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Bay City Rollers Secrets 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿 Nicky Campbell (2023)

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If professions were ranked by how nefarious their members were, ‘boyband manager’ would be in the same league as ‘despot.’ Ever since young men learned to harmonise while making teenage girls swoon, there has been a succession of people, from the Jackson 5’s abusive patriarch to ‘NSync’s embezzling Lou Perlman, ready to take advantage of boys with a sweet voice and a big dream.

Secrets of the Bay City Rollers title hints at something similarly unscrupulous: that beneath the tartan and the handsome grins, there were some financial and ethical shenanigans. But this programme proves to be far more troubling than that, it is one of the most disturbing accounts of abuse imaginable. Presenter Nicky Campbell uncovers a near inconceivably sadistic and far reaching network of cruelty that the young men comprising Scottish pop rock band Bay City Rollers were forced to endure as their manager Tam Paton controlled every aspect of their lives, sexually and emotionally abused them and facilitated their abuse by others. Those triggered by sexual violence and child abuse should give this programme the widest possible berth as it unflinchingly lays bare not just the abuse of the band, but also the widespread sexual abuse of children in Scotland in the 1970s.

Presenter Nicky Campbell sincerely loves the band who hail from his home town of Edinburgh and seeks to celebrate their achievements rather than just define them by their misfortune. But as their tale lapses into darkness and we hear how Paton manipulated the young band members into performing sex acts on older men, Campbell says: “It’s a story that brought back memories of that time, of traumas of my own.” He asks a lot during his interviews with the many victims of Paton (who would eventually go to prison for gross indecency with two teenage boys.) As well as expecting them to cast off shame and speak about the intense cruelty and sexual abuse they suffered at his hands, Campbell offers his own story alongside them. He claims that at his private school, the Edinburgh Academy, “abuse was rife”. In some of the programme’s most moving moments, Campbell discusses his lingering trauma with his daughter, and is moved to tears by an anonymous man discussing how Paton and his friends abused him while he was a 13 year old in the foster system, and used him to procure more victims. Campbell praises his subject’s bravery and acknowledges how difficult it is to speak out. The response of “Aye. You can’t keep it buried in your head all your life” seems to echo within a chest that has been hollowed out by cruelty.

Despite these horrifying recollections, some time is afforded to loving the music. Campbell occasionally reminds us that band members are not without their prodigious musical talent. But of all the Rollers that appear, only Stuart Wood seems to take any joy from his pop stardom memories opening up a suitcase of old tartan costumes in his palatial Scottish home. It’s one of the only moments of respite in the harrowing tale, where Campbell and Wood joke about no longer being able to fit into 24in waistbands and get away with tartan flares.

But there’s little hope to be found when he meets other members, of which there were many. Part of Paton’s design for the Rollers was to be continually cycling in younger, fresher faces, meaning 24 boys would become “Rollers” and others were “near Rollers” including Gert Magnus, who appears to explain how, as a teenage musician, he was offered a place in the band in exchange for sex with Paton.

Campbell describes one member, the late Les McKeown, as “the star of the show” but it seems that this status offered little protection. His grief-stricken widow and son say McKeown was “a broken man who never found peace in his life.” They spent much of their lives unable to understand his substance abuse and anger, and it was not until McKeown went on the ghoulish celebrity reality show Rehab that they learned of his sexual abuse. It’s yet another landmark in this programme’s brutal topography of human misery.

This documentary is powerful and sensitively made, and helps dismantle the culture of shame and silence that suppressed these men’s stories for decades. But there is a criticism to level at the programme. Both its innocuous title and upbeat opening minutes lure viewers into a false sense of security, as though it is a look at the high highs and low lows of 70s pop stardom rather than this straightforward nosedive into hades. Given how careful and kind Campbell is with his subjects, that consideration should be passed on to viewers. This programme is not for the faint-hearted nor for nostalgic Bay City Rollers fans who want to return to their greatest hits without feeling deeply conflicted – and more could be done to make viewers aware of that.

Comments

Oh my lord... :-o

My mum's fave group when I was "knee high to a psychedelic leprechaun".

They were always a weird badly manufactured group in some ways...

Additionally - I've been interviewed by host Nicky Campbell on a UK TV show.... two decades ish ago...
he was a strange character - he kept asking what I meant by the term "delaterious" - which you need to see the video/TV broadcast to understand why that query is bizarre..
=

shuffle wrote:

Oh my lord... :-o
My mum's fave group when I was "knee high to a psychedelic leprechaun".
They were always a weird badly manufactured group in some ways...
Additionally - I've been interviewed by host Nicky Campbell on a UK TV show.... two decades ish ago...
he was a strange character - he kept asking what I meant by the term "delaterious" - which you need to see the video/TV broadcast to understand why that query is bizarre..
=

it's not bizarre really, how many people watching would know the meaning of the word?
he may or may not have known what it means albeit i suspect he did. he would be doing two thing really. seeing if you knew yourself to try to catch you out and to see your logic for applying that term to what you said.