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This review is from: The Life and Scandalous Times of John Nathan-Turner (Paperback)
Could this be one of the best television biographies ever written? I think possibly so. John Nathan-Turner was the producer of Dr Who throughout the turbulent 1980s, as the programme hit the high notes of Peter Davison's first year or so and then slowly limped to a death painful for all concerned. For years JN-T has shouldered the blame, but now at last another version of the truth can be told.
Ah, but if you're not a fan, what then? Is there anything here for you? Well, yes. All it takes to find this fascinating is a love of people, their flaws, their flair and an interest in television and particularly the massive cluster of badly-run amateur nonsense that was the BBC in the 1980s.
All the faces are there- Johnathon Powell (widely quoted, doing himself no favours) Michael Grade (as obnoxious as you'd expect), Peter Cregeen, the fans- Ian Levine, Gary Leigh, all of them praising or slating the man as the situation demands. There are chapters of knuckle-biting horror, as we follow a vulnerable tv producer on the slide to alcoholism and death, utterly shocking sexual stories that only shock us utterly because we live in a different age now and such things are frowned upon, all coming together into a sprawling document of JN-T's life.
It's well-written, gossipy at times, but maintains a decent, fair, distance that never paints the man as the monster others have claimed. Well, not really. The book eventually settles for showing us a picture of one of the most incredible, fascinating, complicated, vulnerable, predatory, monstrous, sweetest, most fabulous, loyal, demanding characters in television history. John Nathan-Turner's life did not have a happy ending- there's no valediction at the end, and he didn't live to see Dr Who back on the tv and loved. All the story lacks is a decent ending, as the one it has is so massively unfair to all concerned.
If JN-T had not existed, someone would have had to invent him- his character, as depicted here, was so larger than life, this book will have you roaring with laughter and swearing at the page, slapping your forehead and screaming "you IDIOT!" , while wincing at his evident self-destruction- all the while thanking him for giving us all that he did. And, of course, being grateful your paths never crossed in real life.