The Film of the Book or the Book of the Film

It’s always  a bitter-sweet experience when someone decides to make your favourite book into a film. It doesn’t always work out because maybe it was a big, thick, long book and they have cut out your favourite bit, or perhaps the cast wasn’t the one you imagined. It’s usually just the same in reverse. You see a great film and in the credits it says based on the book by so and so, then you rush out and get the book, and it turns out to be a little disappointing. Sometimes it’s even better than the film!
Anyway, here are a few of my film/book experiences.

The Horse Whisperer.
The book.
I picked up this book in a charity sale last year. This is what I said about it in Book Bag 4:

I’m not even sure why I picked up this book; it’s not anything I would normally be interested in. I bought it for a few pence at a church table top sale and I think I bought it one, because I wanted to give something, a few pence to the church fund and two, I faintly remembered the book had been made into a film with Robert Redford, although I had never seen it. The reviews on the back of the book said things like ‘a page turner’ and ‘the hottest book of the year’. Anyway, I bought it ages ago, and on a whim threw it into my book bag. I really hate having a book and not reading it.

From the beginning the book was a page turner giving a hint that something exciting and interesting was coming. I liked the idea of a horse whisperer; someone who could train a horse without hurt or pain, merely by whispering. I envisaged a native American Indian perhaps or some mystic horse guru. The fact is that the story of the horse is nothing but the background to a love story, involving a New York magazine editor and a Montana cowboy. Written in a sort of matter of fact magazine style, it turns out that writer Nicholas Evans is a screen writer and much of the novel reads rather like that, a screenplay, and each character comes with extensive background notes like the writer’s character notes on a screenplay. At the half way point this novel lost steam for me. I read it to the end but the ending was so contrived I was just glad to have finished it. Somewhat disappointing. Wonder what the movie is like?

The film.
The other day I noticed this film was showing on the Sony Movie Channel and set my hard drive up to record it. The result was an OK sort of film although a little on the slow-moving side. I’m tempted to say it was more of a woman’s film but Liz watched it alongside me and she wasn’t impressed either. I felt the casting was not right. Robert Redford just looked too smart and tidy to be a cattle rancher and cowboy. He actually looked as though he came from the Roy Rogers school of cowboying although he also directed the film. If I was casting I would perhaps have gone for someone like Kevin Costner perhaps, and the female lead, played by Kirstin Scott Thomas, needed a stronger, more assertive woman, perhaps a native New Yorker and not an English actress.

The ending was different in the film which was a good thing as the book’s ending was so poor as I mentioned above. Rotten Tomatoes report 74% positive reviews but sadly, I think I was part of the 26% negative ones.

2001: A Space Odyssey.
The film.
I first saw this movie back in 1968, which was quite a fascinating year for me. I wrote about the experience of seeing the film in a earlier post about film music and here is, in part, what I had to say:

I first saw the film in the summer of 1968. I was only 11 at the time and I remember my Mum being surprised I had spent hours at the cinema on a lovely hot day. I watched the film in the huge movie theatre in Northenden, now a Jehovah’s Witness assembly hall. There were only a few people in the picture house that day and it was wonderful having this huge place almost to myself and seeing this incredible film in 70mm on the big screen. I recall being somewhat confused by it all, especially the jump from Neanderthal times to the future, until I bought the novel by Arthur C Clarke which explained things in a way the movie did not.

2001 is a particularly visual film. Kubrick cut out a lot of dialogue because he wanted the film to stand as “basically a visual, nonverbal experience” that “hits the viewer at an inner level of consciousness, just as music does, or painting.”


Picture courtesy

According to Wikipedia, despite the few people in the cinema with me that day in 1968, the movie went on to become the highest grossing North American movie of that year.

2001 set the pace for the sci-fi movie with its depiction of spacecraft drifting slowly and silently through space. The first Star Trek movie was heavily influenced by 2001 which made it look a little dated when the movie Star Wars was released and did the opposite thing, showing spacecraft whooshing across the screen at lightning speeds.

