Professor Green: Suicide and Me review: 'suicide is too important to be pushed to the margins - so is this outstanding documentary'
I’M beginning to wonder if the cost-cutting decision to make BBC3 an online-only channel, which is due to take effect from next March, is such a good idea after all.
Downgrading a channel that seems to be filled most nights with repeats of Top Gear, EastEnders, Don’t Tell the Bride, Family Guy and Russell Howard’s Good News would certainly save a chunk of money that could be spent on more useful things. But that’s only part of the story.
Maybe a rethink is on the cards. Maybe it’s worth remembering that BBC3 has been responsible for some outstanding television in its lifetime.
It gave us Gavin & Stacey, as well as strikingly innovative dramas such as Being Human, The Fades, In the Flesh (best of all the zombie dramas, in my book), Torchwood and, most notably of all, last year’s Murdered by My Boyfriend, which left quite a few of BBC3’s detractors with egg on their faces when it picked up a BAFTA award.
There have been some fine documentaries too, including Our War (another BAFTA winner), My Brother the Islamist and the series Blood, Sweat and T-Shirts, which sent six fashion-loving 20-somethings to India to experience life for the sweatshop workers who produce high street garments.
That last series also produced arguably the first genuine BBC3 star: Stacey Dooley, whose intrepid reporting in her series Stacey Dooley Investigates has arguably done more to highlight young women at risk around the world than any mainstream current affairs series ever could.
There’s a lot there that’s worth saving, and we can add to the list last night’s Professor Green: Suicide and Me. Suicide is the biggest killer of men under the age of 45 in Britain. It accounts for nearly 5,000 male deaths a year, around four times that of women.
Hackney-born rapper Professor Green, aka Stephen Manderson, was 24 when his father Peter took his own life at the age of 43, seven years ago.
Manderson may be rich and famous these days, but his life, even before Peter’s suicide, was no bed of roses. His parents broke up when he was just a year old, leaving him to be raised by his grandmother. His mother ceased to be a presence in his life altogether, while he saw Peter — who was in a new relationship and became stepfather to two children — only occasionally. A year-and-a-half could go by between visits.
The last time Manderson saw Peter in the flesh was at his own 18th birthday party. The last time they spoke, by phone, was 18 months before Peter’s death. It wasn’t a happy conversation. Manderson said the last words he said to his father, who seemed reluctant for the two of them to meet up for a quiet talk, were “F**k off”.
“He was the parent I favoured,” said Manderson, “and for whatever reasons, he chose to leave me, which was horrible.”
Absent father or not, Peter’s death has haunted and coloured Manderson’s life and work (the suicide crops up in several of his songs) ever since.
“I’ve been tainted by his loss,” he said. “I’m not sure if it’s possible to ever really come to terms with my dad’s suicide.”
The film was largely a quest to come to terms with it, to find out what might have driven Peter to do what he did, as well as a wider investigation into male suicide. Manderson talked to various experts and met a rugby coach who’d twice tried to kill himself and still struggles at his lowest to fight the impulse.
He spoke to a family that has channelled the aching grief and confusion at the death of its youngest son into a campaign to raise awareness.
But the most powerful moments — often unbearably painful ones for Manderson and emotional ones for the viewer — came when he was talking to family members.
He was surprised to find out from his doting grandmother — Nana Pat, who calls his music “talking songs” but goes to many of his concerts and has become known to his fans — that Peter used to pick him up from school.
“We look happy,” he said, flicking through photographs of the two of them he’d never seen before, and then breaking down in tears.
He learned even more from his father’s sister Debbie: not least that Peter’s life had been as much blighted by pain and tragedy as his own. Their mother walked out on them when Debbie was six and Peter merely a baby. With no father around to look after them or their four siblings, Peter spent his formative years being shunted between a variety of care and foster homes.
Two years before Peter took his life, one of his sisters took her own life also. A year later, he lost another sibling to cancer. Everyone agreed that Peter was a man who kept his feelings bottled up — a recognised contributing factor to the suicides of middle-aged men.
There was a cruel irony here. Debbie revealed that, in the days before he killed himself, Peter had decided to contact the mental health charity Mind. “He walked out, but instead of turning right, he turned left.”
The issue of suicide is too important to be pushed to the margins. So is this outstanding documentary.