My top 10 TV Moments

OK, 10 favourite TV moments. When I thought of that idea I had one particular TV moment in mind and thought I could easily come up with 9 others. I did but they are not exactly TV moments as such, they are more TV episodes or theme tunes or just generally TV stuff. Anyway if you have a spare few minutes stick with me and let’s see what I did come up with. They are in no particular order but I did save my absolute favourite until the end.

TV Moment 10

The TV show the Prisoner was produced back in 1968 and was the brainchild of its star actor Patrick McGoohan. McGoohan was fresh from the hit TV show Danger Man and he wanted to make a series about a spy who had resigned from the secret service but refused to give up his secrets. Episode number 1, Arrival, set the scene for the cult series. McGoohan, playing an unknown spy, resigns from the secret service by slamming his resignation letter down on the desk of his boss and drives back home in his Lotus 7. As he packs his belongings, he becomes aware of his home filling with gas. He slumps down unconscious and when he awakes he finds that he is in the mysterious ‘village’.

The series was filmed in the Welsh village of Portmerion. I visited the village in 1986 but when I returned a few years later they tried to charge me just to enter the village and look around. As this is against all the rules of a card-carrying tightwad like myself, I had to decline.

TV Moment 9

Do you ever wonder what happened to all those great TV western shows? Back in the sixties when I was a mere schoolboy my old dad and I regularly watched series like Branded, Bonanza, The Big Valley and many others. One of the very last western series was Alias Smith and Jones. The show was about two cowboy outlaws, Kid Curry and Hannibal Hayes. The Kid was the fastest gunslinger around and the producers used a very simple editing trick to show this. The other guy would be shown drawing and they would then cut quickly to the kid whose gun was already out of his holster and cocked, already to fire.

It was a great show but fizzled out when Pete Duel who played Hannibal Hayes committed suicide. They carried on with another actor playing Hayes but it was never the same afterwards. The show ran from 1971 to 1973.

TV Moment 8

I’ve always been a big fan of Star Trek especially the original series with Kirk, Spock and McCoy. Everything else is just a pale imitation of the original and it’s no surprise to me that the recent Star Trek films have centred on the original characters. The very best Star Trek episode ever, and it’s not just my choice, this particular episode was voted the best ever episode by Star Trek fans and also by Empire magazine, has to be City on the Edge of Forever. In this episode the Enterprise has been buffeted by waves of temporal energy and Doctor McCoy is called to the bridge to deal with casualties. This being Star Trek the antidote for any wound or disease is the wonder drug of the future, cordrazine. McCoy however accidentally injects himself with a full hypo of the drug and goes completely crazy. He escapes to the transporter room, beams down to a nearby planet where he encounters a time portal and jumps through it thereby changing the whole of time. Captain Kirk decides the only way to change time back to normal is to try and enter the time portal in the same fashion, locate McCoy and reverse whatever damage he has done. It turns out McCoy has saved social worker Joan Collins from death in a car accident which in turn has various effects, one of which delays the US entry into World War 2, enabling the Nazis to complete their atom bomb and win the war. Kirk who has fallen in love with Miss Collins has to decide what must happen, does he save her or let her die? Look it up on YouTube, it’s a great episode!

TV Moment 7

I’ve always been fascinated by the concept of time travel and another of my favourite TV shows was The Time Tunnel. The series was produced by Irwin Allen and featured two American scientists ‘lost in the swirling maze of past and future ages, during the first experiments on America’s greatest and most secret project, the Time Tunnel. Tony Newman and Doug Phillips now tumble helplessly toward a new fantastic adventure, somewhere along the infinite corridors of time’ as the opening blurb used to go. In my very favourite episode Tony and Doug arrive in Honolulu on the day of the attack on Pearl harbour. Tony lived here as a child with his mother and father and on the day of the attack, his father disappeared. The two try to warn Tony’s dad about the attack but they are not believed but they do solve the mystery of his death finding that he was fatally wounded in a control centre hit by Japanese bombs.

TV Moment 6

I might as well stay with the subject of time travel and tell you about another great TV series, Doctor Who. Doctor Who has been running since 1963 and the very first episode was broadcast on the fateful day of November 22nd of that year. When actor William Hartnell decided to leave the series the writers came up with the idea of the Doctor ‘regenerating’ in order to introduce another actor into the role. My favourite Doctor, and it’s hard to nominate one because I like them all, is probably the 1980’s version played by actor Tom Baker. Tom’s assistant back then was Sarah Jane Smith played by actress Elizabeth Sladen. She stayed with the Doctor until 1976 when he dropped her off supposedly in Croyden before he went off back to his home planet of Gallifrey. Sarah Jane returned in 1983 for the series’ 20th anniversary episode The Five Doctors.

The series was cancelled in 1989. There was the possibility of a reboot of the series in 1996 but only a one-off TV film was made. In 2005 the BBC began to produce the series once again with Christopher Eccleston in the lead role. David Tennant became the 10th Doctor after Eccleston left. In that second season of the new series Sarah Jane returned in an episode called ‘School Reunion’. It was wonderful to bring back Sarah Jane after so many years and showed that the new producers of the show were respectful of the series’ long history. Not only that, Sarah Jane has long been my favourite of the Doctor’s companions.

TV Moment 5

Andy Williams had a hugely popular TV series in the 1970’s and one of my favourite parts in it was a comedy sketch with Andy and a bear (OK, a guy dressed in a bear outfit) who always asked Andy for some cookies and then they went into a different comedy routine every week. Sounds a little crazy I know but I loved that show and Andy’s music ever since. I loved the bear sketches so much that I wrote a fan letter to Andy Williams care of Desilu productions in Hollywood California, who were mentioned on the credits of his show. Months later, a large envelope arrived and inside was a picture of Andy and the bear. ‘To Stephen from Andy and friend’ was the inscription.

I think it says a lot about Andy Williams, that he should make such a gesture for a faraway English schoolboy. Thanks Andy, I loved that picture so much!

