CHRISTOPHER STEVENS reviews last night's TV: Gazza and Compulsion

CHRISTOPHER STEVENS reviews last night’s TV: Look out! Linda Lusardi and Mrs Gazza are on the prowl at the zoo

Gazza 

Rating:

Compulsion

Rating:

Even in the most famous, intensely scrutinised lives, where every inch has unravelled messily in public, there is always something new to be discovered.

What we learned from Gazza (BBC2), the first of a two-part documentary tracking the sad disintegration of Paul Gascoigne, was that you really don’t want to get on the wrong side of Linda Lusardi.

The former topless model knew Geordie Paul when he was still a promising teenage football talent, and became his loyal friend. But when Gascoigne fell for a divorced mother-of-two, Sheryl Failes, who was nearly four years older than him, Linda bristled.

What we learned from Gazza (BBC2) was that you really don’t want to get on the wrong side of Linda Lusardi

Home video footage captured needle-tipped banter between the two women, as Linda joined the family for a day trip to the zoo. It was a rare sight, she teased, to spot an Essex girl in captivity.

‘Hertfordshire!’ snapped Sheryl.

After the Gascoignes moved to Rome in 1992 and Paul scored a sensational first goal for Lazio, Linda sniped that his wife was never interested in football. ‘Sheryl was more worried about getting to the restaurant. . . I never felt there was an awful lot of love there.’

Assembled with archive soundbites from innumerable family interviews and comments from professionals who knew the young Gazza

But aside from peripheral details, little was uncovered that wasn’t already well known

Assembled with archive soundbites from innumerable family interviews and comments from professionals who knew the young Gazza, this is a thoroughly researched life story.

But aside from peripheral details, little was uncovered that wasn’t already well known. Gascoigne was the most gifted player since George Best and was destroyed in much the same way, by booze and heady stardom.

Before alcohol-fuelled rages tore him apart, he was perceived as a lovable clown with a touching lack of confidence. 

Plenty of news clips captured this, including one of him munching a Mars bar as he kidded with pundits Saint and Greavsie about his terrible diet. 

A few months later, after losing some weight, he told the camera: ‘I had more chins than a Chinese phone directory.’

Such larks (and you couldn’t say that on TV nowadays). But this documentary’s chief failing is to take them largely at face value, though it is obvious that even in his teens the reality for Gazza was far more complex. 

There is no analysis of the catastrophic booze culture in English football during that era, nor any mention of drug abuse.

If Gazza was drinking too hard, the voice-over suggests, this was simply the pressure of fame combined with the working-class tradition of wild nights out.

The press are repeatedly accused of goading him, as though headlines can somehow force a celebrity to drink 14 pints of lager and punch a photographer. Mental illness is far better understood today than it was 30 years ago. 

To attribute Gascoigne’s alcoholism and breakdowns to external factors does him no favours and does little to enlighten us.

Leanne Best and Danny Ashok play Jenny and Chris, who converse in cliches … Anna Chancellor tried to inject some life into the tale in the first episode, but she appears to have given it up as a lost cause

There’s nothing to be learned either from the truly abysmal Compulsion (C5), a lurid melodrama about a paramedic with PTSD whose gambling addiction is wrecking her marriage. 

Leanne Best and Danny Ashok play Jenny and Chris, who converse in cliches and, despite their repeated protestations of undying love, have no more romantic chemistry than two strangers in a queue at the post office.

Anna Chancellor tried to inject some life into the tale in the first episode, but she appears to have given it up as a lost cause.

The only reason to watch is a cameo by Hayley Mills (yes, that Hayley Mills, the former Disney child star) as a little old lady running a loan shark outfit. 

Why she took this role, there’s no telling. But she returns later this year in the crime serial Unforgotten, and that promises to be excellent. 

The only reason to watch is a cameo by Hayley Mills (yes, that Hayley Mills, the former Disney child star) as a little old lady running a loan shark outfit

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