Sunday, 20 December 2020

Carry on Christmas 1972: Carry on Stuffing

Another year and once again I'm saving blogging about Too Many Christmas Trees for some unspecified time in the future. It will surely come as no surprise that I adore the naughty and slightly childish humour of the Carry On films. I suspect they may be one of those British things which don't travel well, but as always I stand to be corrected in the comments.

I have deliberately chosen this one of the four Christmas TV specials on the box set because it is my favourite, and yet strangely it is often considered the weakest, according to the internet. Therefore it seems right to give it a plug here and have a go at rehabilitating it. It consists of a number of sketches joined together with a banquet, and manages to contain all sorts of things we associate with Christmas. These include elements of pantomime stories and spoof other genres of films and fiction.

Visually it is splendid, and starts off with a shot of a manor house. We all know that in TV that speaks to established wealth and prosperity. This show doesn't have anything which you could possibly feel discomfited by, unless you are very offended by innuendo. At one point a ship is mentioned called the Nookie and its captain is Captain Knee-Trembler. The innuendo is only what you will find in the films and tickles me no end.

This is sadly a year where we have had many actors die and Barbara Windsor appears in this in several roles, including appearing topless as you can see. I am a bit disoriented to discover that her partner's surname was Mitchell leaving me wondering whether she really was mother to Grant and Phil Mitchell!

There can be no possible criticism of this show. Happy holiday!

Saturday, 19 December 2020

The Stranger: In Memory Alone

I have to come clean at this point - I haven't seen any of the other films in this series but I found them for sale at a price I was prepared to pay and chose this one because it features a railway station.

In the unlikely event that my televisually literate readers haven't come across this series, here is somebody else's account of what they are about:

The first unofficial Doctor Who spinoff video was Wartime, in 1988.  This was made by Reeltime Pictures, known for their Myth Makers interview tapes, and is the only one of its kind that was made while Doctor Who was still on television.  Their second effort was Downtime, in 1995, which we will be looking at soon, probably the best known unofficial spinoff.  The point of these things mainly was to fill the gap left by Doctor Who when it went off air in 1989, to give the fans something new.  Another company was also doing the same kind of thing in the 90s: BBV, which stands for Bill Baggs Video.

Reeltime and BBV had very different approaches.  Although both of them were going for the nostalgia kick, BBV were much more forward thinking.  Reeltime were all about bringing back the past with old monsters and companions.  BBV, on the other hand, sought to give us that thrill of nostalgia by using Doctor Who actors in different roles, and making those roles sufficiently vague, leaving us to come to our own interpretations as to who the Stranger and Miss Brown are, played of course by Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant.  Once the series was well-established it had a sufficient following to break away from Doctor Who a bit more, establishing the true history of the characters and also using Colin and other Doctor Who actors in specifically non-Doctor Who roles.  So eventually we got multi-Doctor stories that are not actually multi-Doctor stories, but multi Doctor-actor stories, such as The Airzone Solution.

The first BBV effort was Summoned by Shadows in 1991, followed by More than a Messiah in 1992.  The third in the series was In Memory Alone, in 1993.  The Stranger series continued through to 1995, and after that BBV tried some other approaches, moving further into the realms of gritty adult drama with the Probe series, and then finally going down a similar route to Reeltime with the Auton series from 1997, in the wake of the popularity of Downtime, bringing back a Pertwee monster. Source

That writer goes on to say that he can't bring himself to watch any of the series again except this one, but of course I can't speak for the others. You will all know my fondness for trains and train stations, and I will add this post to the tag about railways in TV.

Railways of course have associations with journeys between places, and this is often extended to journeys between dimensions. We have seen that used to great effect in the Sapphire and Steel adventure set in the railway station, where a very angry first world war era ghost creates trouble. Incidentally there is a very good Big Finish Sapphire and Steel set on a train which I would recommend highly.

By extension a railway station is where people set off on journeys and this not- Doctor Who adventure begins with journeys to the railway station. The article I linked to above suggests that this film can be understood as a Doctor Who adventure by merely understanding that the Stranger and Miss Brown are Doctor Who and his assistant Peri Brown, but they have amnesia and have forgotten their past.

