Wednesday, 19 June 2019

Dick Emery: Legacy of Murder

Today a show I was delighted to discover on YouTube (unfortunately the channel I downloaded the episodes from has gone now, so unless they are elsewhere online the only option is one unofficial DVD release): I love Dick Emery and while he plays several characters, this series is different from the sketch shows I remember him from, because it is an actual story in which Emery stars as a shambolic private eye who is hired with his assistant to locate six people connected with the estate of a deceased aristocrat. The fact that Emery plays most of the characters he seeks is not cheap, but in the grand tradition of Kind Hearts and Coronets.
Here is the history of the show, lifted from here
In 1979, Dick Emery had jumped ship to ITV, a year later in 1980 he returned to the BBC with his popular Dick Emery Show.  By 1982 Emery was growing tired of the existing format of his BBC show and wanted to find new avenues to explore.
Using a new format and character, Jewish private detective Bernie Weinstock, Emery had found a new avenue, producing two series of comedy thrillers under the banner Emery Presents.  These aired on the BBC between 1982 and 1983.  The first series of Emery presents was entitled Legacy of Murder, whilst the second was entitled Jack Of Diamonds, which was broadcast six months after the star’s death.
The show is peopled with all the familiars from Emery's world - the vicars, the old ladies, eccentric aristocrats and what have you. In my own opinion this world is delightful. If you can't find this show you can see into the same world in his TV sketch shows and the film Ooh You Are Awful, all widely available. The only proviso would be that his humour is distinctly old fashioned in its attitudes, and hence unfashionable but never malicious.
The sidekick also has an important role (Tony Selby stars as the sidekick in the other series, and he will be familiar to readers of this blog, in fact I posted a picture of him in The Sweeney a few weeks ago). In this series the sidekick is Barry Evans who may be familiar to viewers from Mind Your Language, but is probably better known for starring in 1970s sex comedies in the Adventures series. I see that Evans is one of the tragic figures of the TV world, and ended up as a cab driver before his untimely death.
The only thing I don't like about this series is that it has a laughter track, but of course that is personal taste.
Finally Emery delights me by using a uniquely Birmingham idiom in this show, when a milkman says that it's black over Will's mother's. That is a Birmingham idiom which means it's going to rain and the clouds are gathering over Stratford upon Avon before coming and dropping rain on the city. Will is of course Will Shakespeare.

Saturday, 8 June 2019

The Sweeney: Jackpot

Apologies for the hiatus in posting. I have temporarily been watching some films and some less cult TV. Regular readers will know that I don't shy away from difficult subjects but even I find it difficult to know how to write about the Charlie Chan films in the twenty first century! Similarly I have been watching the Confessions films starring Robin Askwith and frankly while I am not embarrassed to reveal my liking for 1970s sex comedies, writing about them here could get rather wearing for you. Nonetheless we remain in the seventies because my manager has developed a habit of saying 'Shut it' ... referring to whatever the staff member thus addressed is working on. She is also pregnant and actually commented that she hadn't got any dinner because she'd eaten it by 11 o'clock. There is no point telling her about a TV show made well before she was born so here I am to ramble on about an episode of The Sweeney.
Jackpot begins with extended footage of the delicate treatment of suspects for which our constabulary were so famed in seventies, and since. The opening scene feels both ridiculously old fashioned (because of the vehicles, clothes and the way the suspects are told to take off their braces when they arrive at the nick) and incredibly postmodern at the same time because the scene is being filmed by a copper. We see the scene through the lens and Regan breaks the fourth wall when he tells the camera to get out of his way. I particularly love the bit where Regan is hauled over the coals for managing to lose a bag of money. The actor Morris Perry could have been born for those sort of boss roles, and I don't mind that he appears in so many shows because he turns into a sort of symbol for the establishment.
Regan of course represents all that is maverick, and much of the point of this episode is the conflict between the maverick and the establishment. This conflict largely underpins this episode: as long as he captures all the crooks Regan doesn't mind how he gets there. His bosses want him to play by the rules. Ironically I have a feeling that the establishment couldn't cope without characters like Regan, but don't know how to deal with him. My own opinion is that the only way to deal with Regan is to keep him inside pissing out, because who would want Regan against them? Ironically it is of course Regan who is the person who cracks the problem of where the missing money has gone.
The visual equivalent of this disagreement about ways of seeing is that this episode also revolves around what is seen, particularly in the form of the film of the action. For the sake of the story I think the viewer should ignore the rather strange situation that one police officer with, presumably, a cine camera has somehow managed to film the raid from multiple angles and the film has managed to be edited into a smooth record of events, which looks exactly as if it was made for television! The different ways of seeing things show fault lines in the flying squad which begin to widen under the strain of this case.
In common with all Sweeney episodes this one is superb because of the seventies milieu alone. I have been surprised to find mixed reviews on the internet, with people describing it as strange and finding it flawed because of the camera plot element. Perhaps I just like TV to be unreal because I can fully see that this episode wouldn't hang together in reality but if TV was strictly real it wouldn't be an escape would it?

