Tuesday, 8 June 2021

Not TV: Confessions of a Window Cleaner 1974

I love a 1970s sex comedy, me. Obviously this means I'm deeply superficial but the reason this one is appearing here is because I love it so it deserves one of my rare posts about non-TV subjects.

Actually it's not completely unrelated, because this film shows what was going on in the cinematic world outside the more-controlled world of TV. I have commented before about the war which went on at this time about the nature of what is shown in media. Mary Whitehouse's Clean Up TV campaign started in 1964, and while this film is very far from being porn (it depicts boobs and bums and frequent casual sex) the material in this film is clearly a step on from anything you can see in the TV of the time. Given that Mrs Whitehouse already wanted to clean up TV she must have already thought that what it was showing was unacceptable. I must confess to being somewhat mystified that she campaigned against broadcasting footage of the liberation of Belsen (footage she described as filth) and yet praised the BBC's coverage of the Vietnam War as indicating that the BBC was a proponent of pacifism. To me it seems that footage of Belsen would have a similar effect in underlining the dangerous reality of some human behaviour.

And I suppose that is the difference. I never cease banging on about how I like my TV to be unreal - I suppose the important thing is whether you can tell that what you are seeing is not real and if you have values which shape your decisions. Has there ever been a window cleaner who went round shagging? Probably. Has any young man been inspired by this film to become a window cleaner because of the prospect of sex? I would doubt it. What makes me more uncomfortable is that some people think other people shouldn't be seen stuff in case they go out and copy it. To try to control this for adults is just as dodgy to my mind.

Nor was the rest of society in step with Mrs Whitehouse. You might think this film is either filth or very silly, but it's got a cast of some very serious actors indeed, indicating it was relatively mainstream at the time. These include Joan Hickson, Richard Wattis, Dandy Nicols, Antony Booth and John le Mesurier. It was also the top-grossing British film of 1974. The sexual revolution had become mainstream. That said it was not until 1997 it was shown on UK terrestrial television. I honestly don't know what the danger is - even if you relied on these films for your sex education the you would come out with rubbish ideas about sex and would have to learn properly. 

I see that the location for the street scenes was Borehamwood which means it was filmed in Avengerland Central.

While the Confessions films are clearly not real you have to admire the way Robin Askwith has had a whole acting career based on showing his bum. The films are available as a box set and also on Amazon and if you don't want to finance the odious Amazon they are on the internet archive (search for 'adult comedy adventures' but it won't let me link) and YouTube. The Confessions films also came from a whole series of books which have recently been republished.

Sunday, 6 June 2021

The Protectors (the 1964 ABC series): The Bottle Shop

In some ways we are very lucky to be living in the times we are. The current intense polarisation of society allows a quick identification of how you will get on with people. In the US you have it relatively easy, because you just have to ask people who won the election and their response is likely to give you a good idea of the rest of their opinions. Here we tend to do that by their reaction to the word brexit, although now we have the handy indicator of whether they've had the vaccine and the reasons for their decision either way. I have been spending time sitting in the sun recently (pictured below) and yesterday a man started chatting with me who told me quite seriously that Bill Gates was spying on me through the coronavirus vaccine I have had and that this is part of a new world order. I remembered an urgent appointment elsewhere. Apart from anything else, if this was actually happening, a member of our government would have left it on a memory stick on a train by now.

In the 1960s it probably was easier to have realistic fears that you were being spied on or otherwise threatened or infiltrated. Actually spies kept being discovered and the TV of the time was full of shows which at least touched on espionage, crime and security, even before the full-scale spy craze of the mid-sixties. You can be forgiven for getting confused because there are a number of similar shows with similar names, so to avoid confusion, the one I am talking about here is the one broadcast by ABC in 1964 - this one. There is very little comment on the internet about this series, which I suspect is because of the confusion of names. Unusually the Protectors are a private firm of three, who sell security. And their clients are far removed from the private eye's bread and butter divorce cases of the time. In fact it has a real variety of cases. I think if you like the early Avengers and can live without the eccentricity and sexiness, you will like this show. To cut a long story short it has a similar feel to early Avengers.

The subject of this episode is industrial espionage, a familiar theme. The pharmaceutical firm it takes place in is wonderfully drawn as one of these hotbeds of tension and argument which are almost destined to end up having problems! The field they work in is wonderfully dated, because they are planning to start research into Mescaline and LSD. This puts the episode into the context of mind-altering psychiatry of the time and provides a close look at the details which go on behind the scenes to make the scientific paradigm which was so venerated at the time. The fact that the drugs being worked on are psychotropic provides for an interesting climax, following a red herring being set up earlier in the episode.