Andy_Williams

TV Moment 4

That leads me smoothly onto this next section because Moon River sung by Andy featured in a great episode of Sex and the City. Sex and the City is a comedy/drama about sex and relationships and the episode in question was the one where Mr Big decides to leave New York as he has bought a vineyard in the Napa valley. Season 4 of Sex and the City was the season where all the elements of this great show seemed to just come together to produce some outstanding TV. Carrie, played by Sarah Jessica Parker gets involved with former beaux Aiden played by John Corbett. Aiden is reluctant to get involved again with Carrie as she cheated on him last time around with the super cool Mr Big played by Chris Noth, however Aiden decides to take another chance and the two embark on a new relationship. Miranda’s mother dies and although she tries to keep everything to herself, she is happy to see her friends at the church for the funeral. Miranda still has time though to help former boyfriend Steve with his testicular cancer problems.

Later Aiden realises Carrie does not want to get married and they split up. Its hard to compress a whole season into this short paragraph but if you ever see season 4 going cheap on DVD, it’s well worth getting it.

TV Moment 3

I’ve already written a blog post about my favourite TV detective, Columbo. I love so many of the episodes it’s hard to pick my favourite but it’s probably ‘Murder by the Book‘, starring my favourite murderer, Jack Cassidy. In this 1971 episode, Jack plays a writer, actually part of a writing double act who together produce a series of novels about ‘Mrs Melville’ who is an amateur detective. The thing is, Jack’s partner wants to ditch the partnership but Jack is not happy about it. He is so unhappy he decides to, yes you guessed it, bump off his co-writer. He does it in a rather ingenious way which foxes Columbo but not for long and to cap it all, the episode is directed by none other than Steven Spielberg!

TV Moment 2

Way back in my school days Monty Python was on TV late on -I think- a Thursday night. It was certainly a week night and it was certainly late as I had a running argument with my Mum about staying up to watch it. The next day talk at school would be all about the latest episode and if you had missed it, which happened to me quite a few times when I lost that long running argument, you were just socially dead for a day.

Deciding on a favourite sketch is a difficult if not impossible task. I loved the Superman/Bicycle Repair Man sketch, thought the Dirty Fork sketch hilarious, the Lumberjack Song broke me up but the one I’ve chosen here is the ‘Is this the right room for an argument’ sketch. Enjoy.

TV Moment 1

MASH was a sitcom that ran for 11 seasons and an incredible 256 episodes. In case you didn’t know MASH stands for Mobile Army Surgical Hospital and is set in the Korean War. The series follows the exploits of the doctors and nurses of the MASH, in particular Hawkeye played by Alan Alda and Trapper John played by Wayne Rodgers. The episodes feature a mixture of comedy and drama expertly mixed together by the writers and performers.

My favourite ever MASH episode was one called ‘Sometimes you Hear the Bullet.’

Hawkeye’s friend Tommy comes to visit the 4077th MASH. He’s a former journalist who wants to write the story of the Korean War from the point of view of the soldier, not the journalist which is why he has not enlisted as a war correspondent. He stays with Hawkeye for a while and the usual zany humour ensues. Tommy then has to return to the war. A side story is one where a wounded young lad (played by future film director Ron Howard) admits he is under age but joined up to prove to his girl that he was a man. In one scene he tells Hawkeye that he is out to get him some ‘gooks’ and Hawkeye replies calmly that another word for gooks is people.

Hawkeye and Trapper plan to steal Major Frank Burns’ Purple Heart- he’d had an accident and because it happened in a war zone, he is eligible for the award -and pass it on to the young lad so he can impress his girl back home. Anyway, later in the episode, Tommy the journalist returns to the MASH, only this time he is seriously wounded. He was planning on writing a book called ‘They Never Hear the Bullet’ but this time he heard the bullet. ‘Never mind’ says Hawkeye, ‘just change the name. Sometimes you hear the bullet, it’s a better title anyway.’ Tommy is anaesthetised and Hawkeye gets to work. Sadly, Tommy dies on the operating table. Colonel Blake has to remind Hawkeye about the queue of wounded and Hawkeye, tragedy etched on his face (an outstanding performance by Alan Alda) has to carry on with his next patient. Every time I watch that episode, I sob my heart out, just as I did years ago when I first saw that episode on my Mum and Dad’s old black and white TV.

I couldn’t find the episode on YouTube so here’s a clip of Alan Alda who played Hawkeye, talking about the episode.


Steve Higgins is the author of Floating in Space, a novel set in Manchester, 1977. Click the links at the top of the page to buy or for more information.

 

 

Dealing with that Corporate Event.

This week I was asked to attend a training course by my employer. I have been doing my job, reasonably successfully for the past 14 or so years so I was perhaps a little surprised to hear I required more training. Oh well, at least it was a nice day course and didn’t involve working till 10 pm at night like my regular shift.

Those readers who live in foreign climes may be a little ignorant of local geography in the north west of England but I’m sure many of you will be familiar with the Manchester United Football club in Old Trafford. The Hotel Football just next door to the football ground was the venue for this corporate event and according to google maps my journey from home would take one hour and 16 minutes. However, when the rush hour congestion was factored in it actually took me nearly two hours to get there.

The pretty receptionist at the Hotel Football was, like many receptionists these days a Polish lady. Her English seemed fairly good at first but when I couldn’t actually grasp what she was saying about the car park she produced a printed map with directions.

What English hotels will do for staff when we finally leave the EU I really do not know.

Anyway a short while later I was able to meet up with my colleagues, 3 of whom I was actually familiar with. I’m not sure what I was expecting but I thought the whole thing might involve a small group and not the 50 to 60 people who were milling about vying for cups of tea and bacon sandwiches.

Yes, welcome to the world of the corporate event.

The event or course or whatever it was finally got under way at about 9.30 and opened up with a message from our chief executive explaining that he had also attended the course and how wonderful it was.

Our chief exec by the way, who currently enjoys a £100,000 plus salary with a recent huge increase but feels he can only offer us, his underlings a measly 1 percent pay rise is not universally popular so his claims that we were in for a fascinating day were taken by the group with a pinch of salt.

Our trainers or presenters asked us after every short module to move to a new table and engage with someone new. So first I met a lady from, well I’m not sure what other department she actually represented but she was part of a group who all worked at different locations and every week they had a team meeting facilitated by that wonder of modern computing, skype.

It was actually quite interesting to hear about how these meetings worked when everyone was reduced to a small icon on a laptop screen and how difficult it was, when reduced by your colleagues in this way, to get the attention of the group.

