Sunday, 14 October 2018

Wilde Alliance: The Private Army of Colonel Stone

This episode is a deceptive one and its strength is in the complexity of the story it tells and the different impressions it gives to the viewer.
There is just one weakness, which is that it paints people in rather simplistic, almost stereotyped ways. I think probably the most naive character is Jamie's mother,who can believe no evil of him at all.
Colonel Stone is a type very familiar from the years after World War 2 - fake colonels and majors who boasted of their honours and tended to disappear when other members of their regiment were about. The seventies are a bit far removed for that sort of character but of course Stone is old enough to have served in the war.
Jamie himself is painted as a saint by his mother. Frankly - how can I say this - he comes across as irritatingly good. The story is that he has made a cottage over to Colonel Stone during the expedition in South Africa in which Jamie died. Much of the point of this episode is the exploration of whether this story is true. Sure enough mum is convinced by the Colonel's fondness for Jamie that he couldn't be lying. The characters are just very well delineated into goodies and baddies right from the start.
The clear delineation is made more complex by one single scene. There is a surprising undercurrent to this show, which is about porn. Patrick Newell's character is unashamedly pictured as a pornographer and I suppose it is one of those seventies things. Certainly I have recently watched several seventies sex comedies where it was fairly accepted that men  would  have porn (the Adventures... series of films). One of the baddies is shown sitting in a bar perusing a porn mag, and I really can't tell whether it is to paint him as a villain next to Jamie's saintliness, which is a mixed message next to the portrayal of Patrick Newell's character. I think a lot of men use porn, it's just become electronic now, which I think is a very common phenomenon, to judge by the comments of a friend who worked in a computer shop. Probably nowadays the cigarette ad on the back of the magazine would be the most shocking thing!
The golden boy image falls apart when they find out what happened at Jamie's school and then in SA. There are further revelations of what he was really like and the true nature of what the other men on the expedition are doing.
So as I so often find myself saying you will either like this one or not. I think the plot device is rather obvious, although of course this is a classic tale really. Certainly it means that this episode may not take much repetition, but then these shows were intended not to be repeated too much.

Tuesday, 9 October 2018

The Sentimental Agent: Meet my Son, Henry.

I wasn't going to write about this show, because I found it difficult to phrase what I wanted to say, but I think this episode may provide the right medium.
Not a favourite in the cult TV world, this one. On the face of it this is hard to understand, but this show manages both to be classic ITC viewing and have what will be for some viewers some major defects. Perhaps I had better say that its main claim to fame is as the first TV appearance of Diana Right.
The opening sequence encapsulates this perfectly. The Aston Martin. The cigarette holder. The sophisticated places. So far we're in familiar territory for our sort of TV. But, oh dear, the theme tune. It's not hummable but gets into your head and does not give the lounge lizard impression we want for a cult TV series.
This episode starts with a daring robbery of top secret plans from a Space Development Corporation. Thus far the show is easy to interpret: the corporation represents modernity. Their building is modern, at least for the time. It is a pity that its softwood windows will now have rotted and it will have been a nightmare of asbestos to demolish. The building and show are of their time. This opening sequence is a rare location shot for the show. It is not therefore completely studio-bound, but does make heavy use of stock footage in the manner of the time. It is very obvious where the joins come, and as usual this is not a criticism, just a statement. The street scenes are wonderfully redolent of a long-gone London.
There are two whacking great plot holes, first that the baddies can just drive into the place and steal the plans. They then have a foolproof way of passing the plans on, which of course goes horribly wrong. That said, while some may see this as a plot defect, there is a playful sense to the plot by which Henry makes nonsense of the baddies' plans and complicates it further by putting a different dust jacket on the book.
And so we come to Carlos Thomson, the star of the show, who is its real problem - by his absence from many of the episodes. The legend on the internet is that he had to pull out because his English wasn't really good enough to cope with his lines. This is a pity, because the show can appear rather focusless. The Oriental manservant is a device which had been overdone even by this time. Oh dear, I'm getting a bit catty about the show and I didn't mean to.
I feel the viewer will either like or loathe the titular son of this episode. He has an IQ in the 200s and isn't ashamed to show what he knows. He proves surprisingly useful in this episode.
One of the joys of these shows is the cars and this one is no exception. There is a sighting of a really old black cab, which looks like a tank. Most of the cars are the latest models (a Rover is my favourite) with older cars in the background.
Visually this show is superb as an ITC show. It moves between the sophisticated venues of the privileged and the gang's lair. There is just one visual thing I find quite disorientating, which is that the hat Henry wears throughout the episode, including indoors, is the same sort as the hats worn by the villains. A mistake surely to make both sides look the same.
I don't want to seem negative about the show, since I think you'll like it if you like ITC, it just has some failings which you might not take to, not least the virtual absence of the lead character.