Monday, 13 May 2019

Thriller: Killer with Two Faces

I must start this post by correcting something I said, ooh, two or three blog posts ago, which was that I thought the episodes ran on to play a bit again, on the Network DVD box set. This was completely wrong and in fact the way the shows are arranged on the DVD is to show the whole episode as originally seen in the UK, and then there are the opening and closing titles as made for the US market. Very complete indeed, but a bit confusing for a bear of little brain like myself. Personally I would have preferred the US titles put separately as an extra, because I can't find a way of watching the whole DVDS episodes through without seeing different titles over and over.
Here in the UK we got the ATV In Colour titles as seen above. What memories those titles bring back for me - one of these days I am going to get round to writing the post I keep talking about, about UK regional TV stations, not least because it will force me to get the matter finally clear in my own head. Then after the ATV thing we're straight in to Ian Hendry's hairy chest without a pause. I love the way he sucks his gut in while talking to the doctor about how his clothes would fit him!
This episode is what it is. It would be wrong to expect too much of it, since the (spoiler alert) twin device is a plot device which is genuinely ancient. This episode attracts valid criticism that it is always easy for the audience to tell which twin is which. They could have had the good twin in league with the bad twin, or had the bad one murder the good one, or whatever. The real problem is that once you know there are twins it becomes obvious how this will end.
Stellar performance, though.
I am slightly disappointed to find that the box set doesn't include some cut scenes, which are nonetheless available on t'internet:

Monday, 6 May 2019

Thriller: One Deadly Owner

A haunted car. What a twentieth century variation on the staple of ghost stories, the haunted this, that, and the other. The use of the plot device gives this episode a lift to a more established folklore milieu from its otherwise completely 1970s setting. The use of a car also has the advantage over other haunted items, because having wheels the car can seem to develop its own sentience and move on its own. A further classy touch is given by the fact that the car isn't just any old car but a Rolls. Ironic that the one in this episode was bought for seven grand which seems nothing for a car now, and I see that a 1970s Rolls can be got for two grand now. How the mighty are fallen! - however I'm sure maintaining an elderly luxury car is never cheap. Personally I prefer the MGB GT which also features in this episode, but not in the characteristic 1970s orange colour scheme.
I started watching this show while cooking - of course I was listening, not watching, and I was very surprised to find that it does not star Peter Wynegard. I was sure he played the male lead, and I was even more surprised to find I didn't recognise the actor at all. I was yet more surprised to find that the actor was Jeremy Brett, who I felt I should have recognised from Sherlock Holmes. He both sounded and looked different. I have done some poking around on the internet and found that by the time Brett made Sherlock Holmes he was already mentally and physically ill and in fact his Wikipedia page comments on his changing appearance. I didn't realise he suffered from bipolar disorder, requiring inpatient treatment several times before his death. My surprises hadn't ended, though, because I discovered he had relationships with both men and women. I would tend to put the fact I mistook his speaking for Peter Wynegard, down to a similarity of theatrical enunciation taught before this show was made. Of course part of the reason he isn't recognisable is the quite different look from Holmes, who I'm sure would never have been seen dead with an open shirt.
Visually this episode doesn't go wrong anywhere, this is despite the fact that most of it was very obviously made in a studio. Those of us who remember the seventies will find many details nostalgic. I particularly like the decoration of the flat, and the wonderfully tacky restaurant they eat at. Foreign food, probably.
Unusually for me I don't really have a criticism of this one. The plot has a wonderful twist at the end, which I won't spoil. My only wonder is that this episode doesn't get a better rating on the internet, appreciation hovering around 60 to 70%. Perhaps it's me and my liking for weird stuff...

Friday, 3 May 2019

The Famous Five, 1996

Image source
Yes, this is certainly among the more recent shows I am ever likely to blog about, but if you like the England depicted by Agatha Christie you will probably like this series. There are actually two British series of the Famous Five, the first was made in the 1970s and was made contemporary. This one was made in the 1990s and set firmly in the fifties. The first series is apparently more popular, or at least easier to come across here. This series has episodes on YouTube, and some episodes have been released on DVD. If you want the whole series you have to buy a Dutch release (called De Vijf - De complete verzameling, although the audio is in English) or there looks to be a Spanish release, but I can't speak for what that's like. 
I have an ambivalent relationship with Blyton myself, because the head mistress of my infants school thought her writing was of poor literary quality and banned her books from the school. The result was of course that reading them was an act of rebellion. One which was rewarded with the rather priggish attitudes of the four and the dog.
I suspect this show was too late for its own good, since the Famous Five were already old fashioned when I was a lady. The attitudes and life style tend to be of the period they were written, although I find this series is more reminiscent of old school stories than I remember the books. 
Where this series succeeds is in the creation of an unreal world. It's sort of the children version of the Avengers world, because I don't think it ever really existed. Was there ever really a time when children were allowed just to go off? I doubt it, even after experiencing my own mothers ridiculous fear that something terrible was about to happen at any moment. As a child I thought the kids in Sesame Street were very sophisticated because they could play in the street - that was out because our street was a short cut between two main roads so lorries would come thundering down it. My mother then made the tactical error of getting me a bike and I was off. Definitely not overnight and while I went a lot of places which would have given her a fit, I didn't have an island or a castle to explore, sadly.
One of the things I notice about this show is that it doesn't put a foot wrong. The pace is just right, the props are perfect, it depicts England as if the 1960s never happened. Apparently if you look closely the continuty tends to fall apart, but it's wonderful escapism.

