Friday, 13 November 2020

Police Story: Dangerous Games

Who loves ya baby? I have been romping through seventies US detective shows. Several seasons of Kojak (you will of course notice the great resemblance), and this show which I have just discovered. Coming from one to the other I notice a tendency in this show for people to address each other as 'baby', and I wonder whether it was a seventies thing. I had assumed it was a Kojak peculiarity.

Joseph Wamburgh who wrote this show has been credited with turning police shows in a more realistic direction, and so it is possible that this show is the US 'hinge' between the dreamy TV (which survives that is) and the gritty realism of shows like The Sweeney. Despite this and apparently consistent good reviews on t'internet, there is comparatively little about this show online. I myself literally only discovered it by chance this week. I would like to speculate about why this is but I won't because it would be pure speculation. I know how good you all are at filling in gaps in my ramblings.

My only qualm would be that it is an anthology show, which I don't always take to. I'm rather ashamed saying that because this one is solidly set in the Los Angeles police department so in reality the episodes represent part of a whole which surely shouldn't be such hard work, but I am finding it a little confusing. All reviews mention the show's heavy use of guest stars (some I do recognise) and so I wonder whether a slight showbiz feel could militate against the criminal realism.

In this episode the realism is based around pimping. I do love the way the detectives pose as wanting to buy some girls! The pimp in question is too careful to be caught and is played by Fred Williamson, a former professional American footballer who went on to a career as an actor. Strangely enough I am thinking of a post about Ricki Starr, who combined careers as wrestler, ballet dancer, singer and actor, so actors with multiple careers are in my mind at the moment.

This show is sooo seventies however has dated very well indeed. The attitudes to the girls unfortunately probably haven't changed since then, they are treated as property, basically and subjected to what would nowadays be called coercion and control. 

Another way it has dated very well is in the authentic seventies look and atmosphere. The interiors, cars and clothes are all outrageous. Especially the clothes, of which some examples decorate this article. The actor in the trousers so revealing they show his willy and even the seams of his underpants. Only in the seventies would anyone have had the gall to call a character dressed like that Snake McKay!

The show does have a serious side because it is unflinching in showing what it is like to be on the game. It is also interesting that the woman drawn on by the detectives to catch her pimp, has fallen in love and is disappointed when she realises what has been done to her. The moral position suggests that they aren't really that different from the pimp himself.

I don't really have any immediate criticism. 

I like this show and would hope to be posting again about it.

Wednesday, 28 October 2020

The Avengers: What the Butler Saw

 I love this episode, it is like an encapsulation of everything Avengers in one hour! Eccentrics, romance, dastardly plots, and parody of our glorious nation. Actually I was reminded of it when watching Clue (one of my favourite films, along with Murder by Death), when Tim Curry told one of the guests that a butler 'butles'.

There is an irony - Steed understands 'service' so well because of having been brought up on the other side of the counter. He fits in by actually being an obvious fraud and therefore a shifty character - I love that the nobles in his forged references are the names of pubs!

Normally I don't take to familiar faces but like that John le Mesurier turns out to be the baddie here. I love his quote to the effect that his roles were usually of a decent man at sea in a chaos of his own making - which presumably means this isn't a usual role for him. He did actually see himself as a jobbing actor of the sort I'm usually irritated by and has a huge list of roles on IMDB. I was surprised to find not only that he was married to the wonderful Hattie Jacques, but that he also lived in a menage à trois with her younger lover.

Nor is this episode limited to Avengerland but references the spy craze then at its height and the accompanying media. Bond in the use of 00 numbers, The Man from UNCLE in gadgets, and Get Smart in the soundproof bubble thingy.

My absolutely favourite element is Emma in seductive mode.

If you want criticism of this episode - you're not watching it in the right spirit!

That said it is apparent that it can be understood differently by different people - despite not being the sexy heights she shows elsewhere in reading around for this I have found a clip of the fight scene on a fetish site about women fighting men lol.

Image credit:

Saturday, 24 October 2020

Shoestring: Private Ear

Apologies for the hiatus in posting, but fortunately I am on leave again so time for some quality TV and some blog posts. I have had Shoestring on my list of shows to write about here for ages.

