Tuesday, 30 October 2018

Some Grown Ups' and Some Children's Programmes, and my Christmas Present to Myself

I have been trying to find a suitable TV Christmas present for myself and as a result have hit the wall I do on and off, when it feels as if the supply of classic TV which I will actually like,has dried up. Of course the key problem here is actually my picky taste in TV shows. So of course I have been watching stuff relevant to this blog, and will use this post to talk about a few things which I won't be writing a whole blog post about.
The sixties are the setting for a lot of the TV I watch, and were also the setting for the sexual revolution. Not TV, but a classic film of the time is Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush, in which Barry Evans's character tries, and eventually manages, to lose his virginity. Teen sexual angst aside, the film is so redolent of the sixties that it is a classic. Evans also stars as a randy taxi driver in Adventures of a Taxi Driver, available in a boxed set with other Adventures... films, if you like that sort of thing (I do).
Personally I didn't take to Mind Your Language, so Evans started off at a disadvantage in my mind. I didn't realise that he was one of those actors who get typecast, and ironically he ended up working as a taxi driver at the time of his suspicious and never-explained death.
I have been watching Man of the World, and it just isn't clicking with me (remember if a show appears here I don't think it's a complete did at least). Nor do the rest of the ITC stable provide any likely candidates for my Christmas present. None of them really endears themselves to me, apart from the ones I have already written about here.
Nigel Kneale. Now there's a name to make the classic TV world stand to attention. I am tempted by the disc which is out of his 1980s follow up to Quatermass. My next pet will be called Quatermass. I have been dipping into Beasts (whisper it - there are episodes on YouTube), but criticising Kneale is like saying Shakespeare wasn't on top form that day. He was of course also responsible for The Year of the Sex Olympics, which I intend to blog about one day - just again with trepidation because it's another of the greats.
Nor do I have that much luck with old children's TV. Bizarrely, considering I had a seventies childhood myself and have grown up to have an appetite for any amount of weird shit, I tend to be put off by the magical content of children's TV of this time. I have been dipping into Sky, although I'm ashamed to say I have been letting it wash over me. Similarly I have been dipping into Ace of Wands again and honestly can't think why it doesn't click with me. I get on better with adventurous children's TV of the time, and have watched The Doombolt Chase with much enjoyment.
I have also had some difficulty finding new things online. I am delighted to announce that I no longer have an Amazon account, so only use them to see the recommendations based on visitor views. Sorry, Network DVD but I liked the facility you used to have on your website to see things in order of release, so that I could see what was new or coming out.
I have therefore bitten the bullet and used one of these websites which sell unofficial copies of TV shows. I have ordered series 1 of Freewheelers for much less than it is sold for on Amazon. If the firm comes up with the goods you will see them plugged here. This show may not turn out to be my actual Christmas present as they have other things I'm interested in, and another site has the series Target, which I've wanted to watch for ever.
What is for Christmas is the book I've ordered today (admittedly she is an acquired taste) - Nancy Spain's Cinderella Goes to the Morgue...

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. This also is reflected in my own prolific use of porn over the years - I no longer have any magazines but do have lots of porn pics and films on my hard (lol) drive. 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.