Sunday, 21 April 2019

Thriller: Lady Killer

Yesterday I went to Leamington Spa, which is not far from here but is always an expensive journey because there is someone there with the same taste in TV as me, who keeps selling his or her DVDs to the entertainment exchange, and I keep buying them. Yesterday I bought series 1 of a series I have never heard of before, Rogue's Rock, but which I find I like because it is definitely out of the same stable as Freewheelers, even down to some of the same music. In non-TV I bought the horror film spoof Young Frankenstein, and bought the boxed set of Thriller. I have seen the show before but not for some time and have somehow never blogged about it here.
Thriller is one of those series which is described as legendary by some, and since it is an anthology series, you can often find it described as mixed. Lady Killer is the first episode, and it's excellent, despite embodying virtually everything I dislike in television of this era! For a start the three main characters are played by very familiar faces indeed, and it is a little strange to see Robert Powell with Tara King and Agent 99! What saves the situation here is that both women play roles which are quite different from the roles in which I am familiar with them. Feldon in particular plays a character who very successfully turns the tables on her nasty piece of work husband, played by Powell. He gets the lack of emotion required by his character exactly right, and the calculating way in which he plots is really quite chilling. Thorson's role requires a certain naivety, so of the three my opinion is that her character is least successful because she reminds me personally too much of Tara King's hero worship of Steed. This is of course entirely personal and other people may not see the role like this.
There are other things which tend to put me off usually. Of course there have always been people from all sorts of places in Britain, and that isn't a problem at all, but it normally annoys me when I know that some of the cast are American because that was perceived to make the show more attractive to US audiences. Is that actually the case? My perception from the TV blogosphere is that people from the US love UK TV without the assistance of their compatriots. Apparently there are also people called Anglophiles who love everything British even our tea! It is of course the fact that commercial considerations decided the casting which normally irritates me. It doesn't here though. Also normally I would be very critical of the claustrophobic feel of the obviously set-bound recording, but in this case the claustrophobic feel is exactly right to increase the feeling of danger.
Just one or two criticisms. The first is a plot weakness, because while the episode manages to be gripping to the end, from before the middle it is very obvious that Tanner is going to come a cropper, the only question is how it is going to happen. There are also some weaknesses in his characterisation: a man who marries his second wife without telling her about the first is asking for trouble. I have a criticism of the technical production of the Network DVD boxed set, which is that at the end of each episode it begins playing another episode. Somebody wasn't concentrating when the episodes were remastered and then they weren't checked properly before being released.
In other news it has been a glorious weekend here and I have been bare chested for the first time this year.
Image source

Sunday, 14 April 2019

The Tomorrow People: A Much-Needed Holiday

I am currently starting a much-needed holiday, which is what turned my mind to this episode, and I realise I have been putting off blogging about The Tomorrow People. The reason is the obvious one - it is a hugely ambitious show, which also manages to be ridiculously confusing and, er, bound permanently to the 1970s, with all that that implies.
It is also rather difficult to write intelligent criticism of this show because it has all already been said. My own long-standing criticism is that I find it confusing - even to the extent of not being able to disentangle episodes, adventures, series, who is who, and so on - and this is not helped by a changing cast of Tomorrow People.
There is also the matter of this being a children's show, and I have been trying to think myself into how a child would view this episode, and I suspect the emotions would be a mixture of envy for the Tomorrow People and horror at how the enslaved boys are treated. Isn't that the point of much writing for children that we are supposed to be on the side of the goodies? The drawback is that the goodies here are the next step in evolution so we can't have their powers.
Trying to think differently about this has made me reflect on what I was first thinking about it: I was thinking that the point that the diamonds are mined in dangerous, slave conditions and the way the Tomorrow People don't want diamonds mined in those conditions leads to a very grown up and uncomfortable conclusion. Actually that's how jewels and precious metals are always mined - mines are dangerous places at the best of times and the people who own mines tend to want to maximize profits. This uncomfortable fact is glossed over for the kids, but it does show that this is a show which can be watched on several different levels, always the sign of quality television.
This episode therefore encapsulates the show's best and worst features. My attempt to watch this through my own eyes as a child has distracted me from how unfortunate the episode is through adult eyes in terms of slavery and costumes which look like fetish gear. You would really have to be very innocent not to get the kinky undertones and the show is made more ambivalent by the fact that Mike Holoway was actually a heart throb of the time. Granted this is with the benefit of hindsight but it is even more unfortunate that he does a Jimmy Savile impression. I actually wrote to Savile myself but fortunately he didn't fix it for me.