Wednesday, 17 June 2020

The Children's Film Foundation: One Hour to Zero

Goodness, our world has become a strange place very quickly. You will be pleased to know that you can read this post without fear of infection, because it turns out I have coronavirus antibodies. I wasn't aware I had had it, but I've got the antibodies. This programme is rather topical in another way, because it is set in Wales, another place the English took over and forced everyone to learn English.
It was just as topical in 1976, because it features a nuclear power plant, and of course people imminently expected a nuclear winter: my own mother actually had an evacuation plan that began (I was tiny) 'put John in a wheelbarrow'! My own view is that nuclear power is completely safe, if you can sit with the potential if it goes wrong and you can face the need to contain the waste for thousands of years. The trouble was that the reactors of the time were not safe, because they allowed people to do stupid things like see what happens if you remove the power rods, which is what happened at Chernobyl. I have a thing about nuclear disasters, so I'm weird. Stop the press.
The plot of this one is a familiar device, actually: the protagonist has some event happen and comes to either in a different place or the same place with something different, such as no people. Just off the top of my head I would think of The Prisoner and The Avengers episode The Hour That Never Was as programmes with a similar premise. It is very well set up here  and comes as a complete surprise after the events before, which in turn explain why the two boys are in the situation.
This film (I think the CFF did films mainly rather than TV, and remember them often being a bit stodgy) is an absolute delight. The cars alone would be worth watching it for. Apparently there is only one Mark 3 Ford Cortina registered in the UK but you can see tons of them here, and when the village is evacuated one family leaves in a marvellous old car which I suspect might be a Rover. And the clothes are wonderful - I found myself wondering how the two boys didn't get blown away in their flares.
There is a theme of authority and responses to it just under the surface here - for example the two boys keep representing different views on what they should do, and I am interested how the dad tried to get the policeman to let him deal with his son's vandalism and not do anything about it. The height of disestablishmentarian authority avoidance is a violent criminal played by the wonderful Dudley Sutton with an even more wonderful Welsh accent.
If I was being really picky I would say that Andrew and Toby, the two boys, have slightly different accents and one is quite a bit posher than the other, despite putting in a few glottal stops. Far from unusual in real life but it really shows when they're talking to each other. That is unless you take Paul as representative of authority and the establishment. 
If you want to see it you can get it on the BFI's Children's Film Foundation Bumper Box here

Saturday, 23 May 2020

Jonathan Creek: The Curious Tale of Mr Spearfish

Another of my beloved series which I have never written about here, although the reason is simply that you have to let yourself forget mysteries before you watch them again.  I don't personally watch mysteries really for the detection but for the comfortable setting and the atmosphere. This goes for Agatha Christie, whom I have written about here before - although her books are now old enough to have faded into a mythical past - for example I would love to sympathise about the servant problem, but I have never had that problem myself. I feel Jonathan Creek also has an air of unreality and regular readers will know I love TV shows to be unreal.
It has only just struck me how unreal this is. As I remember it is revealed at some point that Jonathan inherited the mill (although I stand to be corrected) but Maddie's flat in a mansion block would be ridiculously expensive. Out here in reality journalists can't be sure of stability and people who make a living by consulting on their special interest tend to live hand to mouth.
This, as all quality TV, can be read on several levels. The idea which kept coming to me was that it was a story about a woman who had fallen in love with a wrong 'un. Because Mr Spearfish is almost certainly wrong by his wife's standards and really she should have dumped him. That seems to be the opinion of everyone else in the episode who knows them.
As a mystery it is also fairly obvious that the premise is fake. I feel that selling your soul to 'Satan' is the province of rebellious teenagers and for a grown man to do it and also accept his new magical abilities such as being shot in the chest and not being affected. Also - how much chest hair can one man carry without beginning to attract random items through static?
But I'm being mean by pointing to the mammoth plot hole, which is why this is best approached for the atmosphere.
Which is wonderful and Mr Spearfish's story is in counterpoint with Adam Klaus in court for alleged sexual assault. I also love the way Maddie has the hots for Jonathan, he is oblivious to this and she irritates him intensely.
So don't pick holes and go with the flow, because who wouldn't want to live in a windmill?