The book.
As I mentioned above, I was rather confused by the film and there were quite a few moments when I was wondering what was actually happening, for instance the jump from Neanderthal times to the future, the moment when the monolith sends its deep space signal and various other things too. I went out and bought the book by Arthur C Clarke and went straight into a wonderfully well written,  plausible space adventure. All the technology that Clarke wrote about had its origins in science fact, both the space missions and the computer technology which make up the main parts of the story. If you have never seen the film or read the book (shame on you) 2001 is about a mysterious monolith which appears on earth in neolithic times and helps the ape men of the day to develop. Later, in the future, the mysterious monolith is found buried on the moon and when it is exposed to sunlight for the first time, it blasts off a signal to Saturn. (In the movie the destination is Jupiter, as director Stanley Kubrick thought that the special effects department would struggle to create Saturn’s rings.)

Anyway, the scientists of the day decide that the monolith is part of some extraterrestrial intelligence and set up a manned space mission to investigate. As the mission progresses, the onboard computer, HAL, decides to have something of a nervous breakdown which creates an unexpected hazard for the crew.

Verdict: The book is a wonderful read, one of the classics of science fiction and the movie has deservedly become one of the most influential films of all time.

The Great Gatsby.
The book.
I can’t really remember when I read this book for the first time. It was many years ago and ever since, this short novel has been in my personal all time top 10 reads. The story concerns Jay Gatsby who lost out in the love stakes because he was born on the wrong side of the tracks and not an appropriate suitor for the lovely debutante Daisy. Off he goes to the first world war, comes home to the USA a much more worldly-wise fellow than when he left and one way or another he becomes a millionaire.

Gatsby has a huge mansion in the Long Island suburb of West Egg. Renting a cottage in the grounds is the book’s narrator, Nick Carraway. Nick is fascinated by the lavish parties held at the mansion and soon meets Gatsby himself. It turns out that Gatsby’s parties are a device, a lure to attract the beautiful Daisy who Gatsby still loves and hopes will one day come to him like a moth to a flame.

It’s a simple story of love and desire but it becomes something much more in the hands of the author F. Scott Fitzgerald. I often think of it not as a short book, but as a long lyrical poem that has an intrinsic beauty fashioned by the most wonderful turns of phrase. In particular I love the last page and this final paragraph:

Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter. Tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. . . . and one fine morning . . So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

The Film.
I noticed on the Internet that there was a 1949 version with Alan Ladd which I have never seen but the latest film version was released in 2013 and starred Leonardo DiCaprio with Baz Luhrmann as director. That particular film had been lying dormant on my hard drive recorder for quite a while, just waiting for a quiet few hours for me to watch. As I was part way through this post this seemed to be the perfect opportunity to start it up. So, I settled down with a glass of French red and clicked the play button.

The first part of the movie didn’t really do it for me and the depiction of Gatsby’s famous parties seemed more like a music video than anything, especially with the strange substitution of modern techno music for the jazz music of the time.

Later on, the picture comes into its own. Leonardo DiCaprio is good, indeed very good as Gatsby. Overall, tone down the special effects and the music video feel and this could have been an outstanding film adaptation.

The film version I adore though is the one from 1974 starring Robert Redford as Gatsby and Mia Farrow as the fragile Daisy. I may have written above about Redford being miscast for the Horse Whisperer but he is perfect as Gatsby, so much so that now, whenever I re-read the book I always see Redford’s face in my mind.

The screenplay was by Francis Ford Coppola who directed The Godfather and there are some memorable moments in the film. One of the ones I like particularly is the one where one of Gatsby’s associates is introduced to Nick, thinking him one of Gatsby’s dubious business connections. Redford as Gatsby, firmly but politely indicates a mistake has been made and we get a hint at something questionable behind Gatsby’s facade. Is he a gangster or a bootlegger perhaps? Another is the moment when Gatsby and Nick meet at one of Gatsby’s parties. Nick doesn’t realise he is talking to Gatsby himself when he says he doesn’t even know who is Gatsby is!

Verdict: Brilliant book and a lovely film.