At the next shuffle I introduced myself to a lady from financial planning and it was she, I think who introduced me to the corporate world of acronyms. Now in her world, something that was of major importance was the RIS. Not just RIS1 but also RIS2! What that acronym stood for I don’t know but this particular lady had a strange habit of pronouncing the word RIS and at the same time bending the tip of her nose in a southerly direction. It actually reminded me of when I met someone years ago who told me her party piece was wriggling her ears which she then proceeded to demonstrate. That was good but bending the tip of your nose when saying RIS was even better. However, every time she mentioned the RIS I had to tell myself, stop staring at her nose!

When we were required to move tables and meet new people I decided to stay put and let the new people come to me. I had a good seat where I could hear the presenters quite easily and see the PowerPoint slides that assisted them. Later on that morning I met a really chatty guy from, well again his department didn’t quite register that strongly on my frontal lobes but he was some kind of liaison guy who was involved with various meetings across England. He was quietly humorous too and he mentioned to me that the food at the hotel was supposed to be quite good. As there were in the region of 60 people to serve we decided it was pretty important to be first out of the room when we broke for lunch.

At the appointed hour my colleague shot out of his chair like a greyhound out of the trap or, like one of my old friends would say, like the proverbial wonga bird! As I wasn’t quite so quick off the mark a rampaging herd of hungry colleagues from the table just behind me shot ahead and I ended up well down the queue.

The food I have to say was very nice, in fact it was the highlight of the whole event. I filled my plate with a fresh salad, some cold meats, some pasta in a pesto sauce and some roasted potatoes. An interesting combination you might think but it was very tasty and thirty minutes later we were back in the presentation room.

On the next reshuffle I made a bad mistake and rather than wait for people to come to me I moved towards the rear of the room and found myself sitting with a bunch of people who were involved in the technical aspects of software and computers and they rather looked down on me, the sole representative at the table from operations. The various observations I passed them about the complete inadequacy of our systems went right over their heads although the reliability of various outside contractors was bandied about asa  sort of excuse.

One of the big problems I have found with computers and software is that as things move on, particularly with Microsoft, the programs that I use are removed or changed so much they will no longer do what I wanted them to do. Windows Movie Maker is a case in point. It is, or rather was, a great low level video editing program which has disappeared and its successor, HD Movie Maker is just not a patch on the original.

Being at the back of the room where there was no eye contact between myself and our presenters I found my mind beginning to wander and I woke up to hear something going on about Eisenhower’s Box. If you have never heard of this system it’s pretty simple. Dwight D Eisenhower, the late US President and Army General had a system like this:

Box 1: Urgent and Important

Box 2: Important but not urgent

Box 3: Urgent but not important.

Box 4: Neither urgent nor important.

Our final task was to take some elements of our everyday work schedule and add them to the boxes. I did mine in about 3 minutes but my colleagues in the technical department failed I fear to complete the task. No wonder, I thought, that our technology is in such a dire state.

The event fizzled out and when it became apparent that all was over there was a great rush for the exit.

The company had tried valiantly to stamp its work ethos on its workers but sadly, the presentation had lost its way somewhere. There were too many people and most of them wanted to be somewhere else.

Teamwork was one of the main values discussed and I thought that our organisation could learn a lot from the Mercedes F1 team. It was actually pretty interesting to hear Toto Wolf, the team manager at the Mercedes F1 team and James Allison his chief designer talk about the teamwork ethic on the Channel Four F1 broadcast last weekend. Lewis Hamilton has now clinched the 2019 world drivers’ championship and Mercedes are once again the champion constructor, making it 6 in a row for the massively successful team.

They were interviewed after the American Grand Prix and I did wonder for a moment, do they talk about Eisenhower’s box in their corporate events?


Steve Higgins is the author of Floating in Space, a novel set in Manchester, 1977 and available from Amazon as a paperbook or Kindle download. Click the links at the top of the page to buy or for more information.

10 Reasons to Read Books!

Every blog post on this site will end with a familiar call to buy my book, Floating in Space. Floating, in case you are a first time visitor to this site, is a short novel about the life of a young working class lad in urban Manchester in 1977. A number of reviewers have heaped praise on the book, others did not find it so praiseworthy. Why should you then consider it as an addition to your library? Why should you read it? Why should you even read books in the first place? Let me give you a few reasons . . .

Knowledge

One of the biggest reasons why we read books is to increase our knowledge. Books are a rich source of information. Reading books on varied subjects imparts information and increases your range and depth of knowledge. Whenever you read a book, you learn new information that otherwise you would not have known.

Improving your brain.

Studies have shown that reading has strong positive effects on the brain. By staying mentally stimulated, you can prevent Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Keeping your brain active is important because the brain is a muscle and like other muscles in the body, exercise keeps it strong and healthy. Similar to solving puzzles, reading books is a great way to exercise your brain and keep it healthy.

Stress Reduction.

Reading a book can relieve stress better than taking a walk or listening to music. According to studies, people who read more tend to have lower stress levels.

Building vocabulary

Reading improves your vocabulary and command of the language. As you read, you come across new words, new phrases and writing styles. A bigger and better vocabulary helps in conversation, with job interviews and in your own writing.

Improves writing skills

Reading a well-written book helps you to become a better writer. Many successful authors gained their expertise by reading the works of others. A great book will inspire you and urge you to write as good if not better than works you have read. If you want to become a better writer, start by learning from previous masters.

Improves communication skills

Improving your vocabulary and writing skills  go hand in hand with developing your communication skills. The more you read and write, the better you communicate. Increasing your ability to communicate, improves your relationships and even makes you better at your job or at your studies.

Portable entertainment

Books are portable and light in weight. They are not like bulky computers and games that take too much space. With a book, you can pack it in your handbag or pocket and easily carry it anywhere. You can read in a plane as you travel, in your bed before you sleep, or even relaxing on the beach during your holiday.

Helps you sleep better

Poor sleep leads to low productivity. This is why so many experts recommend that you establish regular de-stressing routine before you sleep to help calm your mind and therefore sleep better. Reading a book is one of the best ways to calm yourself before you go to bed. Instead of watching television or spending too much time on your smart phone, take some time to read. The bright lights from the electronic devices will only affect your sleep. On the other hand, a book will help you sleep better.

