1 9 8 3 (UK)
1 x 120 minute episode
6 x 60 minute episodes
Barrie Keefe’s drama series No Excuses presented the horrid antics of a seamy group of cocaine-sniffing rock musicians called the Angels, headed by flame-haired Shelley Maze (ex-Rock Follies star Charlotte Cornwell), an ageing singer struggling (unsuccessfully) with her failing career and a mid-life crisis – demonstrated by her mooching around her 32-room Jacobean mansion, trying on old clothes and gazing mournfully out of windows.
Quickly established as boorish, drunken, infantile and egotistical, the band members were people who may have once embodied a golden vision of youth’s possibilities in the Sixties, but who long ago traded inspiration for mere craft and the softer options of hedonism, self-aggrandisement and deception for as long as it may last.
The hangers-on who lounged around Shelley’s country mansion (in reality, Kentwell Hall in Long Melford, Suffolk) drinking champagne, eyeing each other’s leather trousers and alternately bitching about her and boasting about their past intimacies with her were believable enough to be both loathsome and fascinating.
The series met with disapproval from the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA) – primarily for the near-rape of the in-house butler Max (Alfred Burke) at a rock party in the second episode – and was relegated to a late-night slot by Thames TV.
Charlotte Cornwell (tasked with playing one of the least sympathetic female characters in recent television history) took the unprecedented step of taking out advertising space in the Evening Standard – in conjunction with writer Barrie Keeffe and director Roy Battersby – to attack Thames Television for screening the series (produced by Central TV) at 10.30 pm.
Reviewing the series in the Sunday People, caustic TV reviewer Nina Myskow commented; “As a middle-aged star, all Miss Cornwell has going for her is her age. She can’t sing, her bum is too big and she has the sort of stage presence that jams lavatories. Worst, she belongs to that arrogant and deluded school of acting which believes that if you leave off your make-up (how brave, how real) and shout a lot, it’s great acting. It’s art. For a start, dear, you look just as ugly with make-up, so forget that . . .”
Charlotte Cornwell sued, claiming the article went beyond “fair comment” and constituted a “vulgar and vindictive personal attack”. After a week-long trial, the jury found in Charlotte’s favour and she was awarded £10,000 damages. They did not, however, award her costs and she had to sell her home to pay her legal fees of £70,000.
Cornwell did not work for the next 15 months and was so upset by what happened that she barely spoke of it again – but had to endure endless references to her bottom and its size ever after. Retiring to Exmoor, she dedicated herself to campaigning on animal and ecological concerns until her death from cancer in January 2021, aged 71.
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