As you would expect the production values are similar to early Avengers and I'm fact looks quite similar. The Protectors is either completely or almost completely studio bound. Restoration is a very decent job with picture and sound always clear. It moves faster than some sixties shows, with frequent changes of shot and scene. My one criticism would be one I have seen reflected in Amazon reviews that sometimes the episodes' plots can be difficult to follow. Again this may be a matter of taste. There are some familiar sixties faces in this episode - Peter Bowles being the obvious one.

An excellent series. Further reading can be found here where I blogged my initial impressions.

Monday, 24 May 2021

Special Branch: Round the Clock

I have had several run throughs of both series of Special Branch before, but have tended to miss something in this episode. I feel like the stakeout is a standard dramatic set up for the crime shows of the seventies - dramatically it allows character development, allows for an exciting denouement and must be relatively cheap. The only difficulty is preventing boredom settling in and that is usually done by the interplay between the (invariably two) officers doing the stake out. Unfortunately they didn't have the ultimate resort of a totally weird event used by Scully and Mulder while they were being punished by the FBI in later series.

In this episode the development used to distract from the ennui is the friction between Haggerty and Craven, which in fact dominates the whole episode. This is an entirely personal view because as regular readers know I prefer my TV unreal, but the ongoing friction doesn't really do it for me. This is purely because situations where you can't concentrate on the matter in hand because of something extraneous interfering, really irritate me. The problem with the argument is that Haggerty is what my mother (and probably Craven) would describe as 'a sexy piece'. By this I mean that he is perceived to be overly sexy but isn't really. Extra depth to the argument is given by the fact that Haggerty doesn't even know he supposedly broke up Craven's marriage and Craven is depicted behaving to his girlfriend in a way which would nowadays be seen as crossing over into coercion and control.

The conflict made me rather let the show wash over me to the extent that I completely missed the role played by Dame Hilda Bracket (billed as she often was in the seventies as Perri Sinclair) singing in a club and then Craven asks her to spread a rumour for him. She had not long appeared in one of the Steptoe films and I think these appearances say all there is to say about the seventies. Also I do love the way she gets her bum pinched after being helped off the stage.

When the denouement comes it comes very quickly and there is the twist that Haggerty gets promoted to Craven's very obvious displeasure.

Tuesday, 18 May 2021

Timeslip: The Wrong End of Time Episode 1

Mitchell Hadley has kindly paid me the accolade that there's a good chance of reading about

shows he's never heard of here. This is of course setting the bar very high and I hope I can live up to it. Mitchell, I hope you've never heard of Timeslip or at least are prepared to pretend you haven't!

It's a show I have fought shy of writing about here for several reasons. The first is that I find it confusing. This is mainly because despite being an apparently straightforward series of four adventures in total, it seems to come in a bewildering array of different box sets. The one I have is the blue box with the girl in a yellow and red picture holding her arms up, and appears to be complete.

The second reason is that I personally tend to find time travel stories confusing so please bear that in mind as you read this post.

I must confess something else, which is that I have a real weakness for this show. In fact for several children's TV shows of the early 1970s because they embody a probably imagined time before I was born. Is there any likelihood that children could stray into an abandoned Ministry of Defence station now? Not on your nelly. Nor is it likely that kids these days would be taken in by the time trap which merely required some fence posts, a lot of acting and some basic camera tricks.

Nonetheless the show speaks ironically of a different time when it is supposed children had greater freedom to rove around than they do now. Nor is this a country/city difference - a friend grew up in Aston on the other side of the city centre in the seventies and remembers people leaving their doors unlocked. Any apparent danger to the kids is subsumed into the character of the baddies.

In this case the baddies are Germans, because the children are taken back to 1940. In the manner of the time, the enemy is very clear, they're usually foreign and we know exactly who they are. 

I love this series and recommend it almost unreservedly, but for the proviso that in the second adventure the show goes forward in time to 1990, and really shows never get the going forward in time thing right. It is very much of its time, both in production and in the paranormal and environmental concerns which were all the rage at the time. I think it is best approached as fantasy so that the ride can be enjoyed.

Oh as a final note, I think one of the reasons I haven't got round to writing about this show yet is that because it was wildly popular at the time it has been extensively covered however I just couldn't get into the official site and I love shows which aren't chewed to death 😃

Friday, 7 May 2021

Tales from the Dark side: A Case of the Stubborns

How have I only just found out about this show? Obviously I've been spending too much time in graveyards and crypts! Like all anthology series the episodes are a mixed bag but this one is pure gold. 

