Showing posts from November, 2022

Virtual Murder. A Bone to Pick

In my first post about Virtual Murder I said that it had picked up the gauntlet laid down by The Avengers. This episode is about a man, Roger Smith, who turns up to a police station on a bicycle and empties a bag of human bones over the desk. If I say that this man is dressed as Father Christmas (and played by Tony Robinson as guest star) you may be inclined to say that the show has blown up the gauntlet and turned it into a whoppie cushion and I'll tell you right now, it's glorious. I particularly like when Smith uses his one phone call to ring Cornelius and dramatically play out that the police have attached electrodes to his tongue. This is the truly bat shit crazy world of English eccentricity (which is of course completely untrue, in no way are we eccentric) and it displays a procession of eccentrics for us. We're beyond eccentricity though because Smith has been a research project because he has pseudologica fantastica, and just lies continually. Psychologically very

Virtual Murder: Last Train to Hell and Back

After writing some posts about documentaries I was absolutely gagging to scurry away to unreality, and so here we have an episode of the 1992 series, Virtual Murder. Honestly, I'll be surprised if even the readers of this blog have ever heard of this show because nobody ever has. Virtual Murder was intended to be in the mould of earlier eccentric series (The Avengers, Adam Adamant and Department S are often mentioned  - are you interested yet?) and was about two amateur detectives who investigated odd cases in tandem with the constabulary. It's got some names in it: Nicholas Clay plays John Cornelius, Kim Thomas plays Samantha Valentine, and Stephen Yardley plays Inspector Cadogan. It incorporates elements of the occult and virtual reality, and so brought the eccentric sixties TV show up to date for the nineties. All of the episdoes are available on youtube. You may not have heard of it because it's had a critical pummeling and there is vanishingly little about it even in t

Documentary Season: Ashwood Day Centre and Conclusions

I have decided to make this the last post in my current Documentary Season, purely to try to keep it in some sort of control. There are of course loads of other documentaries sitting on my hard drive that I want to write about - in fact I might do a Home of Your Own series of posts which they would fit in - but I don't want it to take over the blog for now. Hence I will attach some conclusions to this series of posts in this post. Apart from anything else I've had a bit much of reality for the present and am gagging for the unreality I usually see on TV. This documentary is about the Ashwood Day Centre, a day centre for people with mental health needs, in Leeds, and was made by the University of Leeds in 1982. This documentary has one serious defect, which isn't a reason not to watch it because seeing the day centre and the interviews with the service users is fascinating, which is that it doesn't include a formal statement of who runs the day centre and what it specifi

Documentary Season: Time Team - The Drowned Town

The Drowned Town is an episode of the long-running series about archaeology, Time Team. It's about one of my favourite places, the mystical town of Dunwich, Britain's Atlantis. In mediaeval times it was a port which rivalled London, with several churches, even a cathedral, until two storms in the fourteenth century caused the majority of it to vanish into the sea. Coastal erosion has continued since then and there's a whole history which continues to crumble and collapse. The reality is that the remaining few dozen homes which currently constitute the village of Dunwich will also vanish into the sea within the next century, and this is the setting for this episode of Time Team. They comment, rightly that it's an archaeologist's and historian's nightmare because it won't be there and this is about as at risk as heritage can get. The premise the team set themselves is to prove whether or not Dunwich was also an Anglo-Saxon settlement before the mediaeval perio

Documentary Season: Shakespeare's Tomb

'It's a bit black over Bill's mother's' is a very old Birmingham saying indeed, and it means that storm clouds are forming to the South East of the city, over Stratford-upon-Avon. The 'Bill' in the saying is of course William Shakespeare and I think I am the only TV blogger who can blog about this documentary and add such local colour. Apart from my own bizarre attitude this documentary is a masterpiece of historical documentary making, about what on earth is going on with Shakespeare's tomb in Stratford parish church, because it's nowhere near big enough to contain a body. The investigation is absolutely fascinating as an example of televisual dramatic documentary making. It starts off with the vicar refusing to let them just randomly dig up the grave (because of course he did, they'd need to go back with a court order, and this is largely for dramatic effect), saying that the famous curse on the tomb is indication enough that Shakespeare wouldn

Documentary Season: Battle of Edge Hill (Battleground)

This show is appearing here because it is a show about something that actually happened in history and so it can broadly be called a documentary although it develops the subject somewhat. But when have you ever known me to stick to the rules, whether made by myself or anyone else? Battleground was a single series show made in 1978 about historical battles which are then re-enacted by war gamers in the studio. I'm not sure whether the word geeky existed in 1978 but it's definitely the word for it, along with blokey. It's also something else I love enormously, which I have decided is slow television: TV which doesn't require much in the way of scenery or effects and moves at the pace of an elderly arthritic snail. This show also goes to show that there was a time when TV wasn't required to move at the speed of light and did genuinely cater for many different interests. I suppose other examples would be that show that shows people playing pub games on the show, and of