Personally I quite see how you could see that, but I would prefer to see it as something different, largely because I feel the appearance, situation and the feeling of 'something' having broken through are much more like Sapphire and Steel IMHO. It obviously isn't Sapphire and Steel but I would rather not see it as Doctor Who, because nowhere does it say it is Doctor Who. I am afraid by saying this I am contributing to the reams of argument on that subject already on the internet.

I like this a lot, however am wary of being disappointed by the others. It also has a making-of feature on the DVD and I particularly like the revelation about the tie. My only criticism is that I would like more of it, however since pacing is perfect as it is any more would have made it rather slow.

I may return with a Christmas themed post in the week but in case I don't have a merry holiday.,

Wednesday, 9 December 2020

Quatermass Again: The Quatermass Xperiment (1955)

I have rarely had the opportunity to write about 1950s TV here and I'm not really doing so now, since I'm writing about the Hammer film which used the original TV series as its source. This 1953 series is a legend in the world of cult TV:

Originally comprising six half-hour episodes, it was the first science fiction production to be written especially for a British adult television audience.[1] Previous written-for-television efforts such as Stranger from Space (1951–52) were aimed at children, whereas adult entries into the genre were adapted from literary sources, such as R.U.R. (1938 and again in 1948) and The Time Machine (1949).[2] The serial was the first of four Quatermass productions to be screened on British television between 1953 and 1979. It was transmitted live from the BBC's original television studios at Alexandra Palace in London, one of the final productions before BBC television drama moved to west London.

As well as spawning various remakes and sequels, The Quatermass Experiment inspired much of the television science fiction that succeeded it, particularly in the United Kingdom, where it influenced successful series such as Doctor Who and Sapphire and Steel.[3] It also influenced successful Hollywood films such as 2001: A Space Odyssey and Alien.[4] Source:

I have seen them but sadly only two episodes of the original series remain - if you buy the BBC box set of the 2000s relaunch you can see them and read the scripts of the others. You can see the remaining episodes for free at (for some reason the link gadget isn't working today).

Perhaps I should say that while this film used the same source material, its writer, the legendary Nigel Kneale, didn't like this film. Other works of his have appeared here on and off and one of these days I will get round to writing about The Year of the Sex Olympics. Only today I discovered that Kneale and his wife were Jewish refugees to Britain ( in the long gone days when we could play nicely with the other countries) and that he is sometimes called Manx. This is not because he had no tail, although obviously he didn't have one.

As hinted above, the Quatermass shows and films may have been turning points in the development of the attitude to science which we see in so much TV in the following couple of decades. Quatermass is a scientist pure and simple and his loyalty is to cold hard science above all. He is actually seen as the archetypal scientist, who would place the empirical scientific model above all. This is very much the model of scientists seen on succeeding decades. 'But he's a scientist!' is a recurring line in TV of this time and it means the scientist is in disinterested pursuit of the truth alone.

This approach, and the TV it influenced, juxtapose this reverence for science with a fear of science's consequences. Here it is the suggestion that space travel would bring back something dangerous to earth. More frequently in my kind of television it is the fear that some new technology will get into the hands of the wrong people, whether they be dangerous megalomaniacs or the Other Side. The film does incorporate the fear because Quatermass goes off to start the whole thing again, after going to such trouble to get rid of the Thing brought to earth.

I would say it is extraordinary that the returned astronaut's wife busts her husband out of hospital. However she didn't have the benefit of subsequent TV and film warnings to know that if your husband comes back markedly different from space travel you really should leave him in his secure hospital, so perhaps we should go easy on her. In fact my only criticism is that I think the build up is too slow, but again I may not be fairly judging this. It certainly seems to have been considered very frightening at the time.

I like an arbitrary fact about this film, which is that it was or is in the Guinness Book of Records as being the only film ever to frighten a viewer to death, after a 9 year old child in the US died of a ruptured artery while watching it. I have no idea of its rating in the US but here the film was X rated (the spelling of Experiment was deliberate to stress the rating), which at this time meant youngsters under 16 couldn't be admitted to view the film. Another thing I have learned only today is the reason the X certificate is associated with porn is because pornographers in the US hijacked the rating in the 1970s; in the US it wasn't meant to indicate porn originally. The Quatermass Xperiment isn't vaguely pornographic, I should add, not even boobs, bums and furry bits. I suspect it wouldn't even get an 18 certificate here now.

The film deals with the familiar dilemma of how much to tell the public. I like Quatermass's approach that they must be told nothing, if I'm honest. Usually I wouldn't but I like the additional detail that they must be told nothing because his hypothesis of what is happening is so fantastic that the public wouldn't believe it!

