BBC Two is kicking off a special evening of Pet Shop Boys programming on May 20. One of the shows is called Reel Stories: Pet Shop Boys, where the pop-synth duo Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe engaged in a lively chat with BBC Radio 2 announcer Dermot O’Leary. The three of them sat in a movie theater to discuss onscreen clips from pivotal moments of the duo’s career.
Tennant and Lowe started their collaboration in 1981, entertaining pop audiences new and old for more than 40 years with their vocals and synthesizer on hits West End Girls, It’s A Sin and many more. They ranked with 44 top 40 singles in the United Kingdom alone, including four Number Ones. Reel Stories is a timely program to air now, as they look ahead to a June release of their new compilation, Smash: The Singles 1985–2020.
The Reel Stories Focus
While Reel Stories showcases clips from the 1980s to the present, there’s an intense focus on Tennant and Lowe’s thoughts about the earliest days as they watch their interview clips and performances on television. It’s fun to see this retrospective, complete with “Oh, God!” exclamations and laughter by the two artists. For instance, find out what Lowe whispered to Tennant right before their first TV appearance with Opportunities (Let’s Make Lots of Money).
Whether you found Pet Shop Boys on your own—or like in my case, through an older sibling in the late 80s—it’s likely you’ve watched or YouTubed their original TV appearances. Yet, it’s illuminating to hear Tennant and Lowe’s insights about those days and fill the gaps in what you knew about them. Other clips, such as a fun daytime TV cameo by Lowe, are probably not as well known to some fans.
O’Leary served as a helpful moderator of the discussion, showing where Tennant and Lowe’s paths met and why they wanted to get into music by the early ’80s. He also inserted a few intriguing “what if” questions during the career twists and turns and gives useful analysis about the decades. Plenty of banter ensued throughout the 45 minutes, which usually came from Lowe.
More Reel Stories Highlights
It’s impossible to touch on everything Pet Shop Boys in 45 minutes. There’s certainly a lot more to the latter decades than the Glastonbury appearances, but Reel Stories is an effective vehicle at pointing you to specific topics for researching on your own. When Tennant described being a longtime fan of greats David Bowie and Dusty Springfield, his early awe and respect for them was palpable. It’s incredible to link that to the collaborations of Hallo Spaceboy and What Have I Done to Deserve This.
While linking past to present, O’Leary left the door open on unanswered issues that Tennant and Lowe feel strongly about. For instance, there’s a brief segment about an important performance in Russia. Since then Pet Shop Boys have done a few songs recently relating to Russia, including The Dictator Decides and Living in the Past.
So if you have lingering questions, not to worry. It’s a good idea to watch another show, Pet Shop Boys at the BBC: 1985-2020 for starters. Even better, Pet Shop Boys have an extensive array of materials available. You can look at their Annually publication, Youtube channel footage and Q&As, or the booklets in their Further Listening compilations.
What’s Ahead for Pet Shop Boys
In their interview videos and written pieces, Tennant and Lowe are always keen observers about music through the decades and where they fit into the bigger picture. Since they curate a lot of information about themselves extensively, it’s definitely worth perusing their official content. The upcoming Smash: The Singles 1985–2020 will be another excellent resource, with select videos remastered in HD on the 3CD/2Blu-ray option. It’s useful for fans to revisit those years, particularly as Tennant and Lowe are working on a new album.
Of course, one of the best ways to learn about them is firsthand by attending a concert. They are on the road with their Dreamworld tour, featuring a lineup of their greatest hits.
And with that, I’ll leave you with a memorable photo I took during one of their 2016 concerts.
For more information about Reel Stories: Pet Shop Boys, visit the BBC Two website. After the May 20 broadcast, the show will also be available to UK viewers on BBC iPlayer.