Sunday, 17 May 2020

The Avengers: Death's Door

I have had a stressful few weeks... However thankfully I am starting a holiday at home which will hopefully mean getting some sun. I was thinking which recent purchases I ought to blog about but then decided that I will watch and blog about what I want to!
One of the reasons I have picked this Avengers is it is an all-time favourite of mine, seems to be popular with the fans and yet strangely gets hammered on the Internet. Let's get the criticism out of the way, so that I can proceed with pure adulation. Props, locations, shots are all taken from other Avengers, but of course we must remember these shows were intended to be viewed once and not to hold up to the sort of analysis we give them now. You will also read that this one is inferior to Too Many Christmas Trees - it is if you buy the premise of real psychic powers, but I think the fake psychic power here puts it more firmly in the spy stable.
I have commented many times on the sparse props used by this series to give a whole context - here, stately home, leather chairs and suits combine to set the action firmly in The Establishment. Nobody ever notices that here the Establishment is seen as faltering or even rotten. Melford comments to Steed that Steed's taxes have gone on his hotel, and of course the government can't manage to get their delegate to the peace conference. Steed is placed outside the Establishment (despite being an agent of the Ministry) and yet the government is dependent on him and Mrs Peel - the sixties preoccupation with the new world and opportunities which were coming.
There are two aspects which are my absolute favourites. One is the shooting scene. The other is the street scenes, which I suppose ought to be strictly within the fantasy world of The Avengers and yet at this length of time seem so old fashioned.
I suspect that many viewers would find the mind control premise of this episode pretty incredible, but the point of The Avengers is that it isn't real and I think this one really deserves reconsideration.

Friday, 1 May 2020

Bergerac: Burnt

Another series I can't believe it's taken me this long to write about. I must begin by being frank about the fact that Bergerac was a favourite show of mine in my teens - I even fantasised about living on Jersey 'when I grow up'. The irony is that now I am grown up I actually could live there, because I belong to a profession which is granted residence without the usual requirement that you pay at £125,000 sterling in tax every year, and wouldn't want to because I loathe the sort of people who pay that sort of tax.
This episode is largely about a financial fiddle - it isn't enough being fabulously wealthy, but the fabulously wealthy like finding ways of contributing as little as possible and so like to have their assets hidden away. In this case on Sark, another of the Channel Islands and with notably eccentric laws: I see that feudalism was only abolished in 2008 in the island's first election!
Perhaps I have given a rather negative impression, and would not want anyone to think that Bergerac is not a complete joy. There is literally something in it for everyone: beautiful scenery, detection, rich people, Bergerac's train wreck of a love life. What is not to love? I particularly love Terence Alexander as Bergerac's ex-father-in-law, with the cigar permanently in his hand.
This is a series 6 episode, first broadcast in 1988, and this provides another of its joys. Surely rich people and the 1980s are inseparably connected? Bergerac provides a veritable feast of 1980s reminiscence, and this episode is no exception. One of the best things is seeing the latest computers of the time: the boxes they sit in don't look wildly odd but it is when they operate it all looks so ancient. Especially as the equipment is being used in this one by the police to solve crime.
As always writing these witterings leads me to new information about these shows and I have discovered that the setting for the fictional Bureau des Etrangers (Our Sort of People don't commit vulgar crimes) for which Bergerac works, was the notorious former children's home Haute de la Garenne. Its history of abuse hit the press in the early noughties, once again illustrating that apparent idylls may not be what they seem.
I actually find I don't want to say too much because I don't want to give the plot away in case anyone hasn't seen it. And that is my criticism: it's a bit obvious who is the most masterful personality amongst the cast. I didn't think of it at the time, but much like Sean Connery, John Nettles has played all his parts with the same accent. He's from Cornwall and while Bergerac is supposed to be from Jersey he doesn't sound like it.
I haven't been posting much here recently, because of yet another life complication. Until this week we have been having wonderful weather and so I got out on the canal bank for my hour's exercise last weekend. The photo is a social distancing version and thus a selfie.