Lost Horizon.
The Book.
I picked up this wonderful gem of a book at charity shop years ago for the bargain price of twenty-five pence and if I could convert the pleasure this book has given me into pounds, shillings, and pence, it would be a figure that far eclipses that initial outlay. James Hilton has become one of my favourite writers and one of my personal writing heroes. (Check out my blog about him here!) This highly original novel reflects the fear and sadness that many must have felt in the days before World War 2. There must have been a feeling then that with new technology, the approaching conflict could be the end of civilisation.

In this wonderful book, a group of Lamas in a monastery, hidden from the world by a chance of geographical fate, decide to look ahead and make sure that the riches of the world, not gold or silver, but literature, art and music, should be preserved should a holocaust engulf the world. To ensure that their creed of respect and compassion endures they kidnap a British diplomat, Robert Conway, to carry on their work and set about bringing him to Shangri-La. Shangri La is a small community in Tibet insulated from the world by mountains on all sides and the people here enjoy unheard of longevity.

Despite his capture Conway is taken into the confidence of the High Lama and given his task of continuing the community and its traditions, but his fellow captives have differing ideas, especially Mallinson, his young vice-consul who is desperate to escape.
The story is told in an interesting way, one that enhances the mystery by a chance meeting between civil servants, one of whom is anxious to talk about Conway and his mysterious disappearance. The story is told about how Conway is found in Tibet with a loss of memory and how his memory suddenly returns and Conway tells of his abduction and escape from Shangri-la. I have to admit that this novel is one of my top ten books of all time, and one I return to time after time.

The Film.
Directed by Frank Capra and starring Ronald Colman, Lost Horizon was shot in 1936 and went seriously over budget. Issues that contributed were scenes shot in a cold storage area, used to replicate the cold of Tibet. The cold affected the film equipment and caused delays. There was also a great deal of location shooting and scenes where Capra used multiple cameras shooting lots of film. Wikipedia reports that the first cut of the film ran for six hours! Studio Boss Harry Cohn was apparently unhappy with the film and edited it himself, producing a version that ran for 132 minutes. Further cuts were made and as a result, Capra filed suit against Columbia pictures. The issue was later resolved in Capra’s favour. The film did not turn a profit until it was re-released in 1942. A frame by frame digital restoration of the film was made in 2013 and various missing elements of the film were returned, including an alternative ending. Sadly, some of the visual elements were so poor that they have been substituted with stills as only the soundtrack was useable.

Ronald Colman is superb as the hero of the film, the slightly world-weary diplomat and politician who finally comes to believe in the ideas of Father Perrault, the High Lama, who wants to keep safe the treasures of the world until the famine of war has passed by.
This movie adaptation is nothing short of wonderful, in fact it is one of my favourite films of all time.  If you see this movie on DVD make sure you take it home and settle down for a wonderful film experience.

A book written by the author which sadly has yet to be made into a film is Floating in Space, set in Manchester, 1977. Click the links at the top of the page for more information.

Soaps, Comedians and a DVD: This year’s Christmas TV

Now we are well into 2018 I thought I’d take a quick look back to the recent Christmas and New Year TV. I don’t know about you but for me it just wasn’t really up to standard, at least not on terrestrial TV or ‘proper’ TV as I call it. Christmas on proper TV was all about soaps, Doctor Who and old shows from the TV of yesteryear.

Coronation Street.

Eastenders has never been my cup of tea but I do like Coronation Street. What has been a little disappointing this year is that this soap, set in my home town of Manchester, has drifted away from a lot of the things I used to like about it. It’s not as ‘northern’ as it used to be, or as funny as in the Jack Duckworth and Hilda Ogden days and the current storyline about Pat Phelan which involves kidnapping and murder is just not what I want. I just wish Pat would go away and we could return to storylines about affairs, illicit relationships, and domestic issues with a large dose of tongue-in-cheek humour thrown in. In a recent Coronation Street special about Jean Alexander, who played the warbling Hilda, the many funny and amusing sides of her character were shown, including a very sad and touching  moment when she returns home after the death of her husband and opens a bag of his effects, clothes and spectacles and so on. The sight of these few simple items reduced Hilda to tears -and many viewers along with her. Those were the days when simple observations like that, some sad, some funny, took the series to ever higher dramatic standards.

Doctor Who.

