Thursday, 16 September 2021

1930s TV: The Crooked Circle

In case you haven't come across this film, pause to put on your evening dress and ring for some cocktails, because this is some real TV history. The Crooked Circle was the first film ever broadcast on commercial TV, in 1933.

The Station was the Don Lee Broadcasting System in Los Angeles on their channel called W6XAO. It was broadcast from the aeriel on Mount Lee (named after Don Lee) behind the Hollywood(land) sign. Incidentally I have just learned the mount is haunted by the ghost of an actress called Peg Entwistle, who killed herself in 1932 by jumping from the H of the sign. Apparently a woman in out of date clothing has been frequently seen wandering, distressed, around there, accompanied by a smell of gardenias.

In an attempt to get myself to stick to the subject I always begin by writing the title, and as today, still tend to wander off into related side tracks. However I must just allow myself another diversion onto one of my preoccupations, because I have just realised that this is the only broadcast I have written about here which would have been released on the unstable cellulose nitrate film. Since I learned that it is estimated that as much as 70% or more of film before the late forties has been lost because of use of this medium, I am always struck by how the surviving films only survive because of being selected for transfer to safety film.

With the best will in the world, you may wonder why this film was selected for preservation:

Chances are the reason The Crooked Circle became the first film to be broadcast on television was because Don Lee could get it for cheap, and possibly because its stagey presentation wouldn’t tax the tiny screen of a circa 1933 television set. On March 10, 1933, the half dozen or so owners of a television set in Los Angeles could tune in to watch The Crooked Circle‘s hour of old dark house hijinks which include a violin playing ghost, a mysterious Hindu, hooded criminals, hidden doors, secret passages, skeletons, and Zasu Pitts meekly whining “Something always happens to somebody” while James Gleason tries to out New York the most New York cop who ever New Yorked. All in all, despite the film’s low status, they could have done worse. If you have an affinity for the trappings of old, dark house movies — both their strengths and their weaknesses — then The Crooked Circle is an entertaining hour. Source

You could almost say that there are too many clichés in this film, but their use makes it feel like a formula for all the film types mentioned above, which is strangely comforting.  We're not talking a Hitchcock here, and since we are talking about a film which explicitly set out to be a comedy parody, it is rather naughty to expect this film to be an epic.

Another historical thing here is that Zasu Pitts's hand wringing and wailing was largely forged in a long career in silent films. She was the model for Olive Oyl in Popeye, and I think the fact Olive Oyl was based on a real actress is fairly mind-blowing in itself.

If you want to watch The Crooked Circle it is all over the internet for free.

Monday, 6 September 2021

L for Lester: Episode 1

Gosh, I must be becoming flexible in my old age. Recently I've written about a couple of period dramas ayin a change to my usual playbook here I am writing about a sitcom. Gratifyingly I have only just discovered this show - I like it when that happens because it suggests the well of old TV shows hasn't completely dried up. 

L for Lester was a short-lived show and its only six episodes are readily available on the internet. The only problem seeming to be that episode 5 isn't complete. I don't think for an instant this will ever have a commercial release - it doesn't seem to have a cult following despite retaining happy memories, and I suspect it would be difficult to get your money back from restoring six episodes of such a show.

According to the internet the show was devised as a vehicle for the popular actor Brian Murphy (readers will know him from George and Mildred, Man About the House and possibly Last of the Summer Wine as well as numerous appearances as a jobbing actor including in The Avengers), after his George and Mildred co-star, Yootha Joyce died. This mere fact instantly catapults us back to a time before the nineties, when a TV show could be devised for an actor who was popular with the punters. I mean as opposed to being an Instagram influencer, celebrity and probably model and sex symbol. In fact the whole cast look like real people. I just don't think that would happen now, and demonstrates the gulf in attitudes between forty years ago and now.

Compared to most of the seventies/eighties shows that I like, this puts Murphy's vehicles in a different league. In fact I have just realised that the other shows of that era I like are not set in most people's reality. Most people will never be an agent for CI5 for example. Whereas Lester Small (Murphy) is a driving instructor and that's much more relatable.

He's a distinctly disaster prone driving instructor though (in this episode a pupil drives the car down a railway), and I wonder whether this was in the seventies zeitgeist. I have been watching a Candid Camera over the weekend, in which they did their stunt of getting a member of the public to watch a parking attendant wreck several cars then watching the reaction when the attendant offers to park their car. Perhaps car ownership was widespread enough in the seventies for this to be identifiable, or perhaps poor driving has always been amusing and I've just missed it!

There's an extra twist in this one (Lester's pupils' driving naturally causes him endless conflict with his insurers and the constabulary) in that he takes on a stolen car. It's quite a classic plot of the clown getting into a situation which is progressively complicated. The good visuals of the car driven down the railway line are later complicated by his arrest in an old quarry.

