Dead bodies, sexy bodies and a dubious body of evidence

Milly Getachew reports on the $50m music collection on eBay, the Rolling Stones on the dangers of dr


It has been a great week for different sorts of exposure. Some of the art stolen in last week’s £84m Zurich heist has been found in a car-park, in what looks to have been the getaway car, around 500m from scene of crime. Meanwhile, closer to home a cheeky poster of a nude Venus advertising the Royal Academy’s new show Cranach was banned by London Transport because it skirted too close to their guidelines on sexually suggestive adverts on the Tube. After protest, the medieval painting was eventually allowed to be shown to commuters. The BBC migration to HD TV is taking its toll: the set of EastEnders’ Albert Square is being movedfrom Elstree studios to 007’s Pinewood studios. With HD TV, a BBC source is reported to have said, “you can see every crack, chipboard flake and Blu-Tack solution.” Walford is meant to look a little scruffy but not, apparently, that scruffy.

Some of this week’s conflicts are carry-overs that, like cheese, are ripening (for better or for worse). The Chinese government has vetoed filming in China for the Hollywood movie 'Shanghai' over concerns of the depiction of opium-usage. Meanwhile “cadaver artist” Dr Gunther von Hagens, of Bodyworlds repute, has stopped using bodies from China through fear they may have been victims of execution. Some conflicts this week, also like some cheese, just have a bad taste: BBC chief Lesley Douglas has claimed that men’s musical tastes are more intellectual than women’s; and 104-year-old Dutch singer Johannes Heesters made a rare and controversial appearance to perform some old German hits. Mr Heesters is notorious in the Netherlands for having performed for Hitler and coterie at Dachau in 1941. He subsequently tried to appear in 'The Sound Of Music' as heroic Nazi-defying Captain Von Trapp, but was an unpopular choice with audiences for this role.

Trading Places

This week has seen some new arrivals and some welcome returns. Charles Saatchi is to open a new free gallery to rival Tate Modern, and 21-year-old playwright Polly Stenham is to see her award-winning debut work 'That Face' transferred to the West End. Also trading up is Greg Dyke who now replaces Anthony Minghella as BFI chair. Greg Dyke left the BBC as Director-General in 2004 after the Hutton Inquiry found, against the BBC, that the government had not “sexed up” the notorious “Iraq dossier”. It would be interesting to see what Lord Hutton makes of the revelations these last few days of some of the background work that went into – and out of – the dossier. As Colin MacCabe writes in this week’s NS, the BFI and New Labour have had an uneasy relationship: it will be exciting to see what Greg does next.

This week in the arts there has also been lots to buy: for example, the world’s greatest music collection is being hawked on eBay (valued at $50m, starting price $3m), and as-yet-unseen work by Banksy is also up for grabs. And if you can’t go to the art, art can now come to you: a new mobile “caravan art gallery” will be touring Glasgow, the V&A has made some of its leading images available for downloading by mobile phone through Museum On The Go, and the BBC has reported great success with its trial of making popular TV shows available for mobile download.

Just ain't rock n' roll

It has been a week of mixed delights in the music industry. At the Brits awards, the Arctic Monkeys took the prizes for Best British Album and Best British Group. This achievement may seem impressive but is not a patch on Westlife’s scoop, also this week, of Best Irish Pop Act at the Meteor Irish Music Awards – for the 8th time running (and 6 years after the release of their “Greatest Hits” album). Sadly for drum&bass fans, groundbreaking DJ Grooverider has been arrested and jailed in Dubai for cannabis possession. In these circumstances a warning from music industry leaders about the use of drugs is both welcome and timely. But it is perhaps difficult to know what to think when this warning comes, as it did this week, from the Rolling Stones. And in just what one would hope for from a rock and roll band, Dave Twohill, the former drummer of popular Australian group Mental As Anything, has won a legal action against his former bandmates for unfair dismissal. Twohill was sacked from the band without warning at Sydney Airport. In court his colleagues complained about his drunk and aggressive behaviour, his refusal to carry his own luggage when travelling, and accused him of playing out of time and “like a chimpanzee on speed”. The judge berated the band for not giving Twohill the required 6 months’ notice. You can read more about the case and listen to Twohill’s work here.

