7. Penguins

Jim Shelley pulls on his penguin suit

Tapehead no 7

David Attenborough, of course, is the ultimate loner; a man, like TapeHead, less alone in the animal kingdom. Not many people
know what it’s like to stand alone, a blue anorak in the Antarctic, surrounded by 10 million penguins, but, we do.

Life in the Freezer concentrates on one of the wonders of the world: David Attenborough in his natural habitat – on television.

Attenborough’s authority and passion, as ever, are impeccable.
He could tell us we were watching tigers fly and we’d believe it.

Life in The Freezer has things you need to tape in order to believe them: icebergs the size of cathedrals; baby penguins wrapped up in insulation blankets; the sight of an eight-feet tall, three-ton beach master seal scrambling over his harem of females in order to headbutt another bull seal (fiercely reminiscent of a scene from The Dog’s Head on a Friday night). Rewind and learn by heart the courting rituals of the albatross.

This week, “the most spectacular rush hour in Nature.” Thousands of penguins struggling to cross glacial torrents and climb near-vertical cliffs of volcanic ash to feed their chicks. Heroic.

One of life’s mottos: there is nothing funnier than a penguin in a hurry.

Penguin-esque, Harry Salter (Michael Elphick), the star of Harry is a manic outsider: an adulterer, an alcoholic and worst of all, a journalist. Good God, no wonder no one’s watching it. No wonder also that TapeHead completely relates to Harry and not only because last week, he did a piece on two rave organisers whose only desire in life was to be in the Weekend Guardian. This week: the Video Diaries film, snappy, a dockers strike, “the usual bollocks”.

Just when it looks as if it’s all getting very cosy, as usual. Harry packs a fierce and gloomy punch. From the theme-tune on, Harry has a hunted quality: “La. La-la-la, la-la-la.” If that’s not enough, there’s Alice, a Scottish Beatrice Dalle, who can file TapeHead’s copy any day she likes.

We will ignore Part Two of Without Walls on that rather shallow, deliberate outside, Loiviero Toscani from Benetton….

After Attenborough, the ultimate outsider was the only pop star to be dropped by her record company for not being a nun. Classic archive footage of the convent-bound Nun playing volleyball proves deceptive.

“What did you think of the names The Smiling Nun and the Singing Nun ?” asks an interviewer.

“I thought, whoever thought of that, had obviously never met me.”

Correct. Deeply enigmatic (the Nun’s glasses, pallor and nun’s habit give her a disturbing resemblance to Vic Reeves), The Singing Nun lived the classic pop dilemma. She took her music too seriously, fame went to her head, and all the glamour was in the wimple.

Her first song after leaving was the pivotal, She is Dead.
Her ode to The Pill, Le Pilule D’Or, lives in the memory, particularly for its resemblance to Knees Up Mother Brown.

TapeHead understands The Nun like he understands all his loners: pursued by the Revenue, addicted to tranquilisers. Her last letter, like this column, was drenched in tears. Her suicide was Joy Division-esque.

“Her song, Dominque still haunts us,” says the narrator. When you hear it, you’ll know why.

Another loner-cum-nun, Boy George, collides with the King (or Queen) of Loners, the estimable Quentin Crisp on Omnibus. But better still Sister Wendy’s Odyssey sees the good sister gliding along like one of Attenborough’s mutant penguins, looking up close a rude artwork and explaining, “if your lover is a swan, you can’t have very much communication”. Something Wendy, TapeHead and Attenborough know to their cost.

Also to tape forever, sister Helen Mirren on The Big Breakfast. Lovely. The divine Kim Basinger is a loner even in her own town, Braselton, as made in the USA reveals. Local Public Access TV clips from Atlanta include: Deacon Lunch box, a big Southern trucker in a beard and bra, shouting and banging a hammer on a metal drum; The Weather Channel (slogan: weather you can always turn to); and the Name of the Week, Mr Terry Ron Kitchens.

Finally, Women Talking. Janet Street Porter and two women quizzing Mr Andrew Neil.

Motto: “if you can’t make love to it or plug it into the mains I’m not interested.”

A man after TapeHead’s own heart.

Collector’s Tape 13
Harry: Sat, BBC1, 9.05pm
Made in the USA: Sat, C4, 4.37am-.47am
Without Walls: The Singing Nun, Tues, C4 9pm-9.30pm
Omnibus: Boy George: Tues, BBC1, 10.30pm, first 10 minutes
The Big Breakfast: Wed, C4, 8.45am-8.55am
Women Talking: Thurs, BBC2, 4.30pm-5pm
Life in the Freezer: Thurs, BBC1, 8.0pm
Sister Wendy’s Odyssey: BBC2, Thurs, 10.20pm