In another episode the car used is a red Vauxhall Chevette, which brings back the true awfulness of 1970s UK cars. The mother of a school friend had one and we would talk her into giving us a lift if we missed the bus to school, which then created the problem of trying to get it to start! In this episode the cars are classic Minis with the speedo in the centre.

In the manner of sitcoms this one builds up the complexity but ends at the pinnacle of complexity although it's obvious what's coming next. This could be a criticism if you like everything nicely resolved, but these shows are a pleasant way to spend half an hour.

Monday, 30 August 2021

Dick Barton: The Case of the Vanishing House

This is a series I have had on my radar to write about here for yonks. Like many shows the Dick Barton 'franchise' has had many incarnations - this is about the 1979 TV series, however there are previous radio serials and the films from the forties starring Don Stannard as Dick Barton, as well as comics and novels. The TV series is available in a complete box set, and my only criticism of it is that it can be difficult to navigate because the different adventures are only given numbers. This one is number three, which is on disc three.

There is a certain irony of course, that I have recently been very snooty about period drama and here I am enthusiastically reviewing a TV show made in the seventies but depicting the forties. And depicting it very well indeed. I have thought about why I like this but generally don't like period drama, and I think it might be because this isn't starting from scratch - you only have to listen to the radio series or see the films to know that this show has an original to reproduce. Additionally, in my division of real/unreal TV this show is the exact opposite of the gritty TV of the seventies. The comic-style titles suggest it is unreal from the start, and there is an element of safety in nostalgia. The problems of the 1940s, along with the enemies, were no longer so in the seventies.

There is also something wonderfully unreal about the plot - and it picks up on the attitude to technology we so often see here - an invention which destroys certain substances, including metal and glass, but leaves the others intact. That's how the house vanished - it was left as a heap of bricks. If this plot sounds familiar, it is because you are thinking of The Avengers episode The Rotters, only there it was just wood which disappeared.

To be honest I have a strange sense of déjà vu writing about this familiar trope of an invention which can be used for good or evil. As always this one's inventor has invented it for peaceful reasons, but of course it is then in the hands of people who see it as the perfect weapon. Since I suppose I should make an effort to be critical although I adore this series and can just sink into it like a hot bath, the disappearing Ray is a mammoth plot hole if you think about it. I'm being really picky, but I'm no good at physics but even I know that things don't just disappear, they have to become something else. So I suppose there is a definite science fiction element to this adventure - the rest are more straight detection. I'm being even more picky if I say it's a bit difficult to think of a sensible application for the day. In the demonstration we see on a soldier we see his gun and helmet just disappear - as a weapon I can see it would be devastating as long as only one side has it but other than that, why would you want metal and glass just to disappear? One you can see through anyway and the other has a scrap value, but I'm being overly critical.

Excellent production. The show doesn't put a foot wrong in costumes or props. The pacing is fast enough to retain interest and the series is taken out of the seventies by being shot in a slightly brighter colour pallette than the endless beige of the seventies.

All in all, a show which I recommend without reservation and which is Stonking Good Television.

Oh - I meant to say I used a picture for a bit that didn't show me, but it felt strange so I've gone back to a picture of me which needless to say shows my manly chest. 💪 Surely regular readers will know that I am that man who takes his shirt off at every opportunity. I don't think I have posted the second picture yet - I went for the day to Stratford with a friend. It was boiling hot so I took my shirt off and stayed like that on the journey home.

Tuesday, 24 August 2021

OTT (Over the Top) episode 8

It's a funny thing, culture. It's the thing which makes other people's worlds impenetrable to other people and even sometimes to the residents of the culture, because it's usually unconscious. For example the Indian head wobble - unless an Indian is aware of how other people see it, they won't be aware of it. My favourite example is that in Chinese culture it is apparently rude to ask someone not to do something, because it makes them lose face (this is of course a European's perception). What you do instead is vigorously compliment them on the opposite. At this point any white person reading this is feeling exhausted by that idea.

Another, more relevant, example is how outsiders see the British. We have a reputation in various places for being both reserved and polite, and also for being drunk hooligans. Strange that. But we did create the Carry On films and the Cobfessions films so we're not just about Downton Abbey.

In this divide there was a rather anarchic TV series in the seventies called Tiswas. A friend's mother forbid them from watching it because it was naughty. I, however, used to watch it with my dad. In retrospect I think he probably had a thing for Sally James so watching it was partly for his benefit and I was too young to understand his motivation at the time. My friend's mum also forbade them to watch Grange Hill, although we are all familiar with the spoof on the Young Ones where the kids from Grange Hill are described as the only ones in Britain that never say f***.

