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ColumnsMarch 19, 2015

Throwback Thursday: “The name of our band is Manslaughter”

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This Throwback Thursday, Calum Henderson discusses In Bed With Chris Needham, a self-shot teenage cult classic from the BBC.

It starts with a pale, spotty youth, shifting from foot to foot, hanging on the telephone. His astonishing barnet is the cumulative result of not just one but a prolonged series of bad haircuts. “I’m not sure how you’re going to take this,” he warns the music store on the other end of the line. “At present I’m putting a band together, right…”

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In 1992 the BBC premiered a proto-reality TV series called Teenage Video Diaries, giving real life British teenagers camera equipment and near total editorial control over what they filmed. The net result of this experiment was one perfect, undying cult classic: In Bed With Chris Needham.

17-year-old Chris Needham has the same manner of speaking, the same kind of verbose, manic charisma, as Russell Brand. But where Brand’s persona is all “Two words: Noam Chomsky”, the two words Needham lives by are: speed metal.

“Speed metal is just some of the most finest fantastic musicianship you’ll ever hear,” he marvels in one of his many bedroom soliloquies. “I mean, to play an instrument that fast.” Cut to: the most lumbering, inept performance of the ‘Smoke On The Water’ riff ever captured on film. The editing is everything in a show like this. Needham and his production team (ie his mates) provide the editors with some sensational alley-oops, and they obligingly tomahawk dunk each one.

The problem with Manslaughter (such an impossibly good band name) is, he explains on the phone, “our bassist doesn’t have a bass, and our drummer doesn’t have a drum kit.” Nor does any of them have any idea how to play their instruments. “It just doesn’t seem to me like this band is coming together,” he muses after their second practice.

So much ground is covered in the 40-odd minutes between his phone call trying to solicit a bass and the band’s first, possibly only, live performance. It’s an entire VH1 Behind The Music, on the smallest scale possible.

At one stage a curtain-haired boy in a rugby jersey, possessing what is described as “a high degree of musical talent” (he can sort of play the ‘Sweet Child O Mine’ riff), joins and callously kicks out the incumbent bassist. The pressures of juggling school and band life take their toll on Needham. He recalls in stark detail a dream containing a premonition of his own death.

But the trials and tribulations of Manslaughter are only one part of the show. We also go on a tour of the grim local shops (“All commercialised”), go fishing on a canal, meet his nan (“A bit cantankerous, but she’s a good nan”), sit in punishingly awkward silence with his girlfriend, and hear his impassioned sermons on all manner of topics (Youth, the Green movement, Neighbours etc).

In three quarters of an hour In Bed With Chris Needham nails teenage ennui more accurately and succinctly than just about any of the innumerable youth-centric TV series’ before or since. And it does so while being consistently – as in almost every scene, every line – incredibly funny.

Keep going!