‘The thing that the Americans couldn’t appreciate was the casualness of it all. They would object to the nudity, and the dope-smoking, because it was done in such an everyday way,
and usually with some humorous intent.’
Armistead Maupin’s San Francisco chronicles Tales Of The City arrive on Channel 4, with the 703 period feel high on its list of priorities. Tom Lappin gasps in disbelief at Mrs Madrigal’s kitchen.
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he camera pans across a kitchen decorated in avocado and a nasty shade of burnt yellow. Peeking through into a reception room, it lingers on a couple of marble-effect statues. Indian silk fringes. curtains and lampshades. and a large hippy-print tapestry spelling out the word ‘FREE’. before coming to rest on the funky coffee table where a bowl contains enough tightly-rolled joints to do justice to any Rastafarian fantasy. As Loyd Grossman might say, ‘what kind of person lives here . . .‘?’
The phrase ‘period drama’ inevitably conjures up Sunday tea-time BBC Dickens adaptations with preposterous whiskers and crippling wardrobe budgets. Channel 4’s Tales Of The City aims to give the genre a new meaning, with a lovingly constructed re-creation of the kitsch, celebratory lushness of mid-70s San Francisco. From the pumping disco soundtrack, through the wing-collared satin shirts to the language (‘you’re too much, bahycakes’) the taste- challenged decade is all present and correct in every polyester. macrobiotic. jasmine candied tacky detail.
Which is how it should be, for Armistead Maupin’s chronicles of San Francisco twentysomething romance and neurosis have an energy. innocence and charm that is very much of its time. In the pre-AIDS, mid 70s, Maupin’s stories, originally written as a daily column for the San Francisco Chronicle, told of the clubs. bath-houses, drugs and casual promiscuity and provided witty reportage ofthe swinging scenes. both gay and hetero, played out in the shadow of the Golden Gate.
Seventeen years on, it looks like ancient history. not merely because of the blatant breaches of sartorial taste and the nostalgia-fest soundtrack (‘Couldn’t you just die for the Captain and Tennille‘?’ asks one character, rhetorically). but precisely because of those loose sexual mores. the sheer MDA-enhanced joie de vivre of the nightly hunt for a partner.
‘At the time, life was about as perfect as it can
possibly get —- for me at least, ’ recalls the
writer who, in the last decade. has:
mellowed between Ronnie Barker and Howard Keel. He’s a man for whom
into an amiable cross?
the grin and the snappy little slice 1 of repartee are second nature. ‘lt
was a very liberating time.’ he
continues, ‘full of joy and self- 3
discovery and overwhelming relief for having figured out a way to run my life.’
It’s a sensation Maupin believes
has been recaptured by the TV i series, produced for Channel 4 by independents Working Title (the company behind My Beautiful Laundrette and Wish You Were Here) and directed by Scot Alastair Reid with a fidelity to the original text that is accurate to the point of outlandish. ‘lt was i nothing for him to shoot 40 naked men jogging on the beach with
their willies flapping in the breeze,’ says Maupin, clearly impressed.
The six-hour adaptation of the ﬁrst Tales Of The City book (there are five others in the series) was