Anyway, Tiswas was already disreputable so it was natural that the cast would move on to making an adult late night version called OTT (Over the Top) which ran for a single series in 1982. There are a couple of full episodes in VHS quality on YouTube.

I love this show. Mainly because it's as puerile as I am. The first episode kicked off well by featuring the Balloon Dance. There's a spot the willy competition in this one and a competition to set the competition for the week after, with a prize of a Superman alarm clock.

I have decided not to overdo the description on this one, because it loses something. However I will just say the high point for me is a spot with Alexei Sayle doing the dance of the faulty central heating boiler to the audience's accompaniment with what he describes as 'guerilla' musical instruments. There is also a performance by the Beatles.

I'm not making this up. In fact the rather home spun feel is accentuated by Lenny Henry saying that he's making an announcement very slowly to allow the set to be changed - and speeding up to frenetic when the change is completed. If you can't cope with this roughness around the edges you wouldn't like it.

Totally unrelated to the subject of the post but let's end with a compilation of funny England football chants. Sadly it doesn't include the one we Blues fans sing to Wolves fans, 'Your mom is your dad's sister'.

Thursday, 19 August 2021

The Avengers Novelisations at the Internet Archive

These novelisations have come up here a couple of times. There were a number of novels published based on The Avengers in the sixties. Rather than rely on the remaining yellowing paperbacks, it is my joy to let you know that many of these are available at the Internet Archive. I have worked from this list to compile this list, and there may well be others. I have read some of them but look forward to expanding my reading.

Deadline by Patrick Macnee and Peter Leslie (1965)

Dead Duck by Patrick Macnee and Peter Leslie (1966)

The Floating Game by John Garforth (1967)

The Laugh Was on Lazarus by John Garforth (1967)

The Passing of Gloria Monday by John Garforth (1967)

Heil Harris by John Garforth (1967)

House of Cards by Peter Cave (1978) (this is available to borrow rather than download, but you just have to sign up for free and they don't give you any bother)

Too Many Targets by John Peel and Dave Rogers (1998)

They also have Patrick Macnee's autobiography, Blind in One Ear (1989) to borrow:

Monday, 9 August 2021

Dr Who: Fury from the Deep Part 1

I am going to have difficulty sticking to the subject of the post. (When don't you? Shouts the entire classic TV blogosphere) I will be upfront and say that while I am watching Fury from the Deep, what I am thinking about is reconstruction of missing Dr Who episodes.

The specific one I am watching is the Loose Cannon reconstruction. I know there has also been a BBC animated one - oh the irony of the BBC reconstructing shows after reusing the tapes! I have seen a few BBC animated reconstructions (Power of the Daleks, The Macra Terror and The Faceless Ones) and also a BBC reconstruction using telesnaps. I am going to come right out with it and say that I prefer the telesnaps reconstructions. The animated ones just don't seem to have the right feel. As far as I know they aren't going any more but I also prefer the Loose Cannon ones - you can find them on the internet. You can also find out about Loose Cannon here.

I particularly like Fury from the Deep because it presses all my classic TV buttons. It is set in our world but the world of top secret bases, which Dr Who so frequently enters. It is more than fifty years old so isn't in our time really.

It is also famous for the first appearance of the Sonic screwdriver. That appearance takes place on a beach - Troughton's Doctor is so good at these human things like playing the recorder. What never fails to surprise me is how Jamie is never surprised at anything - he is way ahead of his time here, unlike Victoria, and yet takes the futuristic base in his stride. The other thing that strikes me is that once the companions left the Doctor, they would never have been able to talk about their experience again, because people would not believe it. That's quite some isolation.

The episode very effectively builds up the tension and makes you wonder what is going on. The mystery looks like industrial sabotage but also includes elements of the fear of science we see so often in sixties TV - here the familiar one that it can be dangerous in the wrong hands or when weaponised. There is a strange sensation to watching TV of this era in an age where people are dying as a direct result of refusing a vaccine for a deadly illness! (Incidentally vaccine sceptical comments will not be enabled)

The quality was deliberately never made perfect by Loose Cannon so as not to compete with future BBC releases, so if you want a high definition picture you are better going for the BBC version.

I have no criticism to make. Some people find this adventure rather scary, but I don't personally.

Highly recommended.

Monday, 2 August 2021

Dial M for Murder: The Contract

It turns out there are at least a couple of films and TV series called Dial M for Murder, but this post is about this show. It was a 1974 series of mysteries whose common feature was that they involved a phone. As far as I can see the show has never been issued for home viewing and seems largely to have vanished completely except for this one episode which the Ian Hendry website have kindly uploaded to YouTube. You can watch it here. The show has a number of reviews on imbd, including from under 25s and I can't think how people have seen it unless they are reviewing this episode or reviewing one of the other Dial M by mistake.