Another Christmas broadcast that was pretty enjoyable was this year’s Doctor Who special which reunited the current doctor with the original, recreated by actor David Bradley and linked together their regenerations. Just to explain, Doctor Who is the UK’s longest running sci-fi show and one aspect that has helped it continue is that when the lead actor leaves the show, the doctor ‘regenerates’ into a new personality, and of course, a new actor. In this case, Peter Capaldi is leaving and Jodie Whittaker is the new and controversial female doctor. Sound a bit weird? Well, sounds very odd to me. It’s rather like those things you hear on the Internet where people call for a black or even a female James Bond. Bond of course is a white, upper class male and that is the only way to play him. A female Doctor Who? How that will work out is anybody’s guess but this year’s Doctor Who was a good episode, if a tad wordy which is the main problem for me with the modern version of Doctor Who.

Sarah Millican.

Sarah Millican, just for those who have never heard of her, is a Geordie comedian and on Christmas day Liz and I watched three of her stage performances back to back on one of the Freeview channels. Sarah isn’t for me a laugh out loud kind of comedian but she is amusing. She is one of those observational comedians, the ones who take nondescript things and make them into funny monologues. Think Peter Kaye and Garlic bread or Michael McIntyre and bad breath. I tend to prefer my comedians to just tell jokes the old-fashioned way but no, that’s not the way comics work these days. One of the funniest moments in Sarah’s routine was one in which she overheard three older ladies talking about what they would do if they became men for a day. One of the women answered, ‘knowing my luck I’d get a Tuesday –and what can you do on a Tuesday?’

As I watched these three performances, all pretty amusing, I started thinking how I could make some of my blogs into a comic routine. (They call them ‘stand up’ comedians these days so I wonder how they would class Dave Allen, the comedian who used to sit on a stool with a glass of whisky nearby?) Anyway, take one of my posts like The day the Cat War Started perhaps. That might make a reasonable comedy monologue. Introducing the neighbours, then the cats, then the confusion of the cats I was supposed to be feeding while my neighbours were away. Possible career change? Well, perhaps not!

There’s Something about Mary.

A great deal of this Christmas and New Year TV I haven’t watched ‘live’ as it were, I just pressed the record button and kept them for a quieter day so I have yet to see 50 years of Star Trek and a couple of Star Wars documentaries from BBC4 but I did watch ‘There’s Something about Mary‘ on New Year’s Eve as we declined to venture out in the face of a major rainstorm. We could have gone out later I suppose but by then the fire had been lit, the wine had been poured and the cheese was warming. The TV guide mentioned something about this film being a ‘movie classic’. Now to me, a movie classic is something like ‘All About Eve’ with Bette Davies which was shown on TV over Christmas but, sadly, I neglected to record, or ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ which I mentioned in a recent post. ‘Mary’ was mildly amusing with the occasional funny scene but was not, I must insist, a film which could now or ever be mentioned in connection with the phrase ‘movie classic’.

Harry Potter films and TV soaps seemed to be the main factor in this years TV schedule. I looked in vain to find a major new movie but the only one I could see was Spectre, the most recent James Bond film which was shown on New Year’s day. Pity really because I happened to be working then. Oh well, 50 Years of a Star Trek is still there on my hard drive so I look forward to the end of one of my late shifts when I might just start it up and relax with a glass of port.

The Intruder.

One final film, and it’s not one that you will find in the TV guide. The Intruder was a DVD that appeared in my Christmas stocking and is one of those classic British films starring the wonderful Jack Hawkins and a whole host of familiar faces from British films of yesteryear. Set in the 1950’s, former army Colonel Merton played by Jack Hawkins returns home to find he is being burgled by one of his own former wartime platoon members, Ginger, played by Michael Medwin. Ginger runs off when he thinks Colonel Merton has called the Police so the colonel decides to track the man down. He visits his former army comrades and they each tell a story in flashback that builds up a picture of Ginger, his life and that of his comrades. It must have been strange to have lived through the intensity of war and then to return home to rationing and shortages and the near normality of post war Britain. The film, directed by Guy Hamilton who also directed some of the early James Bond films, captures all that perfectly.

Despite the host of cable and satellite TV channels available these days, it’s a shame that sometimes you have to crank up the DVD player to find something worthwhile to watch.