No side effects of the digital world

Spending too much time watching television or playing video games can affect your eye health in the long run. On the other hand, books are safe and easy. No one has ever gone blind from reading too many books. There are no known side effects or dangers of reading great books. There are only benefits.

Enjoyment.

There is much to enjoy in this world: Nature, the joys of swimming in the sea or relaxing on a beautiful beach. Listening to music or visiting the cinema can both be magical experiences but finding a really wonderful book and taking in the thoughts and ideas of another person, sometimes even the thoughts of someone who has passed away years earlier is for me a truly wonderful feeling. I think the first time I read David Copperfield by Charles Dickens was when I realised how wonderful a book could be. Floating in Space can hardly compare to a towering work like that but, well I kind of like it!


Floating in Space is a novel by Steve Higgins set in Manchester 1977. Click the links at the top of the page to buy or for more information.

Exploring the Windmills of your Mind.

I’ve missed my sun lounger this year. Even though it has been a hot summer in the UK and Europe I don’t seem to have done what I always enjoy doing, relaxing in a sun lounger; reading, listening to music and letting my mind wander and open up to new thoughts, ideas and blog posts.

A whole bunch of my blog posts have started life in that way, just by relaxing and thinking and later putting those random thoughts down on paper or on my laptop and then later honing them into something readable and hopefully entertaining to my small band of readers out there in Cyberspace.

I have done some sun lounging of course both at home in St Annes and down in France but a motorhome holiday is different to renting a villa like we usually do. Cheaper of course but it seems to me that a motorhome holiday is one where you always seem to be going somewhere but not necessarily arriving. Maybe it might be better to find a suitable caravan park and stake out our own personal corner for a week combined with the usual driving about the previous and following weeks. My big problem of course as anyone who has ever read this blog before is that I am fundamentally lazy. I’m not one for doing a great deal of exploring, except for maybe finding the best way to the pool or the beach or to the nearest restaurant or bar. Once that vital research has been done and locked into my personal sat nav, that malfunctioning out of date device I refer to as my brain, well then that’s my exploring done.

One thing I enjoy coming across in France are windmills. Yes windmills, not the old fashioned ones although I like those too, I’m talking about those huge white modern ones that harness the wind and turn it into electricity. They do that quietly and cleanly without any side effects to the environment although there are some who say the windmills spoil our countryside. That is something I find hard to get my head around, especially when our nuclear power stations create power but leave behind a waste product that is toxic and radioactive for many years and the usual way of disposing of it is to dig huge holes underground in which to bury it like some allegorical cat burying its dirt.

After checking on the Internet I see that there are three kinds of nuclear waste LLW (Low Level Waste) ILW (Intermediate Level Waste) and HLW (High Level Waste). The first too are radioactive for perhaps 40 years but the High Level stuff can be toxic for many thousands of years. So, the next time you see a modern windmill just think for a moment how they are saving us from producing and storing this dreadful toxic waste. Not only that I’ve always found windmills elegant and calming with -and excuse me for perhaps waxing a little too lyrical here- a sort of innate beauty all of their own.

Round about this time of year my email inbox gets flooded with various invitations to participate in the annual JFK Lancer conference in Dallas Texas in the USA. Lancer was the Secret Service codename for President Kennedy and I have to say I do always think about going. It’s a heck of a way but it would combine a number of ambitions: visiting the USA and meeting other folk all interested in what happened to John F Kennedy that day in Dallas back in 1963. Even with the release of new files the real facts are still obscure and today all those intelligence agencies that had links to supposed assassin Lee Harvey Oswald still continue to deny them.

Lee Oswald, in case you didn’t know was a former marine who spoke Russian. Russian you might ask? Yes, Russian. How on earth does a marine get special training in the Russian language? Because he was an intelligence agent of course. Does that mean the CIA liquidated the President? No but it does mean that Oswald was not quite the guy that the media has portrayed.

Still, I’m sure there will be many presentations in Dallas about rifle trajectories, about the ‘magic bullet’ about Police officers who encountered secret service agents on the ‘grassy knoll’ (when in fact there were none) about the CIA and the Mafia. There might even be presentations about the secret service whose actions seem in retrospect to be a little bit odd; their officers spending the night before the assassination at a Dallas nightclub and they later had the assassination car cleaned destroying any forensic evidence. Will we ever know the absolute truth? I think not especially when experts cannot even agree from which direction the shots came from that killed Kennedy and if anyone expects to find a file released by the CIA with the plans for the assassination complete with names, well I don’t think that will happen anytime ever. Still, for conspiracy buffs like me it is all hugely fascinating.

Another death has been on my mind this last week, Liz and I went to a funeral in Blackburn. When you hit your early sixties like I have done funerals seem inevitable. Time runs out for the elderly and infirm just as it will for those who today are young and healthy. Sadly, this was not a funeral for someone old; it was a young girl aged only 28. A university graduate who excelled at sports, especially swimming and who had started a new career in the police force. The church was packed for the funeral and clearly the late girl’s father was surprised and moved at the turnout.

He, his wife and two other children, a son and daughter gave their own eulogies to the deceased each in their own ways. The father thanked everyone he could think of, the mother spoke of her daughters last days which were marked by humour. The sister spoke of earlier happier times and the young brother spoke of how 80 percent of his young life was taken up fighting and arguing with his late sister, each complaining to the parents about what the other had done and each lying that the other was guilty of some misdeed or other. In later life the two had finally become friends, just like many fighting siblings the world over do.

It struck me then about the unfairness of life, about how one person can live a long and happy life and another a short one. Both of those of course lose exactly the same thing but one will have enjoyed a long life and all its benefits while the other would hardly have had the chance to live. I remember thinking of my elderly mother, currently in hospital and fast approaching her 90th birthday. Dementia has taken away her short term memory and she lives in a state of confusion but her heart, nearly ninety years old, beats on as strong as ever. If she had the choice of choosing death instead of that young girl I am sure she would have gladly done so.

Once again I felt myself drawn to my new mentor, Marcus Aurelius for some comfort.


Floating in Space is a novel by Steve Higgins set in Manchester, 1977. Click the links at the top of the page to buy or for more information. In the video below I talk about the city of Manchester and discuss the background to the book.

