Sunday, 27 January 2019

Gideon's Way: Boy with Gun

Gideon's Way is a series I have never seen, and am only just starting today with this episode, since I found it is available online. I actually came round to this series in a rather roundabout way. I have been watching Budgie, a show I know for a fact I watched several years ago, didn't like at the time, but thought I would give it another go. It strikes me as very old fashioned because of the way Adam Faith speaks cockney, even Cockney rhyming slang - old fashioned because Cockney has largely given way to London Multicultural English out here in the real world. The other cockney sparrow I could think of on TV was Ben in Dr Who, played by Michael Craze, which led me straight to Boy with Gun.
The plot goes like this:
A tale of boys gone wrong. Chris Kirk (Howard Knight) has been mothered too much but his father, Police Surgeon Doctor Kirk (Anthony Bate) is overbearing. When cornered by three leather-coated, knife-wielding yobs who want to steal the shotgun his father bought him, Chris shoots one. Believing he has murdered him, he goes on the run and meets a boy who has escaped from Borstal. They go to his brother's place so he can arrange their escape from the country but the shot boy's father (George Sewell) finds out and wants to kill the kid who shot his son. A powerful story filmed mainly around London's East End. Also features Michael Craze as Vince Kelly, Michael Standing as Chaz Kelly and Royston Tickner as Charlie Berry.
 Of course this is a story which would be done very differently now. I actually laughed out loud at the scene of Chris Kirk's arguing about him. It sounds like a joke - mum wanting their son to be a girl so she dresses him up as one, and dad wants to toughen him up, so takes the not-immediately-obvious action of buying him a gun. Nowadays of course, this plot would either end in the boy growing up to treat women with respect and being in touch with his feelings, or else they would identify as non-binary and pansexual, thereby annoying both his parents. Frankly with parents like his, it's no wonder Chris went off the rails in the sixties - if he hadn't he'd have needed years of psychotherapy.
Unfortunately the presence of the gun means there is a whacking great hole in the plot of this show from the start. If one of the ruffians had had a gun, that would have made sense. But even fifty years ago if you are a doctor you know there are laws around where guns can be possessed. The events of this show simply would have happened. At one point the boy actually walks down a railway line next to a train, holding a gun. No. It's not credible.
On the other hand, the sheer unlikelihood of the plot gives this episode a feel of the later series of The Avengers (remember this is the only Gideon's Way I have seen). Perhaps the self-conscious Cockney-ness of the characters is also part of the unrealness? I'm hazarding a guess, but imagine the cockney wide boy act was as real at the time as the generic Northerner image of anyone North of Cockfosters. Tell a lie, there's also an excessively Irish Irishman.
The episode is tightly plotted, if incredible. My real criticism is of using very familiar actors but that's a personal thing.
I will stop now, me old China, it's tea time.

Saturday, 19 January 2019

The Goodies: It Might As Well Be String

Real life TV presenter Raymond
Baxter in string underwear
Remaining in the 1970s (terribly modern by my standards), we come to another episode of The Goodies. I see that the boxed set of the whole BBC series is out at a huge price, and I might get it when it comes down a bit. I also have several double disc sets as it is, so I'm not sure what to do, especially as I sometimes find having everything can be a bit wearing. After all the best bits are selected for selection boxes.
One of the best things about this episode is not to do with string at all. It is the spoofs of UK brand advertising at the time. The brands include Mr Kipling's cakes (notorious for its cosy olde worlde adverts for its mass produced cakes) and Birdseye fish fingers. Not only are fish fingers the world's weirdest food in my humber opinion, but I'm glad I'm not the only one who found Captain Birdseye frankly rather creepy. On one level the advertising part of this episode is as much social commentary as it is humour.
Reading around people's thoughts on the internet, the nature of the social commentary gives way more trouble now than it probably would have done then. The sexy cigar adverts of the time are parodied in a segment in which Tim Brooke Taylor (TBT) is offered a piece of string in a cigar box by a woman in a wet t-shirt. At one point one of the characters (sorry I forget which and can't find that bit now) gives this sensuous description of a woman's body in a wet t-shirt, which I think was supposed to parody the sexual element of much advertising at the time. Flake chocolate, for example, was advertised (well before the watershed) by a woman eating it suggestively and then a bath overflowing. This was, after all, the 1970s when pretty much anything went, despite a concurrent backlash from second wave feminists about the objectification of women's bodies. The fact that men's bodies are actually more exposed (Raymond Baxter appears in wet string underwear at one point) didn't seem to be a problem at the time, except that of course they weren't objectified. So the sexual mores of the time are giving trouble, as are the racial attitudes portrayed at various points. I know I tend to bang on about this, but the other major problem of 1970s TV, that the stars have tended to go on to get criminal records for their sexual proclivities, is also present.
Not only is the show spoofing the adverts of the time, but also the TV, particularly Tomorrow's World. I wrote recently about the dangers of depicting the future in television: unless your show is wiped, if you pick a date in the near future people will be able to see how wrong you got it, and of course this was the main difficulty that Tomorrow's World had. In retrospect the show now looks so old-fashioned and has been parodied more than once, including in the show Look Around You. Here, as a result of the Goodies' advertising of string, the show does an episode all about how string is the material of the future. The point is that everything is made of string, and of course it's not useful for many things, such as hip replacements. Ironically string actually is very useful and has a scientific use in the sort of underwear shown in the show. Like old-fashioned cellular blankets it traps air between the cells and keeps you warmer in the winter. In summer a string vest is wonderfully cool - I like them myself.
Leaving aside the difficulties caused by changes in attitudes in the past 40 years, this show was plainly intended to be a lot of fun, and looks as if it was a lot of fun to make. The final madcap sequence includes quite a bit of messy stuff and manages to get in more spoof advertisements, this time for Dulux paint, Hai Karate and Heinz baked beans (in the face, of course). It's probably very old school but there is nothing like a bit of slapstick. If you're having trouble keeping something amusing, get messy or drop your trousers.
My conclusion is that this show is a lot of fun while managing to include social commentary of the time. It is handicapped by showing the social attitudes of the time, and so you have to forget all that if you want to enjoy it as it was intended. On the other hand, if you want to discover the social attitudes of the time, it might also be perfect!

