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. 

Friday, 24 July 2020

The Goes Wrong Show: The Lodge

I am just starting a week's leave and have a heap of things to watch and also hopefully the space in my brain to blog about some of them. This show is the most recent one I have ever written about, being broadcast in 2019. Don't fear, it is definitely up to our standards. 
The team who star in this show have done a whole string of good things over the past years, beginning with The Play That Goes Wrong. The premise is that we are at a production by the Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society... Which always goes wrong. This episode is a horror, produced to make up for their underwhelming productions of The Texas Chain Saw Massager and Nightwear on Elm Street. This is a play in a haunted house isolated by snow - the setting for many a horror. 
And how it goes wrong. A recurring wrong is that the pregnant wife's baby is evidently a balloon, which bursts. The set doesn't quite work right. They have had to put in extra adjectives because the play ran short. My favourite is the bat flying around which goes wrong. The point is that these are professional actors playing this completely straight which must be incredibly difficult. They also manage to do this without it turning into slapstick and it isn't wearing - playing it straight is what does this.
Suffice to say that there is no valid criticism of this show, although I think one of the actors may have missed a prompt at one point. 
The show is available on region 2 DVD, youtube and Amazon Prime. If you want more examples of the team's humour you can see them below.

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?