Reviewing Spielberg

Not so long ago I thought about doing a post about the film director Steven Spielberg. I’d already done a couple of ‘favourite director‘ posts but the thing with Spielberg is that he’s not exactly one of my favourite directors so any post would be not really be complimentary so I didn’t want to get into writing something negative.

Anyway, I just happened to pick up a book about Spielberg in the second hand bookshop so it seems to me I can just combine my criticisms of the book and Spielberg’s works all in one post. I’ll try not to be too negative.

Steven Spielberg the Unauthorised Biography by John Baxter.

Spielberg was born in 1946 and the book glosses over his early life. His parents were divorced when Steven was at school and though staying initially with his mother and sisters he later went to stay in California with his dad. He was making amateur 8mm films as a youngster and according to the book, went on the Universal film studios tour and just stayed on wandering about the studio. At the time one of the only ways to get a job at Universal was through a relative who worked there and the book says that security guards let Spielberg through the gates on subsequent occasions, assuming he was the brother or son of one of the employees.

Spielberg apparently did quite a bit of networking at the studios showing his amateur movies around and after being rejected from the University of Southern California’s film school he managed to get an unpaid job at Universal. Later he took the opportunity to make a short film called Amblin which impressed the studio vice president so much that they offered Spielberg a seven year directing contract.

His first professional job was the shooting of an episode of the US TV show Night Gallery which starred Joan Crawford. It was apparently a difficult job for Steven, dealing with his temperamental star which gave him an aversion to working with so called ‘stars’. Looking through Wikipedia though, the website claims he and Crawford were friends until her death.

The first work of Spielberg’s that I saw was the feature length episode of Columbo ‘Murder by the Book’. At the time Universal was looking for something new to challenge the usual 60 minute episode format and the feature length episodes of their many crime shows seemed to be the answer. Spileberg’s episode is probably one of the very best of the Columbo series.

Spielberg‘s first cinema project was ‘The Sugarland Express’, a movie about a married couple chased by Police as they try to regain custody of their baby. The film received critical success but fared poorly at the box office. Producers however were impressed enough to ask Spielberg to direct the movie version of the book ‘Jaws’ about a man eating shark.

The shoot was a difficult one as the director rejected the idea of shooting in the studio and opted for a location shoot. Steven initially thought of using real sharks and midgets to make the sharks look even bigger but finally had to accept that a mechanical shark had to be made. Difficulties with the shark added delays to the shoot and some parts eventually had to be made in the studio. It was also interesting to read how the script was constantly under review with various writers adding to it and rewriting. Author Peter Benchley had added various subplots to make the book more entertaining and many of these were taken out by Spielberg who concentrated on the fundamentals of the shark chase.

At the time the movie industry was suffering because of competition from TV and Spielberg realised that a film needed to be an event, a major event in order to bring viewers out of their homes and into cinemas. The movie blockbuster was born with Jaws which was a huge hit which made Spielberg’s reputation overnight. I have to say it is probably my favourite of Steven Spielberg’s films. I’ve always enjoyed it and the performances are excellent especially those of Robert Shaw and Roy Scheider.

Spielberg went on to make a series of blockbuster films, all different in subject matter but all designed as major events in the world of cinema. Close Encounters of the Third Kind, The Indiana Jones films and ET were all highly successful. I can’t say they are on my list of all time great films, ET I thought was uninspired and Close Encounters was a film I couldn’t see the point of, a little like Hitchcock’s Birds. I didn’t get it at all.

Raiders of the Lost Ark is a great Saturday afternoon film based of course, on the film serials of the 1940’s. My big problem with most of Spielberg’s films is that they always leave me unsatisfied. Saving Private Ryan is another case in point. What was the point of all that invasion stuff with people being blown up on the beach? Empire of the Sun was a slow moving drudge of a film lacking any sort of pace. It was a project Spielberg took over from one of his personal directing heroes David Lean and I sort of get the feeling Steven was trying to make the film as Lean might have done. Sorry but it didn’t work for me.

This isn’t a great book and concentrates mostly on Steven Spielberg’s professional rather than personal life and doesn’t really offer too many insights into Spielberg himself although interestingly it says that Steven dismisses the auteur school of directing and thinks of a film as a collaborative effort. I remember once watching an interview with David Lean in which he said that a director’s job was to ‘tickle the talents’ of his crew and cast and get the best possible effort from each person to show in the finished film. After reading this book I’d guess that is something Spielberg would go along with.

The early part of the book I found particularly interesting especially when it explains how Spielberg put his movie projects together, often filming one while beginning preliminary work on another. The author also links Spielberg to the other directors of ‘New Hollywood’, people like Coppola, Lucas, and Scorsese who were great fans of classic Hollywood and built new films and productions while recognising the contributions of classic directors like Hitchcock and John Ford who had gone before.

This is not a great book and certainly not one that really gets to the core of its subject but still a good read all the same.


Floating in Space is a novel by Steve Higgins set in Manchester 1977. Click the links at the top of the page to buy or for more information.

France in Six or Seven Restaurants.

I was tempted to label this post as another of my ‘Sun Lounger Thoughts’ but as Liz and I have just returned from another motorhome trip through France and neither the sun or a sun lounger made much of an appearance, well then, I thought I’d give that a miss.

I do love France but sometimes I think my love affair with this country is waning. I love the relaxed lifestyle, the food, the restaurants, the innate calm of sleepy French villages but, I do miss the absence of nightlife. The nights when I would stay out till the early hours are long gone of course but I do like a nice friendly bar or a busy restaurant. In rural France those things are hard to find.  In our favourite French town of Doué la Fontaine it is hard work to get a restaurant table on a Saturday lunch time but on Saturday night, the bars close around 9 pm and the restaurants are empty except for a few English tourists.

Coming over on this latest trip Liz did her usual research and found a lovely restaurant in the town of Montreuil sur Mer, a short walk from an Aire du Camping Car. As we motored along serenely through France after exiting the Eurotunnel Liz was urging me to get a move on but I knew in my heart of hearts that like so many other plans earlier in the year, the restaurant would be either closed or one that did not open in an evening.

We arrived in pouring rain to find that a huge amount of cars were parked in this small town. We had decided, wisely I thought, to park up and check the restaurant was open before going to the motorhome parking area. I squeezed gingerly into a small space and then we donned our rain coats and went off in search of food. One positive sight, apart from the numerous parked cars was the various bistros and bars all with a thriving clientele.