And it is at this point I can't guarantee that the rest of this review won't turn hysterical because Ian Hendry and Robert Lang play a gay couple who murder people on contract. - Pause for laughter- I'm not going to lie, my very first impression is that this show must have been wildly racy for 1974. It wasn't long since the Sexual Offences Act of 1967 had legalised sexual acts between men over the age of 21 in private. So a mere seven years before the couple depicted would have been breaking the law. I am sure this legalisation was not welcomed by a large part of the population, and I can't think of many shows of the age that don't crack jokes about the gays. So a show which showed that gays could be normal murderers must have made a few heads explode.

I think the show has actually bitten off more than it can chew - the situation would probably still provoke headlines if broadcast today and it feels like this is a show trying to do two things, and you're either going to focus on the relationship or the contract killing, but both together is a bit too much.

Lang and Hendry actually manage to do the relationship bit perfectly. Both show the sheer versatility of their acting - I hadn't heard of Lang but he was a Shakespearean great. You know when you're around a couple and they just let enough of their relationship out that you know they're sort of bickering but you know it could turn into passionate sex at any moment? That is exactly where Hendry and Lang pitch it. I mean, there are loads of people on the internet who think Steed and Mrs Peel were an item, on much less evidence. I feel that Hendry relishes the role much more - authentically overdoing the gay thing as it should be. At home he is all chest hair in an open cardigan (and how much hair can one man carry - how come he got it all and I got none?) and I love the fur coat and wig he wears out.

The real irony is that one of the straight characters is played by Roland Curram, who I would have thought was gay, actually did later come out as gay. Gosh this gets complex. I honestly wonder whether this episode wouldn't prevent future commercial releases of the show, because it can come across as very stereotypical and could feed into a narrative that gays have no morals and are criminals. The more I think about it the more I think this must have really upset people in the seventies!

The crime bit tends to be rather overshadowed by the magnificent spectacle of Lang and Hendry. I have watched it twice and feel the plot is perhaps rather complex. Without making this a spoiler there is a place where the ethics of what is happening are considered, or reconsidered and influence what happens in the rest of the show.

There is a major plot twist at the end which I didn't see coming at all. 

In fact the complexity of the plot and multiple layers of the show leave me with the clear impression that TV and our ability to understand have deteriorated in the past 30 years. It has taken me a couple of viewings to get a clear impression of this show and that would have been even more difficult on a single viewing.

Highly recommended. The only thing which stops it being stonking good television is the complexity of the plot and some rather seventies stereotyping.

Image credit

Monday, 26 July 2021

If You Like The Avengers You'll Like These Films

This is a post I've been thinking about for ages, because we all wish there was more of The Avengers (particularly in its later incarnations) but there couldn't really be any more. The New Avengers doesn't quite catch the feel of the later series of the original show - perhaps you had to be stoned out of your head to write them. With this in mind, here are three films from the sixties which I think also capture the ethos of the original Avengers.

Just to be totally clear, I mean the Peel/King series with high levels of unreality, lots of magical omniscience, and set in a very swinging London. This was of course a London where you didn't have to have an income of £300,000 a week to live there. The world of parties, lots of experimentation, and a time which will never be repeated. It was a world in which the entire resources of the world weren't aggregated in the hands of half a dozen corporations.

First up we have The Sorcerers (1967) in which Boris Karloff plays an ageing medical hypnotist who with his wife uses technology to take over the mind of a young man played by Ian Ogilvy. I wasn't really thinking of this sort of magical omniscience! They use their control of the young man to experience things they haven't for years, or now can't because of their age. However it soon goes wrong and the wife turns into the sort of megalomaniac we are used to from The Avengers, beginning with getting the man to steal her a fur coat.

There is a sense in which the plot of this one isn't the Avengers feature - it doesn't end well for the couple but there isn't really anyone saving the world in style. The Avengers flavour comes from the swinging London setting. We see clubs, pubs and bars of the time. We see the life lived by these youngsters in bed-sitters - exactly the sort of free life which would have been Tara King's cover story, given that she was a secret agent. I also love the scenes of 1960s London, which is so different from today's uniform cities. I must be getting old.

In Blow-up (1966) a photographer in Swinging London is living a proper sixties life-style however then takes a picture of a murder. This film, like all good TV, can be read in many ways, including what moral you take from it and the way it can even be seen to be about photography. It is set in the swinging London milieu we are familiar with, and of course photographers appear a couple of times in The Avengers as staple characters of the time.

There is something very reminiscent of Steed at his most suave about this film. I think the jazz score may contribute to that. I think what makes it feel so Avengers is that it captures the unreality thing to perfection and of course there is a crime involved. At times I find myself wondering whether the protagonist is a secret agent. But the thing I absolutely love best though is the totally dismissive contemporary review in the Guardian which described the pot party scene as grotesquely unconvincing. In reality it was filmed on location and the actors were genuinely stoned out of their minds so yah boo sucks to the Grauniad.