Sunday, 7 October 2018

The Avengers: The Gravediggers

I started a blog post on this episode last week but it became incredibly unwieldy so I have scratched the whole lot and will start again. I find that using voice activated software to type makes me even more verbose than usual so perhaps I'm better with bullet points. I do highly admire the way David Stimpson blogs about The Prisoner, though, with more short posts on particular points, although I'm not sure it would work with the way I blog.
1. This Avengers episode is the famous one with Mrs Peel strapped to the railway line. I start with this because I had forgotten it was this one. My main criticism of this episode is that what with the radar thing, the hospital, the undertakers and the railway, it is perhaps somewhat too packed with different images.
2. Apart from that scene the episode contains about every ingredient of an Avengers episode you could ever wish for: English eccentrics, wonderful visuals, deadly enemies... You name it.
3. The episode effectively 'Avengersifies' the espionage preoccupation of this era, and unites it with the attitude towards technology so prevalent in the TV of this era, where Progress is so often a great hope and yet fear.
4. The Dissolute website makes the point, which I hadn't even thought of, that this Avengers is very like an Ealing film, and in fact it is.
5. I simply refuse to believe that Steed would just help himself to a carnation for his buttonhole!
6. Anyone fancy being nursed by Mrs Peel? This may be the episode where she has the most conventional female roles - of nurse then damsel in distress. She pretends to be a nurse in The Master Minds but the role feels quite different.
7. The bondage scene pushed the bounds of the show's sexiness.
8. Sir Horace's hatred of railway closures in favour of road traffic, takes place against the real history of a drastic reduction of Britain's loss-making railways, which peaked in the 1960s and slowed down after 1970. These closures were associated with the name of Lord Breeching. Ironically the wealthy Sir Horace represents an uneconomical past of anachronistic technology, shown against the future technology of radar etc, so technically the future wins out in the episode.
9.The Footplate men's Friendly is also the sort of trade union (for a vanished trade) which has also vanished. There is a real sense in which this is a cosy Avengers, taking place in an unreal world which is reminiscent of a vanished Britain.
As I said above, my only criticism of this episode is that I think it tries to squeeze too much in. Otherwise it is a classic Avengers episode.

Friday, 21 September 2018

The Wilde Alliance: First Impressions with Specific Reference to A Game for Two Players

