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TV review: AIDS: The Unheard Tapes, The Undeclared War, and Mick Jagger: My Life as a Rolling Stone

08 July 2022

BBC/Wall to Wall Media Ltd

AIDS: The Unheard Tapes (BBC2, Monday 27 June) is built around a collection of audiotapes of experiences of the disease

AIDS: The Unheard Tapes (BBC2, Monday 27 June) is built around a collection of audiotapes of experiences of the disease

THE departed spoke to us directly in AIDS: The Unheard Tapes (BBC2, Monday 27 June, 1/3), which is built around a collection of audiotapes made in the 1980s and ’90s by volunteers recording their experience of the disease.

They have been brought back to life in lovingly recreated settings of the period, lip-synched by actors. With commentary from survivors and doctors, it creates an extraordinarily direct testament. Homosexual acts had been decriminalised 15 years previously. Yet arrests for gross indecency had trebled, and prejudice and discrimination were still so virulent and widespread that most homosexual people lived double lives of denial. In a few centres, however — especially the club Heaven, beneath Charing Cross station — absolute hedonism reigned. These beacons of promiscuous liberty aped New York and Los Angeles.

Here, the rumours and realities of the new disease reported from the United States began to circulate. We heard the raw disbelief: how healthy and vigorous men could possibly descend so quickly into emaciation and death; how so many refused to believe that it could happen to them while they felt so fit and alive; how the shamefully tardy and reluctant government response (sounds familiar?) led Gay Switchboard and the Terrence Higgins Trust to set up campaigns promoting safer sex and unprejudiced information.

Concerned doctors initiated an admirable research project, studying 400 healthy gay young men to see whether a future pattern of infection and spread of the disease could be discerned. As soon as the virus was clinically identified, they checked again, with devastating results: every single one of them was infected; the “healthiness” was an illusion, and the period of incubation was far longer than appreciated.

This novel documentary celebrates individual voices, real people, and retrieves them from the slew of anonymous statistics and broad trends.

A different virus stalks the stylish new thriller The Undeclared War (Channel 4, 30 June, 1/6). It is 2024, and, as a student starts her internship at GCHQ, a devastating malware threatens to wipe out everything. Her brilliance lies in advanced computer skills, honed on virtual reality game-playing — two aspects of modern life so far beyond my personal comprehension as to leave most of the plot essentially unknowable. But surfing along on a tide of blind faith allowed me to enjoy a thoroughly traditional tale of underdog trouncing professionals, and old-fashioned personal emotions compromising high technology and international politics.

Did the 1960s fatally undermine Britain’s morals and society? Amazingly, the Establishment’s scourge, figurehead of provocation and revolution (now Sir Michael), is still playing, celebrated in Mick Jagger: My Life as a Rolling Stone (BBC2, 2 July). As the programme went out during the Petertide ordinations, I found myself musing about how his absolute mastery of whipping up an audience might translate to my own branch of showbiz. NB, new deacons and priests: Jagger’s outrageous onstage antics depend utterly on the strictest possible planning, practice, and discipline.

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