This post is strangely suitable this year and it is unfortunate that we have reached a stage where more and more people think empirical science is a matter of belief which can be ignored and other people seek out scientists whose research confirms their own bias. In other words exactly the sort of people this film and the TV shows I write about were warning of.

Sunday, 6 December 2020

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.

Image credit:

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. 

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?

Sunday, 17 May 2020

The Avengers: Death's Door

I have had a stressful few weeks... However thankfully I am starting a holiday at home which will hopefully mean getting some sun. I was thinking which recent purchases I ought to blog about but then decided that I will watch and blog about what I want to!
One of the reasons I have picked this Avengers is it is an all-time favourite of mine, seems to be popular with the fans and yet strangely gets hammered on the Internet. Let's get the criticism out of the way, so that I can proceed with pure adulation. Props, locations, shots are all taken from other Avengers, but of course we must remember these shows were intended to be viewed once and not to hold up to the sort of analysis we give them now. You will also read that this one is inferior to Too Many Christmas Trees - it is if you buy the premise of real psychic powers, but I think the fake psychic power here puts it more firmly in the spy stable.
I have commented many times on the sparse props used by this series to give a whole context - here, stately home, leather chairs and suits combine to set the action firmly in The Establishment. Nobody ever notices that here the Establishment is seen as faltering or even rotten. Melford comments to Steed that Steed's taxes have gone on his hotel, and of course the government can't manage to get their delegate to the peace conference. Steed is placed outside the Establishment (despite being an agent of the Ministry) and yet the government is dependent on him and Mrs Peel - the sixties preoccupation with the new world and opportunities which were coming.
There are two aspects which are my absolute favourites. One is the shooting scene. The other is the street scenes, which I suppose ought to be strictly within the fantasy world of The Avengers and yet at this length of time seem so old fashioned.
I suspect that many viewers would find the mind control premise of this episode pretty incredible, but the point of The Avengers is that it isn't real and I think this one really deserves reconsideration.

Friday, 1 May 2020

Bergerac: Burnt

Another series I can't believe it's taken me this long to write about. I must begin by being frank about the fact that Bergerac was a favourite show of mine in my teens - I even fantasised about living on Jersey 'when I grow up'. The irony is that now I am grown up I actually could live there, because I belong to a profession which is granted residence without the usual requirement that you pay at £125,000 sterling in tax every year, and wouldn't want to because I loathe the sort of people who pay that sort of tax.
This episode is largely about a financial fiddle - it isn't enough being fabulously wealthy, but the fabulously wealthy like finding ways of contributing as little as possible and so like to have their assets hidden away. In this case on Sark, another of the Channel Islands and with notably eccentric laws: I see that feudalism was only abolished in 2008 in the island's first election!
Perhaps I have given a rather negative impression, and would not want anyone to think that Bergerac is not a complete joy. There is literally something in it for everyone: beautiful scenery, detection, rich people, Bergerac's train wreck of a love life. What is not to love? I particularly love Terence Alexander as Bergerac's ex-father-in-law, with the cigar permanently in his hand.
This is a series 6 episode, first broadcast in 1988, and this provides another of its joys. Surely rich people and the 1980s are inseparably connected? Bergerac provides a veritable feast of 1980s reminiscence, and this episode is no exception. One of the best things is seeing the latest computers of the time: the boxes they sit in don't look wildly odd but it is when they operate it all looks so ancient. Especially as the equipment is being used in this one by the police to solve crime.
As always writing these witterings leads me to new information about these shows and I have discovered that the setting for the fictional Bureau des Etrangers (Our Sort of People don't commit vulgar crimes) for which Bergerac works, was the notorious former children's home Haute de la Garenne. Its history of abuse hit the press in the early noughties, once again illustrating that apparent idylls may not be what they seem.
I actually find I don't want to say too much because I don't want to give the plot away in case anyone hasn't seen it. And that is my criticism: it's a bit obvious who is the most masterful personality amongst the cast. I didn't think of it at the time, but much like Sean Connery, John Nettles has played all his parts with the same accent. He's from Cornwall and while Bergerac is supposed to be from Jersey he doesn't sound like it.
I haven't been posting much here recently, because of yet another life complication. Until this week we have been having wonderful weather and so I got out on the canal bank for my hour's exercise last weekend. The photo is a social distancing version and thus a selfie.

