Article

39. Scary

Clowning around with Jim Shelley

Tapehead no 39

Another sinister TV week to tape: a sick and successful serial killer, a sad and sorry sex-change, and most worrying of all, a squad of grinning synchronised swimmers.

A meticulously slick TV movie with a rare sense of the tense and the truly terrible events that took place, To Catch A Killer is a three-hour, two-part, reconstruction of the case against John Wayne Gacy (recently fried for the murder and torture of more than 30 teenagers), centered on a chillingly steely performance by the formidable Brian Dennehy.

“Are you liberal-minded about sex, Billy ?” he asks one kid, casually. Yes, playing pool with John Gacy was no easy matter.

Dennehy controls the transformation from respectable businessman to murderous deviant with masterly restraint, giving Gacy a stare and smile that are genuinely menacing. His performance as Pog the Clown will give you nightmares.

At the end of last week’s A Change of Sex, we left George/Julia plodding away from a sex change operation, in slippers and overcoat, looking for the world like Tommy Cooper in drag.

Tapehead is happy to report the transformation from someone resembling Eddie Yeats or ex-Arsenal centre-forward, Alan Sunderland, into Penelope Keith (circa The Good Life), vintage Barbara Dickson and finally, the singer from A Flock Of Seagulls is now complete.

At the end of three weeks of agony and anguish, the result is that Julia now looks like Mandy Jordace, Gloria Hunniford or Fat Pat Cabs from EastEnders: yes, like a man in a dress.

She has spent the intervening 15 years staggering blindly from Amsterdam to Chesterfield, from poppers to alcohol, suffering various degrees of personal crisis. She has made up what she has lost in height (several inches) in weight (several stone). All in all, it’s fair to say that Julia’s life makes even Tapehead’s look alarmingly uneventful.

Now, 15 years of chaos after her op, she has turned, as any man would, to pottery. (“I never saw myself as being artistic.”)

The series ends with Julia discussing sex changes with transvestites gathering at Transformation, a shop stocking magazines like TV Tarts and Punished In Panties, advertising “full gender reassignment” and selling items like “corsetry for that hour-glass figure.”

Whether Julia is ready for synchronised swimming though, must, sadly, remain debatable. This week’s Short Stories (Sync or Swim) looks at the inside world of synchronise swimming: stories of ruthless plans to knobble opponents, rumours of drug abuse and steroids, not to mention nose-clips.

The great debate raging through the sport, dividing it in two is (inevitably) sequins: “We’re trying it out for a year – to go without sequins, try and make it more sporting – athletically.”

Disaster. Anyone like Tapehead who has spent years of his life contemplating the mysteries of the sport (also known as drowning to music) will want to tape Short Stories in order to appreciate fully the sport’s subtleties. As one coach, Murel Coombs, explains ” A lot of strength and flexibility are involved. Also you’ve got to hold your breath under water.”

It’s not really swimming and, sadly, half the time it’s not really all that synchronised either. By the time they hear the music they’re already out-of sync.

Bristol’s finest 12-year-olds demonstrate manoeuvres like The Submarine Ballet Leg or Dolphin Bent Knee and very similar they look too. Mind you, The Eiffel Tower should certainly come in useful in later life, proving particularly popular with members of the opposite sex.

So perhaps the great mystery is solved. Maybe that’s what they’re smiling about.

A Change of Sex: Thu, 9.30pm-10.20pm, BBC2
To Catch A Killer Part One: Thu, 10pm-11.30pm, BBC1
To Catch A Killer part Two: Fri, 9.30pm-11.05pm, BBC1
Short Stories – Sync or Swim: Wed, 8.30pm-9pm, C4