Home / On “John’s Not Mad”, And Why The Duke Loves DVD

On “John’s Not Mad”, And Why The Duke Loves DVD

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Why The Duke loves DVD – #332453

When The Duke was a youngster, filled with childish notions, filling mine skull with flights of demented fancy concerning the ghosties and the Halloween’s, when the world must have been etched in eternal autumnal browns, since that’s all I can ever recall when I think back, back then I saw a program on the old television by the name of Ghostwatch.

I was unable to endure the entirety of those 90 terrifying minutes, and was put to bed, sniffling and crying and terrified of the folds in the curtains facing me.

Next day at school, or whenever it reconvened after the Halloween holidays, The Duke immediately went about trying to obtain a copy of this amazing piece of television. Surely to God someone else in that primary school had taped it? Surely someone had known it was going to be so amazing, so unfathomably terrifying, and had made a VHS copy?

I was beside myself with joy, when one such individual, a girl in my class, presented me the next day with a tape upon which she claimed to have recorded this chill-fest. I took it home, hands trembling, approaching the VCR like some Christian thrust into a coliseum, timidly stepping towards a slumbering lion.

The disappointment, man. I’ll never forget that motherfucker, is what.

There was no Ghostwatch on the tape. What there was, though, was a fat bloke sexing with someone and then someone else comes in through the window with a shotgun.

Nowadays, I’d probably have watched it anyway, but back then, I had no desire to see this piffle, and was torn asunder when the tape fast forwarded to 02:35:00, knowing that there was no hope of the 90 minutes of Ghostwatch having been recorded on 25 minutes worth of tape.

Then, one day a couple summers ago, my fiancée, The Duchess, and I are wandering through Belfast. And I have an agenda in mind. Ghostwatch had been issued on DVD by the BFI. This program, never repeated, effectively banned, had finally been made available, that The Duke might once again relieve that pre-pubescent Halloween terror.

Thank you DVD. I love you, man, is all.

And I vowed, incidentally, that I would never leave myself in such a predicament ever again, and set about scouring the TV Times, making sure that if anything which even suggested that it might be of some worth were to be broadcast, I would have an arsenal of 180-minute blank videotapes awaiting its arrival.

As Plato once said; “All good plans, however well intentioned, are one day gonna trip like a motherfucker and fall flat on their well-intentioned faces, is what.”

Why The Duke Loves DVD – #332460

Back in 2002, The Duke was idly flicking through the channels on the TV, as is his wont on occasion. Something about Sexing In The City, something about The Wives Of Footballers, some other shit. But there on BBC1, was a program just started, by the name of The Boy Can’t Help It. Five minutes in, The Duke was engrossed. So engrossed, in fact, that the thought of grabbing an old recordable video-cassette never entered his engrossified skull.

What The Boy Can’t Help It concerned itself with, was being a follow-up to a 1989 QED documentary about John Davidson, a 16 year old boy suffering from Tourettes Syndrome. This 2002 affair caught up with John nowadays, some 13 years later, seeing how his life had came along, how things were nowadays, what with the Tourettes and so on.

It featured segments from the original program, such as an incredibly tense John walking around a supermarket with his mum, unable to stop himself shouting out things like “Fucking Nescafe” and “Cunt! Fuck!” whilst perplexed and disgruntled pensioners looked on. One scene had John’s family, minus his father, sitting around the dinner table, trying not to notice as John chews his fish and then spits it into the face of his brother, following up every outburst by cowering behind his hands, tutting and trying desperately to simultaneously disappear into the fabric of his chair and also carry on a normal conversation with his mother.

Then we see John now, by way of contrast, as he jokes about his condition with a close friend. The friend explains how he can no longer tell John any particularly confidential secrets, since John has a habit of shouting out the information to whoever happens to be in direct proximity.

The documentary was amazing, at once incredibly poignant and touching, and also very funny, like when John suddenly slaps his hand across the rear-view mirror of a car, joking about how he’s fixed the angle.

I was gutted at my own stupidity, my own baffling amnesia regarding the Ghostwatch debacle of ’92. I had once again witnessed something that made a profound impression on me, and once again had failed to recognise its greatness in time for to record it.

For the next fortnight, all anyone heard about from The Duke was about this fucking amazing documentary about a bloke with Tourettes, and how I had been so stupid as to not record it, and you didn’t happen to have a copy by any chance?

And then, like as if they didn’t even know how fucking earth-shattering such news would be, this month’s Fortean Times featured in it’s review section a tiny piece on the recently released John’s Not Mad. In other words, the 1989 original documentary. And oh yeah, it had most of the follow-up on it as an extra.

A lightening fast excursion to Play.com and two days of impatient waiting later, The Duke once again gets to witness this triumph of the human spirit, and of Documentary filmmaking.