The Sandwich Man
(1966) is purely about a day in the life of a man whose job is to walk around the city in a morning suit wearing an advertising sandwich board, and the things he sees and people he meets. His real interest in life is pigeon racing. This is probably the least arty or niche film of the three because it is intended to be a comedy, and the eccentric characters he meets are played by some of the biggest names in film and comedy of the day.

Of course it is the eccentric characters which makes this so Avengers and many of them would even give the murderous knitter with the nephews a run for money in eccentricity. The only problem with this one is some very dodgy portrayals of race, and yet the ethnic characters thus depicted are portrayed to be thoroughly integrated into British society.

If you want to see how close to reality the film gets there is a documentary called The London Nobody Knows (1969).

Pssst don't tell anyone I told you but the last time I looked everything mentioned here was available to see for free in various places on the internet.

Tuesday, 20 July 2021

Manhunt: Fare Forward Voyagers

I had better start off by clarifying two things. The first is that this post is about the series broadcast in 1970. The second is that I am very much out of my comfort zone because as a rule I don't like period films or TV, by which I mean ones set in a previous time to the time it is made. Don't get me wrong, I love old TV but there is in my opinion a lack of authenticity in period shows - they can't really get into the mindset. I have touched on that here before when talking about Peaky Blinders - while undoubtedly a good show it is too squeaky clean to represent the authentic Second City of the past. Another example which I haven't written about here before is Mad Men - what put me off that as an ex-smoker myself was (I do realise how potty this will sound) that the smoking seemed a bit self-conscious. Those of us who remember the seventies remember that everyone smoked and it was no big deal. it is difficult for an actor to portray something which is no longer routine, as a normal thing. It is strange for these youngsters to be smoking indoors, let alone in the workplace, and thus the authenticity is broken.

This is one of my little dislikes, like not liking recognising actors and having to think who they are. You would think that this drama, which is not only set in a different time but a different country wouldn't be my sort of thing. And you would be right, but I bought it on the offchance because its internet reviews are uniformly exceptional. Just to get this out of my head, I have also recently been watching some episodes of Allo Allo for the first time in years with great amusement. That show was current while I was at school and we used to ask our French teacher if she had seen it (she was an actual French woman) to her great displeasure. I actually found myself wondering whether Manhunt was an influence on Allo Allo at least in the visuals, however have found no confirmation of that online.

You see, Manhunt manages to get the period drama thing exactly right. The show is clearly set in wartime occupied France, clearly filmed in what looks very much like France, but is without the slightest element of caricature. The characters speak English without French or German accents, which to me is just perfect. The accents would make it too much of a caricature. What keeps hitting me is that it looks like Allo Allo (which is obviously studio-based) but is a serious drama.

It is genuinely a serious drama, but also with an incredibly light touch. Much of the drama made here set in the second world war has an element of motivation to it. This includes the films which were made well after the Second World War - the motivation of course was to get people together to get on with it and get the war done. Manhunt has no such agenda, and you will keep seeing online how it was striking at the time for depicting the Germans as ordinary people rather than monsters. I think it goes much further and depicts a lot of the normal motivations and feelings of real people in an extraordinary situation. It depicts them dispassionately and therefore gives you real twinges of sympathy and conflict as it goes on.

It drew me in and kept my attention, which isn't easy with my grasshopper mind.

This first episode sets the premise for what follows, and it will be some indication of how good I think this show is that I have leapt on here to write about it and actually don't know how the situation is resolved, because I have never seen this show before. In this episode a British airman, Jimmy Porter, crashes in occupied France and comes into the hands of a resistance cell. They are naturally suspicious of him but take him at face value when reassured by London. I'm not going to fib here, but I personally thought it would be much more realistic for them to do what they initially thought, which was to disbelieve his story and shoot him. But hey, really good TV can surprise us with our own reactions.

Just one criticism, which won't be surprising - lots of big names in the cast. However they cast Alfred Lynch as Jimmy, and I literally have no criticism for him as an actor. He was one of those really good actors who make you forget they are there. I have also recently seen him with Sean Connery in the wartime film On the Fiddle (1961), where he seemed a very different, cheeky chappy Cockney character. Incidentally that film is worth watching for its gay coding alone - Lynch and Connery talk and act like a couple and when you know that Lynch was gay you can see that he clearly wanted Connery to ravage him.

So no major criticism and I'm not promising that this will become a series of posts on this show because whenever I do that they fizzle out very quickly.

Monday, 12 July 2021

Dr Who: The God Complex

High time we had some more Who and this one is a cracker. It will give you some idea of how highly I rate it if I tell you that this Who is comparable to an original Sapphire and Steel, and uses many of the writing techniques used by The Avengers. There are also some Harry Potter resonances.

