She single-handedly invented wimple-rock, and died in a sordid drink ’n’ drugs overdose pact twelve years later, but who exactly was the Singing Nun? Tom Lappin hears the truth from Channel 4’s man on the case Peter Stuart.
The annals of rock ‘n‘ roll history contain many a tale ofexcess and tragedy. from Roy Orbison's chronic myopia. through Elvis‘s cheesedog habit to the unnatural carnal appetites of the piano-bashing granny from Lieutenant Pigeon. All these. however. pale into insignificance when compared to the astonishing story of Jeanine Deckers. the Singing Nun who rocked the world, only to die in obscurity.
Channel 4 Arts chief Waldemar Januscak believes .the time is right to reveal the full grisly story and commissioned producer Peter Stuart (‘It had the right mix of French history and sordidness that he usually expects from me.’) to tell all in a Without Walls special. Kicking The Habit.
‘I like to think of her as the patron saint ofthe one- hit wonders.‘ he says of Jeanine. who hit number one worldwide with ‘Dominique' in I962. ‘Ifyou had one classic one-hit wonder story this would be it. It has all the elements. They even made a ﬁlm of her
Hun finer: Jeanine Deckers
life in I966 starring Debbie Reynolds. Few one-hit wonders had that.‘
Stuart sees K ir‘king The Habit as a very 60s story of innocence transformed by popular culture. ‘This idea oftrying to survive in the real world. when you've led this sheltered existence as a nun. is very Swinging 6()s.' he says. ‘It encapsulates the big themes of that decade. being given these freedoms for the first time. the temptations they offer. and the fact that it all ends in tragedy. all quintessential 60s stuff. She’s out there buying a mini-skirt. renting an apartment. living with another woman. men are making advances at her. Things that were risque certainly for someone who still considered herself a practising nun. Admittedly her idea ofexcess was
going to see a Godard film. but that was pretty heady stuff ifyou‘d spent all your adult life in a convent.‘ Sadly. she was never to emulate the success of ‘l)ominique‘. Seemingly the kids had had enough of the nun thing and moved on to other attractions like a certain Liverpudlian beat quartet. ‘She went as high and burnt as bright as any one-hit wonder ever has.‘ enthuses Stuart with the fervour of a born-again Nunophile. ‘and she sank as low. She attempted
many. many comebacks. but they never succeeded. In I980 a Belgian punk producer persuaded her to make
an electronic version of Dominique. which I've found footage of; her singing along to this electro backing. Tragic.‘
Worse was to come. Jeanine saw little of the fortune
that her worldwide smash had accrued in royalties. ‘Many people feel that the convent stole all her money and there are still teams of lawyers arguing the case,‘ Stuart explains. ‘There are definitely some shady elements to how the convent handled the ﬁnances. and basically for her record that sold millions of copies. she received somewhere in the region of £20,000 in all. out of the millions raised in revenue. Even the Queen of Belgium got involved at one point. feeling that the Singing Nun had been cheated.‘
It ended in a suitably dramatic way in I984 when the penniless Jeanine committed suicide by alcohol and drugs overdose in a shabby Brussels ﬂat. apparently in a pact with a lesbian lover. Jim
Morrison and Elvis may have taken their exit bows in
fairly degrading circumstances. but the Singing Nun had once more managed to outdo them. ‘Even though she was a nun you still have those
traditional rock ‘n‘ roll elements.‘ enthuses Stuart. ‘It
could be too tragic and too morbid.‘ he ponders. before dismissing the idea. ‘but I don‘t think that's the brief of Wit/ma! ll’alls. Within the story there is. believe it or not. an element of humour.‘
Without Walls: K along The Habit is on Channel 4 an Tilesda)‘ 30 November at 9pm.
_ i Night moves
‘Because the night’ sang Patti Smith back in 1976, and that’s about as much thought as TV executives seem to put into their early hours schedules. ‘lt’s there so let’s fill it,’ has been the attitude to date, with the post- midnight hours filled with a motley selection of bought-in irrelevant entertainment shows, half-baked provocative discussion and cheapo Euro-fodder.
Channel 4 join the fray on Friday 19
LEurotrash flops, music videos and
November with Late licence, a batch of after-hours entertainment with a predictable emphasis on youth, music and wacky artiness. Channel 4 being the cool alternative channel that it is increasingly marketing itself as, there are differences, some ot which almost manage to disguise the mixture of
repeats of the Saturday Zoo or serve as p
The likes of Harry Enfield and Paul Whitehouse, Jack Dee and Mark lamarr and the classic Tube team of Paula Yates and Jools Holland offer suitable early-hours links between the programmes, and, the idea is, give the strand that effortlessly cohesive air every other channel so sadly lacks. In a rare coup, cathode-ray dodger Eddie Inard has even been persuaded to host one evening, and to mark the event, he’s the only one allowed to do it solo.
‘There’s a lot of Channel 4 viewers who don’t put their pyjamas on at 10.30pm,’ says Youth Commissioning Editor Bill Hilary, ‘who are either partying, clubbing or insomniacs, so we decided to concoct a season of late-night music and entertainment guaranteed to keep you up all night.
4‘ ~ g, to; It’s also a chance to show some of the ‘ " "' “i ' . “ programmes from Channel 4’s library I n” mange" “9M "9 m ""m a" that have enduring popularity.’ The (thankfully) Clangers cartoons that 3 presentation, with each night (Fridays man’s shaneless. (Tom tannin) ing. a and Saturdays through until December late licence begins on Channel 4 on The main Innovation is in the I 18) hosted by a different double-act. PM” 19 “Name!-
70 The List l9 November—2 December 1993