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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Is our obsession with class propping up the powerful?

Lynsey Hanley’s memoir Respectable: the Experience of Class attacks the sharp-elbowed bourgeoisie – but society will only be transformed by building coalitions between the middle and working classes.

Class is no longer banished from mainstream discussion, but it remains an uncomfortable topic for most mainstream media. The background to this is straightforward. The media all too often discriminate on the basis of parental wealth rather than talent: from unpaid internships to expensive postgraduate journalism qualifications, the routes into the industry are difficult to traverse without parents able to offer financial support. But most of us want to believe that our successes are personal achievements: that if we do well, it is because of our own ability, intelligence and determination. To realise that actually, you have queue-jumped, in effect, because of your parents’ bank balance: well, that would provoke insecurity and defensiveness. And so journalists and columnists are often disinclined to understand why society is stacked in the interests of some, but not others. Even raising the issue of class is felt as a personal attack.

That is one reason Lynsey Hanley is such a crucial voice. When she writes about class, she is writing about lived experience. Her new book, Respectable – the belated follow-up to her seminal Estates, published in 2007 – is a powerful investigation into the psychological impact, and cost, of shifting from class to class. She compares it to “emigrating from one side of the world, where you have to rescind your old passport, learn a new language and make gargantuan efforts if you are not to lose touch completely with the people and habits of your old life”. The case study? Hanley herself. The Personal Is Political would be as appropriate a subtitle for this book as any other.

Respectable compellingly (if sometimes erratically) weaves autobiography with academic research. Hanley grew up on a council estate in Chelmsley Wood, a 1960s ­new-build area of Solihull, in the West Midlands, a few miles from Birmingham. Her childhood, she says, would once have been labelled “respectable working class”: far removed from middle class but not “quite classically working class either” – rather, “foreman class” or “skilled tradesman class”. It feels wrong to infringe on Hanley’s right to self-define, but she does seem to have a very restrictive view of what being working class entails, so much so, that she isn’t entirely convinced she belongs. There has long been a clash between those who define class as a cultural identity and those who believe it has more to do with economic relationships (and those who think it is a combination of the two).

At Hanley’s school, “people didn’t do A-levels”. The high achievers ended up at the gas board or the Rover works and the word “university” evoked “something as distant as Mars”. Her school had 600 unfilled places, “effectively . . . abandoned by the community as much as by the local authority and by central government”. Hanley has always felt like an outsider: she struggled to make friends, found the limits of what was expected of someone from her background suffocating, and when – against the odds – she made it to sixth form, it seemed “one minute I was struggling for air, the next I felt as though I’d entered a large bubble of pure oxygen”. She looks to academics to help explain experiences she found difficult to navigate at the time. Her sense of isolation, for instance, can be illuminated by the sociologist Angela McRobbie’s exploration of “the ‘hermetically sealed’ nature of working-class culture in Birmingham”. The Uses of Literacy, Richard Hoggart’s 1957 classic, is her Bible; she feels he “could have been writing about my own childhood”.

Aged 17, Hanley was juggling five ­A-levels with four jobs: working at Greggs, selling Avon products, delivering newspapers and “making cakes and chocolates and selling them door to door”. But she became a professional journalist. When she was a teenager she visited Aldi to buy margarine and glacé cherries; now she comes back with “cold-pressed rapeseed oil and Pinot Noir”. She says “lunch” where she used to say “dinner”.

This is a well-crafted book full of insights. Hanley is determined to challenge the assumptions of left and right. She refers to socio-linguists such as Basil Bernstein, who examined how middle-class forms of communication were given preference over working-class expression but not because they were innately superior. Those who made the leap from working class to middle class found themselves assimilated by the new world. Many found it increasingly difficult to relate to the world they grew up in, and the people they grew up with.

Hanley thinks the approaches of both left and right to social mobility are problematic. Whereas the right uncritically worships the idea of “social mobility” – of parachuting the “lucky few” into the middle class without challenging the structure of society – the left, she says, believes that “social justice and social mobility are mutually exclusive”. In other words, she is questioning that old socialist maxim: “Rise with your class, not above it.”

Hanley assails those – including me – who place support for populist anti-immigration movements in a broader social context. She believes that we are downplaying the extent of racism in working-class communities, reducing it to fears over housing and jobs. We are robbing people of agency by letting individuals off the hook for their prejudices, she argues, stressing the casual racism she encountered on a daily basis. Disturbingly, she found that racism was often seen as a “sign of respectability”. She remembers sentiments along the lines of “Only common people hang out with darkies” and so on. My parents met through the Trotskyist movement; my father eventually became a white-collar local authority worker, my mother an IT lecturer at Salford University, and I was always by far the most middle-class of my friends. I’m not going to wish away the casual racism I encountered growing up in Stockport (and I’m white), but I’m not sure I’m entirely convinced by Hanley’s argument. Why is there an anti-immigration party with mass support now, yet there wasn’t one in the 1950s, when bigotry was far more open and widespread? Surely something has changed, and rising job, housing and general economic insecurity have had a role to play? And will a strategy of criticising people for voting Ukip – or even for the far right – win them over?

My main problem with Hanley’s book is this. Those of us who want to transform society so that it is not run as a racket for a tiny elite need to build a broad coalition. I’m a political activist who writes; Hanley is someone writing about reality as she has lived it. But her book surely challenges attempts to build unity between the working and middle classes. She writes of how middle-class people both hog and deny their “social and cultural capital”, and believes that those who argue in favour of a “99 Per Cent” under attack by an elite help entrench middle-class privilege. The middle classes pretend they have the same interests as the working class, while using their sharp elbows to keep them down.

I wonder if there is a third way. Abolish unpaid internships; introduce scholarships; invest in education at an early age; automatically enrol the brightest working-class young people into top universities; deal with social crises, such as the lack of affordable housing, which help destroy opportunity for the less privileged; have a proper living wage. And so on. But if those who believe in social justice fail to build a coalition of supermarket worker and schoolteacher, cleaner and junior doctor, factory worker and university lecturer . . . well, we will fail. From the low-paid against the unemployed, to private-sector against public-sector worker, to indigene against immigrant, there are enough divisions exploited by the powerful as it is.

Nonetheless, Respectable is of vital importance: a searing indictment of a chronically unjust society in which our opportunities are granted or denied from the earliest of ages. The book may not offer clear prescriptions, but it is incumbent on all of us to fight for a just and equal society – one that currently does not exist. 

Owen Jones’s Chavs: the Demonisation of the Working Class is newly republished in paperback by Verso

Respectable: The Experience of Class by Lynsey Hanley is published by Allen Lane (240pp, £16.99)

Owen Jones is a left-wing columnist, author and commentator. He is a contributing writer to the New Statesman and writes a weekly column for the Guardian. He has published two books, Chavs: the Demonisation of the Working Class and The Establishment and How They Get Away With It.

This article first appeared in the 28 April 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The new fascism