We all know someone who is so pig-headed that they always know best and won't listen to anyone else. And before you say it ImI not one of them! Rarely though, does this extend to not believing that you're dead and just carrying on. The reason this is such a success is that the premise is so wrong it's brilliant, and it draws on images of headless chickens. It is so wrong to say that someone is so stubborn (with undertones of intelligence on a par with a chicken) that they don't know they're dead.

The premise leads to wonderful scenarios that are also rather uncomfortable. It is so inappropriate humour to say that someone is dead but doesn't know it, but.... that is exactly what the daughter says. Hearing the words, you're dead but won't lie down, actually said to someone gives a frisson of being glad we don't have to say it to our own parents. Conversely of course we all wish we could be so stubborn that we won't die! I love the way he visibly decomposes and the efforts of both the doctor and minister don't work!

I literally have no criticism. I do wonder about the accents the people have and would suspect that the accent, which to me sound so overdone that they are stereotypical, are meant to indicate that these are unimaginative country people. Of course overdoing the accent can also be a way to make it unreal and stop the difficult premise being too real. I would be interested to hear views.

An unqualified recommendation from me.

Thursday, 29 April 2021

The Avengers Series 1: Toy Trap

This post is based on the episode reconstruction on the Avengers Special Features disc.

We go straight into the underworld with this one, but goodness how old fashioned it seems. On the one hand Im sure many a retail worker supplements their income with an Only Fans these days, so the sex work has probably become more widespread but the mechanics of 1960s prostitution seem so old fashioned. When I lived in London in the nineties I knew someone whose job was putting the advertising cards in phone boxes for sex workers. There were a bunch of them who worked for different pimps and they spent every day cycling round taking down other people's cards and putting up their own. Even that seems old fashioned now but - yikes - it was 30 years ago.

Do city workers still live in hostels? I doubt it, but it indicates the girls aren't being paid enough to live independently. I wonder whether it would have been acceptable for a young girl to house share in the early 1960s - I suspect it wouldn't have been. 

The fact that men and women are in very different positions is further indicated by the fact that Keel's cooking is hopeless! I love that Steed pretends to be a doctor and this horrifies Keel!

However I have a real difficulty with the credibility of this one. What kind of doctor can just drop his workload or feel free to involve himself in random escapades as Keel does? Why does Steed feel he can just involve himself in a random investigation being carried out by his department? And indeed take it over with his doctor friend and nobody else from the department. My biggest criticism would be that the solution to who is behind the prostitution ring - the evil landlady of the hostel - is a bit formulaic.

But I feel I'm being unfair. I am sure when this first broadcast in 1961 it was very edgy and had many a mother checking in on her daughter working in the city. It has also made me want more because I love the moody black and white photography.

Not for the only time, Steed's tactics come under criticism. His utilitarian ethic is rarely acceptable to the people he uses.

If you want to hear the actual script I believe this has been released as an audio by Big Finish.

Saturday, 17 April 2021

Doctor Who: The Monster of Peladon

 High time we had some more Dr Who - it's been several years since I posted about him. 

Unfortunately The Monster of Peladon is not a favourite and I am unlikely to be able to rehabilitate it in any marked way. The usual criticisms are that it is too like the preceding The Curse of Peladon, problems ewit slow pacing and that the doctor and Sarah Jane just don't seem to gel. I personally would add an extra one that the galactic ambassador is very irritating. Once you get over her appearance of a single eyeball, which makes her look like a speaking penis, she is very wearing.

I find the social structure within the planet quite interesting. The miners are, as you would expect, working class. I have posted about TV doing this before but you would be able to tell that they are working class because they have bare chests (with or without hairy shoulders). The guards are also working class because of the resilient nature of their uniforms. Otherwise I feel any sexy significance to the amount of leather in the show was intended to be missed by the viewers!

Pertwee is of course excellent and my view is that the whole thing is worth watching for this Venusian lullaby:

Friday, 26 March 2021

Tomorrow People: Secret Weapon

 I have so far fought shy of writing about this series, purely because it is so huge, involves so many story arcs and is so variable. In various places it is definitely stonking good television, but in others represents the worst of 1970s TV. I intend, now that I have broken into it, to do a master post to try to get the show into some order in my head, but this post is about the Secret Weapon story, broadcast in February to March 1975 as the first four episodes of series 3.

The series was well underway by now and the essential elements are in place: the next stage of human evolution 'breaking out' as Homo Superior, jaunting using the jaunting belts, etc. In many ways I would see this as the natural progression of the scientific interests frequently mentioned in the TV of the preceding decade, just with the added idea that humanity would progress enough to evolve to the next stage. In the seventies this probably wouldn't have been seen as wildly unrealistic. I do think there is an Avengers-type heritage here. Nor does it ignore the racial interests of the time: one of the characters is black and Tyso is said to be a gypsy and has the traditional gypsy name of Boswell. No indication is given of whether he is ethnically Roma but some attempt is made to reference the culture he comes from.

