Last Chance Saloon (11-part miniseries) is the story of Neil ‘Twink’ Tinning, a troubled, magnificent man living with bipolar disorder, and his unique attempt to understand the science behind his, and many other, mental health conditions – all while getting ready to play the biggest gig of his life.
Twink explains why he’s so motivated to understand mental illness, in all its forms. He reveals how he went from being a talented child with a camera to official photographer for The Jam, at the time one of the biggest bands in the UK. We’ll also meet Twink’s own band, The Tinstones, and learn of Twink’s devastating awakening to his own serious mental illness.
In part 2, The Tinstones’ album, Last Chance Saloon, gradually takes shape, thanks to the connectivity of the internet. We learn how a job in sales helped Twink discover he had bipolar, and he travels to Cardiff University to chat to Professor Michael Owen all about the brain. Michael, the Director of the Institute of Psychological Medicine and Clinical Neurosciences, guides Twink through the basic ideas of what a brain is, how we came to understand it and what the future holds for understanding mental illness.
In part 3, the death of Amy Winehouse inspires Twink to create music while we’re given an unsettling insight into his daily medication regimen. To try to gain insights into his own condition, Twink interviews Professor Michael O’Donovan, an expert in schizophrenia, at his home in Cardiff. As Twink talks to him, he learns exactly what schizophrenia is, why it’s such a troubling and stigmatising illness and how genetics is providing hope for future treatments.
In part 4, Twink goes to the Cardiff University Brain Research Imaging Centre (CUBRIC) to get an MRI scan of his own brain, in the hope it might shed some light on his illness. With Professor David Linden, Twink explores the contents of his skull, producing more questions than answers…
In part 5, Twink’s mood dips as the implications of the gig begin to loom. His investigations into mental illness lead him to Professor Ian Jones at Cardiff’s Sixways Stadium. A rugby fan and expert on post-partum psychosis, Ian explains how severe this condition, affecting some women following childbirth, can be. Twink talks to Clare Dolman, a woman with terrifying firsthand experience of the illness, and starts to realise that different mental illnesses have similar features.
In part 6, Twink realises science has its limits and his mood continues to dip as he anxiously waits to watch the results of having been filmed by the crew of Newsnight for a special edition on mental illness. His investigations into mental illness bring him to the kitchen of Professor Anita Thapar, an expert on attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
In part 7, gig rehearsals gain momentum, causing the band to up their game, while Twink experiences a musical revelation that helps him come to terms with the loss of his parents. He also ventures into the Brecon Beacons, the running territory of former British Army psychiatrist Professor Jonathan Bisson. Together, they tease apart the nature, causes and treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
In part 8, The Tinstones’ rehearsals continue apace but Twink enters one of his severe depressions. He travels to London’s Royal College of Psychiatrists to find out if he and others with mental illness can be optimistic about the future. He quizzes two highly influential people in the world of neuroscience and mental health, Professor Nicholas Craddock of the Royal College and Dr John Williams of the Wellcome Trust. Contains strong language.
In part 9, Twink shares his passion for riding a Harley-Davidson – an unexpected mode of transport for a self-proclaimed recluse – while the band performs a full dress rehearsal, with all the problems that entails. At Cardiff’s extraordinary Millennium Stadium, Twink photographs and interviews Alzheimer’s disease expert Professor Julie Williams, who reveals the similarities between this and other mental conditions and the shocking scale of the condition in the UK. Contains strong language.
In part 10, with their gig now imminent, tension mounts as the band and their roadies hit the road to Cardiff. Twink visits his friend Professor Nicholas Craddock’s smallholding; in amidst the pigs, alpacas and spitting goats, Twink and Nick tease out the causes and treatments of bipolar disorder, addressing one of Twink’s major concerns – will it affect his children? Contains strong language.
In the final episode, rehearsal time is over as The Tinstones take to the stage for their first ever live gig, in front of an audience containing many of the scientists who helped Twink on his journey. Rick Buckler, former drummer for The Jam, provides a friend’s insight into what it was like to see Twink succumb to bipolar disorder. Twink shares his thoughts about the impact meeting the scientists has had on his understanding of his own condition and mental illness as a whole.