Five Years: David Bowie – the Making of an Icon

Sat May 25, 9.20-10.50pm, BBC2

No ‘Laughing Gnome’? No ‘Labyrinth’? No Tin Machine? Disgraceful. The debate will rage over whether these are the five key years of Bowie’s life, but in the meantime, we suppose ‘Hunky Dory’ to Ziggy, ‘Young Americans’, the Berlin Years, ‘Scary Monsters’ and ‘Let’s Dance’ will have to do. Francis Whately’s elegantly structured documentary cheats a bit (1971-2, 1974-5 etc count as one year each), but who cares when the material’s so rich?

Key collaborators, friends and peers contribute their memories of working with a man whose awkward perfectionism reaped great rewards, but not without causing significant collateral damage along the way – his transformation from the folkie-on-the-make of ‘Hunky Dory’ to the emaciated coke fiend of the LA years is terrifying. Bowie himself contributes only through archive interviews, but the clips are smartly chosen if seldom revelatory.

But as a one-stop shop for the great man’s finest moments, ‘Five Years’ is invaluable. The likes of Brian Eno, Robert Fripp and Nic Roeg (whose ‘The Man Who Fell to Earth’ follows at 10.50pm) compete for best anecdote, but Nile Rodgers wins by a mile with his uproarious tale of Bowie, Billy Idol and barfing in early ’80s NYC. Opaque, intriguing and exhilarating by turns – which is surely just how Dame David would want it.