David Bowie was once dismissed as ‘amateur and out-of-tune’ by the BBC, and was ‘terribly fearful’ of going ‘insane’ like his half-brother, newly-released footage reveals.
Terry Burns, who introduced Bowie to buddhism, jazz and beat poetry, killed himself aged 47 after battling schizophrenia.
‘Insanity was something that I was terribly fearful of,’ Bowie says in a never-before-heard recording unearthed by producers of a BBC2 documentary.
‘But then I felt that I was the lucky one because I was an artist and it would never happen to me because, as long as I could sort of put those psychological excesses into my music and into my work, then I could always be throwing it off.’
Terry walked in front of a train at Coulsdon, south London in 1985.
Bowie died aged 69 from cancer in 2016, a household name and one of the most influential and best-selling musicians who ever lived.
Despite this, he was once called ‘amateur-sounding vocalist who sings wrong notes and out of tune’ by the BBC.
Bowie’s band the Lower Third played three songs in their BBC audition: Out of Sight by James Brown, That’s a Promise by Bowie himself and Chim Chim Cher-ee from Mary Poppins.
It was perhaps the last song that caused the BBC’s talent selection group to note the ‘strange choice of material’, unbeknownst to the fact that just a few years later Bowie’s ‘oddness’ would change popular music forever.
The thumping rejection from 1965 was unearthed by the new film’s researchers, who combed the corporation’s archives.
The damning verdict said: ‘I don’t think the group will get better with more rehearsal… The singer is a cockney type but not outstanding enough… There is no entertainment in anything they do.’
The documentary’s filmmaker, Francis Whately has sourced archive footage and images that have never been seen before as well as recorded new interviews with those who new the star before he shot to fame.
One of those interviewed is Bowie’s cousin Kristina Amadeus, who claims that the singer exaggerated the family’s mental problems.
‘One of the porkies that David perpetuated for a very long time was that he came from a family where insanity seemed to be the norm – and it just wasn’t true,’ she said.
‘Yes, Terry had his breakdown, but I believe it was a bad acid trip.’
Miss Amadeus also revealed that the star spent his life ‘striving’ for his mother Peggy’s approval.
She was there the evening Bowie’s mother gave birth and in 1971 hosted Bowie at her flat in New York where she was working as a theatrical agent.
In her first TV interview, she said: ‘I think the most significant thing in David’s life was that he was always striving for Peggy’s love.’
Although Peggy never gave him the amount of affection he craved, ‘the irony of the whole thing was she talked about nothing but David,’ she added.
Miss Amadeus also explained that Bowie ‘suffered a lot’ because of problems in his parents’ marriage. Peggy had also come from a family with a history of mental illness.
She said: ‘[Bowie] was vulnerable and he was scared of being abandoned. I think he was very hesitant about giving himself. He came from an extremely tragic family, unfortunately. Some terrible events happened.’
The enduring image of Ziggy Stardust is that of Bowie in the iconic snakeskin jumpsuit, performing Starman on Top of the Pops in 1972.
But the androgynous persona was actually debuted on the ITV show Lift Off With Ayshea a month earlier.
The documentary team are also hoping to be able to include the newly discovered ITV footage – captured by a fan on an early home video recorder – which Whately has called a ‘holy grail’ for Bowie fans.
But the tape has degraded over the last four decades, and must be painstakingly ‘baked’ in an incubator if there is to be any hope of recovering its content.
‘It would fall apart if we played it, so it’s had to be very carefully restored. It will be a real coup if it comes off,’ Whately said.
It is the last hope as all the tapes of the show were accidentally wiped when Granada TV sent them to be digitalised.
‘We will get it,’ said Whately. ‘Whether we get it by Wednesday next week which is our deadline I do not know, it is in the lap of the gods.’
He is also hunting for even more precious footage – Bowie rehearsing for the Top of the Pops performance at Haddon Hall in Beckenham where he lived between 1969 and 1972.
Whately said he knows the tape exists because Bowie went to Radio Rentals to hire equipment ‘to film himself so he could work out the moves for the Lift Off With Ayshea show … That’s the real holy grail.’
The documentary team also have unearthed footage of Bowie performing Jacques Brel’s My Death on the Russell Harty show, which was previously thought to be lost and features on the show.
Bowie married twice – to Angie in 1970 and model Iman in 1992 – and had two children, including the filmmaker Duncan Jones – formerly known as Zowie Bowie.
Choreographer Lindsay Kemp, who died last August, gave one of his final interviews to the film, in which he joked that his former lover had been terrible at mime.
‘He did a piece called The Mask. David, I suppose, had seen Marcel Marceaualong the line but he wasn’t Marcel Marceau. It was dreadful. I cringed, I really cringed.
‘There are always people who will say, “He was very good in that miming, wasn’t he?” No darling, it was a load of s***.’