Does anyone believe in Danny Dyer?

In a programme that was as much about the much-mocked cockney as UFOs, Dyer showed an unidentified side of himself.

Patrick West

Patrick West

Topics Culture

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The actor and television presenter Danny Dyer has the capacity to divide opinion, invariably along gender lines. Very crudely put, while many women and gay men warm to this sweet-looking, doe-eyed cherub, remarking on his temperamental, flawed, yet essentially tender, cinematic personas, most heterosexual men think Danny Dyer is a twat. And the latter proceeds from the former. Straight men like to point to his absurd, bow-legged gait, his speech impediment and his appalling mockneyisms because they are foremost envious of Dyer’s female fan club.

To give credit to his detractors, Dyer does labour his credentials as the ultimate, earthy ‘geezer’. ‘I don’t think you can get any more working class than me’, remarked Dyer, friend of the late Harold Pinter, last June, while his television series The Real Football Factories rightly attracted derision. Here, Dyer went on a tour of Britain interviewing football hooligans, and in every single episode he came to the conclusion that ‘the lads in this firm are pwoper naughty. Tasty. I wouldn’t want to get in a wuck with them.’

It seems that time is mellowing the 32-year-old presenter. He recently expressed some embarrassment about The Real Football Factories, although he did admit that it ‘made me a lot of money, got me a nice house, and I got my kid out of a shit school in east London’.

In the film Malice in Wonderland, released yesterday, the Newham lad plays a romantic lead in a reworking of the Lewis Carroll classic. Meanwhile, on the small screen this week, Dyer has been unveiling a more spiritual and otherworldly side to his soul in the BBC Three programme I Believe in UFOs: Danny Dyer.

Unbeknownst to most of us who had assumed that Dyer’s main preoccupation was getting involved in ‘wight old tear ups’ on the big screen and trying to avoid them in real life, it transpires in this programme that another of his passions is astronomy, or more specifically, the search for extra-terrestrial life.

‘Every six minutes someone, somewhere sees a UFO’, Dyer announced on the show. ‘Are we alone in the universe? I wanna believe that we’re not’, he continued. The inner mystic is thus revealed. So, too, is the inner child, as we see a starry-eyed Dyer visit the doyen of TV astronomy, Sir Patrick Moore. The eminent presenter of The Sky At Night informed Dyer that the statistical chances of there being life elsewhere in the universe are significantly high. Dyer was delighted that his belief in aliens was fortified, despite being reminded by his childhood hero that the evidence of otherworldly intelligent life ever having paid a visit on Earth is nil.

The programme proceeded on a familiar trajectory. Programmes about the ‘unexplained’ always follow a similar template. First of all, Dyer visited the countryside to meet those who believe crop circles were created by aliens, and then to meet the human beings who had actually made them. Cut to studio with talking heads giving rational explanations for unidentified flying objects. Return to presenter, who of course has now upped the ante by going to America, because they’re all really weird and mental in America.

Here, Dyer is told of mysterious animal mutilations which are deemed the result of alien visitations, because no one witnessed them happening. Dyer throws in a few obligatory clichés: is this ‘science fact, or science fiction?’; ‘it’s not a matter of if, but when’ the next UFO will land. Mandatory nod to government cover-ups and the CIA. Programme concludes with presenter visiting a wacko alien-worshipping cult on the West Coast of America, and in Dyer’s case, his first sighting of UFOs in the night sky. Our Danny, after his epiphany, concludes: ‘Where there’s belief, there’s hope.’ Or, as he also put it in his own inimitable way: ‘That is a fucking UFO!’

The programme was really all about Danny Dyer. In some ways, this worked in its favour. Documentaries about alien sightings inevitably come with two different messages. The first: ‘There Are Aliens Visiting Us.’ The second: ‘No There Aren’t Actually Aliens Visiting Us.’ Both formats have been done to death and there is no point pursuing them any further.

People who believe in visitations from outer space are like creationists: they’ve made up their minds and there’s no point trying to change them with such trifling things as evidence, facts and empirical observation. Try to explain their reveries as cultural or neo-religious phenomena, or as symptomatic of neurological or psychological disorders, and they will shriek at you still further. You will have even less luck if you ask if there was just the remote possibility that they were stoned or extremely drunk the night they woke up in a field, their clothes ripped, their possessions stolen and their memories strangely ‘erased’.

As for Dyer’s programme, the title really gave it away. This was not about the actual existence of alien visitations. This was about whether or not Danny Dyer believes in them. Or, rather, whether the half-real-life, half-screen-persona of ‘Danny Dyer’ believes in aliens. For inevitably the presenter couldn’t help reverting to character. Talking of his instinctual scepticism concerning extra-terrestrial explanations for crop circles, Dyer explained that when opening a newspaper ‘I’d have a look at a crop circle and say “that looks a bit mad” and turn the page and look at a pair of tits’. He wondered repeatedly if alien-hunters were all ‘lunatics’, and when he went to meet some of the ‘geezers’ who claimed responsibility for creating the crop circles, he naturally – and inexplicably – did so in a pub. The men in question said they couldn’t claim particular responsibility for any of their work, explaining that their activity was against the law. This made Dyer chuckle, as he pondered out loud the thought of ‘getting nicked’ and ‘banged up’ for making crop circles.

In America, Dyer found it similarly amusing to interview a fellow who had aliens living in his neighbourhood, veritable ETs who would occasionally pop round to his house. ‘Some of the shit he’s shown me there is unbelievable’, Dyer elaborated. ‘He’s got evidence of aliens poking their head round the fucking window having a pop at him.’ He couldn’t help wondering if indeed ‘aliens have season tickets to planet Earth’ (obligatory football metaphor), because in the end ‘I do wanna believe there’s shit goin’ on up there’.

Maybe Dyer just continues to speak the way he did as a Cockney youth, his patter reflecting a desire to stay true to his roots. He’s keeping it real. But maybe it’s the opposite. Maybe Dyer has spent so much of his life playing a certain kind of identikit wide-boy (with an inner, sensitive side) that he no longer knows the difference between reality and fiction. His predictable, formulaic and unrelenting music-hall Cockney patois can only arouse the suspicion that he has become a parody of himself. Which leads to the inevitable question: Danny Dyer may believe in aliens, but do we believe in Danny Dyer?

Patrick West is spiked’s TV and radio reviewer. Read his blog here.

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