When I was a callow youth (it was like the Hitler youth, only we used to worship an actor instead of a failed painter) in the 1970s, TV was still broadcasting variety shows.
One that I recall was ‘London Night Out’, which I seem to remember was on ITV on Wednesday nights. I’ve since heard it referred to as a variety show which was essentially built around the game show within it (Name That Tune), but regardless of whether or not that was the case, it did feature a – yes – variety of acts.
I remember they featured singers, the occasional comedian, and maybe some magicians now and then. The usual sort of thing. But one thing I distinctly recall is that frequently the revelation of the identity of the artist topping the bill came as a definite non-thrill to me. The dialogue chez myfolks would usually go something like this:
TV: And topping the bill tonight… Frankie Laine !
Parent: Frankie Laine.
Me: He’s not famous.
Other parent: Yes, he is. He’s been around for donkeys’ years.
Me: Well I’ve never heard of him.
Ah, the assurance of a 7-10 year old, convinced that if someone hasn’t strayed onto the radar of their awareness, it’s as if they don’t exist…
Anyway, all of this is a lengthy preamble before getting onto a more topical subject than TV shows of the late 1970s: the death of George Best.
As someone of a certain age with minimal-to-nil interest in football, the current hoo-hah about Best dying leaves me fairly unmoved; mainly, I think, because for as long as I can remember, George Best has been someone who USED to play football but was now more famous for drinking and generally living a bit of a laddish life (before that term had really been invented, or at least co-opted by marketing people). Whilst I’m led to believe that he was a very good player (albeit one who stopped pretty young), his talent never had any kind of impact on me as a spectator or supporter.
So his death strikes me with the same kind of impact as … well, the death of anyone else, really (you can insert your own Donne quote here): sad for the family and loved ones, but um well, that’s about all the emotional effect it has on me. Many other people died on Friday as well, but of course they didn’t get the same coverage, regardless of how much they’ll be missed and how much they enriched the lives of those they touched. Which is more than a little off, I think.
Though a part of me can’t help but wonder if some of the media get a certain amount of satisfaction – schadenfreude, as it were – from the events of Best’s life, as they tend to portray him as pretty much frittering away his talents, as they often claim about Peter Cook. And if you’re someone who doesn’t possess a natural ability to do something that impresses people, be it football or making people laugh or anything else, perhaps there is a certain (rather cold) comfort in recounting the unhappy or premature end of someone who had that ability in abundance.
Thankfully, though, that part of me’s outvoted by the part that’s optimistic about human nature.