Steve Higgins is the author of Floating in Space, a novel set in Manchester, 1977. The book is available in Kindle or paperback formats. Click the icon below to go straight to Amazon.

Floating in Space

Putting the O in Columbo

It’s hard to believe that after three years of weekly blogging, I have never written anything about my favourite TV detective, lieutenant Columbo. What made me think of Columbo for a blogging post was that the other day, after three gruelling shifts at work, I slipped seamlessly into couch potato mode and settled down for a lazy day of TV watching. Happily it was a Sunday and there are two particular TV channels in the UK that, on a Sunday, pay homage to the Los Angeles based detective; ITV3 and 5USA.

So here we go, bacon sarnie sorted and TV remote to hand, first on the list was ‘Lovely but Lethal’ starring Vera Miles as the guest murderer. Columbo, as you probably know, differs from other TV detective shows by showing the viewer exactly who the murderer is and how he, or she, did it. The whole point is not who did it, but how Columbo catches them. The essence then of a great episode comes in the clever way Columbo nails his man, or woman. Sometimes that moment is a bit of a non starter, other times it’s nothing short of brilliant. Sometimes, even if that final moment is not so great, it’s still been a great episode. ‘Lovely but Lethal’ was pretty good with great performances all round but it wasn’t quite up there in my top 10 episodes.

Mickey Spillane. Picture courtesy Wikipedia

Next up was ‘Publish or Perish’, a cracking episode with my all time favourite guest murderer, Jack Cassidy. Jack appeared in at least three Columbo episodes including one that is a contender for best Columbo ever, but more about that later. In this one, Cassidy plays a publisher who decides to bump off his top writer, played by real life writer Mickey Spillane, because he is about to jump ship to another publisher. Cassidy hires a crazy ex Vietnam veteran and explosives expert to do the job and arranges the perfect alibi; he gets drunk, has a drunken car crash at the exact time of the murder and even ends up in the local police drunk tank for the rest of the night. Of course, he makes several mistakes, including one crucial one which inevitably, lieutenant Columbo spots. A great episode and well worth looking out for.

The Columbo of the early series is an absent-minded quirky fellow although in later episodes, Peter Falk who plays the detective, seems to downplay that quirky element. The later episodes are still pretty good though and armed with a fresh brew and the opening of a McVities chocolate biscuit packet, it was time to turn over to ITV3 for a great episode entitled ‘Sex and the married detective ‘. This episode is one of the later ones, actually season eight from 1989, and it concerns a sex therapist who bumps off her boyfriend after she finds out he’s cheated on her. The episode features the usual great performances and the guest murderer is Lindsay Crouse who adopts the alter ego of Lisa, a lady dressed in black. She gets her boyfriend to meet up with Lisa as part of a role-playing fantasy. She shoots him and it’s the unknown Lisa who gets the blame. Columbo once again nabs his murderer, but with this episode being one of the later ones, it doesn’t feature the quirky Columbo I love but it’s still a great episode and it has a really good musical soundtrack with a lovely musical motif that is perfect for the ‘Lady in Black’.

That was my ‘Three Columbo Sunday’ which I was tempted to use as a title for this post except that my trusty (so far) laptop began playing up a little. The letter ‘o’ on my keyboard has always been a little sticky but as I began to write this one it gave up the ghost and ceased to work completely. I have always thought that ‘e’ was the most used letter in the English language but now I’m pretty certain it’s ‘o’, especially if you are writing about a man called Columbo. Anyway, it just so happens that because of this keyboard issue I am now pretty well acquainted with the windows ALT keyboard. In case you didn’t know, you press the ALT key on your keyboard coupled with 111 and hey presto, there’s an ‘o’. Great, except not great, especially when you’ve written C(ALT111)umb(ALT111) numerous times.

Picture credit:

Luckily, the Internet comes with a lot of help and over on YouTube I found an out of focus video by a semi literate computer nerd who guided me through the process of removing the keys, cleaning them and putting everything back together. OK so back to Columbo!