Fond Farewells

Finally, we close with news of some sad departures. Alain Robbe-Grillet, novelist, film-maker, and master of the nouveau roman, has passed away in France aged 85; Natalia Bessmertnova, leading Bolshoi ballerina, has died in Moscow aged 66; and a memorial service has been held in London for the late Ned Sherrin, producer, comedian and the world’s first memorial service reviewer. Sherrin’s memorial service, much of which he designed himself, was hailed by critics as ”a glittering all-star production”. Did we say it had been a good week for exposure? For some exposures, it has also been the beginning of the end. Polaroid have announced that they are to discontinue their world-famous camera and film. Invented in the 1930s, the Polaroid has been an integral part of late 20th century culture, from the famous Moorman Polaroid of the JFK assassination, to OutKast’s popular admonition, in 2003 hit Hey Ya, to ”shake it like a Polaroid picture”. In recent years, however, the Polaroid camera has seen sales decline as digital photography has grown. A future without the iconic instant snap? Picture that.

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Broken and The Trial: From Sean Bean playing a priest to real life lawyers

A surprisingly involving depiction of a clergyman provides the saintly contrast to the sinner being judged by a real jury.

I was all set to scoff at Broken, Jimmy McGovern’s new series for BBC1 (30 May, 9pm). A drama about a Catholic priest and his impoverished parish in a “major northern city”, it sounded so hilariously McGovern-by-numbers (“Eh, lad, give us the collection bowl – the leccy wants paying”) that on paper it could pass for a spoof. Even funnier, Sean Bean, late of Game of Thrones, was to play the clergyman in question.

Naturally, I adore Bean, who comes from the major northern city that is Sheffield, as I do, and who is so terribly . . . virile (though when I interviewed him in a car park behind King’s Cross Station a few years ago, and a security guard in a high-vis jacket approached us furiously shouting the odds, he ran and hid in his trailer, leaving yours truly to face the music). But let’s face it: he’s not exactly versatile, is he? The idea of him in a cassock, or even just a mud-coloured cardigan, made me laugh out loud.

Settling down to watch the series, however, I soon realised that no scoffing would be taking place. For one thing, Broken is hugely involving, its Dickensian plot (no spoilers here) as plausible as it is macabre. For another, in the present circumstances, its script seems to be rather daring. Not only is Father Michael Kerrigan shown – cover my eyes with the collected works of Richard Dawkins! – to be a good and conscientious priest, but his faith is depicted as a fine and useful thing. If he brings his besieged parishioners solace, he is sure to be carrying vouchers for the food bank as well.

The flashbacks from which he suffers – in which his mammy can be heard calling him a “dirty, filthy beast” and a spiteful old priest is seen applying a cane to his hand – are undoubtedly clichéd. But they are also a device. Forty years on, he is happy to nurse his dying mother, and his love for God is undimmed: two facts that are not, of course, unrelated. How weirdly bold for a television series to set its face against the consensus that denigrates all things Christian as it never would any other faith.

I don’t for a minute buy Anna Friel as Christina, the gobby, broke single mother Kerrigan is determined to help. Even when covered in bruises – a bust-up at the betting shop – Friel manages to look glossy, and she never, ever quits acting (with a capital A), which is a drag. But Bean is such a revelation, I was able to ignore the voice in my head which kept insisting that a Catholic priest as young as he is – in this realm, “young” is a couple of years shy of 60 – would surely be Polish or African (I’m not a Catholic but I am married to one, for which reason I occasionally go to Mass).

He plays Kerrigan, whose overwhelming desire to be kind sometimes makes him cack-handed, with great gentleness, but also with an uninflected ordinariness that is completely convincing. Part of the problem (my problem, at least) with Communion is the lack of rhetorical passion in most priests’ voices, something he captures perfectly. One other thing: Line of Duty fans need to know that Adrian Dunbar – aka Ted Hastings – can also be seen here wearing a dog collar, and that he looks almost as good in it as he does in police uniform.

On Channel 4 The Trial: A Murder in the Family was an experiment in the shape of a murder trial in which the defendant – a university lecturer accused of strangling his estranged wife – and all the witnesses were actors but the lawyers and “jury” were real. Over five consecutive nights (21-25 May, 9pm), I found it pretty tiresome listening to jury members tell the camera what they made of this or that bit of evidence.

Get on with it, I thought, longing again for the return of Peter Moffat’s Silk. But I adored the lawyers, particularly the lead ­defence barrister, John Ryder, QC. What an actor. Sentences left his mouth fully formed, as smooth as they were savage, his charm only just veiling his mighty ruthlessness. Drooling at this performance – which was not, in one sense, a performance at all – I found myself thinking that if more priests came over like barristers, our dying churches might be standing room only.

Rachel Cooke trained as a reporter on The Sunday Times. She is now a writer at The Observer. In the 2006 British Press Awards, she was named Interviewer of the Year.

This article first appeared in the 25 May 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Why Islamic State targets Britain

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