BBC4’s Rich Man, Poor Man has consisted of a slightly odd pair of documentaries, a sort of cousin to Secret Millionaire, about materially successful men getting to a point in their life where they are pondering what they’ve achieved and what they were going to do with the rest of their lives. The first subject was self-made publishing tycoon Sir John Madejski, who made his money with Auto Trader. I must confess to not knowing very much about Madejski, but then I’ve never been to Reading. Madejski, in a rather touching show of local patriotism, has put an enormous amount of money into regenerating Reading; but, as is the way with these things, this means that almost everything in Reading, from the football stadium down, is named after Madejski. One immediately thought of the way Castlereagh Council keeps naming its public buildings after Peter Robinson.
Nonetheless. I didn’t feel the programme really worked in terms of giving an insight into Madejski. The guy seems to have an interesting family history, which wasn’t given much play, and how he’d made his money was likewise skated over. And while Madejski is evidently quite a prickly character, the voiceover was so sarcastic one actually started to feel a bit sorry for the Tory tycoon. Generally, the feeling was of a lost opportunity.
But it was the second documentary in the series that appealed to this blog’s unfailing instinct for the lowest common denominator, as we spent an hour in the affable company of Lindsay Honey. Probably the name Lindsay Honey doesn’t mean much to you, but if I mention gonzo porn auteur Ben Dover, you’ll likely nod in recognition. The two are in fact one and the same. (I know Lindsay Honey sounds like a porn name, but it’s actually his real name.) So we meet Lindsay at the difficult age of 52, having spent the majority of his life in the adult industry, and reaching something of a crossroads.
The starting point is that porn isn’t what Lindsay wanted to do in the first place. He’d started out as a musician, had some ephemeral success with that, then drifted into porn as he found himself between careers. He would have preferred straight acting, but found he had a knack for porn, then made a success of it. And now, he’s got plenty of money, a lovely big house, flash cars and shelves full of porn industry awards. He’s respected – nay, lionised – by his peers. But he’s not content with that. For one thing, his success means he has far too much time on his hands. For another, he’s approaching that age where he physically won’t be able to do what he’s made his living at all these years. He could, he supposes, sit around the house drinking beer and annoying the hell out of his wife and kid. (And there was a missed opportunity there in that Linzi Drew didn’t appear. She always gave good interviews, and her telling her other half to catch himself on would have added something.) Or, he could try something else. And this is where his ambition to prove himself as a straight actor comes in.
The journey was a lot of fun, although the (again) sarcastic narration in the Nick Broomfield style was a bit of a distraction. Old Lindsay is an engaging character and an accomplished raconteur, he doesn’t take himself at all seriously – which is sort of a prerequisite for the Broomfield style to work well – and you were involved enough to be interested in his journey. In fact, there was a surprising amount of pathos there, as a morose Lindsay contemplated the state of modern porn and said he wished it was still illegal. He doesn’t seriously mean that – after all, he did time under the Obscene Publications Act – but I got where he was coming from. In the old days of illegality, there was only a smallish amount of product coming from a handful of swashbuckling producers. Today, not only is the romanticism gone, but there is this enormous glut of porn, mostly of terrible quality, and particularly in Lindsay’s gonzo niche, where any bozo with a camcorder can make a movie, and the temptation is strong to use more extreme imagery to cover up for a lack of quality.
So it would be fair to say that Lindsay has mixed feelings about his business, and that’s what informs him as he tries to decouple Lindsay Honey from Ben Dover and try his hand at legitimate acting. Thus we got the best bits of the film, in Lindsay’s interactions with his acting coach. The thing is that Lindsay obviously has some natural acting ability – he’s created and spent twenty years playing a popular character, the mullet-haired, anally fixated cheeky chappie Ben Dover. But, while he’s made a living exposing himself physically in a way most actors couldn’t do, he’s never exposed himself emotionally, and you can see the stress he goes through trying to go through an acting lesson without resorting to the cheeky wink to camera. Quickly he discovers that trying to master the process of acting is actually bloody hard work.
And so, this raises the question of whether he’s willing to stick with his new project, or just lapse back into his comfort zone of presenting porn awards and lending presence to the Ben Dover stall at Erotica. Another obstacle is trying to convince anyone in legitimate acting that he’s worth bothering with – despite there being a shortage of male actors of his age, most agents aren’t interested when they hear of his porn background. He eventually does get two wonderfully condescending female agents to give him a chance, and their comments are revealing. They don’t care about his background, but they are quick to pick up on how nervous he is and on his lack of training. Despite noting his natural charisma, it’s the nerviness that worries them, and convinces them that he would have trouble getting past an audition.
So that’s the set-up, and it’s this tension that keeps us with our protagonist to the end, cheering him when he shows application and cursing him when he’s just being lazy. Towards the end, Lindsay is virtually in tears when the great Ken Russell remarks that he has some potential; but then the next day, it’s back to the comfort zone. An entertaining ride, then, and now I wish I’d seen the Ben Dover one-man show at Edinburgh.