Sunday, 9 February 2020

Monty Python: The War Against Pornography

For some strange reason I have managed to blog about TV for this long and not once blogged about Monty Python and this is an omission which requires immediate correction.
I have commented recently on the energy and youthfulness of TV comedy before everyone became very cynical in Thatcher's Britain, and of course Monty Python is no exception. The Pythons seemingly took whatever came to mind and made it hilarious. Their humour was not without relevance to the events of the day and the war against pornography referenced here was of course a real war being waged at the time: regular readers will have noticed how often Mary Whitehouse is referenced on this blog. If you want the other side of that story I would recommend the film about Mary Millington which I have recently watched with much enjoyment.
The other thing the Pythons bring home is how the world has changed in the intervening decades. Part of this episode mentions Britain and trade with other nations, and of course the seventies were a hopeful time of European common living. We have of course left Europe and the government is putting out ads about how we will now build relationships with Europe. This must make sense in someone's head but it certainly doesn't in mine, when we had agreement with Europe! If push comes to shove members of my profession can immigrate to Ireland, so all is not lost.
I have a feeling that Gumbys were among the Leave voters. The reason I picked this episode was because I love the Gumby brain surgery! Of course the point is that nobody would think they were a Gumby themselves... Although we've all met a few!
It is more evident to classic TV viewers like us than most people but the Pythons are of course making heavy references to the TV of the time, which makes Monty Python very reflexive and really quite postmodern before its time. IMDB tells me that it directly references Dr Kildare and Match of the Day, but I feel there are also references to documentary and nature shows which I'm not in a position to name.
Sit back and enjoy this show - to criticise Monty Python would be churlish. Oh - I like shows referencing the war against porn - as a prolific consumer of porn myself I like to think Mrs Whitehouse would disapprove.

Tuesday, 28 January 2020

Dr Who: Terror of the Autons

High time we had some more Who. This one features Jon Pertwee with the Master, of course one of the Doctor's greatest enemies.
The premise of this one is relatively simple, but tends to become complicated when it is explained. The Master gains access to Nestene intelligence which allows anything plastic to become dangerous. It's really as simple as that. You can get as sci fi about as you like.
But of course that is not how I would approach it - the premise of dangerous plastics allows endless japes, like murderous toys, deadly flowers and chairs which eat people. Oh, and plastic police officers. You can approach this one as horrifying if you want - in fact it was given in Parliament as an example of how children's television had become scary - but watched as an adult, it is a jolly romp.

This Who calls in a feature of the TV of the sixties which I bang on about here - the ambivalence about the bright new scientific future which was otherwise all the rage at the time. Two points about this are made in the special features of the disc - that again this was horrifying because it made something dangerous which is found in every home, and that there was a fear this storyline would clash with Doomwatch's line about plastic deteriorating. It is commented that this fear was ungrounded because Doomwatch was completely serious, so perhaps I am not too far off in my approach to this show.
Blue screen filming is used extensively here, both to allow the effects but also for many scenes to give a backdrop. Of course it was the technology of the time, and can look very old fashioned. Otherwise the adventure is paced perfectly and four was the perfect number of episodes.
Can anyone reading this not have seen this? But if you haven't, do run away and watch it.