We wandered eagerly through the old cobbled streets and finally came to the restaurant Liz had found on the internet. Yes it was open and yes there were people inside! We entered to a round of bonsoirs from the serving and cooking staff clustered around the open kitchen, A table for two? Have we booked? No but could you fit us in? Yes of course! Moments later we were seated in a lovely restaurant full of old world charm and plenty of happy faces enjoying their food.

Le Pot du Clape specialised in home made soups and French flans so we started with mushroom soup and I chose a flan Italienne and Liz ordered a Welsh, nothing to do with Wales but a sort of cheesy quiche. The food was excellent and we particularly liked the red wine served at room temperature unlike so many establishments which serve cold red wine.

The next day we motored on further south. The bar is sadly closed at our regular stopping place in Gizeux and when we stopped at Bourgeuil the hotel and restaurant where we dine regularly was also closed. Oh well, time to light the barbecue once more! While I’m on the subject of barbecuing I think it’s important to share these two universal facts.

One. Always watch your barbecue because if you don’t it will burn itself out before you’ve had a chance to set the table and serve the salad.

Two. Never watch a barbecue because if you do it will just take ages and ages to get going and just when it finally reaches optimum cooking temperature well, it’ll probably be time for bed!

The view from our camping spot at Gastes.

Liz found us a super place to stop by a lake at Gastes. Nine Euros for two nights seemed pretty reasonable even to a tightwad like me so we found ourselves a nice spot with a view of the lake and parked up. The first evening was a lovely and warm one so out came the barbecue again. The next night was my birthday and there was a restaurant just by the motorhome parking area. We had a look in and there wasn’t much to the menu but the place was actually open with people inside eating food. Happy days!

That evening we got ourselves dressed up and meandered down looking forward to a birthday meal. However, the French restaurant curse struck again. They didn’t do food in the evenings! Quelle dommage!

I’m happy to report that we did finally finish the holiday with a lovely meal. We parked up in the village of Clérac in a lovely leafy aire. Sadly a bunch of noisy idiots in a clapped out campervan parked next to us and proceeded to annoy us no end with silly juvenile larking about. After a while they decided to move to the other end of the park and left us in peace. We walked into the village and found the hotel restaurant ready for business.

The Auberge des Lacs Bleus is well worth a visit if you are ever passing. The starter was an excellent cold buffet served with plenty of crusty French bread, next up was an escalope of chicken served in a tasty creamy sauce and we finished with some excellent cheese. The wine too was lovely.

Buffet starter looking yummy.

Of course I should mention the tasty food that Liz serves on board our motorhome. We have three rings on our small gas cooker and a grill but sadly no oven so cooking can be a challenge but even so we regularly find ourselves miles from anywhere enjoying a lovely English breakfast of bacon, sausage, mushrooms, egg and tomatoes, served with toast or fresh bread if there is a boulangerie nearby.

On one of our last nights in France we dined on Pasta Bolognese served with crunchy French bread and followed by an impressive cheese board sourced from the French supermarket Super U. Who needs French restaurants anyway!


Steve Higgins is the author of Floating in Space, a novel set in Manchester 1977. Click the links at the top of the page to buy or for more information.

 

The Best Book about Hollywood, Ever

Is ‘Bring on the Empty Horses’ the best book ever written about Hollywood? I really think it is.

It’s a book written from first-hand experience for starters. The author, British born movie actor David Niven arrived in Hollywood in the early 1930’s. He had decided to try his luck in the movie business and he had come to the right place because Hollywood, California was the centre of the film making universe.

Some years previously it had been a rural backwater of lemon and orange groves but the silent film pioneers had found it had the perfect climate for film making. Back then in the silent days films were made in the open air shot on sets with no ceilings to let in the abundant California light.

By the 1930’s, sound had well and truly arrived and the big studios all had their coterie of stars and David Niven has a pocketful of stories, anecdotes and sketches about them and the other bit players, extras, directors and writers who inhabited Hollywood between the years 1935 to 1960.

Working as a boat hand to make some extra cash, Niven came on board a small vessel one morning. His job was to mop the boat down, get the fishing rods and bait ready and make sure some coffee and breakfast was on the go. The charter that day was for a man known as the King of Hollywood, none other than Clark Gable. Gable turned out to be a friendly customer who enjoyed his fishing. Some years later when Niven had made his first forays into acting and had a seat at a table at the Oscar ceremony, he was understandably very happy indeed to find Gable greeting him enthusiastically, his stock at that particular table rising dramatically after Gable came over to talk about fishing.

Niven goes on to paint an affectionate portrait of Gable alongside some other essays on various stars of the time. My favourite must be the short chapter on Errol Flynn. Flynn and Niven shared a house at one time and Niven comments that Flynn was completely trustworthy in a way, because whatever happened, he would always let you down!

During the making of ‘the Charge of the Light Brigade‘ which Warner brothers decided to set in India rather than the Crimea, Flynn, the new star started to get a little big headed. One big brute of an extra decided to waggle a lance under the behind of Flynn’s horse to teach Flynn a lesson.  The horse consequently threw Flynn off. He got up, dusted himself down and proceeded to teach the big guy a lesson of his own by beating him into a pulp!

Flynn had a yacht named the Zaca and weekends on the boat included sailing trips full of wine, women and song. Many young girls appeared on the boat, none of whom produced any ID which was unfortunate for Flynn as he was later charged with statutory rape. The accusing girls appeared in the courtroom wearing school uniforms and in pigtails but happily for Flynn the court saw through that and he was acquitted, although the image that the press painted of him was one that he was happy with.

In later life Flynn was bankrupt and became a floating shadow of his former self, sailing the seas in the Zaca. Later he made a great Hollywood comeback playing his great friend John Barrymore in ‘Too much Too Soon.’ He died in 1950 aged only 50 and in a poignant moment, Niven living then in the south of France, takes a walk along the French coast only to find the dis-masted remains of the Zaca lurking quietly in a boat yard.

