Tuesday, 26 March 2013

The Life and Scandalous Times of John Nathan-Turner

The release of the book 'The Life and Scandalous Times of John Nathan-Turner' is apparently going to put into print all the things that have been rumoured and more for everyone to read.  There are always 'behind the scenes stories' that have a voyeuristic appeal old and new.  Fandom is now so large and connected online that gossip spreads faster than ever.  Secrecy is the nature of the programme, mostly keeping spoilers underwraps and maintaining a rosy image of production that doesn't include Christopher Eccleston throwing his script on the floor and call it 'crap'.  I don't know if that's true, like all stories that do the rounds, but who cares?  If it was Aliens of London I don't blame him.

But Richard Marson's book takes it so much further, into territory rather too uncomfortable given all that has come out about Jimmy Savile in the last year.  Unlike that case, I think many fans will actually be surprised by the content of this book in this book.  I'm somewhat torn between having the supposed truth about someone written, and waiting until they are dead and unable to make any response before publishing it.  According to the Mirror article, Ian Levine has said that the book would “shock many people, things went on that were horrible, corrupt, too awful to discuss”.  If I cast my memory back a number of years to the Outpost Gallifrey forum, I distinctly remember Levine making comments about JNT and Gary Downie picking up young men at conventions, but even then they were both already dead, and it seemed a throwaway comment, kicking someone who couldn't respond, among his usual bile being vented.  Maybe there's a feeling here that it's okay for fans, or certain fans, to know the truth but not for it to be put in print for a mass audience.

That' said, the majority of this book sounds like it's fun but frank account of his life and time on the show.  Various comments by contributors are positive on the publishers website, the book hopefully isn't a hatchet job focused on his sex life.  If Andrew Pixley gives it the thumbs up I'm willing to give it a go.  It's distinctly not a book alleging that JNT was a paedophile, although JNT had a preference for young men and appears to have been quite persistent on that, Richard Marson is clear to say that it was more carefree than malicious when saying that JNT's attitude was ‘go with the flow, life is a party ... I’ll try it on and if somebody says yes, that’s up to them’.  His comments on Gary Downie are less ambiguous though, claiming to have been assaulted by him on a set visit.  There are many mentions of young men involved with JNT and Gary Downie being below the age of consent at the time, which technically makes it statutory rape I suppose but they wouldn't have been below the age of consent today it seems.  It's all a bit dubious given how forceful they could be in pursuing young men, although Marson also comments that "Although I did meet some people who felt that their treatment at the hands of John and Gary was inappropriate - it would not be true to say that I've found anyone willing to testify to coercion or abuse."  Though this seems a bit hard to reconcile completely with his own account of being pursued by Gary Downie, or the fact that they did appear to take advantage of their popular position on the programme to have sex with fans.

Some of the media coverage has a distinctly nasty edge having seized upon the juiciest details.  The Mirror in particular publishes a story about the 'Doctor Who Sex Scandal' with a picture of Colin Baker, although he's clearly only there to catch the attention of readers, he's got nothing to do with the article and is accused of no wrongdoing.  There's a particular focus on the fact that they were having sex with underage men, in retrospect with the age of consent changing this seems less significant but after Jimmy Savile, any sex scandal at the BBC is worth wringing out.  In another part of the Mirror article, there's a dubious juxtaposition of the following two paragraphs together reading...

"He also claims one wealthy fan, in exchange for visits to the studio and the occasional souvenir from the set, kept Nathan-Turner supplied with escorts.

In an interview last year, Doctor Who “superfan” Ian Levine, said the book’s contents would “shock many people, things went on that were horrible, corrupt, too awful to discuss”."

Now Ian Levine isn't the only rich fan around and I've heard a few supposedly more likely alternatives, but it still stinks.  There was extensive discussion during the Leveson inquiry over the way that papers don't say something but suggest it in underhanded ways, such as publishing a piece about a footballer with a super injunction across the page from a huge photo of Ryan Giggs attached to a story about something trivial.  How you legislate against that is beyond me, but it doesn't seem as though the press are changing.

The book is the book, and only when published will we be able to digest it and get the full story for a rounded picture.  I think though, that some are keen to use this against against the show and the BBC.  In the wake of the Jimmy Savile scandal and general hatred for the BBC from certain parts of the right wing press, there's never been a better time to attack.

Stay tuned...