Sunday, 19 April 2020

Not TV: Honor Blackman in Serena (1962)

We have lost a couple of actors already this year, who will be well known to the readers of this blog. Tim Brooke-Taylor succumbed to Covid-19, and I feel that is the reason his death has had a higher profile. I have recently featured him in drag here and you can read a tribute to him by Grant Goggins here. Instead I have chosen to post about Honor Blackman and feature a film of hers contemporary with The Avengers.
Serena has what is a rather simple plot under the surface  and cunningly hidden by layers of deceit and confusion. This film really does take a few viewings to sort out what is happening.
I am going to say as little as possible about the plot, but I do have a few films I think are out of a similar mould to The Avengers but have not so far got round to doing a post about them.
This one has very much the same atmosphere as the early Avengers. It is set in a rather Bohemian setting, based around an artist whose wife will not divorce him because she's a devout RC. I really think this film would have been quite risqué in 1962, featuring sexual dalliance, the bohemian arty crowd and conflict between various parts of this world.
Into this steps Honor Blackman as a breath of fresh air. She was criticised for her diction, but it was those elocution lessons which gave her the key to her future career. Her diction may also seem rather old fashioned in an age when youngsters are all learning to speak LME. She also had that something which is only found in excellent actors: you forget that she is Honor Blackman and she becomes the role, while still being head and shoulders above the other actors.
If you really tried hard to criticise this film, you could say that once you have sussed the twist the solution is obvious, but who ever went to the cinema on a Saturday afternoon to solve a puzzle?
Let's end with a video of Honor being a breath of fresh air later in life.

Wednesday, 25 March 2020

The Avengers: Man-Eater of Surrey Green

In theory I am working from home but surprisingly can't get on to remote working and have done nothing for two days. I have additionally been offered another job, and since my manager couldn't be bothered to acknowledge my notice or speak to me, I am not minded to be helpful! The perfect opportunity to write a blog post.
I don't know why I have never noticed that this Avengers is one of those which spoof a whole genre of film, in this case the dangerous plants theme which is a sub set of 1950s creature features. It is suitable for the Avengers  which so frequently refers to the 1960s love and fear of science, which at the same time was mirrored by a love and fear of nature.
One of the things I find interesting about this is that in theory the action leaves Avengersland completely, going as far as Denbigh, which is in Wales. There are also other distances involved, by means of rockets and what have you. There is therefore a sense in which this show is an exception to the normally constrained world of the Avengers.
Unfortunately this far-ranging ambition doesn't pay off as far as the plot is concerned. My advice would be not to watch this too critically, as is often the case with The Avengers, but to sit back and enjoy it. When it is watched like that it holds together, but if you subject the plot to too much scrutiny it rather falls apart. I have read that many or all of the scientific references and names of plants are fictional or just plain wrong, which of course would be annoying for specialists.
What did they think they were doing? I cannot believe the Avengers was only aimed at people with no knowledge of the science mentioned at all, but I also don't want to make out there was a slapdash failure to check facts. I am going to take the view (on no evidence at all) that the fictional science and nonexistent facts were deliberate, and therefore can only have been intended to give the knowledgeable the message that this isn't real, which is well in line with the approach taken from series 4 on. It is easy to find other examples of unreal nations, people, events in the series, and the Avengers deals in broad brush strokes and stereotypes rather than facts.
As always, writing these blog posts teaches me things and apparently this Avengers is strikingly like the Dr Who adventure The Seeds of Doom, which was also written by Robert Banks Stewart, in a hurry as a replacement script.
Apparently there is some dispute amongst the fans as to whether Steed puts poison on Mrs Peel so that it's taken up by the plant, or whether he poisons the plant. Obviously he's poisoning the plant directly!
So to summarise: not one which takes too much scrutiny, but does have many of the recurrent themes of the time.
My favourite moment: Steed revealing the cactus hidden under the blanket in his car.

Thursday, 12 March 2020

Avengersland: The Wrestling Parson

I am accustomed to saying that the world depicted in The Avengers is not real. Until now. British Pathé did a series of films on eccentric vicars and this one (from 1963) is straight out of The Avengers. Many a clergyman must have been involved in wrestling or boxing, but working in Canada  buying a horse from 'the gypsies' and giving the horse beer to drink take it to the next level. And that wrestling match in the open surely wasn't set up for the camera was it?

