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.

Thursday, 21 November 2019

Armchair Cinema or possibly ITV Playhouse: Suspect

Perhaps I had better start by explaining my title. If you want to see this on YouTube the thing to search for is Armchair Cinema. I think it may be on one of the Network box sets of that name but I'm not certain. If you want to read about this show on IMDB, it is under the title of ITV Playhouse here.
Wonderful TV this, proper quality. And you all know how difficult it is to get unalloyed praise from me. Settings, visuals, plot, characterisation, acting, all superb.
It may, however, be rather wrongly named, because this is much more of a psychological thriller than a Whodunnit. It gradually and effectively builds up the tension, mostly revolving around Mrs Segal, some of whose actions are rather bizarre and she backs herself effectively into a corner. There is also a feeling of claustrophobia about this because so much of it revolves around a single house and a single village.
The house is absolutely gorgeous, but don't please run away with the idea that we are talking about one of our ancient landed families: being in trade, the Segals are distinctly nouveau.
What strikes me is how old fashioned it is, but then it is fifty years old. I doubt any village functions that insularly now, but then since the country terrifies me I would always have hated it. I love the way everyone lights a fag at the end of a meal. And Mrs Segal's car is a mark 3 Ford Cortina, and my dad had one of those!
Superb television. And superb acting by some Big Names who show their quality by not overpowering their roles.

Sunday, 20 October 2019

Gideon's Way: The Nightlifers

In my last post about this show I neglected to mention the soundtrack of this show, and this episode personifies perfection. It depicts demimondaine - I'm not sure of the word to use to describe them, possibly respectable people at the time would have called them beatniks - denizens of Soho and the sound track is thus jazzy and cool for cats. I have recently also been watching some episodes of Peter Gunn, which has a similarly groovy soundtrack.
In point of fact The Nightlifers places us squarely in the most sophisticated worlds of post-War Britain, just before the Beatles met the Maharishi and everyone started meditating. It has all the hallmarks - for a start being set in Soho, Gideon's wife tries to get him to get some Chinese delicacies from a shop in Soho, and there are parties and drugs galore. This episode exactly depicts the world in which The Avengers is set, including depicting a world of privilege.
This show is not the simplistic contrast of youthful exuberance with middle-aged and -class shock, although I love the shock when the mother discovers a 'marijuana cigarette' - nowadays parents are quite glad if that's all their offspring are smoking, although clued-up parents would be more worried that it may be laced with g*d knows what. Nor is this show merely a depiction of bored rich kids who have gone off the rails. Rather the tone is set when one of the rozzers says that the joy taken in the attacks is 'sadistic' - or rather it could be called psychopathic. There is a kinky undertone here, of pleasure being taken in pain. Even down to Sloane always addressing Cole as 'little man', there's definitely a kinky power thing going on here, which to my mind makes this show incredibly adventurous for the time.
The cast list is like a list of the great and the good of the theatre - Annette Andre for example will be familiar to readers of this blog - but that doesn't bother me in the way it sometimes does, because they are all greats and don't let their off screen personas dominate.
Chief among these is Anton Rodgers in the uncharacteristic role of the sadistic party thrower, in which he gives a convincing portrayal of enjoying other people's suffering. Actually perhaps it may not have been that unusual for him in his wide-ranging theatrical career:
He had been on the London stage for five years before he landed his first "legitimate" role - or rather, two roles - in a sexually sensational double bill by John Osborne, Plays for England (Royal Court).
In the first piece, a frivolous flop called The Blood of the Bambergs, he made little mark. But in the second, Under Plain Cover, which depicted a couple of devoted sado-masochists inventing new sex games with corsets and commodes, Rodgers was more prominent as a knicker-fetishist who turned out to be his female partner's brother. Source
The only thing I don't really take to about this episode is the rather moralistic way in which the son-gone-off-the-rails gets beaten up by Sloane who then ends up on a murder charge when he dies. It's all a bit too convenient for the baddies to get such immediate retribution. I'm also (I'm not a lawyer so stand to be corrected) am not convinced that Sloane would have been charged with murder - at no point is he apparently intending to kill so may have been charged with manslaughter.
And if you want to know the reason for the burning Modigliani, that is my way of wetting appetites to make you watch it!