The barely alive Brian Donaldson finds that dead famous people are best shown in a bad light
What on earth could be funny about a man who slaughtered millions of people and influenced many a nutter in the post-cyanide years? Quite a lot, according to Jacques Peretti in his very fine Hitler: The Comedy Years (Channel 4, Thu 10 May, 11.05pm, 4 Stars). There’s the hair, moustache and slightly camp manner, which everyone from Mel Brooks to Father Ted used to poke fun at the Führer. Could it be that mocking the thing we fear the most helps us deal with true evil?
Tell that to the Kurds who were gassed by the ex-Iraqi dictator who became a joke figure to the West long before he was found in a mousehole near Tikrit. Saddam’s Tribe (Channel 4, Thu 10 May, 9pm, 3 Stars) seeks to show the years prior to his downfall from the point of view of daughter Raghad and while it’s shot in a very odd mid-70s armchair theatre kind of way, it is worth watching for the excellent performance of Daniel Mays as Uday, Saddam’s loose cannon of a son who overcame a speech impediment and inferiority complex by peppering anyone who looked at him funny with bullets.
Frank Sinatra was as contemptible of the world’s media as any mass murdering tyrant, and despite his ‘connections’ wasn’t quite in the position of having swathes of reporters bumped off. Sinatra Under Siege (ITV4, Tue 15 May, 9pm, 3 Stars) tells the tale of Ol’ Blue Eyes’ 1974 Australian tour when the country’s journalists (backed to the hilt by the massively powerful trade unions) took exception to being roughed up by his hoods before Cranky Frankie delivered a monologue about the media being full of ‘hookers and pimps’ in front of a stunned black tie audience in Melbourne. What happened next was an epic stand-off with Sinatra trapped in his hotel room, blackballed by the Aussie workforce and unable to get out of the country. After the crooner sought the help of dodgy pals like Henry Kissinger and Jimmy Hoffa, union boss and future PM Bob Hawke stepped in and got the grovelling apology his nation was after.
Time hasn’t been kind to the drama of Daphne Du Maurier’s life. These days, instances of a trouser-wearing woman with slicked-back hair neglecting her husband to fall in lesbian love with an American society dame are probably two a penny. With Geraldine Somerville in the title role, Daphne (BBC2, Sat 12 May, 9pm, 2 Stars) works better as the tale of a writer haunted by one massive success (Rebecca) looming over the rest of her career and fails horribly when it goes for lovelorn angst with appalling exchanges of dialogue such as: ‘I do so miss daddy’; ‘oh, just kiss me.’
Scout guru Robert Baden-Powell didn’t have any specific advice on what a young chap should do when dumped by his girl for another female, but I imagine the solution would have something to do with knots. He was obsessed with the things, and Scouting for Boys (his masterpiece which sounds suspiciously like a groomer’s charter) was riddled with unbelievably detailed sketches of everything from the Rosebud stopper to the Turks head. He wasn’t quite so keen on masturbation, though, which he felt blunted ambition and which gives cause to much giggling in Ian Hislop’s Scouting for Boys (BBC4, Mon 14 May, 9pm, 3 Stars). Entertaining up to a point, this sums up part of BBC4’s problem: too many 40-minute features being stretched to the hour mark. This one is the documentary equivalent of Paul Whitehouse’s gout-riddled incoherent QC in the Fast Show, as we hear yet more tales of BP’s derring-do during the Boer War: ‘Snake!! Snake!! I’m afraid that I was very, very drunk.’