Monday, 2 March 2020

Minder: Gunfight at the OK Laundrette

How have I managed not to pass comment on Minder up to now? Despite being a series which IMHO went on too long, I love the gritty depiction of 1970s London in the early episodes. This is the same world shown in The Professionals and The Sweeney, just seen from the underside.
This episode is based on real events  of the Spaghetti House Siege in 1975, which bears more than a passing resemblance to the Minder script. Three black men attempted to steal the week's takings from an Italian restaurant in Knightsbridge, but wound up taking the staff hostage. Surveillance techniques were used by the police, the hostage takers made rather confused attempts to pass the robbery off as a political act, the press nobly agreed to help the police manipulate what was happening by their headlines, and one of the hostages developed what later became known as Stockholm Syndrome. 
The episode also deals with another issue of the time, namely immigration, by cleverly juxtaposing the concerns of Italian immigrants, who are bothered that their children no longer identify as Italian and can barely speak the language, with the concerns of black criminals who try to pass off their theft as a political act. The Spaghetti House robbers demanded a plane to Jamaica despite the guy who wanted it actually being from Nigeria.
My frank thought about this is what a horrendous life it is being a 'minder' - or rather general odd job man, usually for jobs which require some intimidation or muscle. Minding the owner of the launderette as he gets the money out of the machines being a case in point. It is striking that nobody in this is exactly prosperous (I don't think stripping brings in that much money), but despite that the characters are not miserable and Minder avoids the bleak despair characteristic of so much seventies TV. 
If I have a criticism it is that it feels a bit claustrophobic and drawn out once the siege starts, but of course that's the point. Of course we all know that the siege has to end OK for the protagonist and I suppose that is one of the things which makes TV comforting rather than traumatic. 
Perhaps I had better end with the disclosure that I have a bit of a thing about launderettes, I find them absolutely fascinating and apparently the one featured in this show is still there if anyone wants to visit. 

Monday, 24 February 2020

Randall and Hopkirk Deceased (2000 Version): A Man of Substance

I never thought I would ever be blogging about this show here. The original series is one of my favourites and I thought this one had everything I dislike: I loathe remakes and thought this was one. But then I read a blog post by Grant Goggins about a different episode (here) in which he says,
I’m afraid the previous three episodes were really uneven, but Randall & Hopkirk went out on a high note written by Mark Gatiss and Jeremy Dyson as a very cute tribute to The Avengers. It’s “Death at Bargain Prices” crossed with “The House That Jack Built” as Jeff and Jeannie are trapped in an escape-proof department store full of lethal traps. And just to add to the tips of the bowler, they brought along some mannequins that evoke the Autons from Doctor Who and dressed one of them like Steed.
... And of course I was smitten. This series manages to play tribute to just about every classic TV series and film ever made, including often focusing on the unreal Britain of The Avengers.
That is particularly apparent in this episode, which is a bit of a tribute to The Town of No Return, with nods to The Wicker Man and endless horror films. This page does a better job of identifying cultural references than I would.
I would however comment that this episode is firmly in the genre of literature portraying villages as not quite what they seem. This can include various murder mysteries and much folklore including folk horror. The fact that the residents are ruthlessly organic and middle class adds to the awfulness. As a town person myself I don't feel frightened of city living in the slightest, but the thought of the country fills me with horror.
I can quite see why this is not a favourite of the fans - if you are inclined to you can see the ending of this episode as a weakness, since it is frankly extraordinary. Mary's behaviour doesn't come across as good, but of course it all ends alright. Personally I think a series finale when one of your leading characters is dead, would have to include the dead antics of some power crazed nutters intent on world domination. And how Avengers is that?

