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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Why Richard T Kelly's The Knives is such a painful read

It is well known that Stendhal compared politics in a novel to a gunshot in the middle of a concert  this novel of modern British politcs is more like a mirror being shot at.

It is well known that Stendhal compared politics in a novel to a gunshot in the middle of a concert: a noise harsh but not dynamic, and with no resemblance to any instrument in the orchestra. What is often forgotten is that his enduring soundbite started life on the losing side of an argument. In The Red and the Black, Stendhal says that he is tempted to present a page of dots rather than subject the reader to an interlude of dreadful speechifying. His fictional publisher replies by asking him to square that with his earlier description of a novel as “a mirror going along a main road”. If your characters don’t talk politics, the publisher concludes – in a scene that does some damage in its own right to Stendhal’s realist aspirations – then your novel will fail to provide an honest reflection of Frenchmen in the year 1830.

Richard T Kelly’s new novel bets everything on this position. Kelly wants to show that a political novel – even one with characters who give political speeches and conduct discussions about policy – doesn’t need to be an ear-bashing polemic or a scuzzy piece of genre writing, but can succeed as a work of realism no less than the story of a provincial dentist’s mid-life crisis, or an extended family crumbling at Christmas.

Kelly is more a descendant of Trollope and Dickens than of Stendhal. His first novel, Crusaders (2008), a consciously neo-Victorian portrait of Newcastle in the 1990s, featured a Labour MP, Martin Pallister. The Knives is a sequel of sorts – a long, dense novel about a Conservative home secretary (Pallister is his shadow) which arrives at a moment when we are thinking about domestic politics, political process, Westminster bartering and backstabbing, and the role of the home secretary.

Kelly begins with a note explaining that The Knives is “a work of fiction . . . make-believe”, and it is true that any resemblance between David Blaylock and the real-life recent occupant of his post is scuppered in the prologue – a long gun battle in the Bosnian countryside with virtually no resemblance to Theresa May’s tenure at the Association for Payment Clearing Services. Yet the novel contains plenty of allusive nudging. Kelly’s member for Teesside may not be standing in for the member for Maidenhead, but a prime minister who is “primus inter pares” of a group of “university contemporaries and schoolmates” rings some bells. There are also borrowings from Robert Peel and Tony Blair, as well as a quotation from Trollope and a discussion of Coriolanus (“He wouldn’t last five minutes”).

As the novel begins, Blaylock is widely respected, has even been named Politician of the Year, but he is also surrounded by possible pitfalls: the presence in Britain of foreign nationals with charge sheets, the proliferation of radical Muslim clerics, the debate over ID cards, mounting questions over his record on unemployment, immigration, human rights. There is also an ex-wife whose work as a barrister converges on Home Office business. The Knives is a full-bodied account of Blaylock’s day-to-day business, in which the relationship between journalism and realism, research and description, is generally fruitful. Kelly’s mirror travels through meeting halls and community centres, down “the plum carpet of the long corridor to the cabinet anteroom”. The problem is that Kelly is too effective – too diligent – and the book is detailed to a fault, at times to the point of mania.

His habits in general tend towards overkill. As well as his note to the reader, he introduces the book with a trio of epigraphs (Joseph Conrad, Norman Mailer, Norman Lewis) and a not-inviting list of dramatis personae – 60 names over two and a half pages, in some cases with their ages and nicknames. Virtually all of these figures are then described fully in the novel proper. One character is compared to a thinker, a dancer, a Roman and a pallbearer in the space of a single paragraph.

Stendhal took his publisher’s advice but did not ignore his own instincts: having accepted that politics might have a place in a realist novel set in Paris in 1830, he is careful to give us an extract from Julien’s 26 pages of minutes. Kelly gives us the minutes. But it isn’t only world-building that detains him. Early in the book, out jogging, Blaylock passes “a young blonde” who is “wand-like from behind”: yet only by virtue of “a conjuror’s trick – a stunning trompe l’oeil – for from the front she was bulgingly pregnant, to the point of capsizing”. Almost every sentence carries a couple of excess words.

In Kelly’s universe, hubbubs emanate and autumn insinuates and people get irked by periodic postal admonishments. At one point, we read: “The likelihood that they worsened the purported grievances of said enemy was not a matter one could afford to countenance.” In a dinner scene, “brisket” is served by the “briskest” of waiters. There are tautological similes, dangling modifiers (“A vicar’s daughter, Geraldine’s manner was impeccable”), truisms (“The law was complex”), fiddly phrases (“such as it was”, “all things considered”), Latin tags and derivations, and every conceivable shade of adverb. When Kelly’s phrasing reaches for the mock-heroic, it often comes back to Earth with too great a thud: “Blaylock, tired of the joust, accepted the black ring-binder.” All this verbiage obscures the novel’s function of bringing the news – or rather, the truth behind the news – and the cumulative effect is grating, even painful, like a mirror being shot at.

Leo Robson is the New Statesman’s lead fiction critic

The Knives by Richard T Kelly is published by Faber & Faber (475pp, £12.99)

Leo Robson is the lead fiction reviewer for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 18 August 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Corbyn’s revenge