The magical omniscience of The Avengers mean that the doctor and his companions just arrive in the hotel with no explanation. The closed world of a hotel where something distinctly peculiar is going on, is exactly the sort of set up that Sapphire and Steel use - in fact this feels very much like the adventure in the railway station.

My absolutely favourite thing about this is the beginning and especially the bit where the doctor decides a character's pathological urge to be conquered means he must be from Tivolia, a planet whose inhabitants have been willingly conquered so often that their anthem includes a blank for the name of the current invading force!

The adventure also includes a number of literary references, including the Minotaur of Greek mythology and has been compared to The Shining and 1984. There is a more psychological understanding of these things, though, because the show is really most about beliefs, fears, and how those can be used against us. This of course makes it very topical a decade after being made!

I do like Matt Smith as the doctor. I love his rapid speech, and here his rapid investigation of a nightmare situation. His humour is very Steed - for example when he says that being tied up wasn't in the hotel brochure.

Unusually for a show of this recent age it is mainly studio-bound with just a little CGI. If it isn't your bag you could probably find the fact the whole thing happens in the hotel, quite constricting. Apart from showing that you can do good TV without loads of CGI, the show rather directs attention inwards to ones fears and beliefs. There is endless discussion on t'internet about what was the fear in the doctor's room, but that's not something I'm going to go into. I comment on it to make the point that like all good TV, this can be encountered in a number of different ways.

I honestly don't have anything bad to say about this at all and so it gets my rare accolade of Stonking Good Television.

Friday, 2 July 2021

The Avengers: Invasion of the Earthmen

Oh dear, this Avengers doesn't half get a hammering on the internet. For example Grant Goggins says,

'This story is a complete turkey.'

Simon Wood says,

'It’s an interesting episode to watch and quite absorbing just as a curiosity, if you watch it with suitable detachment. But it doesn’t fit, production values are very low, and it’s certainly not a return to ‘realism’.'

And for the most damning, David K Smith says,

'Doubtless one of the worst classic Avengers episodes of all time.'

Given the total train wreck everyone else considers this adventure, it will surely come as no surprise that it is one of my favourites. Don't get me wrong, it has incredible shortcomings so let's get them out of the way first.

The temporary change of director means that there are elements more reminiscent of other shows here. Star Trek for example. I do see that. There are also elements of incredibly bad sci-fi movies. In fact I wouldn't be surprised if parodying them was in mind at the time. 

There is a further weakness, which is that it was made soon after Mrs Peel left, and virtually every review comments that the relationship between Miss King and Steed isn't really solidified. I suspect that that may be one of the reasons people find this one unpleasant - there are many remnants left of the sexual tension between Steed and Mrs Peel, and also hints of the mentor and student relationship which it would settle into as the series went on. This combination is incredibly uncomfortable in itself. It is very clear that they weren't quite sure where to take it. The hints of sex are not outside the bounds of possibility - it isn't that unusual for a couple to have such an age gap.

And yet... I have always resisted the idea that Steed and Mrs Peel were actually at it. I have always seen their sexual tension as something acknowledged by each but never acted on. Mrs Peel was of course a talented amateur, and a sexual tension with Miss King would make Steed unprofessional as well as possibly a dirty old man, depending on how you look at it.

So far so pedestrian, but where the show excels is in overdoing the kitsch. In terms of the unreality the Avengers specialised in, this pushes unreality to the extreme and a bit further. The school and tunnel are obviously not intended to be real, and yet are cleverly juxtaposed with realistic shots of the hotel and others.

The sheer amount of unreality suggests that that is the element which is foremost and that is what makes me wonder whether this was at least in part a conscious parody of the sci-fi of the previous couple of decades. I haven't come across this explicitly stated in any interviews so we will never know for sure. Even if not intended I think sci-fi parody may still be the best lens through which to view it.

The spaceman alone. Seriously, it is funny and not scary! The best comparison I can think of is The Beach Girls and the Monster (1965). This film is notable for making it on to IMDB's list of worst films of all time, and the titular monster (pictured right) has a similar effect of being funny rather than scary. Exactly the same effect.

I particularly love the design of the school and of the tunnel. That green and purple colour scheme should be a crime against good taste - imagine coming back to that with a hangover! And the tunnel is so wonderful - I love the fibreglass rocks. I love the effort one actor puts into picking one up! The uniforms for the school are usually interpreted as being inspired by Star Trek. I wonder whether British fascists of an earlier decade were also an inspiration, although of course their pullovers were black.

In the visual language of the Avengers this is one of those episodes where the great and the good become diabolical masterminds. The internal modernism of the secret parts of the school is contrasted with the external appearance of the school and also with the hotel. What could be more British establishment than a private school - they produced generations of Our Sort of Person, or rather Steed's sort of person.