Usually when I write about 1970s shows I find myself commenting on how dreary the 70s were. This show managers a genius combination of managing the nightmare scenarios of the 1970s with certain dreamy aspirational qualities, which were later taken into the series Bergerac. For example what is not to love about working as a private ear for a radio station? By contrast Shoestring is doing this because he became mentally unwell after working as a computer technician. I believe the 70s to the 1980s were the last time when being a DJ was an aspirational thing, since I have read that it was in the 90s it became a lot about marketing and record deals, leading to it being an increasingly stressful occupation. In retrospect the hero DJs of the 70s have often been investigated if not convicted for sexual activity with underage fans.

This is the first episode which shows how shoestring becomes the fictional stations private ear, and it does draw the seedy underworld of the 1970s, because it is about a prostitute who kills herself on the beach, having stolen a Rolls Royce belonging to a DJ at the station Shoestring ends up working for.

Shoes is an endearing character, one of the things I like best is his habit of drawing sketch of the persons he is talking to leaving sketch with them, which are sometimes shows the mood or something else they have not betrayed in their speech. Obviously this doesn't always go down very well with people. He is also upfront with people about having a "breakdown", and he can give the impression of being too open with people. This hides his power of thinking. It is also endearing that he has a boat to retreat to, since that is something of an exit fantasy of my own. The actual boat in the series was in London, although most of the location shots are in Bristol. It will come as no surprise that I love the clothes, interiors, and cars in this show!

If you wanted to approach this show as a pure whodunnit, I think you would be disappointed. The plot is probably deliberately rather convoluted and is intended to create a sense of uncertainty about what is happening. This it certainly succeeds in. He's part of this shows genius that it could also be watched as a entertainment about shoe strings situation. Otherwise I am finding it very difficult to think of any major criticism, and normally in that situation I look round on the internet for criticism but there isn’t much comment on this show in the blogosphere so it escapes scot free!

Sunday, 20 September 2020

The Wild Wild West: The Night of the Lord of Limbo

 Sadly Diana Rigg has been added to the list of my TV heroes who have left us. The internet is naturally full of tributes, however I am watching this show at the moment and thought I would post about it. Robert Conrad has also died this year.

For anyone who likes the kind of bizarre TV I do, The Wild Wild West is a gift. It is... Well, wild, I suppose. It is described as a western, espionage and science fiction show, which aimed to take the James Bond concept back to the nineteenth century. The kind of conceits we find in the wilder Avengers episodes are therefore common here, for example this episode has both magic and time travel. What's not to love?

Topically, the subtext here is that the baddie is a former colonel in the confederate army who wants to use his ability to change time to go back and change the outcome of the civil war. Obviously ImI a foreigner and history isn't my strong point but I understand that to mean that he would like the US to be built on slavery and the inferiority of Black people, which therefore means our heroes are fighting against this. Even the Avengers couldn't have come up with such a weird plot but the megalomaniac plan is exactly the kind of evil nonsense the Avengers fight against. We mustn't underestimate Vautrain because he does actually have the power to make Gordon disappear between dimensions.

There is what could be a shortcoming in this episode because it takes unreality to levels rarely seen in TV. In fact if you get into it, this whole episode is very much like a nightmare, and is calculated to cause dis-ease. The nightmarish quality is increased by the fact that even though Colonel Vautrain is obviously a monster, he is a monster who has lost both legs, with the emotional distress this would cause. Normally this should be a feature of a sympathetic character, so brilliantly we are torn between feeling sorry for him and being repulsed.

There is something wrong though with the way the James Bond thing is translated to this show, which is that while there is no apparent sex going on, Conrad himself is the only apparent sex object. In a Bond film he will definitely have sex at some point and there will be loads of 'Bond girls'. Bizarrely here, West goes around with his male partner and there are no Bond girls. I don't feel like it is gay coded, but West is the only sex object, to the extent that in one episode he tears his trousers and the scene of him fighting basically in his underpants is left in. What is going on? Well there is no obvious explanation that springs to mind and I wonder whether this strange treatment of the character is a major flaw.

For this episode though, I don't think there are any flaws at all - the only reason you wouldn't like it is if you don't like this sort of thing.

Friday, 28 August 2020

Queenie's Castle: Just Good Friends


How do I even start to write about this show? It has so much good stuff in it and so much that interests me.

For a start it stars Diana Dors, one of my great favourites. She is unusual among actresses in that you can find her in straight acting and (ahem) apparently she can also be found in sex comedies and risqué modelling. I always feel her role in this show may have been an inspiration for Lily Savage, who often referred to herself as a blonde bombsite. As with most of my favourites you either like her or really don't take to her - rumours abound of sexy parties and her secretly filming guests at her house having sex.