Last weekend I had an outing to Gloucester and bought the boxed set of this show in a charity shop. I had previously avoided it, and actively disliked the snippets I had seen on the internet. I obviously hadn't managed to see very much of it because I had completely missed the fact that Patrick Newell (surely everyone reading this will know that he played mother in The Avengers) is a regular character.
It is usually described as a detective serious about Rupert and Amy Wilde who have an extravagant lifestyle and also function as amateur Detectives. The series was broadcast in 1978. Continue my usual policy here, of minimising description on this blog, because I want to focus on one particular episode, first a few impressions.
My first impressions were awful! Through the first disc in the box the show really could not hold my attention at all, I thought it looked Bland, moved slowly, and the plots were lightweight. This last seems to be a fairly common criticism on the internet, so I think I am Justified in saying that. My opinion changed somewhat when I realised that I was reacting differently to this from other TV series of the 1970s. There has been no point in this series (where I have found myself thinking how unremittingly dreary the 1970s were). This fact alone Marx this out as unique amongst 1970s TV series, which when they weren't being consciously gritty usually aspires to intense tastelessness. So my impression towards the end of the first disc was that this of a cosy detective show. I think that is also wrong, since despite of the characters living a prosperous lifestyle they do seem to mix a lot with the demi-monde in pursuit of their investigations.
Perhaps I am summing up why this show has such a low profile in the cult TV world, it has some difficulty deciding what it is and thus tends not please anyone.
Note I want to focus on is called A Game for Two Players - I'm not entirely sure why and this title does not really seem to be related to the plot of the episode. With a teenage boy, Steve, hitchhiking his way to York and being picked up by Rupert Wilde. Readers will understand that this fact in itself takes us back at least 40 years. I have personally hitchhiked in my misspent youth, but I was about 20 at the time and well aware of the dangers. Young adults are one thing but a teenage boy hitchhiking is completely different. And of course it is therefore right at the Beginning that this episode begins to go off the rails. In the seventies, as now, if a responsible adult found a disconnected child like Steve is in this episode, there was only one place to take them, and that was to the police station.
You did not take them home where you would put them up for a couple of nights, buy them new clothes, and allow your wife to become obsessed with the child. No. This is all quite wrong.
In the episode it allows a site into the Demi mondaine world of York. Have you been there? Some friends of mine moved there from the frightening metropolis of Wolverhampton and were very surprised to find that at 5 every evening, everything shuts. They attributed this to it being a walled city and the psychological effect that that had. Anyway, rupert delves into the underworld of York to try to find this child's mother, without bothering to ring the police to find out if this child's mother was missing him, or whether the tale he told was true. I don't want  to put spoilers on this so I won't go to too much detail about how  the story resolves itself. Suffice to say, of course Steve has the background which does end up with a child hitchhiking way to try to find his lost mother. The only Major plot hole this one is that fairly obvious that Steve's family are never going to be full or comfortable enough actually to look after him in any meaningful way.
This picture of the Wildes dressing this boy in New Clothes while also bizarrely trying to return him to his somehow unavailable mother, is not exactly presented as a moral Crusade, but is set against another thread of the story, since living in the apartment building of the Wildes is the character played by Patrick Newell, who is a pornographer!
Frankly it is worth buying this entire series just to watch newells performance in this episode. Imagine Mother certainly turning into an old man and being suggestive! No, seriously, pause for a moment and imagine Mother saying the lewdest thing you can imagine. That is what he is like in this episode! And now you see why I think it's worth buying, despite the fact I'm being catty about it. He is also a quite frankly incredible dirty old man because at the beginning of the episode he asks Amy Wilde to work for him as a chaperone for a young boy who is star in one of his porn films but who is too young to travel on his own. The clear implication is that the boy will be under age, but she Mary threatens him with whistleblowing, in the manner of the time, rather than actually doing anything about it. In fact in their attempts to find Steve's mother, the wyldes actually ask him for help.
Perhaps the biggest irony of this episode is that I am not sure that Steve would actually have been safer in the environment it turns out he has escaped from, than being adopted in an impromptu manner buy the Wilds and living in a flat above a pornographer.
This episode hasn't caused me to change my original impression that this show is rather patchy: It has great characterisation, great consistent atmosphere, as a detective show it tends to be even more patchy and have huge holes in the plot. I will maintain though that it is worth buying the box set of this show merely to see Patrick Newell offering people parts in porn films.
I end with a photo I have found in the course of the extensive academic research which underlies this post: it is of Newell on the Benny Hill Show:
Same source as before

Tuesday, 18 September 2018

The Man from UNCLE: More Parodies

More than two years ago I posted about some sexploitation pulp novels spoofing the 'Man from...' theme of the TV series. Since then I have discovered that I not only managed to miss some of the later and more bizarre titles but I've found another parody series. So here goes:

Incidentally, who would have thought there would be Man from UNCLE chewing gum?
I see there was a film out in 1970 called The Man from ORGY:
Do I even need to say that the plot isn't great literature? Also Slappy White is a great pseudonym!
Protagonist Steve Victor (Robert Walker Jr.) is a spy and scientific investigator for the group Organization for the Rational Guidance of Youth (O.R.G.Y.). Victor is given a mission to determine the location of three prostitutes that are due US$15 million from their deceased female manager. Victor starts off the trail only knowing that the three women each have a tattoo on their buttocks of a gopher grinning. He is stymied in his efforts by hired assassins Luigi (Steve Rossi) and Vito (Slappy White). Luigi and Vito have an interest in the investigation because they provided financing for the burlesque business. Another prostitute Gina (Louisa Moritz) states her lack of interest in her owed portion of the monies as she does not wish her wealthy spouse to find out about her activities. Gina tells Victor some clues about how to locate the other two women, although Victor later discovers they are both deceased. Gina had murdered them for in actuality she wants the money. She kills Vito by thrusting a knife into him as he is planning on murdering Victor. Gina turns to kill Victor, but he first shoots the woman and she dies after falling from a window.Source
In the manner of the time this film also had a connected series of books:

 The feminist critic of the Man from UNCLE I've referred to here before would be thoroughly vindicated. Incidentally should you have a little stack of any of these books, don't give them to your teenage son to ensure his sexual relationships are all screwed up, keep them carefully because some of these books are going for $50 upward on Abebooks.

