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Sunday, 10 January 2016

Three Minute Heroes: some rude thoughts ...

Enjoy yourself ... it's a 1982 TV play about 2 Tone teenagers.

Yes, Three Minute Heroes, a BBC Play For Today directed by Michael Custance, is exactly that. A little romp about teenagers of an indeterminate age (15 going on 19) who hang around the centre of Coventry just after the city's ska revival heyday.

Cool times, no? Well, it's definitely ... interesting. You've got bickering teenage girls going on about who they "fancy", complaining about/admiring older lads with cars and - all rather woodenly - discussing their first sexual experiences ("anyway, school Monday", says one after talking about "finding out what it was like").

You've got the two lead characters - "Adrian", good-natured, slightly dreamy, one leg in a caliper; and "Billy", preternaturally street-wise, ironic, kind but disillusioned - who have a bromance with none-too-subtle homoerotic undertones.

And ... well, there are also any number of extra "types" thrown in (many dressed up as supposed "youth tribe" exemplars): a black boyfriend/girlfriend couple who drift about arguing, a rather vacant Hazel O'Connor lookalike, British Movement skins, punks, stiff and arrogant mods, a brothel creepers-wearing Ted, beery straights ... All of life is here, or at least what BBC playwrights trying to capture a youth "scene" probably thought of as a well-rounded representation of it.

Anyway, having just seen an apparently rare screening of a scratched, poor-quality BFI copy at Warwick University, I liked it. The story - essentially the new friendship between Adrian and Billy versus the less-accentuated romance between Adrian and a shy teen-girl admirer "Debbo" - is creaky but still quite touching. The pair develop a rapport through alienation (Adrian as a "crip", Billy as a mixed-race "2 Tone kid") and share a love of arch, self-conscious dialogue. The play ends with the two naked in a large indoor swimming pool at night, swooshing about in a rather lovely scene that filters in a kind of blue-black light. Amniotic fluid? Rebirth?

But hey, I probably wouldn't be writing this fascinating little blogged appraisal of Three Minute Heroes if it wasn't about 2 Tone (OK, I definitely wouldn't be). And so what about the music? Well it's relatively underplayed - the eponymous Selector song, The Specials' (Dawning Of A) New Era, Stereotype, Enjoy Yourself. That's about it. The big hits aren't used and that's probably all to the good - I reckon it would all re-play much less well if it was back-to-back Specials chart songs.

Also, the play uses two Fun Boy Three songs to good effect: The Lunatics (Have Taken Over The Asylum) (over a fantasy scene with zombie-ghost figures stumbling about in a dry-ice filled subway), and the FB3-Bananarama It Ain't What You Do cover, sounding extremely good, especially the heavy percussion of the intro. Both songs work well in the play but they're also there to signify the fact that 2 Tone is already over. At one point Billy, the never-quite-completely-sincere 2 Tone scenester, self-ironisingly tears at an old 2 Tone street poster, lamenting the fact it's part of the recent past while perhaps seeing the funny side as only a small corner of the poster comes off the billboard.


Yeah, in the end Three Minute Heroes is a play with pretensions toward seriousness, not a musical along the lines of the one (of the same name) recently staged in Coventry. (Thank god for that).

Custance's little drama is fascinating in the same way something like Horace Ové's Notting Hill-meets-Jamaica film Pressure is. It's a game attempt to create a believable drama, capture a scene, throw in some music and even elevate the whole thing with actual artistry. For me the best scene in Three Minute Heroes is the first of the two "fantasy musical" ones, where the characters suddenly transform into guests at a nightclub watching some high-kicking skinheads dancing to The Specials' excellent and under-appreciated (Dawning Of A) New Era. It's entertainingly surreal, with touches of A Clockwork Orange (Kubrick's masterpiece also probably filters through to some of the Coventry "concrete jungle" scenes, the city's multi-storey car park ramps and shopping precincts standing in for Kubrick's South Bank).

Dawning of a new era, indeed. Much-maligned Coventry looks good in the film, rebuilt after the blitz and - just about - managing to balance civic sobriety with demands to build shops and roads everywhere.

In New Era a particularly rabid-sounding Terry Hall fires out some ominous nonsense about walking a chicken factory worker girlfriend home through "Area 6". During my own teenage years nightclubbing in Coventry during this period I never got to go to Area 6. Where is it? Sounds frightening ...

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