My only real disappointment is to find that the actors playing the pupils of Alpha Academy don't seem to have been identified. I had a feeling that some of them would have gone on to great things!

So to summarize - you may well find this episode is total dross but I think it repays sympathetic viewing.

Tuesday, 29 June 2021

Bognor: Deadline

There isn't very much about this show on the internet so I hope I will achieve writing about a show Mitchell Hadley hasn't heard of again.

I have had this box set for some time. The reason I have rather avoided writing about it is that it is a show which repays attentive viewing, and that it also takes some understanding. It is based on a series of books by Tim Heald in which Simon Bognor is a special investigator for the Board of Trade. I'm not going to lie, I find it slightly confusing how the apparent remit of the Board of Trade could require lengthy investigations spilling over into investigating such things as murder! Because the show is adapting whole novels, an adventure lasts several episodes and the two series only adapted the first four novels of the series of books. The show therefore operates in a way which benefits from extended viewing and is not that good for dipping in and out.

I suppose that TV series based on series of books, unless based on phenomenally popular works or great classics, depend for their popularity on the popularity of the original series. The only other series in a similar position to Bognor, would, I think, be Murder Most English, which may also appear here at some point, and dramatises the Flaxborough novels of Colin Watson. I feel the rather low-key popularity of this show reflects the popularity of the books.

While Flaxborough looks backwards in time, one of the greatest charms of Bognor is that it is very much of the 1980s. You will have noticed that 1980s TV rarely gets mentioned here, and that is simply because I think an awful lot of 1980s TV isn't much cop. A lot of the TV I remember also isn't set in the 1980s. In retrospect the decade was in many ways a bizarre time, but I personally prefer to remember it as a happy time - probably reflecting the age I was. One of the things I associate with the time, rightly or wrongly, is the relationship between the press and other bodies being somewhat troublesome. Deadline, the second book dramatised for the series, is set in a newspaper office after the gossip columnist is murdered. As Bognor says, the murderer could have been pretty much anyone in the country! It also features a trade union of the time, a sort which is now extinct, to the loss of every worker. You get to see into many homes in this one, and I know for a fact that if I had set foot in those homes in the eighties I would have thought their residents very sophisticated. I suppose I am acknowledging a totally personal reason for liking this show!

Deadline, which I have focused on here is the whole of the second adventure over six episodes. I like to focus on one episode of a thing usually, simply because even if I don't blog about the whole thing I have something to come back to in the future if the mood takes me. In this instance I thought that one episode alone wouldn't really provide enough meat. This is not a criticism because the show is not designed to move snappily, but if you like your TV at a fast pace you'll be bitterly disappointed. As I say it is a matter of design, but I think the action could have easily been got into four episodes. I do have one criticism which I would like to get out of the way, though. Bognor is supposed to be an investigator for some such body as the board of trade. Yet he gets involved in matters, such as murder, which are clearly CID business. I am, however feeling a little confused about this, because I have read in some reviews that the Board of Trade job is a cover for an actual job investigating this sort of thing. This is the fourth or fifth time I have watched through the series and I haven't noticed any mention of his nominal job being a cover. It is not impossible that I have missed it or that that fact appears in the books. However if a worker who is supposed to investigate business is investigating murder and not either protesting or walking out, it leaves a real problem of credibility. He also has a knack of getting duffed up in the course of his investigation which makes it even less watertight.

The characterisation of this show is superb. Characters leap off the screen fully developed and sympathetic. The conflicts within the newspaper are also very clearly described. I find David Horovitch's performance very interesting. Regular readers will be familiar with my dislike of intrusive faces who appear in lots of TV shows. I only realised when I read it that Horovitch also plays the inspector in Joan Hickson's Marple. He comes across as quite a different personality here, which I think an exemplar of how to do it and a Hallmark of good acting.

The plot gets complex as the episodes go on, although there is a unifying theme of the effect of the dead man on other people. Come to think of it, this complexity may be such that it needs the whole six episodes, but I'm not fixed in this view or my previous one.

There is just one thing I keep thinking, which is that this show would be better for being watched all in one go. Watching one a week as intended would be very confusing. Overall I think you would either like this show or not, but you will know!

Monday, 21 June 2021

The Tomorrow People Master Post

 You will see from my existing two posts about The Tomorrow People that while I set out to write about all of the adventures in the original series, a mere two posts in I have made a colossal jump. I have noticed that the series tends to have an effect on me that I just cannot get it in order in my head, plus I got the discs confused. I am also not sure that I can usefully say much about some of the adventures. For example the one where pre-pubescent kids are put in slave outfits while Mike Holoway does an impression of Jimmy Savile - that is literally all I have to say about that one.