However this adventure has made me notice some gaping holes in the plot. I actually feel bad saying these because I do like this show.

1. It is said that Tyso will die as he breaks out unless other Tomorrow People get to him. Seriously? That is a real limit on Tomorrow People's powers!

2. Another one is the preference for jaunting with a belt. Honestly do you really need it?

3. The Tomorrow People can have their thoughts read by any telepath (very fashionable area of parapsychic research in the seventies) and apparently have no awareness of this or means of blocking it, except for one occasion where Elizabeth does block her thoughts. This is an inconsistency, but perhaps I'm being picky.

4. Trevor Bannister is ludicrously cast as Colonel Masters. While an excellent actor he is rather typed as the fool type he played in Are You Being Served and The Dustbin Men. He would have been far too gobby in his usual type to get promoted to Colonel and I can't help expecting him to say something funny!

You have to suspend belief for the wonderful touch of temporarily abducting the prime minister. I do love that touch.

There is also a moral undertone which I hadn't noticed before - the Tomorrow People are superior and part of their automatic superiority is not being able to kill. They do take the opportunity to reflect on how hopeless homo sapiens are because of their urge to violence.

The absolute best bit of the DVD box set is the commentary by the cast. It is worth buying purely for the entertainment value of their rude remarks and reminiscences.

Friday, 19 March 2021

The Avengers: The Living Dead

I love this episode, however have fought shy of writing about it because it manages to pack so much in, viz.

1. The Hammer style beginning. I actually think it is one of the nicest Avengers imitations of other genres.

2. Actually perhaps it's more in the style of Amicus because it is set in the present day and includes dialogue about the reality or otherwise of ghosts. I love the Avengeresque acronyms of the two ghost investigating groups, FOG and SMOG!

3. The episode is set against the noblesse oblige background of the Benedict estate. Very classic Avengers setting of the great and the good gone wrong.

4. The caricatured British setting is influenced by a very stereotypical foreigner.

5. It isn't explicitly mentioned but the noblesse oblige setting is not totally beneficent to the workers. The Benedict family not only formerly operated a mine, never a very safe or pleasant place to work, but the operation was brought to a close by an accident. However the dukes of Benedict are definitely not nouveau riche ennobled by Queen Victoria because they have got up to the sixteenth Duke.

6. It segues into (needless to say) a tale of megalomania and the aristocracy gone off the rails.

I honestly don't know why the reviews are mixed on the internet - what's not to love? I can see that the sheer volume of stuff included can be a criticism in itself and there are lists of problems with continuity. However as I keep saying, these showd were not expected to have the sort of scrutiny they now get. In fact the rather fake quality of the sets and props is surely part of the Avengers thing of deliberately not being realistic. The virtue then is in the frankly incredible nature of these shows.

Steed and Mrs Peel are very flirty, and she saves him from a firing squad. Again I am firmly of the opinion that any suggestion of attraction or sex between them isn't real. Despite a reproduction range of Avengers fashions being sold, surely it was only in the sixties that you could dress like an Avenger. Unreal in fashions as in everything else!

Friday, 19 February 2021

The Enigma Files: False-Hearted Lover

Goodness, it isn't often you get two programmes featured here with the same star, but Tom Adams illustrated the last post and is the star of this series, which I have wanted to see forever. Now fortunately the guy who runs the Archive TV Musings blog (if you haven't seen it, rush over there now, because it's much better than this one, he posts regularly and stays on subject better than me) has put the whole series on his YouTube channel. The channel has other good things like episodes of Freewheelers.

The show is described by Wikipedia as a police procedural, but I'm not convinced it is as such. It is set in a sort of hard shoulder of police work so naturally does show police procedure but DCI Lewis, whom Adams plays, is a bit of a maverick and so it is more of an anti-procedural. Given that it was broadcast in 1980, I feel it was a deliberate contrast from the big name detective series of the time, The Sweeney, Target, The Professionals. The Enigma Files feels radically different - more studio-bound, urbane, not so violent, and yet still with the 1970s sludge colour scheme. I would think of it more as a proto-Morse. The accent really isn't on the procedure, it's like the other series I named but reframed for thinking kids.

In this episode an unsolved murder is reopened. This brings up old conflict and there is a slight problem of where the victim's fortune has vanished to. I love the character of the victim's sister, who is obviously a real tartar just like her brother. She thinks the nurse is after the money and is the murderer, which would be a classic solution to the situation. The chauffeur is well set up as a red herring.