Another great portrait is the one that Niven gives us about Prince Romanoff, known as Mike to his friends who ran the famous Romanoff’s restaurant on North Rodeo Drive in Beverley Hills. He was also a former conman once known as Harry F Gerguson. Harry or Mike possessed an immaculate old Etonian accent and assumed the identity of the late Romanoff prince. His restaurant became a popular venue and by the end of the Second World War was a well-established Hollywood eating house. Niven tried to haggle with Mike many times and break down his stories of mingling with royalty, of Eton and Harrow and military academies like Sandhurst but to no avail. If he was a con man he was in the top echelon of his profession.

I’ve always loved George Sanders with his easy smooth talking suave style. Niven recounts various stories about him including some about his relationship with Zsa Zsa Gabor. During the break up of their marriage they stayed fairly friendly. However, George was well aware of the California divorce laws and decided that it was important to have evidence of Zsa Zsa’s relationship with her new lover. His plan was to break into his house –that Zsa Zsa had contrived to still live in- and photograph her in the arms of her new man. In case entry to the house proved difficult he took along his lawyer, a photographer and a brick with which to break in. Conscious of looking suspicious carrying the brick he gift wrapped it. On arrival at the lover’s nest the bedroom door was conveniently unlocked. They entered, took the appropriate evidentiary picture and then when tempers had cooled they all trooped down to the lounge. It was Christmas time and Zsa Zsa mentioned that George’s present was under the tree. Sanders passed her the brick, still gift wrapped and said ‘and here is yours!’

Many famous places appear in Niven’s book; the Brown Derby restaurant, Chasen’s and many other bars and restaurants frequented by long gone stars; Ava Gardner, Monroe, Rita Hayworth, Orsen Welles and many more. Niven also recounts a visit to some distant drinking den frequented by Robert Newton who appeared with Niven in ‘Around the World in 80 Days’. Niven and Newton imbibed a generous amount of alcohol but when Newton began to disclaim various Shakespearean passages to the locals Niven realised it was time to leave. The pair had arrived straight from the studio and David had no money with him so it was with some surprise that he heard Newton hiss that he had none either. “We have a tricky situation here” observed Newton rolling his eyes.

Happily the two made a quick exit in Newton’s Chauffeur driven ancient Rolls.

The book tells of the big studios like Warner Brothers and MGM and their great back lots.  There was little location filming in those bygone days and on the back lots could be found entire New York streets, French and Spanish villages, frontier towns, Indian camps, medieval castles, a railroad station complete with rolling stock, lakes with wave making machines and a Mississippi steamboat.

Small wonder then says Niven that ‘Gone with the Wind’ was filmed in Culver City, ‘Mutiny on the Bounty’, just off Catalina Island, and ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’ in the San Fernando Valley.

I actually own two copies of this wonderful book. One is a smart hardback copy for my bookshelf. The other is the copy photographed for this post, a well-thumbed tatty copy that I pick up and take to the garden now and again or to the dentist or whenever I have a spare moment to spend in Hollywood’s golden years.


Floating in Space is a novel set in Manchester, 1977. Click the links at the top of the page to buy or for more information.

 

The Brexit Blues Part 2

I’m not really sure how to start with Brexit but anyway, here goes. Way back in 2016 we, the people of the UK voted to leave the European Union. It was pretty close, 52% to 48% but the leavers won over the remainers and well, that’s democracy, those with the biggest vote win.

Now as far as I know the referendum wasn’t legally binding in any way, just an indication of public feeling but the Prime Minister, who was David Cameron at the time, decided the referendum result meant we had to leave the EU and as he couldn’t go along with that because he didn’t want to leave the EU, he had to resign.

Now to a great extent that is where all the problems began. I assumed, rightly I think, that a pro leave MP would take over at 10 Downing Street, the obvious candidate being Boris Johnson but no, Theresa May won the premiership contest despite being on the remain side, just like David Cameron. Now clearly Mrs May didn’t think in the same way as Cameron. She was at heart a remainer but wanted to deliver Brexit in a way that she wanted, a way acceptable I presume, to her and fellow remainers.

Despite personally being on the leave side I think David Cameron would have been better going back to Brussels and saying, look, my voters are not happy about the EU, we need to take a good look at our membership, after all, 52% of people actually want to leave. Of course I’m not a politician so what do I know but maybe Cameron and the Euro people could have hammered something out, a way of staying in the EU which was acceptable to the leave voters. After all, I don’t mind being in the European Union, the idea sounds good, a community or union of nations who trade together and respect each others’ borders so that for example, in a recent road trip I was able to drive from Belgium, down through France and into Spain without ever stopping at any border controls.

The reality is a bit different though as we have to accept any EU ruling on anything, not only trade but also laws, measurements, monetary issues, immigration, farming policy, car emissions and all sorts of stuff. There have even been cases where the so-called European Court of Human Rights have overruled judicial verdicts in the UK.

I remember a case a few years ago where some east european guy who had no driving licence, drove a car onto the pavement and ran over and killed an entire family. The courts rightly deported this fellow but hang on, the European Court of Human Rights stepped in and said, wait a minute, you can’t do that, it’s against the guy’s human rights. OK but what about my human rights and the human rights of all my fellow citizens? Our human right to walk on the pavement without getting some crazy driver running us down. Isn’t that a human right?

Still, for me at any rate, Cameron had plenty of room to manoeuvre and to hang on to my vote and for me to accept staying in the EU.

Not so long after that, the Government suffered the biggest defeat in the House of Commons by any Government in UK history when members of Parliament rejected Theresa May’s Brexit deal by a huge majority and later only survived a no confidence vote by 19 votes. The big problem with Brexit for me is that the majority leave vote only amounted to 52% which really means that the country is pretty much split on the issue. If the vote had been 60-70% to leave, I don’t think Brexit would be such a big issue but as we as a country are so divided then it is an issue.

Anyway after three years Theresa May had had enough, she resigned and finally Boris Johnson got the job. Aha, maybe we are getting somewhere now because shouldn’t he really have been given the job three years ago? Well, the first thing Boris decides to do is prorogue Parliament, that is shut it down for a while which wasn’t really a great idea. Supposedly it was so he could bring in a Queen’s Speech and start off a new term of Parliament with new ideas and new legislation. Of course the House itself wasn’t happy with that so various people decided to take the issue to the courts. The Scottish court decided it wasn’t right and the English court decided, sensibly in my view, that they shouldn’t meddle in politics.

The Supreme Court of the UK however wasn’t having any of that and declared the Prime Minister’s advice to the Queen to close Parliament to be illegal and so here we are again, Parliament open for business again and still arguing about something the British public voted on years ago.