Sunday, 19 April 2020

Not TV: Honor Blackman in Serena (1962)

We have lost a couple of actors already this year, who will be well known to the readers of this blog. Tim Brooke-Taylor succumbed to Covid-19, and I feel that is the reason his death has had a higher profile. I have recently featured him in drag here and you can read a tribute to him by Grant Goggins here. Instead I have chosen to post about Honor Blackman and feature a film of hers contemporary with The Avengers.
Serena has what is a rather simple plot under the surface  and cunningly hidden by layers of deceit and confusion. This film really does take a few viewings to sort out what is happening.
I am going to say as little as possible about the plot, but I do have a few films I think are out of a similar mould to The Avengers but have not so far got round to doing a post about them.
This one has very much the same atmosphere as the early Avengers. It is set in a rather Bohemian setting, based around an artist whose wife will not divorce him because she's a devout RC. I really think this film would have been quite risqué in 1962, featuring sexual dalliance, the bohemian arty crowd and conflict between various parts of this world.
Into this steps Honor Blackman as a breath of fresh air. She was criticised for her diction, but it was those elocution lessons which gave her the key to her future career. Her diction may also seem rather old fashioned in an age when youngsters are all learning to speak LME. She also had that something which is only found in excellent actors: you forget that she is Honor Blackman and she becomes the role, while still being head and shoulders above the other actors.
If you really tried hard to criticise this film, you could say that once you have sussed the twist the solution is obvious, but who ever went to the cinema on a Saturday afternoon to solve a puzzle?
Let's end with a video of Honor being a breath of fresh air later in life.

Wednesday, 25 March 2020

The Avengers: Man-Eater of Surrey Green

In theory I am working from home but surprisingly can't get on to remote working and have done nothing for two days. I have additionally been offered another job, and since my manager couldn't be bothered to acknowledge my notice or speak to me, I am not minded to be helpful! The perfect opportunity to write a blog post.
I don't know why I have never noticed that this Avengers is one of those which spoof a whole genre of film, in this case the dangerous plants theme which is a sub set of 1950s creature features. It is suitable for the Avengers  which so frequently refers to the 1960s love and fear of science, which at the same time was mirrored by a love and fear of nature.
One of the things I find interesting about this is that in theory the action leaves Avengersland completely, going as far as Denbigh, which is in Wales. There are also other distances involved, by means of rockets and what have you. There is therefore a sense in which this show is an exception to the normally constrained world of the Avengers.
Unfortunately this far-ranging ambition doesn't pay off as far as the plot is concerned. My advice would be not to watch this too critically, as is often the case with The Avengers, but to sit back and enjoy it. When it is watched like that it holds together, but if you subject the plot to too much scrutiny it rather falls apart. I have read that many or all of the scientific references and names of plants are fictional or just plain wrong, which of course would be annoying for specialists.
What did they think they were doing? I cannot believe the Avengers was only aimed at people with no knowledge of the science mentioned at all, but I also don't want to make out there was a slapdash failure to check facts. I am going to take the view (on no evidence at all) that the fictional science and nonexistent facts were deliberate, and therefore can only have been intended to give the knowledgeable the message that this isn't real, which is well in line with the approach taken from series 4 on. It is easy to find other examples of unreal nations, people, events in the series, and the Avengers deals in broad brush strokes and stereotypes rather than facts.
As always, writing these blog posts teaches me things and apparently this Avengers is strikingly like the Dr Who adventure The Seeds of Doom, which was also written by Robert Banks Stewart, in a hurry as a replacement script.
Apparently there is some dispute amongst the fans as to whether Steed puts poison on Mrs Peel so that it's taken up by the plant, or whether he poisons the plant. Obviously he's poisoning the plant directly!
So to summarise: not one which takes too much scrutiny, but does have many of the recurrent themes of the time.
My favourite moment: Steed revealing the cactus hidden under the blanket in his car.

Thursday, 12 March 2020

Avengersland: The Wrestling Parson

I am accustomed to saying that the world depicted in The Avengers is not real. Until now. British Pathé did a series of films on eccentric vicars and this one (from 1963) is straight out of The Avengers. Many a clergyman must have been involved in wrestling or boxing, but working in Canada  buying a horse from 'the gypsies' and giving the horse beer to drink take it to the next level. And that wrestling match in the open surely wasn't set up for the camera was it?