair: Weds, 7.05pm, BBC2

Inside Story: Weds, 10pm, BBC1