TV Preview: Voices of the past

By Nick Grant

A documentary talking to 60s entertainers then and now fascinates Nick Grant.

Entertainer Cilla Black was interviewed in the 60s and re-interviewed 40 years later.
Entertainer Cilla Black was interviewed in the 60s and re-interviewed 40 years later.

Prime appears to be on a bit of a roll with its factual programming: last Sunday it launched the excellent four-part Making New Zealand; this week a trio of new(ish) non-fiction shows caught my eye, two of which are worth a look.

Sex Drugs and Rock 'n' Roll: The 60s Revealed is a three-episode subset of the well-established Prime Rocks music-related strand and, despite the tediously trite title, it offers enjoyable surprises and affecting moments among the stock footage of trippin' hippies and miniskirts in swinging 60s London.

What distinguishes the show is snippets from 100 hours of interviews the then-UK telly fixture Bernard Braden filmed with various leading lights of British music, fashion, pop culture, politics, film and TV in 1967 and 68. Braden intended to revisit those luminaries at four-year intervals to see how their perspectives had changed then package the combined material as a series called Now and Then.

But the follow-ups never happened and the initial interviews remained unsold and unseen for another 40 years, when they were used as the spine for this summing-up-the-60s series, with new interviews with the surviving subjects.

Much of the content is predictable -- "we thought we were changing the world" yada yada yada -- and there's a lot of repetition, but the shiny nuggets include watching the aged stars watching their younger selves (touching and funny) and getting a sense of the sheer magnetism of a young Tom Jones (revelatory). Best of all, though, are the interviews with The Monkees' Davy Jones who, young and old, is intelligently insightful.

Given its subject is the 60s, for the most part it doesn't matter the series was put together in 2008, except for the fact Jones' death in 2012 goes unacknowledged.

The same can't be said for Piers Morgan on Vegas, this week's entry in the ongoing True Stories strand. Squinting at the end credits reveals it was made four years ago, which pretty much renders pointless a show that pitches itself as an up-to-the-minute exposé of how Sin City is on the cusp of a brave new dawn or total disaster, thanks to the impact of the global financial crisis.

Add the fact that the word "unctuous" (oily, insincere, effusive) could have been coined to describe host Morgan and it's easy to advise giving this one-off a miss.

Much more satisfactory is King of Speed, a four-parter that examines the timeless appeal of cars and driving really, really fast. It is hosted by Brit actor Idris Elba, a reliably intense screen presence who I find especially entertaining in TV series Luther, in which he plays a troubled copper with a talent for catching the worst of the bad guys when he's not smashing up his office 'cos he's 'aving emotions. Here, he's on charismatic cruise control, channelling the boy racer within and having a ball doing so. Generally, I couldn't give a toss about cars but, with Elba as an enthusiastic guide, this is a ride I'm happy to take.

On Prime this week: Sex Drugs and Rock 'n' Roll: The 60s Revealed, Wednesday, 9.30pm; Idris Elba: King Of Speed, Thursday, 8.30pm; True Stories: Piers Morgan On Vegas, Friday, 9.30pm.

- Herald on Sunday

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