Thursday, 31 May 2018

A Couple of 80s Week In, Week Out Documentaries from BBC Wales

Week In, Week Out was an investigative series produced by BBC Wales between 1963 - 2017. It may not be as well known as other current affairs programmes due to the fact that it was never networked and was only broadcast on BBC One Wales. The series was, due to my growing up at the opposite side of the country to Wales, completely unknown to me, but whilst digging about on YouTube I stumbled across a few episodes. And, in particular, two of them stood out as interesting slices of society and culture in the 1980s, so here they are:

1. AIDS / Haemophilia - 26/01/1988

Born with the blood clotting disorder haemophilia, Julian Miller's life had always been a struggle due to the limitations imposed by the condition. Internal haemorrhages and arthritis were commonplace for Julian, but by the age of 24 he had risen to boardroom level in the world of advertising and appeared to have a grip on his haemophilia. This was, in part, thanks to his usage of the medicated form of Factor VIII, an essential blood clotting protein. However, due to vast batches of Factor VIII becoming contaminated by donors with HIV, Julian was diagnosed with HIV in October 1984.

Noreen Bray presents this edition of Week In, Week Out and delivers a documentary which strives to cut through the ignorance of AIDS hysteria and give the disease a human face. Julian's ordeal is particularly tragic due to the manner of his infection, echoing the sincere sympathies afforded to those infected through blood transfusions. All HIV infections, of course, are tragic in their own right and I certainly don't mean to reduce them, but when these infections happen through the avenue of healthcare they're particularly galling.

There's an honesty and bravery to Julian's story which is incredibly admirable in an age, before anti-retroviral treatment, when AIDS was nothing less than a death sentence. Although initially ruling out the concept of a relationship with a woman, he reveals how, over time, he has realised it's a possibility and the only thing stopping him is himself. Clearly determined to fight the disease on several fronts, Julian's decision to go so publicly with his HIV status helps to raise the profile of the disease. Crucially, he also helps to drive a campaign which leads to the British government donating £10 million to The Haemophiliac Society.

Sadly, Julian passed away due to AIDS related complications in 1991, but his contribution to fighting the disease cannot be underestimated and this documentary acts as a heartfelt reminder of his work.

2. Steve Strange - 1984

You probably don't know who Steven Harrington of Newbridge, Wales is, but you should know who Steve Strange of the Blitz club and Visage is. And, guess what, they're only one and the same person. Yes, the otherworldly figurehead of the early 80s New Romantic movement was, in fact, just an ordinary guy from a small town in South Wales. Ordinary may not be an entirely accurate description, though, as this Week In, Week Out documentary on Strange reveals that he was the first punk rocker in Newbridge. And the first person at his school to dye their hair orange.

Directed by Mark Killick, this short film traces Strange's route from orange haired punk rocker in Newbridge right up to his ownership of the Camden Palace in 1984. Starting with a trip down memory lane in Newbridge, Strange revisits the remains of his now demolished school and pops round to his mum's house to discuss how and why he broke out of Newbridge. The documentary pays significant attention to his position as a trendsetter in the world of fashion and this point is exemplified by a trip to his hat-maker, Stephen Jones. Visage, of course, are also touched upon and, in particular, Strange's love of making music videos which he considers to be mini films.

If you're a fan of early 80s music then you're in for a treat with this edition of Week In, Week Out. What's most evident from the piece is that Strange was determined to escape the mundanity of every day life typified by Newbridge. He wanted glamour and fantasy and found this in London. Later, of course, he would become the dispenser of such escapism through clubs such as Blitz and the Camden Palace and his music. Blitz is fairly glossed over here, aside from a quick 1981 interview featuring a magnificently dandified Strange, and, instead, the film concentrates on the Camden Palace. With Europe's largest video-screen at its disposal and an equally stunning light show, it appears to be a phenomenal night out.

We don't learn too much about Strange as a man and there was certainly plenty happening in his life at the time which is left untouched. Visage were, by this point, coming to the end of a lengthy contract battle which had left them unable to release music since 1982 and Strange had now developed a nasty heroin habit. Nonetheless, it's an intriguing look at Strange's life as it reached its 80s peak and the fashion on offer is a nice reminder of a more experimental era for British culture.

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