Documentary Season: The Family

The Family (not to be confused with the several other TV shows with the same name) was a 1974 BBC series of twelve episodes about a real extended family in Reading. It was a major turning point in 'reality' TV (in the UK - there was a previous similar series called An American Family broadcast in 1973) because it gave the viewer real access to the Wilkins family, their daily lives and conflicts. The show is online in two versions, a shorter summary of the whole series, and all the epiosdes are currently available online. I would recommend seeing all the episodes for the full effect. At the time it was incredibly powerful, attracting much interest (at one point HUGE crowds which the police couldn't control turned up for the wedding of two of the characters and fought over the bouquet) and criticism (1970s Britain wasn't ready for the rather unvarnished portrait of teenage pregnancy, affairs and children with different fathers it portrayed). It was also rather unusual in

Documentary Season: Strangeways: Britain's Toughest Prison Riot

This is a documentary about the 25 day riot and rooftop protest at Strangeways prison in Manchester in April 1990. It is the 2015 documentary here . As always I'm finding that blogging about TV brings out things about shows which I wasn't expecting. These posts about documentaries are making me think about different documentary techniques and making me criticise the way different documentaries show their subject. This one primarily uses a deceptively powerful technique about this technique of some narration but mainly depending on interviews with the prisoners, officers and even the chaplain in the middle of whose sermon the riot kicked off. Sounds perfectly simple doesn't it, and certainly doesn't sound powerful. But it's the juxtaposition of the different interviews which is what makes it powerful. Seriously this is some powerful documentary making. What I mean by this is the way you see the screws saying there was no abuse of the prisoners going on. You then imme

Documentary Season: Space and Light

So far I've been good and stuck to my self-imposed rule of doing TV documentaries for this series of posts, but y'all knew I would never stick to that. And so here we have Murray Grigor's 1972 16mm film called Space and Light, about Cardross Seminary, just outside Glasgow. It's available to be seen on youtube  here . You may wonder what makes me think it's documentary enough to be included here, because it's rather unusual. In fact the more unusual features are what I think make it an absolute masterpiece of documentary. It is short, for a start, just over twenty minutes. Not one word of dialogue or interview is spoken, the only sounds you hear are music specially composed for it based on the Veni Creator Spiritus sequence for Pentecost and odd snatches of what is happening in the scenes shown. Instead what you get is the visuals alone with no description of any sort. And it's glorious. Absolutely glorious. The seminary is a sort of architect's wet dream

Documentary Season: The Enfield Poltergeist

This blog post is actually about two separate documentaries about the events in Enfield reported as 'the Enfield poltergeist' in the late 1970s. It really winds up my INFJ/librarian brain that I have been entirely unable to date the first one here , which since it doesn't even have titles on the version on YouTube may not even be a whole programme. At the beginning it has an overlay saying BBC however there is no footage apparently later than the seventies so I am assuming it is a contemporary broadcast from the late seventies and the version on YouTube is a recording of a later broadcast, because UK TV didn't overlay the channel over the show in the 1970s. I know, because I was there and if they had I would have wound up my mother by trying to rub it off the screen. The other one is a Channel 4 documentary from 2007 called Interview with a Poltergeist here .  For simplicity I will refer to them as the BBC documentary and the Channel 4 documentary respectively. Truth to

Documentary Season: Cromwell Street

Warning: this post concerns a documentary about serial killing, sexual violence and child abuse, and some readers might find the subject matter distressing. The Tuesday Special was a 1990s ITV documentary series. I haven't seen any of the others, and probably won't because this seems to be the only one on the internet, and I have to say this is some quality documentary making. Actually Fred West, the murderer with his wife Rose featured in the documentary, has featured on the blog in  this post before, in a parody form for dark humour. The story of the Cromwell Street murders is well known but basically Fred West murdered at least thirteen people between the 1960s and 1990s that we know of. He was a monster of illegal sex and violence, and the household he and his wife Rose ran was an exemplar of dysfunction and abuse. The story of the investigation is fascinating because if it hadn't been for Rose West's solicitors sending a fax with a particular picture to the prosec

Documentary Season: Heart of the Angel

Heart of the Angel is a delightful BBC documentary from 1989 about The Angel underground station in Islington. This is another of those occasions when I'm going to say don't bother to read what I have to say, just go and watch it. Doesn't mean I'm not going to go into ecstasies of praise about it though. Thre are two techniques used in this documentary, straightforward interviews with the staff and customers, and the always reliable documentary technique of just turning on the camera and recording what happens.  The interviews are less successful in my opinion, and obviously can feel a little contrived. It's the scenes of the normal activity of the station which are most successful, and they are WILD. The staff are wildly eccentric, obviously at the end of their tether on a daily basis and start behaving in ways which, as a former psych nurse, I recognise as some of the institutional ways of coping. We have the lift attendant with his strange philosophical questions