Looking back at Queen: A Rock History...!

Saturday: Queen: A Rock History - (Channel 5, 9.20pm)

By Claire Cartmill
Friday, 29th April 2022, 5:00 pm

Channel 5 often devotes part of its Saturday night schedule to royal documentaries, but this week it’s turning to rock royalty instead. And bands don’t get much more regal than Queen.

November marked the 30th anniversary of frontman Freddie Mercury’s death, bringing with it tributes and documentaries, but it seems viewers just can’t get enough of the band’s story. Even their movie biopic Bohemian Rhapsody was an Oscar-winning success – and it brought their music to a new generation.

But just why do we continue to be rocked by Queen? Obviously, the music is a big part of it, not to mention Mercury’s incredible voice and impressive stage presence (for proof, look no further than their legendary, career-defining performance at Live Aid).

However, the new two-part documentary Queen: A Rock History aims to dig a little deeper into how these four nice boys from the suburbs came together in the first place, and how they managed to create such an impressive legacy.

Narrated by Simon Callow, it hears from people who were close to the band, as well as biographers and famous fans, and uncovers some of the stories behind their songs. It also explores some of the ups and downs of their career, including the bad management deals that saw them living on just £60 a week, and reminds us how unlikely their rise to fame really was. After all, their hit Bohemian Rhapsody has become so ubiquitous, it’s easy now to forget that it’s also deeply strange – and according to this documentary, the lyrics may have been based on the band members themselves.

Before we learn whether Mercury, Brian May, Roger Taylor or John Deacon saw a little silhouetto of a man though, the opening episode explores their early attempts to break into charts through the evolution of Mercury’s on-stage persona.

It also reveals some of the musical influences behind their chart debut, Seven Seas of Rhye, and why we have David Bowie to thank for their first appearance on Top of the Pops.

There’s also a look at how Killer Queen arguably set the template for Queen’s future success, and how Liverpool fans inspired May to create the stadium-filling sound of We Will Rock You.

Although Queen’s sound was nothing if not eclectic, most fans probably wouldn’t associate them with punk. However, their former plugger is on hand to explain their part in the infamous TV encounter between the Sex Pistols and Bill Grundy – and how Mercury would have his own run-in with Sid Vicious.

Plus, there are stories of rock and roll excess, including an outrageous party with drugs, naked dances and the sort of meat platter that wouldn’t come as standard in most buffets.

If all the reminiscing and archive footage leaves you keen to hear more from Queen themselves, the programme is followed by the concert film Queen: Live at the Odeon, which was recorded at recorded on Christmas Eve at the Hammersmith Odeon in 1975, and features one of the first live renditions of Bohemian Rhapsody.