Sunday, 12 January 2020

Billy Liar

This was very nearly a post about Tales From Fat Tulip's Garden, which is a delight and which I remember the first time round, although I was probably older than its intended audience. Tony Robinson (Baldrick), dissatisfied with the quality of story telling around at the time for his own young children, tells stories in a gorgeous listed house and garden. You can read about this show at the Curious British Telly blog here and here and about the sad story of the house here. I would recommend the show to children of any age.
Also in my current viewing heap is the TV series Billy Liar, which I have seen before and for some reason didn't take to. On revisiting it I have come to the conclusion that this show is also a delight. The Billy Liar meme lasted for a good couple of decades after the initial novel, about a terminally dreamy young man came out and encompassed film, play, sequel and this TV series. The idea is very simple, Billy Fisher leads a humdrum life still living at home and working as an assistant to an undertaker. His day dreams enliven his boring days and what makes it so good is that we get to see his dreams which often incorporate his family and employer in various fantastic scenarios. What makes this good TV is that we see all of these fantasies acted out, sometimes with the characters in very uncharacteristic roles, and this show must have stretched LWT's wardrobe to its limit!
In a change to my normal policy I do like that the actors in this show are virtually all familiar faces, because we get to see them in unusual roles. I particularly like May Warden as the sex-obsessed grandmother.
The series is set in that ethereal place I have mentioned here before, t'north, which as we all know is a symbol of poverty, lack of ambition, and gritty, kitchen-sink drama. All the better then that this show transforms its location into a place of dreams. We are also lucky that it was happily unable to escape from the early seventies and that the hair, the clothes and the decor are all of the period and marvellously reminiscent of the period for those who remember it.
The illustration is what happened in Billy's fantasy world after his father said, 'I' ll eat my hat'.

Sunday, 29 December 2019

The Dawson Watch

This was very nearly a post about Carry on Christmas, but I don't think anyone would read it at this stage. I may post it in August and see what happens. Actually I have been taking notes of some of the searches which bring people to this site, and some are hilarious. Let's just say that entitling the last post Designing Women has caused a significant spike in page views!
Instead a general post about this show which arrived the day before yesterday and is so good I have watched almost all of it already. It is somewhat late for me, having been originally broadcast in 1979-80, but surely I don't need to tell any readers of this blog that anything Les Dawson did is wonderful. The whole series is on region 2 dvd by Simply Media but if you need any persuasion to buy (or even get a multi region dvd player if you don't have one) you can see episode 1 gratis here.
What makes this show particularly suitable for the readers of this blog is that you shouldn't be deceived by the reviews online which describe this show as stand up comedy. There is a strong streak of the style of comedy for which Dawson is so famous, but in addition it parodies many of the TV shows of the time, including documentary, nature and so on. Hence the title, Dawson watching what is going on, in the style of many a TV programme of the time.
The only caution I would give is that much of the humour is as dated as Dawson's synthetic suits and some viewers may find some of his jokes offensive. This box set contains the whole two series of this show to a restored standard, without extras but with subtitles. Unusually for me, I am raving about the famous faces who constitute the guest list - normally of course I don't like familiar faces but in this setting it is wonderful to see great actors in unusual roles. There are a number of the wonderful Cissie and Ada sketches with Roy Barraclough.
I particularly love the bit where he introduces Ceefax as the latest thing.

Sunday, 22 December 2019

Designing Women (1948) Starring Joyce Grenfell

Last Christmas I made a post about Fanny Cradock and fortuitously this weekend I have bought the Central Office of Information volume 2: Design for Today and thus discovered this gem which provides an excuse for a post featuring Joyce Grenfell. I realise that I am being inconsistent but some people, like Fanny and Joyce  are so much themselves that I make an exception to my usual rule about familiar faces for them.

In my opinion it is worth buying the set for this sweet film alone, but you can also watch it on YouTube above or at the Internet Archive here. It is about a young couple moving into their first home without much idea of how to go about it, and the film is about the contrasting demands of design and art. Grenfell plays Miss Arty and Audrey Fildes plays Miss Design - the booklet describes them as ethereal beings - who just appear in the couple's house. Grenfell plays her artistic part wonderfully, and the arrangements she makes in the house are hilariously impractical. Of course the most incredible thing is that virtually nobody gets to select all things they want for their first or any other home, every kitchen I have ever seen has been marred by at least a few design blunders, and nobody gets to change things once decided. But then perhaps this short film embodies the post-War optimism that I am always banging on about here. Also ironic is that it is amongst the oldest things I have pontificated about and looks so old fashioned. Nonetheless it is a joy (ha).
Joyce must be familiar to regular readers here by her appearances in such films as the St Trinian's series and her monologues - the one featuring George is below. She had difficulty with theatrical people because of an uneasiness around 'queers', despite being friendly with Noel Coward. What drove Joy was her Christian Science faith, which does tend to seem strange to those who don't belong to it, and she didn't publicise this aspect of her life. Reggie her husband did not share this faith and prompted her to see a doctor about the cancer which killed her, although Wikipedia says she was never told she had cancer.

