Tuesday 19 March 2019

Prom space oddity hits a high note

It's such a delightfully silly idea, giving over a programme at the Proms to the music used in a much-loved BBC sci-fi series, and Doctor Who Prom had an irresistible charm.

Like having a fancy dress party for just nazis and clowns, or listening to an entire Enya album in rewind, you found yourself giggling at the very idea of it. But would it work, turning one of London's most cherished old venues into a Comic-Con centre for one night?

Absolutely. Especially if you're one of the many Doctor Who fans who have been allowed to come out of the closet -- or, should I say, phonebox? -- since the good Doctor made a spectacular comeback to primetime in 2005. Thanks to some fine writing from Russell T Davies (Queer As Folk), Terry Nation's 1965 creation has leaped through time and space to become a slice of nostalgia that's once again part of the cultural zeitgeist.


When it came to Prom 13 at the Royal Albert Hall last July, it wasn't just middle-aged men in overcoats and mile-long scarves who were cheering the orchestra on as they played Murray Gold's incidental music from the series. There were plenty of young 'uns too, happy to have found something their mums and dads love just as much as they do.

The BBC Philharmonic have no doubt had to grin and play popular classics before, but even they seemed to revel in the space oddity that they were being called upon to recreate. Hey, even the Daleks were inspired to down weapons for the events and join in these pipes of peace.

The fine RTE series Arts Lives dedicated an hour to the rousing life story of Jack Doyle in A Legend Lost, the Cobh-born boxing champ who dubbed himself 'The Gorgeous Gael'.

The Co Cork man, part Jake LaMotta, part Josef Locke, and more the Big Bad Wolf than Cinderella Man when it came to love, Doyle was born in 1913, quickly becoming a working-class hero who didn't take long to build up a reputation as a man handy with his fists.

After a spell serving with the Irish Guards in Wales, Doyle was soon competing in the British Army Championship, winning the title, and boasting a record of 28 straight victories. His celebrated strong hooks meant that all but one of those victories were won by a knockout.

It was drink that saw to Doyle's boxing career though, with his defeat to the British Heavyweight holder, Welshman Jack Petersen, the result, witnesses claim, of a heavy boozing bout leading up to the fight.

And that's when Doyle's life took a strange twist; John McCormack's tutor, Dr Vincent O'Brien, recognised a great voice and soon had the handsome ex-boxer selling out London's Palladium and the Royal in Dublin.

When drink just about drowned out that career, Doyle headed to America, where his wealth and good looks landed him several movie roles.

A man with an inbuilt self-destruction button, Doyle's years of drink saw him ending his days homeless in London, left unclaimed in a Westminster hospital until Cobh residents rallied together to have his body returned to his place of birth for a proper funeral.

It's the sort of life that you just couldn't make up, and manna for a documentary marker.

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