This 'master' post is therefore predominantly an attempt to get a grasp on the amorphous mass of the series in my own head and keep track of what I have already written about. One of the difficulties that have stopped me writing about this show is that it is basically a different show from beginning to end, and is at best patchy. Additionally as said above some of the things on the show would not appear in TV today and I can't begin to think what they were thinking. If I have some personal rude remarks to say about an episode which don't deserve a full post, I may put them here.

Another thing which has always confused me is that although I now have the complete set in one box, region 2 releases have taken two different trajectories, one released in series and the other released in adventures.

Series 1

Slaves of Jedikiah (five episodes) broadcast 30th April to 4th June 1973.

The Medusa Strain (four episodes) broadcast 11th June to 2nd July 1973.

The Vanishing Earth (four episodes) broadcast 9th to 30th July 1973.

Series 2

The Blue and The Green (four episodes) broadcast 4th February to 4th March 1974.

A Rift in Time (four episodes) broadcast 11th March to 1st April 1974

The Doomsday Men (four episodes) broadcast 8th April to 6th May 1974.

Series 3

Secret Weapon (four episodes) broadcast 26th February to 19th March 1975.

Secret Weapon

Worlds Away (three episodes) broadcast 26th March to 9th April 1975.

A Man for Emily (three episodes) broadcast 16th to 30th April 1975.

The Fastest Gun

Revenge of Jedikiah (three episodes, but with such a similar name no wonder I was confused) broadcast 7th to 21st May 1975.

Series 4

One Law (3 episodes) broadcast 21st October to 5th November 1975.

Into the Unknown (four episodes) broadcast 7th to 28th January 1976.

Series 5

The Dirtiest Business (two episodes) broadcast 28th February to 7th March 1977.

A Much Needed Holiday (two episodes) broadcast 14th to 21st March 1977. This is the one with the slave children and the Jimmy Savile impression.

The Heart of Sogguth (two episodes) broadcast 28thMarch to 4th April 1977.

Series 6

The Lost Gods (two episodes) broadcast 15th to 22nd May 1978.

Hitler's Last Secret (two episodes) broadcast 5th to 12th June 1978.

The Thargon Menace (two episodes) broadcast 19th to 26th June 1978.

Series 7

Castle of Fear (two episodes) broadcast 9th to 16th October 1978.

Achilles Heel (two episodes) broadcast 23rd to 30th October 1978.

Living Skins (two episodes) broadcast 6th to 11th November 1978.

Series 8

War of the Empires (four episodes) broadcast 29th January to 19th February 1979.

The reason for my confusion will be readily evident from the names of the different adventures. Some have similar names and others have names similar to other series and fictional works, including H P Lovecraft. The show evidently gave itself an ability to venture into all sorts of subjects and times, real and fictional. Looking at the titles it comes across as a less orderly Dr Who. No wonder I'm confused!

Monday, 14 June 2021

The Tomorrow People: A Man for Emily - The Fastest Gun

This part of the Tomorrow People demonstrates perfectly why I fought shy from blogging about it. The show went on for so long with so many story arcs that it can be difficult to keep hold of.

I think we can truthfully say that A Man for Emily is the point at which it went off the wall. We have the bizarre space family, we have Peter Davison in swimming trunks, we have them make an Earth mission with the only research done in old westerns and we have the Tomorrow People interfering in this.

In plot terms I personally feel this may have been stretching the Tomorrow People slightly further than was a good idea. This is entirely personal because I can well see that the idea of a next evolution in human life would well include interaction with aliens, because this is one of the weird interests of the time. There are also a lot of completely earth-bound concerns dealt with by the show, including racism and ghosts. My own opinion is that this episode gives them too much to do and also raises the question of who gave the Tomorrow People this policing role. It is after all the curse of the advanced and intelligent to be suspected and held back, rather than being given opportunities actually to help the world!

That said, it is worth watching this string of the show purely for the sight of Elmer on earth in his mother's idea of what Earth people wear. I suspect she had seen Dolly Parton, but apparently the reason you never see Dolly Parton out in public is she doesn't wear her wig and dresses more quietly.

The best bit is the scene in the grocers shop. If you watch the women behind the grocer they literally can't keep a straight face, the situation is so ridiculous. That the grocer assumes he is on Candid Camera is a nicely reflexive point about the TV of the time.

I do wonder how this would have gone down at the time, but have not been able to find any contemporary reactions. In general terms as we know the fashions were pretty wild in the seventies but only for those who could afford the fashions. The show is careful to contrast the outlandishness of Elmer with 'ordinary' people dressed much more drably, so I feel it would have been a straightforward reaction that arriving here dressed like that was ridiculous.

I see from the DVD commentary that Peter Davison is very embarrassed about this his first role. Perhaps it is best approached as one of the wilder aspects of the 1970s!

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.