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Thursday, 12 July, 2001, 17:23 GMT 18:23 UK
Sparse Diamond drama is a gem
William Gallagher
William Gallagher picks his favourite show in the week ahead
By the BBC's William Gallagher

It is not just that journalist John Diamond died from cancer only four months ago, it is that we had an exhaustive documentary about him even more recently.

So it's hard to come to the dramatisation of his life, A Lump In My Throat (BBC One, Sunday 12 July, 2100 BST) without wondering either whether it is in very good taste.

More practically, you have to wonder whether drama can give us anything the documentary did not.

Not just the documentary, either, but also Diamond's own book and journalism which are plundered here for the majority of the dialogue.


This is possibly the BBC's most sparse drama in years: it is really just Diamond's writing read by Neil Pearson.

Neil Pearson/Between the Lines
John Diamond may be Neil Pearson's best role since Between the Lines
Technically, the rest of the show is a series of television tricks to keep feeding us visuals while we're listening to the words.

So there are sudden lurches into fantasy, quick re-enacting of what the dialogue is describing.

And then there is Pearson, so remarkably good in Between the Lines and Drop the Dead Donkey, and reportedly a long time friend of Diamond.

He stars here as Diamond but there is only the slightest of attempts to make him look like the man and every attempt to remind us of what Diamond really looked and sounded like.

It is surely the only dramatised biography that features a poster of the subject on a wall behind its star.

But the odd thing is that it works and in fact works so well that it contributes to the sense of making Pearson and then us also closer to John Diamond.

Pearson is not really playing Diamond, he's Diamond's psyche

William Gallagher
For Pearson is not really playing Diamond, he is Diamond's psyche unencumbered by the speech problems his cancer gave him.

It's like he is speaking to us and we are the only ones to get past his condition.

For instance, there is much cutting from documentary footage of Diamond with his kids to Pearson forever isolated from them by windows, by just being seen in their empty rooms or carrying their toys.

The deeper into the story we go, the more Diamond is cut off from everyone but us.

It is subtle, underplayed and quietly heartbreaking.

Yet the drama is also very often very funny, particularly in moments such as when Diamond breaks down crying in front of a camera crew but has the presence of mind to make sure his new book is in shot.

The majority of that humour comes directly from John Diamond's newspaper column about his cancer and that makes it feel as if he has shaped the drama as well as inspired it.

John Diamond
The real John Diamond who died in March 2001

You do soon realise that he is manipulating you in his column, in a good sense, as he never does resist the writers' tricks of rearranging events to let him build to a good gag.

Fair enough, but logically that is yet another facet that should distance us from the drama: it's saying that John Diamond is lying to us, he is kidding, he is blocking us from the rawness of what he really felt.

And he is. He was. Yet while he created as much of a fictional version of himself as the show does, as any newspaper columnist does, the fiction prepares you for some deliberate and insightful cracks in the story.

Somehow the show's mixing of the real man and the actor which ought to make the story ring distractingly false and would never be tolerated in a documentary, is outstanding here.

But then documentary tells us exactly what happens and what it is like - where drama shows us we'll never know, we can only feel.

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