Sunday, 16 September 2018

The Avengers: The Superlative Seven

This weekend I have watched the House on Haunted Hill (1959) for only the second time in my life. I have had it saved on my hard drive for a number of years but haven't watched it again because I remember it as being rather inconclusive and unsatisfying. I have much preferred it the second time, for Reasons which are not entirely clear to me. It has however set me thinking about some possible connections with this Avengers episode.
The superlative seven it's another of those Avengers episodes which Tend To Be  written about fairly dismissively in the blogosphere. I have a feeling that this is because it is perceived to be a remake of the Cathy Gail era episode dressed to kill. And of course it is, or rather it is another episode which uses the same basic plot device off a number of people being called together and then being picked off by various methods.

Let me get of the way right at the beginning that I agree with the basic criticisms of this episode, and in fact do agree that dressed to kill is a superior treatment of the plot device. The superlative seven makes it overly complicated, and does away with the most basic elements of this plot, that the audience should not know who is behind the events depicted.
The plot device is of course extensively used in English literature, and perhaps the best known example is Agatha Christie's and then there were none. Of course Christie could be the Direct inspiration for this adventure, but I do feel that haunted Hill must have had a large hand in it, at least visually. I have considered whether this episode could also draw on the genre of old dark house literature, but feel that what makes this difference is the fact that the Adventurers are taken there by deception rather than ending up there on a stormy night, which is usually the premise in horror films.
The house to which the seven are taken bears a strong visual resemblance to the house on Haunted Hill, internally at least. There is also a visual device common to both the film and this Avengers, weapons being laid out for the participants. In the film they are laid out in a series of miniature coffins, well here they are laid out on the dining table. The miniature coffins containing the guns in the film, here become a line of full size coffins for the participants as they died. Visually I feel that the film is the natural source, and that this episode therefore cannot truly merely be a remake of dressed to kill.
Some elements in the superlative seven are taken more it from the Christie novel. The fact that the participants all received invitations from different people that they are unlikely to turn them down, is found both Christie and in both versions of The Avengers adventure. The superlative seven managers to be even closer to the Christie novel than dressed to kill, because it keeps the image of the strangers taken to a desert island with a dangerous Menace hanging over them.
8 weakness of this episodes plot is also what makes it an Avengers episode: The events of this episode what happened in the real world. In the real world if you were to lure 7 people to Almost certain death there would be an outcry from there relatives, particularly if they were the sort of public figures in this episode. The fact is that the events of this Avengers episode could only happen in the world of The Avengers! It is also made rather dissatisfying by the fact that we as viewers can see what is going on know what the participants are having to guess. In this this episode is in a great tradition off fairly cosy crime stories, where there might be a few murders on the way but we know that our enjoyment will be ensured by the ends being tied up at the end.
I have failed to comment on the great name actors who constitute the cast for this episode. This is a great compliment coming from me, because the fact that they are famous actors does not dominate the plot at all.