What has been interesting about the closing down of Parliament is how people are calling it ‘undemocratic’. Surely the referendum was about as democratic as you can get and now as Parliament is trying to block Brexit. Doesn’t that mean that Parliament are the ‘undemocratic’ ones?

I have to say that the whole Brexit story has been fascinating from beginning to, well I was going to say end but when will it end? The only thing I have ever seen that is even comparable was when I was a teenager and President Nixon sacked the special prosecutor in the Watergate case. That was back in 1973 and Nixon ordered the Attorney General to sack Archibald Cox but the Attorney General refused and then tendered his resignation. Nixon then ordered the Deputy Attorney General to do the dirty deed but he also refused and resigned. Nixon finally got the US Solicitor General to fire Cox which was finally done although eventually, Nixon himself had to resign.

Somehow though I can’t see Boris Johnson resigning.

So, what is the answer? Another vote? Suppose the remain voters won that one, would that solve the issue? I doubt it, after all it would be one for the leavers and one for the remainers. We could have a best of 3 vote though, couldn’t we? What about an election? Well, because the Conservatives have a minority Government that means that currently the Opposition parties can club together and defeat the Government, so they don’t want an election either.

I suppose eventually the whole thing will sort itself out, in the meantime I think I’ll take a quick trip to France while I still can!


Floating in Space is a novel by Steve Higgins available from Amazon. Click the links at the top of the page to buy or for more information.

A Week that was Too Good to be Forgotten

This week started off with a tune running through my head. That’s not unusual. I often wake up with a tune in my head. It’s usually a leftover from our local pub quiz where they have a great music round, ten tracks with points on offer for song title, artist and year of highest chart placing. As it happened the tune was nothing to do with the quiz and sadly I didn’t have any words to go on, just a bit of a tune which irritatingly, kept floating around my head.

Thursday is the night of the pub quiz. We like to dine out beforehand so we settled on the Moghul, an Indian restaurant in St Annes. We’ve not been for a few years but were happy to see that the long complicated menu has been slimmed down and the food was particularly nice. Eating poppadums with Liz reminded me of many years ago when my friends and I would go into the Plaza Café in Manchester after a night of drinking. The curries on offer there were of three varieties, mild, hot and suicide.

It always brings a smile to my face when I remember calling for ‘Three suicides please mate!’

Those were the days. My dining experiences nowadays are much more relaxed.

This week’s music quiz was interesting, although I didn’t exactly cover myself in glory. One of the tracks played was a cover version of the Beatles hit ‘Yesterday’. It had to be either from 1965 or 1968 and being something of a Beatles expert I mentioned to my fellow quizzers that as Yesterday was one of the later Beatles hits it couldn’t have been 1965. It had to be 1968.

It turns out that although the Beatles included the track on the album ‘Help’ released in the UK in August 1965, it was not released in the UK as a single (actually an EP) until the following year. As the recording was essentially a solo performance by Paul McCartney, the group initially vetoed its release as a single. That left Matt Munro free to release his version and claim chart success in October 1965, all of which shows I’m not so much as a Beatles expert as I thought I was which didn’t go down too well with my fellow quiz team members. No gallon of ale for us that week!

‘Yesterday’ is, according to Wikipedia, one of the most recorded songs in history and in fact has an entry in the Guinness book of records as such, having by January 1986 more than 1,600 cover versions recorded. Paul McCartney claimed the entire melody came to him in a dream and unable at first to come up with a proper lyric, he dubbed the song scrambled eggs until he could produce more suitable words.

Now I think of it, and I’m really not trying to compare myself to Paul McCartney but quite a lot of my writing, especially poetry has come to me in dreams. In fact I once dreamt an entire story which unfolded before my eyes like a film and when I awoke I jotted it down and later made it into a film script. Because of that I became pretty fascinated by my dreams and placed a notebook by my bed so I could record any profound thoughts or dreams I’d had when I awoke in the morning. After a few weeks of noting stuff down then going for a wash and making a brew then coming back to look at various garbled nonsensical notes, well I soon gave up the practice.

‘Yesterday’ by the way, won Paul McCartney an Ivor Novello award in 1965 and was ranked 13th in the Rolling Stone’s 2004 list of the 500 greatest songs of all time.

Prior to coming back to St Annes I spent my usual five days looking after my elderly Mum in Manchester. Her dementia seems to be getting worse and it’s hard to imagine that this old lady born on the day of the Wall Street Crash in 1929 was, only a couple of years ago, doing her own shopping and cooking. I used to call her up and say ‘can I get you any shopping in Mum?’ She would always reply ‘no, the day I can’t get to the shops is the day I’m finished.’

She used to trek slowly along pushing her little trolley over to the shops every single day. Always buying no more than she needed for that day then back again the next day. Today she endlessly repeats herself, asks for the breakfast she has already eaten and agonises about the Sunday lunch she will never make again. After a particularly stressful day the endless news reports about Brexit are a welcome distraction.

Sometimes I feel that she has died already but her body refuses to go and that like the Dylan Thomas poem some inner force she possesses rages foolishly against ‘the dying of the light’.

It’s always a relief to hand over caring to my brother and get back to St Annes.

This last week I too felt a little like Paul McCartney although instead of humming the tune to ‘Yesterday’ and trying to think of better lyrics I kept humming the tune which had annoyed me all week. I hummed it to Liz but it didn’t ring any bells with her either.

Now one thing that is important to do in these situations is not to say anything to yourself like ‘Dammit, I just can’t remember what that tune is!’

A statement like that sends a clear message to your brain that you can’t remember so you may as well not bother. The best thing to say to yourself is this: ‘I can’t recall the title of that tune presently, but It will come to me later!’ That is a much more positive message to send to your brain and one which according to all the positive thinking books I used to read years ago should provide much more positive results, eventually.

A few days later I had a few actual words. Something, something, blah blah forgotten. Now I was getting somewhere! Then I had a brainstorm, it was too good to be forgotten!

A quick lunge to our good friend Google and I finally had it: Too Good to be Forgotten by the Chi-Lites! What a cracking soul track.


Floating in Space is a novel by Steve Higgins set in Manchester, 1977. Click the links at the top of the page to buy or for more information.