TV crushes: From Bruce Willis to Konnie Huq to the Yellow Power Ranger

Some of our screen crushes fade quickly, but others (like Bim Adewunmi's for David Addison) last forever. Who's yours?

Earlier this week, I watched Die Hard, now part of the Christmas movie cannon (see also Gremlins, Home Alone and Galaxy Quest). I first watched Die Hard when I was very young – we lived in Nigeria for a while, and BBFC regulations did not reach that far – and I love it. Whenever I re-watch it my heart is light and happy, rejoicing in what is so familiar: the iconic vest and bare feet, the sellotaped gun, the casual smoking indoors, the long ruminations with Sgt Powell (forever Carl Winslow from Family Matters in my heart), and of course, the catchphrases. Like a child awaiting Christmas morning, I impatiently count down the seconds till I get to say them along with the telly. Ultimately though, the main draw of Die Hard is its star, Bruce Willis. I have the biggest crush on him. I have since I was a kid. 

I mentioned living abroad – one of the best things about this was that we got what is essentially classic telly, several years later. BBC and ITV series from as far back as the 60s were beaming into our Lagos living room well into the 1990s, thanks to the efforts of the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) and Lagos Television (LTV) channels. It meant I got to watch Timothy Dalton’s Mr Rochester a decade later than ITV broadcast their adaptation of Jane Eyre and enjoyed Michael Praed’s L’Oreal-esque hair swishing as he sat atop a galloping horse as Robin Hood. Best of all, we got Moonlighting, starring Mr Willis and Cybill Shepherd. As David Addison, he was everything I thought I wanted when I was 13. And at 17. And again at 30.

David Addison, for those who don’t know, was a cool guy. The Moonlighting writers' room was very kind to Willis, and he interpreted beautifully: David was from the East Coast, which made him edgier than his LA surroundings. He wore sunglasses, he got drunk and into brawls. He was witty, as well as charming and romantic when he wanted to be. He shook Maddie up, and he was so funny; later I would realise that he was sexy too. In terms of my crush history, David Addison was a big deal. 

I’ve had several small screen crushes over the years: I was an avid reader and film and telly-watcher growing up, and I’ve always had a good imagination. I wove rich narratives featuring these fictional characters for far longer than I should have done, did research on them (think about that, in a pre-Google world – that’s dedication!) and in some memorable cases – Jason Priestley on Beverley Hills, 90210 was just one – wrote them letters. I like to think I was a fairly intelligent child/teen, and knew even at my most naive core, that this was not limerence. I knew there was nothing to be gained by my endeavours, except the natural and fleeting pleasure of being a fan. So I developed my crushes, and while most have faded away (what was I thinking, Michael Praed?), the allure of David Addison remains strong and unwavering: the tendre I nursed back in the 90s remains, and if anything, is stronger than ever. 

I asked people to share their early telly crushes with me on Twitter and Facebook – and got a flood of responses. Obvious choices like Robin of Sherwood (Praed again!) and Zack Morris (Mark-Paul Gosselaar) from Saved By The Bell came up. There was also some left field choices – Nigel Bruce, anyone? Blokes were slower to respond, but when they did, Floella Benjamin – inevitably – came up, as did Konnie Huq of Blue Peter, proving once and for all that Reithian edutainment is where it’s at. Other telly crushes came via various actresses from Australian soaps and of course, Jet from Gladiators. I still get entirely ridiculous crushes on telly folk all the time – my current favourites are Ben Whishaw on BBC2’s The Hour, who makes me giggle like a fool when I watch him, and Jesse Williams on Grey’s Anatomy, a show which has me in its kung fu grip despite being a shadow of its former self. TV crushes are a simple pleasure to have – they come into your home on a weekly basis, a composite of the writers’ (and your) hopes and dreams, beamed directly into your heart. They can be short-lived, as it was for me with Jordan Catalano (“the way he leans...”), or as evidenced by my forever-love for Bruce Willis and all his works, long-lasting. Here’s how I know my David Addison crush is important: almost twenty years later, I have a thing for balding and/or bald guys. Now, I only studied psychology at A-Level, but I reckon that’s pretty influential. I wonder how that translates for the Twitter follower who noted his first telly crush as “the yellow Power Ranger, circa 1994”. Still, at least his crush was human. Consider my friend whose earliest love object was Dooby Duck: her therapy bill must be huge.