Of the cast I think the star is Tommy who has a learning disability and is non-verbal, convincingly played by Colin Fay. Spoiler after the break -

Saturday, 6 February 2021

Villains (1972): Bernie

Sometimes you just have to prioritise yourself. With food prices soaring after Brexit, a global pandemic in which my employer was apparently unable to understand what 'stay at home' means and my joints playing up again, I have come to my senses and handed my notice in. I intend to rest for several months at least to let my joints settle down again.

I have quite a few things either buzzing round in my head or shows I haven't written about yet, to write about here.

Villains doesn't seem to be featured much in the blogosphere, however does have many online reviews which are decidedly mixed and which I broadly agree with. If you see write ups you will see that this is described as a show 'with a difference', which is usually the kiss of death because it usually means someone is being too clever. I don't think that is the case here. The premise is simple: the series follows a gang of bank robbers individually after they escape prison. Spoiler: they get recaptured. 

The fact they get recaptured is a slight problem to start with - by 1972 the notorious case of the Great Train Robbers was nearly a decade old and so everyone knew how to escape from prison properly and not get recaptured. You can read more  here about how that robbery captivated the nation. 

The other frequent criticism on t'internet is that because this show follows the robbers individually you tend to wonder what's happening with the others. To cut to the chase with these valid criticisms: the robbers escape, get captured and are followed up individually. I think you would either like or dislike this premise. The strength of this approach is that it creates a very claustrophobic atmosphere, which I suppose is exactly what being on the run would feel like. The fact you don't know what is happening with the others actually creates for the viewer exactly the sense you would have if you were one of a number of prison escapees, of never knowing what is going to happen or whether you can trust anyone.

This episode is about the thief called Bernard Owens, played by one of my favourite actors, Tom Adams. One of these days I might write about him spoofing James Bond in several films as Charles Vine. Here he uncharacteristically plays a working class character, rather than the toffs he frequently plays. This series has a number of big names, which as you all know, I tend to find distracting.

Bernie's tale has an ethical undercurrent of the effects of crime on the criminal's family. We see his wife pleading with him not to do it and see him arrested in front of his son. The impression I get is the wife's mother should have warned her daughter about him. He doesn't only insist on going ahead with the robbery but minimises the danger and the effect on the family. He's either hooked on the adrenaline or just doesn't care, in fact he actually comes across as quite psychopathic. He also has another woman on the go and his solicitor is definitely crooked! The solicitor is played by Paul Eddington so it seems as if a government minister is involved.

One of the best things about this show is the visuals. It is very clear that crime does pay, because we see lots of flares and the latest eye-popping 1970s interiors. In Bernie, his hideout is in a caravan at the seaside and there are very effective shots of the seaside out of season.

What I think is less effective is the flashback technique which is frequently used and makes the plot rather difficult to follow. That is the only bit where I think it's being too clever for its own good. That said the technique means you have to concentrate on this, which of course may be a good thing in itself.

I don't post about shows which are duds, but I think Villains is open to criticism if you don't approach it expecting what it actually does, which is turn the conventional escape story on its head.

Friday, 8 January 2021

The X-Files: The List

Finally 2020 is over, everyone thought, and a week in 2021 is escalating rapidly. On this side of the Atlantic we're fairly glad the US has the Trump card in the embarrassment stakes but hope Ireland notices when we all starve.

In the somewhat apocalyptic times, this X-Files is about what matters both in this world and the notional afterlife. You can see this as being about reincarnation and revenge from beyond the grave, but it is even more about loyalty and doing the right thing in this life.

What kind of prison is it where the prisoners routinely get beaten up by the guards? A desperate one where the remedies of the law don't work. Do people who take the law in their own hands ever have justification? Difficult to tell, and I feel that should depend on what they are up against. The even more difficult question is what to do if the system is stacked against yo

u. Manley apparently took the supernatural route, and this can clearly be understood like that.

What if the process is basically fair but you don't like it.... That's when the violence really kicks off and the strongest will rule. I have found myself having some really quite dangerous thoughts recently, such as that some people shouldn't have the vote. I actually don't agree with prisoners not having the vote as such but when I start thinking that, for example, white supremacists shouldn't have the vote, I stop and realise I'm on really dodgy ground.

I honestly don't know how things will end - this is where TV has the advantage over real life - but I'm fairly sure the coronavirus will mutate to be resistant to the vaccine.

Perhaps the real lesson of The List is that what we are made of is revealed by adversity.

Tuesday, 5 January 2021

Dr Who: the University of Bolton Special Effects Department

 As we go into our third lockdown this post is purely to draw attention to this legendary infection control video by the above university.