Bowie at the BBC

bowie at the bbc

“I screw up in major ways. I’d much prefer to have a magnificent disaster than mediocre success.”

The above quote is one of many memorable Bowie titbits that stayed with me after viewing Bowie at the BBC, an insightful collage of BBC archive footage showcasing an almost eerie summary of David Bowie’s 50-year career. This collection of interviews, news stories, live footage and behind-the-scenes video provides a brief glimpse into the life of an extraordinary man. The additional clips of early music videos such as the original version of “Space Oddity”, “Oh! You Pretty Things” and “Starman” are sure to provide nostalgia to the old and wonder to the youth. Suffice it to say that I found this programme a tad emotional.

The show gives us some insight into Bowie’s eclectic style- citing early influences such as Little Richard, The Rolling Stones and Elvis amongst others. We get to hear him speak about his vulnerability as an artist – using characters such as the infamous Ziggy Stardust to play a character on stage rather than risk simply being himself. The show reveals how Bowie’s characterisation, image and acting were just as thought out as the music.

The clips showing Bowie on the verge of fame are probably the most intriguing of all. Seeing footage from the inception of the Ziggy Stardust explosion is an almost humbling experience – you feel as though you are watching a man pitch a strange idea to a room of bemused businessmen whilst wearing five pounds of blush. Little does this man know the history he is making.

The programme is not without a sense of fun, though. Bowie’s famously cheeky one-liners mixed with comical backstage footage makes for some light-hearted sequences. Perhaps the most memorable to me was Ziggy sprinting out of a just-finished concert and into a getaway car, in an attempt to avoid the massive fanfare that had quickly gathered outside. The BBC’s 1970s conservative-leaning news presenters also made me chuckle with their pointed questions, condescending tone and overall sense of “who the hell is this freak?” in their Bowie Newsnight interviews. Ahh, banter.

Films clips from Labyrinth and Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence remind us of Bowie’s often glossed-over acting career, and footage from a 1980 Broadway production of The Elephant Man sees Bowie acting in its titular role. I didn’t even realise that he had had a stage career! Perhaps I’m just young and naïve. A few years ago I was watching The Prestige when I opined that the man playing Nikola Tesla had “funny eyes”. I later realised it was David Bowie. I was not aware at that point that he had any kind of acting career at all. So yes… I must just be young and naïve.

Bowie at the BBC is a compilation of 50 years-worth of material condensed down into less than an hour. It’s jam-packed with great tunes (obviously) and poignant moments from the man himself. Be sure to bring a few tissues.