In this show she plays the matriarch of a family, but her husband is 'working away'. She shares a flat with her three grown up sons and her brother in law, and they're all dodgy in one way or another.

There is another star in this show, although it's never named, externals of the flats are filmed at Quarry Hill Flats in Leeds - despite my bizarre interests in failed public housing sadly they had been demolished long before I lived there briefly in the nineties. They were a significant development at the time they were built and continue to inspire fondness among former residents. They also had one of the Garchey waste disposal systems which then heated the building by burning the rubbish. The setting of this show places it firmly in the working class and firmly in the North.

This episode has Queenie being bothered by her family because they think she is seeing another man (hilariously played by Roy Barroclough - I hope you have all seen his Cissy and Adam sketches with Les Dawson). 

I'm trying to think of anything it would be reasonable to dislike about this show but there isn't anything, so there. 

Friday, 14 August 2020

Life with Cooper


I am delighted finally to be writing about this show which has been on my shopping list for ages, and I finally found a reasonably priced copy on eBay.

I love that Tommy Cooper started his life ship building, did magic tricks in his spare time and then realised one day that it was funny if he fluffed the tricks. Thus was his profession as a very good magician who mainly got it wrong on purpose, born. I have just realised that the Goes Wrong Show in the last post is a direct historical descendant of the type of humour in Cooper's act. In between we have Les Dawson, who as my father used to say, must have been a very good pianist to play the piano that badly.

This show is rather atypical for Cooper's act, because while his usual shows were his act plain and simple, this show has an element of each episode also having a story, within which he is his normal bumbling self. I really like that aspect of the show, and it is used to bring other people in. I particularly like Sheila Hancock with her head stuck in park railings. Warren Mitchell is another guest, so this show functions like a sitcom as well as a comedy show with guests.

I also love that it is so much of its time (the sixties) and the sets are perfect examples of the time. Externals show the London of the time with wonderful cars. 

You could criticise this show - you can see the punch lines coming miles off, for example. There is a biography out about Cooper - apparently he and his wife threw furniture at each other and he never, ever bought a round, which is a no no as we know. 

Highly recommended. 

Sunday, 26 July 2020

Chance in a Million: Man of Iron

I once went to a wedding where, when the best man produced the little box containing the ring, the ring almost leapt out and went down through one of those heating grilles so common in Victorian buildings. The churchwarden, who had the necessary tools, had to be fetched from his house around the corner and it took a fair time for the ring to be found. Meanwhile the two families were outside the church on opposite sides, both either in tears or announcing how they all knew this marriage was doomed from the start. Surprisingly they did actually get married but I don't know how it lasted, although I do know that there was an atmosphere you could cut with a knife.
The reason I go into this is that it is the sort of thing you would expect to happen at a wedding attended by Tom Chance. This show is often called a sitcom, but it isn't. A sitcom is a usually dreary series which goes on too long and attempts to make comedy of the characters' situation. This, however, is a show about a man cursed by coincidence throughout his life and his girlfriend's love for him. 
It was an original production by the then new Channel 4, which was known for radical and imaginative broadcasting. I came across it at a significant time of my life, when I was beginning to differentiate myself from my family and to think about what I suppose should laughingly be called aspirations. I had somehow got the idea that talking like a telegram was a sophisticated thing to do (I suspect from EF Benson's Mapp and Lucia books) and since Chance also talks like that I was sold. Talking like a telegram is of course long gone.
In this one Chance's ability to assert himself is to the fore, usually bookended with the recurring motif of him downing a pint in one. It has my favourite scene in the entire series where he tells a man in the pub to go outside and the man proceeds to throw stuff about and cover himself in blood as if he's been beaten up by Tom!
The aspect of his girlfriend (played by Barbara Blethyn) trying to get him to get his leg over is downplayed here. There is a slight problem that Tom is played by Simon Callow, who isn't the most obviously heterosexual of men, which gives the impression that she's trying to get off with a gay man. They do actually get married in the end. Incidentally I see from Google's suggestions that Alison so frequently gets her kit off with the intention of seducing Tom, that this show features on lingerie fetish pages!
What I love most about it, though, is the way the strangest coincidences happen to Tom, and I suspect my readers will like it too.