The original film is heartbreaking. We see John eating his school dinner in an otherwise empty classroom, as the rest of the school laugh and joke and feast in the canteen. He sits there, chewing on a roll, spitting bits out on occasion, letting the occasional yelp or “Fuck! Cunt!” out of his mouth, afraid to attempt this ordeal in front of anyone else.

We hear of how teachers would present John in front of his class, explaining that he “should be locked up.” We hear about his grandmother, who thinks he should go to church and confess his sins, since he’s obviously possessed by some demon or other.

At times, you laugh at John’s outbursts. Sometimes it’s quite funny when you see him yell “Fat cunt” at a classmate, whilst the rest of the pupils try to carry-on as normal.

In every other way, John is just an average 16-year old kid. He just happens to spit his food out and swear uncontrollably.

It’s funny at times, but it’s incredibly distressing also. When we first see John’s mum, she’s on the telephone to the local police, explaining her son’s condition, following a threat of arrest for breach of the peace. Police don’t like having “Fat Fuck” shouted at them, never mind in the middle of a crowded street in broad daylight.

I was a bit disappointed to see that The Boy Can’t Help It had been included here in an abridged version, shortened to 34 minutes. I had presumed this meant that all the footage from the 89 piece would be eliminated, which wasn’t such a big deal considering the entire program is the main feature on the disc. It transpires that every piece of John-related footage, the bulk of the film, is here, but the sub-plot from the original broadcast, which featured an utterly harrowing story about a six year old boy who was afflicted with the condition, has been excised. It’s a shame. It was incredibly powerful material, watching as a young boy ticked and shouted, crying in between outbursts, unable to fathom his dilemma. At one point the father explained, as best he could, how it felt to have a 6-year-old boy explain that he wanted to kill himself.

While it’s a shame this has been removed, nothing else has, so we see once again the adult John, much more at ease with himself, sitting in pubs, having conversations, leading a youth group, and even returning to that supermarket. He explains that when the first film was made he was indeed at a crossroads in life, and had great difficulty accepting his affliction. He now realises that it’s up to others to accept it.

This point is reiterated in the commentary on John’s Not Mad, conducted by Davidson himself, possibly the first commentary ever recorded by a Tourettes sufferer. Shit, man, those Farrelly’s are probably kicking themselves now.

John talks about the experience of making the film, how it not only helped him to come to terms with his condition, but also those around him. He explained how most people found it quite funny at times, and it was usually later, during a conversation in a pub or wherever, that they came to realise how sad the situation was.

John Davidson is an inspiration, and the two films presented here are inspirations. Two of the best fucking documentaries ever made, and The Duke says that completely free of hyperbolic bombast. It’s the truth, man. See them. They’ll enhance your fucking life is what.


Although Blogcritics is affiliated with those Amazonian types, neither their .com or .co.uk site seems to have this listed. I got this R2 disc from Play.com, and the link for it is HERE. It’s not available on NTSC, but if you’ve got a multi-region player, order this disc. You won’t regret it, man. Plus, a percentage of the proceeds go to Tourette Scotland, who have their website HERE.

Thanks, folks.

The Duke resides at Mondo Irlando

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  • UPDATE – That second PLAY link seems to lead to nowhere, like those Talking Heads or somesuch used to yack about. The tourettes scotland link has at the very top a link to buy the DVD, which seems to be through Amazon.co.uk, even though The Duke couldn’t find it.
    Point is, if you’re gonna buy it, use the Tourette’s Scotland link, since they’ll probably get money of some sort on account of the transation.

  • Damn, I’m all disappointed and what-not after reading that to find what I can’t see this in the US, unless’n I want to buy a new DVD player and pay through the nostrils for that international shipping nonsense.

    By the way, I tried to “enDuke-icise” my comment. With the “what-not” and “what” substituted for “that” in appropriate situations and what-all. I have to admit, it’s as fun to write as it is to read.

  • ha! Thanks Tom! Lovely words. Thank you! It makes The Duke feel all worthwhile and so on. Thank you! Gosh.
    Kudos on the Dukifiying by the way, and might i say you did a tremendous job with the thats and the what-nots and the so on.

  • UPDATE – And also, to Tom. A quick glance at the back of DVD case reveals that it is not Region 2, but in fact Region 0, meaning it should play on your machines, all you American folks, or indeed citizens of the Earth in general, although you’ll still have to put up with the shipping charges, unless theres an import site you know of. Lots of them offer free shipping and all that.

  • UPDATE – Johns Not Mad isn’t available through amazon.com, but on my own site i’ve now got a store set up, where one can get a copy of this here flick alongside other delights. From now on, if the thingy isn’t available through amazon.com which means theres no link to it from the blogcritics, then try The Duke’s Store Thanks folks