What’s The Matter With Tony Slattery? doesn’t yield any easy answers – and is all a improved for it


You don’t have to be in a talk biz to recognize that one of a standouts from final year was in a Guardian. It was conducted by Hadley Freeman and a theme was Tony Slattery. 

Seen from a distance, it was an peculiar interview. Normally, a sell is a elementary nonetheless diligent one: they’ve got a plan to plug, we have to ask questions that also aren’t about a plan during all – infrequently topical, infrequently personal, mostly both. But Slattery didn’t have anything to plug, not really. And so a theme was simply himself, what had happened to him and what a theme it was.  

Of course, on initial click we didn’t notice any of that, given a design took my exhale away. Like many people of my era – let’s call it “outer-millennial” – we was glued to a Channel 4 improv comedy uncover Whose Line Is It Anyway? in a mid-1990s, giggling along on Friday nights with my father. Others on a show, like a gangly American Ryan Stiles, were some-more constant and slick, nonetheless it was Slattery who consistently stole a show. There was always something of a Robin Williams about it, a hardly suppressed insanity that he perpetually had on rev. It wasn’t usually that we didn’t see where he was going with a skit, some-more that we suspected he didn’t possibly – until a shaft of his possess talent would rescue him out of a blue. And he was vast too – a cherub-like face underneath A-lister hair. 

Then, nothing, he left and a design that accompanied a square told a possess story. He was still nonetheless to spin 60, nonetheless a male in a shot seemed 70 or older. He was vast and sticky and pale; low crevices around his eyes spoke to a life where nap came late, if it came during all. Freeman described him as an concerned teddy bear and suspicion she melt ethanol on his breath. You had to glance usually to know it was a same person. 

In 1996, in his mid-thirties, tired and overworked, he’d had a breakdown. At one indicate he’d been holding 10g of heroin a day, along with a integrate or so bottles of vodka. Sometimes he wouldn’t leave his riverside prosaic for months; other times he’d chuck all his seat in a Thames. He was hospitalised several times and diagnosed with bipolar. In a many heart-wrenching impulse of a interview, he divulges that he was raped by a clergyman when he was 8 years old. 

Just over a year on, then, and What’s The Matter With Tony Slattery? arrives on a screens, clearly consecrated off a behind of a Guardian interview, nonetheless it is hardly mentioned. 

What, we wonder, are they going to tell us that we don’t already know? Or are they simply going to tell us all we do already know, on a arrogance we don’t know it? 

The answer comes quickly: “Tony’s never scrupulously accepted what’s going on in his head,” a voiceover intones, “because he’s never been given a decisive diagnosis. So he’s motionless it’s time to have his mental health assessed.” 

I confess to sighing during that – a formidable emanate such as mental health congested into a format of a makeover uncover – nonetheless a existence is not as simple. It doesn’t start well. Slattery visits a dilettante who’s hardly finished assessing him before he gleefully takes an aged sealed print out of his medical records, on that Slattery had once written, “Please revoke my dosage” and guffaws as he shows it to a cameras. I’m no expert, nonetheless I’m not wholly certain that’s customary doctor-patient practice. 

Thankfully, as Slattery visits other specialists, it gets better. There’s always a enticement with someone like Slattery to demeanour during his childhood mishap and consider we’ve found a rosebud, nonetheless as a documentary creates clear, mental health is never so simple. Slattery has towering moods in a morning when he thinks anything is possible, followed by a crashing dark around lunchtime that zero is probable and because was he so foolish to consider it was, that expected meant he’s bipolar. But bipolar is now accepted as a spectrum and a charge is to know where Slattery sits on it. His celebration complicates matters, so he sees an obsession specialist, who wondered because he could give adult heroin so simply nonetheless can’t detect of giving adult alcohol. The demeanour on his face is equal tools confused and bewildered: he’d honestly never suspicion of it like that. But he still can’t detect of what life would be like though a ethanol to lifeless a pain. 

And finally, of course, he speaks to a therapist about his childhood trauma, something Slattery is many resistant in saying as a means of his problems. But as this documentary does a good pursuit of showing, all is critical nonetheless zero is a rosebud. People with bipolar splash some-more ethanol for a numbing effect. People with a commotion are dual and a half times some-more expected to have had mishap in their youth. And bipolar isn’t even bipolar, nonetheless a shifting scale. 

And all a time, there’s Slattery, shop-worn and timid, his teeth gagged and broken, not so most struggling to get a difference out nonetheless giving each sense that they’re entrance anyway and he’s usually perplexing to safeguard they arrive in a right order. 

The usually approach he can get started on any of it is to stop drinking, something Slattery fails to do. And while a voiceover during a finish says, “In a months given his comment Tony has managed to revoke his drinking,” there’s no idea this is anything other than a documentary organisation holding Slattery’s word for it, happy to finish a hour on a feel-good note. 

But maybe a fact it doesn’t finish with success is a point. Life – and mental health – is frequency so elementary or neat and Slattery’s loyal trail will presumably usually be found after a cameras stop rolling. 

What’s The Matter With Tony Slattery? is on BBC Two on Thursday 21 May.

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