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.

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