Sunday, 8 December 2019

Armchair Cinema: Regan

I have been watching some episodes of Armchair Theatre. I am finding it terribly worthy, rather stodgy, and frankly rather prefer the superficial soufflĂ© TV shows I normally watch  and don't want to have to feel like I should be in evening dress to watch TV. It appears I am not the only one and this page (which I really do recommend for good background to this show and also Special Branch) indicates that Euston Films were recruited to shake it up. Regan was the second episode of the revised show.
To be frank my first impression of this was not at all favourable, for a single reason. At this length of time, when the population and language of London have changed beyond recognition, it would be difficult or impossible to find someone who would think it natural to refer to the Flying Squad as the Sweeney Todd, but you could have done in the early seventies. But I myself went in pubs in the seventies and I find it difficult to believe that a pub would have been full of people singing 'My Old Man Said Follow the Band' to a piano accompaniment. It feels anachronistic in the forward-looking seventies, with everyone wearing synthetic fibre and going back to homes which should really have led to a prosecution for crimes against taste. Did you spot the orange wallpaper in the scene in which Regan first says the famous line, 'Get your trousers, you're nicked'?
Fortunately there are no further anachronisms and the episode goes on to lay the groundwork for the Sweeney, and do it in style. It is like being transported back to the seventies, and having all the more dodgy aspects of that decade laid out at once. The music is gorgeous. And the cars... What can I say about the cars? Apart from the fact that they are probably all now scrapped and was there ever a time when Fords were any good?
The post I reference above rightly places Regan in the contexts of police corruption and soaring crime of the time. In the face of these two things Regan presents a more philosophical answer, because it answers the problems with Regan, who is a total maverick. I feel no modern organisation could contain him, but it is his approach which enables him to deal with the situation.
A valid criticism is the patchy pacing, and of course a lot of people just wouldn't like this. Additionally there are a lot of familiar faces.
So if you don't like it... Shut it.

Saturday, 30 November 2019

The Goodies: Playgirl Club

There is a youngness and freshness about the humour of the sixties and seventies , before the cynicism of Thatcher's Britain put paid to it. You have to be young to produce certain sorts of humour - age has its own humour - and perhaps in releases of the last few years we see this best in The Goodies and in Do Not Adjust Your Set and Not the 1948 Show, both of which have been released this year by BFI. I recently fell for the complete Goodies and am enjoying the episodes I haven't seen before.
I had forgotten that the celebs queued up to guest on this show and the wonderful Molly Sugden features in this one. The best thing is that the character she plays is so close to Mrs Slocombe that it just misses her talking about her pussy. Incidentally I also love that she is a minister being blackmailed for going to the Playgirl Club - a topical reference in the age of the Playboy Club. This episode of course reverses the Playboy Club theme by having topless male staff, and the episode reverses it again by having Tim go to the club in drag because it is women only.
Three weeks later he is still there surrounded by the young women! And that is what I like best about this episode, the sexiness of it. The Goodies poke fun at the culture of the time in many ways, such as by their parodies of advertising, and elsewhere poke fun at the culture's approach to sex by reference to Mary Whitehouse. Here the norms of the time prevail, because we see nude girls at the club, and there is a lot made of the Goodies' attraction to the girls. I particularly love the inflatable dolly secretary.
However this episode doesn't get good reviews on the Internet - possibly because it hasn't been seen much. A fair criticism is that it is a vehicle for ogling nude girls and thus rather lacks depth in other areas! Another one is that it only survives in monochrome  and the illustration of Tim first entering the club gives a good idea of its quality after restoration.