Sunday, 13 January 2019

Target: Blow Out

I have previously commented that the rock on which Target floundered was the amount of violence it depicted, and I suspect this was one of the episodes which most shocked people.
There are two occasions in the episode. One is where a jewel robber gets burned in the face by an oxyacetylene torch. One of his companions comments that they might as well finish the job, but they kindly dump what's left of him outside a hospital. The other occasion is where the escaped convict throws boiling water over his wife who has been cheating on him while he has been in prison, and whom he has caught in flagrante delicto.
Personally I feel the violence in this episode isn't out of what can be expected for a show designed to depict the criminal underworld, but of course that is only a personal opinion. And this episode shows the working of a gang of jewel thieves rather well.
What I do think is shocking is the way Hackett reveals his wife's whereabouts to the criminal they enlist to help with their enquiries, and which leads to him taking the revenge on her described above. The police give him an extra ten weeks' remission and this is the result. This is far worse in my opinion than any of the dodgy things done by police in The Sweeney. Hackett turns a blind eye when his colleague beats the boiling water man up. Hackett rightly gets a dressing down for his actions in this case.
This episode of Target is vulnerable to my personal criticism that shows of the sixties and seventies use a lot of the same actors so that you end up wondering who the actors are, rather than following the show. Ron Pember (who was good at playing baddies), for example, plays the released prisoner with the cheating wife. Christopher Benjamin, who payed J J Hooter in the Avengers episode How to Succeed at Murder, plays a chap who owns a string of jewellery shops. I  also think that unless you happen to like this sort of show, Target will not appeal to you: the plot, such as it is, is a bit thin. The episode is rather a series of scenes depicting the workings of the force and frankly the connection between them can be difficult to see.
If you particularly want a moral to take home from this episode it is that there is no honour among thieves. Personally I'd already sussed that one - I'm just surprised Hackett didn't!
Illustration courtesy of IMDB.

Tuesday, 1 January 2019

Adam Adamant Lives: Sing a Song of Murder

Adam Adamant is one of my dream series, largely because so much of it was wiped - I particularly would like to see the missing episode where a whole train vanishes, but I doubt that this quintessentially English series was exported, so would be unlikely to turn up in Nigeria, or wherever. My few posts about the show here are among the most popular, which I suspect reflects a lack of coverage on the internet. For that reason alone I have been interested to read Grant's recent posts about this series (including this episode). The post highlights that another possible reason for the series's lack of popularity is the silly price the box set is currently going for, and unfortunately the Dutch-released set I bought much more cheaply also seems to have vanished from the market.
I largely agree with what he says about the annoyance of the repeated dream sequence of Adamant being conked on the head, but I disagree with seemingly everyone - Adamant himself describes it as cacophonous - about the pop song which is the focus of this episode because I think it's wonderful!
The cultural Zeitgeist that this episode picks up on is the contemporary fear of the hidden persuasion of advertising, particularly subliminal messages. In the slower-moving communication world pre-internet, this was in the wake of Vanve Packard's 1957 book, The Hidden Persuaders. This is combined at points with a suspicion of the drug culture and various other aspects of the modern world. The point here, of course, is that because Adamant is uninfluenced by the modern world he can see what is happening from the off. Similar plot devices are used elsewhere in the series, such as washing powder. I suspect this show's account of the modern world would have been incredibly polarising at the time, directly confronting the modern and their fuddy duddy parents.
My absolutely favourite thing about this episode is the so-contemporary dress Georgina Jones wears )my second-favourite thing is the bit where Simms has a go at killing her). Frankly I wonder whether this show is a little too much of its time, so that it becomes difficult for subsequent generations to watch and understand. At the time the simplistic moral that the modern world  is dangerous would probably not have been welcome to the up-to-date young.   A further shortcoming is the repeated playing of the opening of the song, which I suspect was intended to give the hypnotic effect intended in the show, but becomes a bit too much.
My conclusion therefore is that while I love this show, it is open to a number of criticisms. The song is still good though!