Bruce Willis as John McClane in the original Die Hard film. I mean, you would, wouldn't you?

Bim Adewunmi writes about race, feminism and popular culture. Her blog is  yorubagirldancing.com and you can find her on Twitter as @bimadew.

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The lute master and the siege of Aleppo

Luthier Ibrahim al-Sukkar's shop was bombed; when he moved, militants came for him. Over WhatsApp, he told me what's next.

Aleppo was once a city of music, but this year the 400,000 residents who inhabit its eastern suburbs can hear nothing but the roar of Russian warplanes, and ear-shattering blasts from the bombs they drop. To the north, west and south, the city is encircled by ground troops from the Syrian armed forces, Hezbollah and Iran. Most residents are afraid to flee, but soon, now that supply lines to the city have been cut off, many will begin to starve. We have reached the crescendo of Aleppo’s suffering in year five of the Syrian civil war.

One clear August morning in 2012, in the early weeks of the battle for the city, a man approached a street corner shop and found a hundred shattered lutes scattered across the floor. Ibrahim al-Sukkar, the engineer who had made the lutes (Arabs know the instrument as the oud), was overwhelmed. He wandered between the tables of his workshop and peered up at the sky, suddenly visible through holes in the roof. He wept on the floor, amid the dust and ash.

Some of the wooden shards that lay around him had been lutes commissioned by musicians in Europe and America. Others were to be used by students in Damascus and Amman. Each oud was built for a specific purpose. In every shard Ibrahim saw a piece of himself, a memory scattered and charred by government bombs. He packed his bags and headed for Idlib, a few hours to the west, where he set up shop a second time. A year later, his workshop was destroyed again, this time by Islamist militants.

It was at this point that Ibrahim came to a stark realisation – he was a target. If barrel bombs from government helicopters could not succeed in destroying him, the Islamists would. The cost of sourcing materials and getting goods to market had become unmanageable. The society that had inspired his desire to make musical instruments was now trying to lynch him for it.

The 11 string courses of an oud, when plucked, lend the air that passes through its bowl the sounds of Arabic modes known as maqamat. Each one evokes an emotion. Hijaz suggests loneliness and melancholy. Ajam elicits light-heartedness and cheer. An oud player’s competence is judged by his or her ability to improvise using these modes, modulating between them to manipulate the listener’s mood. The luthier, the architect of the oud system, must be equal parts artist and scientist.

This is how Ibrahim al-Sukkar views himself. He is a trained mechanical engineer, but before that he was a lover of classical Arabic music. As a young man in the Syrian countryside, he developed a talent for playing the oud but his mathematical mind demanded that he should study the mechanics behind the music. Long hours in the workshop taking instruments apart led him to spend 25 years putting them together. Ibrahim’s ouds are known for their solid construction and, thanks to his obsessive experimentation with acoustics, the unparalleled volume they produce.

Ibrahim and I recently spoke using WhatsApp messenger. Today, he is lying low in the village where he was born in Idlib province, close to the Turkish border. Every so often, when he can, he sends some of his equipment through to Turkey. It will wait there in storage until he, too, can make the crossing. I asked him if he still felt that his life was in danger. “All musicians and artists in Syria are in danger now, but it’s a sensitive topic,” he wrote, afraid to say more. “I expect to be in Turkey some time in February. God willing, we will speak then.”

Ibrahim’s crossing is now more perilous than ever. Residents of Idlib are watching the developing siege of Aleppo with a sense of foreboding. Government forces are primed to besiege Idlib next, now that the flow of traffic and supplies between Aleppo and the Turkish border has been intercepted. And yet, to Ibrahim, the reward – the next oud – is worth the risk.

I bought my first oud from a Tunisian student in London in autumn 2014. It is a humble, unobtrusive instrument, with a gentle, wheat-coloured soundboard covering a cavernous, almond-shaped bowl. Some ouds are decorated with rosettes, wooden discs carved with dazzling patterns of Islamic geometry. Others are inlaid with mother-of-pearl. My instrument, however, is far simpler in design, decorated only with a smattering of nicks and scratches inflicted by the nails of impatient players, and the creeping patina imprinted by the oils of their fingers on its neck.

My instructor once told me that this oud was “built to last for ever”. Only recently did I discover the sticker hidden inside the body which reads: “Made in 2006 by Engineer Ibrahim al-Sukkar, Aleppo.” 

This article first appeared in the 11 February 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The legacy of Europe's worst battle