Saturday, 8 September 2018

Fanny Cradock

Today a post which I wasn't sure would really fit the description of this blog, and this lady may not be that well known abroad. On reflection I don't see how I could have had any doubt, since the country's first celebrity chef, who cooked in evening dress in The Royal Albert Hall, was a serial bigamist, invented her own past, cooked food dyed blue and green to look like trees and all sorts of strange things, publicly roared at her common law husband and assistants, and entertained the nation with her cookery programmes... Well if that isn't Cult TV I don't know what it is!
I will try to stick to the TV I promise, and not get too caught up in her scandalous private life, but I must just say that Fanny Cradock with her husband Johnny was also the real person behind the character called 'Bon Viveur' who has a column in The Telegraph for years and years. I have found some reflections by her successor in the same role:
Trawling the Telegraph’s archives, I can’t get enough of forthright columns. Like me, she loved hotels and inns, including a number of the same ones, and she loved travelling. But she also cut to the chase and had a way with words and a bruising wit to which I can only aspire.
She pulled no punches on a trip to Winchester in 1950: "We slept in a mausoleum-like bedroom plunged in 25-watt Stygian gloom. The bed tapestry peeled, as did the ceiling. The straw bulged from the palliasse under our limp feather overlay. The dust was as thick as the breakfast tea, the chamber as chilly as our toast." She was no less kindly to the town itself: “England should pay more attention to this historic town which draws so many tourists. Its restaurants and hotels should, in their turn, pay more attention to Englishmen and tourists."
On the English Riviera, she resorts to capitals to vent her spleen: "I’VE FOUND SOME SCANDALOUS PLACES with lukewarm bathwater, insufficient toilet arrangements, annexe rooms devoid of bedside lighting…" The list of complaints goes on.
 The directness of her descriptive writing means that it is admirably unpretentious. How can I not love her, long to have met her, when she writes, in 1951, about my own beloved village, Beaulieu, in Hampshire: "The first crisp tang of spring has made last weekend notable. I have seen sunlight glinting on the Solent, stippling the tree-trunks in the New Forest and silvering Beaulieu River."
And when she is satisfied with a hotel, she makes her readers long to go, as every good critic should. Arriving late and unexpected at the Master Builder’s, close to my house, she reports: "'We can’t do much I’m afraid', said Mr Fry, who runs the hotel with his sister, 'but you’re welcome to what there is.' At 8,45, I sat down to hot gravy soup, beef steak and kidney pie, stewed fruit, custard, two vast slabs of cheese, all followed by good coffee, for 6s."
Reading that, and all Bon Viveur’s reviews, subtitled In Quest of Pleasure and illustrated with photographs and useful maps, it’s hard not to feel both deep nostalgia and deep regret for the crazy pace of life today. There’s irony though. Her evident enjoyment of plain English fare comes from the TV chef that espoused food colourings, piping bags and recipes like Jelly a la Zizi (layers of different coloured jelly) and Green Cheese Ice Cream. My mother only went so far with Fanny Cradock – she preferred Constance Spry and Elizabeth David.
 As it has done for me, the Telegraph gave Fanny and Johnnie the opportunity to travel offshore and her articles are credited with inspiring many readers to take their first tentative steps abroad. They went to Goa, Barbados, Corfu (‘In the Durrell Country’), Ibiza ("of all the Mediterranean coast this rates the highest with us for an unsophisticated holiday"), Spain, France, Italy, Scandinavia and many other places. Wherever she reported from, she had a knack of conjuring up the destination in a few well-chosen words, at the same time as giving straightforward practical advice. In 1952 she wrote ‘Two Weeks in Denmark on £25’ (£562.50 in today’s money) and 15 years later ‘Getting a Fortnight on the French Riviera out of £50’ (£830). At Reid’s Palace in Madeira, a hotel I loved when I reviewed it for its 125th anniversary in 2016, she usefully informed her readers in 1953: "Anyone able to spend more than £25 on a holiday can do so legally at Reid’s. As it is British owned, a Bank of England concession permits payment from foreign currency allowance for only part of your hotel bill. The balance is paid in sterling in England before departure." People may scoff, but all the travelling and hotel reviewing is actually hard work. "Bon Viveur", reads a footnote in 1951, "is taking a well-earned holiday after a strenuous but enjoyable year in the quest of pleasure on readers’ behalf." She was soon back in the fray, travelling to Majorca ("the nightlife, which I dutifully probed on your behalf, is in the open air…I danced to a good band for about an hour"), Denmark, Holland, Jersey, Portugal and the Tyrol. Source
 Something I am always banging on about here is the post-war aspiration to sophistication, which in the tv programmes we watch is usually embodied in foreign travel to the sophisticated places of the time. That said if you think about the Avengers, and think about Tara and Steve having dinner in a field accompanied by the obligatory champagne, aspirations to sophistication were no less embodied in the food of the time, and before Delia Smith, Fanny was the inspiration for the food. It is high time I stopped messing about and actually introduced you to her in person.
I couldn't resist starting with cooking in the Royal Albert Hall. By gas, of course. This is the earliest clip I have managed to find on YouTube and the snobby, acerbic personality is already there in its fullness. Nobody had better be rude about her, because you're talking about the woman I love!
I particular theme which recurs in her programmes of thinking of someone you don't like when you are beating something.
The video above is the one which I think best expresses her suitability for a TV blog, particularly this one, since the celebrity TV chef literally steps out of a TV set which is in the kitchen and revolutionizes the poor housewives life.
A stock part of this was the setting up of Fanny as a character to be looked up to, and whose sophistication was to be emulated. She and Johnny taught themselves to speak in received pronunciation, and while they did genuinely have sophisticated foreign travel under their belt, hints of a far more upper class background than they really had were continually dropped. By the 60s Fanny had become part of society.
I particularly like her shows from the 70s about a cooking for Christmas, because she drops even more hints about her family.
'I'll go right orff you'!
I also love the idea of being invited to a cheese and wine party!
Fanny's television career was brought to an unfortunate end after she was rude to a member of the public, and her place was taken by less old-fashioned seeming cooks. She remained and remains the national consciousness though.
Yet more facets of this remarkable character which I have not covered here are her life as a door to door saleswoman of vacuum cleaners, her recovery from cancer through Faith healing, her life as a spiritualist and her series of novels and other books.
She has recently had a Resurgence in popularity you can find a blog where are recipes are cooked in vegetarian versions here.
I hope the videos play abroad, and as Johnny once famously ended a show: May all your doughnuts look like Fanny's!