Sunday, 9 February 2020

Monty Python: The War Against Pornography

For some strange reason I have managed to blog about TV for this long and not once blogged about Monty Python and this is an omission which requires immediate correction.
I have commented recently on the energy and youthfulness of TV comedy before everyone became very cynical in Thatcher's Britain, and of course Monty Python is no exception. The Pythons seemingly took whatever came to mind and made it hilarious. Their humour was not without relevance to the events of the day and the war against pornography referenced here was of course a real war being waged at the time: regular readers will have noticed how often Mary Whitehouse is referenced on this blog. If you want the other side of that story I would recommend the film about Mary Millington which I have recently watched with much enjoyment.
The other thing the Pythons bring home is how the world has changed in the intervening decades. Part of this episode mentions Britain and trade with other nations, and of course the seventies were a hopeful time of European common living. We have of course left Europe and the government is putting out ads about how we will now build relationships with Europe. This must make sense in someone's head but it certainly doesn't in mine, when we had agreement with Europe! If push comes to shove members of my profession can immigrate to Ireland, so all is not lost.
I have a feeling that Gumbys were among the Leave voters. The reason I picked this episode was because I love the Gumby brain surgery! Of course the point is that nobody would think they were a Gumby themselves... Although we've all met a few!
It is more evident to classic TV viewers like us than most people but the Pythons are of course making heavy references to the TV of the time, which makes Monty Python very reflexive and really quite postmodern before its time. IMDB tells me that it directly references Dr Kildare and Match of the Day, but I feel there are also references to documentary and nature shows which I'm not in a position to name.
Sit back and enjoy this show - to criticise Monty Python would be churlish. Oh - I like shows referencing the war against porn - as a prolific consumer of porn myself I like to think Mrs Whitehouse would disapprove.

Tuesday, 28 January 2020

Dr Who: Terror of the Autons

High time we had some more Who. This one features Jon Pertwee with the Master, of course one of the Doctor's greatest enemies.
The premise of this one is relatively simple, but tends to become complicated when it is explained. The Master gains access to Nestene intelligence which allows anything plastic to become dangerous. It's really as simple as that. You can get as sci fi about as you like.
But of course that is not how I would approach it - the premise of dangerous plastics allows endless japes, like murderous toys, deadly flowers and chairs which eat people. Oh, and plastic police officers. You can approach this one as horrifying if you want - in fact it was given in Parliament as an example of how children's television had become scary - but watched as an adult, it is a jolly romp.

This Who calls in a feature of the TV of the sixties which I bang on about here - the ambivalence about the bright new scientific future which was otherwise all the rage at the time. Two points about this are made in the special features of the disc - that again this was horrifying because it made something dangerous which is found in every home, and that there was a fear this storyline would clash with Doomwatch's line about plastic deteriorating. It is commented that this fear was ungrounded because Doomwatch was completely serious, so perhaps I am not too far off in my approach to this show.
Blue screen filming is used extensively here, both to allow the effects but also for many scenes to give a backdrop. Of course it was the technology of the time, and can look very old fashioned. Otherwise the adventure is paced perfectly and four was the perfect number of episodes.
Can anyone reading this not have seen this? But if you haven't, do run away and watch it.

Sunday, 12 January 2020

Billy Liar

This was very nearly a post about Tales From Fat Tulip's Garden, which is a delight and which I remember the first time round, although I was probably older than its intended audience. Tony Robinson (Baldrick), dissatisfied with the quality of story telling around at the time for his own young children, tells stories in a gorgeous listed house and garden. You can read about this show at the Curious British Telly blog here and here and about the sad story of the house here. I would recommend the show to children of any age.
Also in my current viewing heap is the TV series Billy Liar, which I have seen before and for some reason didn't take to. On revisiting it I have come to the conclusion that this show is also a delight. The Billy Liar meme lasted for a good couple of decades after the initial novel, about a terminally dreamy young man came out and encompassed film, play, sequel and this TV series. The idea is very simple, Billy Fisher leads a humdrum life still living at home and working as an assistant to an undertaker. His day dreams enliven his boring days and what makes it so good is that we get to see his dreams which often incorporate his family and employer in various fantastic scenarios. What makes this good TV is that we see all of these fantasies acted out, sometimes with the characters in very uncharacteristic roles, and this show must have stretched LWT's wardrobe to its limit!
In a change to my normal policy I do like that the actors in this show are virtually all familiar faces, because we get to see them in unusual roles. I particularly like May Warden as the sex-obsessed grandmother.
The series is set in that ethereal place I have mentioned here before, t'north, which as we all know is a symbol of poverty, lack of ambition, and gritty, kitchen-sink drama. All the better then that this show transforms its location into a place of dreams. We are also lucky that it was happily unable to escape from the early seventies and that the hair, the clothes and the decor are all of the period and marvellously reminiscent of the period for those who remember it.
The illustration is what happened in Billy's fantasy world after his father said, 'I' ll eat my hat'.