What’s The Matter With Tony Slattery?
The Big Flower Fight
This week a new Netflix show that mercilessly plunders the Bake Off/Sewing Bee format, and a documentary on the comedian Tony Slattery, who was ubiquitous in the late 1980s and early 1990s before suddenly disappearing from view. And while I’m already forgetting the first – I’m even forgetting it while I’m trying to remember it, like a dream – the second is not going to go anywhere for a long time.
Tony Slattery today. Once a big comedy star, he now lives in a rented two-up, two-down in Edgware
It was riveting, haunting TV, even if you did wonder whether TV was the place for it (she says, pompously). Slattery isn’t someone I ever warmed to for some reason, but you couldn’t help but warm to him here, particularly when he made a revelation from his childhood as a single tear rolled down his face, and you saw how vulnerable he has always been. Yet while it was sad (very), it was also wrapped up in the most wonderful love story. So, thankfully, you could take that away with you too.
What’s The Matter With Tony Slattery? did not, perhaps, get to the actual bottom of what is the matter with Tony Slattery, but we were able to understand some of what happened. Once a big comedy star, he now lives in a rented two-up, two-down in Edgware and, once so handsome, I think it’s fair to say he is unrecognisable today. He recalled his first breakdown while, at the height of his fame, he was living in a luxury warehouse overlooking the Thames and threw all his electrical goods in the river because he was convinced they were spying on him.
He took drugs. He drank. He has, we were told, been in rehab three times, but the last time he tried to give up alcohol he went cold turkey and had a seizure that may have led to some ‘brain damage’ – he often struggled to get his words out – and which makes him fearful of trying again.
He has always, he said, had a predisposition to ‘mood swings’ and ‘depression’ and ‘anger’ and ‘rage’ and perhaps, thinking about it now, was it the anger and rage that made him quite hard to like? Did we always sense it was there? Beneath the ‘light entertainment’ veneer? Whatever, he has never had a diagnosis (could he be bipolar, could it be a suppressed childhood trauma?) so the programme put him in front of all the right people – a psychiatrist, an addiction specialist, a childhood trauma expert – to ascertain the best way he might be helped. If he can be.
And throughout there was Mark. And still there is Mark. That is, Mark Hutchinson, his partner of 34 years. Mark never knows who he is going to come home to. ‘Will it be the vodka Tony or the cocaine Tony or the paranoid Tony?’ But he is lovely and kind and has never left. ‘I love him and would describe myself as an optimist. If I wasn’t, I would sink as well, and I can’t sink as I have to keep him afloat,’ he said. Mark often wishes Tony would do some of the hoovering or washing up, but mostly he just wants Tony to stop suffering.
Tony Slattery at the height of his 1980s fame. Once so handsome, I think it’s fair to say he is unrecognisable today
It was Mark who urged Tony to reveal that he had been sexually abused by a priest when he was eight. Tony felt this could not be the source of his problems even as that tear rolled down his face. It doesn’t explain everything, said the expert, but it is important. (I was curious about Tony’s childhood generally, but there was nothing else on that, which seemed like an omission.) As we left it, Tony still didn’t have a diagnosis, had failed to fill in the mood diary he was meant to be keeping and was still drinking but had ‘cut down’. Have you, he was asked, done any hoovering lately? ‘It’s an ambition,’ he chuckled. Go on, Tony. Do it for Mark.
Now on to The Big Flower Fight, which is highly forgettable. And probably best forgotten. The deal is: ten pairs of contestants compete to make giant floral sculptures. Seriously, who even knew this was a thing? And who in their right mind would aspire to do this? You sometimes see similar things outside town halls during ‘Bournemouth In Bloom’ week or whatnot, but even then they are hideous. (No flower has ever been wrenched from the earth for a lesser cause, to my mind.)
Here, even the programme itself couldn’t be bothered half the time. It was ‘insect week’, yet when one pair made a snail no one pulled them up on it. (Can you imagine anyone on Bake Off getting away with making bread during pastry week, say?) Also, the contestants aren’t evenly matched and a pair of established landscape artists are pitted against a pair who have only just finished studying floristry at college. How is that fair?
Meanwhile, the two presenters, Vic Reeves and Natasia Demetriou, came and went so quickly it was as if they didn’t want to be there, which probably they didn’t. In short, there was only one show to watch this week. And this wasn’t it.