I thought I’d finish with my all time favourite episode, ‘Short Fuse’ from 1972. The episode stars Roddy McDowall as a spoilt young lad who plans to kill off his uncle in order to take over the family company. His uncle has the goods on Roddy and is about to use this information to force him out of the company. However, the uncle is blown up before he can show the goods to Roddy’s aunt. The murder weapon is a bomb hidden in a cigar box, timed to go off during a car ride to the Uncle’s mountain lodge. As Columbo is set in Los Angeles I can only assume that somewhere nearby is a mountainous holiday area where people have holiday cabins. Anyway, a nice film sequence shows the cigar box being opened, setting off a timer and then the bomb. Columbo has no real proof to nail the murderer but later, on a ride in a cable car, Columbo opens a bag with some new evidence provided by the local police. Yes, it’s the cigar box, apparently intact. Once again we see the taut little sequence of the cigar box and the timer and then we cut to Roddy as he scrabbles about looking for the explosive, realising too late that he has given himself away. The box, as Columbo explains to a colleague, is just another cigar box, made to look a little distressed as if it has been extricated from a car crash. This is one of those memorable endings that I so love in Columbo.

Oh, and another thing. When it comes down to it, I’m not absolutely certain ‘ShortFuse’ was my all time favourite Columbo. In fact, it might really be ‘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!

Just one more thing . . Then again, my favourite episode might really be this one with Robert Culp, another favourite murderer. In a 1973 episode called ‘Double Exposure’, Culp plays a motivation research specialist who uses a special technique of subliminal imaging to make his victim leave a film preview where Culp shoots him and returns to the preview where he has been reading the film narration to a small audience. Actually he had sneakily used a tape recording while he nipped out and murdered his victim.

The very last Columbo episode aired in 2003 entitled ‘Columbo likes the Nightlife’. Peter Falk himself, who played the crumpled detective, died in 2011 after a long battle with dementia. Still, if you like Columbo, check your TV guide for Sunday, there are plenty of episodes to be found there on UK TV.

Steve Higgins is the author of Floating in Space, a novel set in Manchester, 1977. The book is available in Kindle or paperback formats. Click the icon below to go straight to Amazon.

Floating in Space


The Essential Englishman

Some time ago I wrote a poem, published on my poetry page at Writeoutloud, called Sounds like Richard Burton.

I wrote it a while ago and I was perhaps feeling somewhat dissatisfied with my accent, one that reflects my own Manchester council estate background. Someone once told me that I sounded like Terry Christian, the Manchester DJ and radio personality. I don’t dislike Terry or his voice but I sometimes feel that I’d like to sound a little more cultured. A little more refined.

So who would I like to sound like? Richard Burton? Well, I have always loved the richness of Burton’s voice, his perfect pronunciation and his rounded baritone vowels.

He was the son of a Welsh miner and his voice represented not only a natural talent for public speaking but many years of hard work and vocal training. Despite the title of my poem and my admiration of Burton’s voice, Richard Burton is not quite what I am looking for. So who has that particular Englishness that I want?

David Niven as Phileas Fogg.

I’ve always admired the character of Phileas Fogg as portrayed by David Niven in that wonderful movie Around the World in 80 days. I like the way he speaks, his easy and relaxed effortless eloquence, his perfect pronunciation and his knowledge of words. His very Britishness, his upper class Englishness is perhaps what I envy.

Fogg is something of an eccentric which surely must be part of the essential Englishman’s make up. His morning toast must be exactly 83 degrees Fahrenheit and his afternoon tea has to be served punctually. At the beginning of the film Fogg arrives at the Reform Club to find someone has read his copy of the Daily Telegraph!

“Kindly remove it and send for a fresh one.” says Fogg.
“At once, sir.” replies the waiter.
“I’m a patient man, Hinshaw, but don’t trespass on my good feelings.”

Robert Donat as Sir Robert Morton.

Another upper class Englishman is Robert Donat’s character in The Winslow Boy, the barrister and Member of Parliament Sir Robert Morton. There is a lovely sequence in the play and the movie where Morton first arrives at the Winslow home. He is received by master Winslow’s elder sister who questions Moreton about his recent cases and lets us know she does not entirely approve of him. Moreton is in a hurry. He is dining and the Winslow family wish to know if he will accept the case.

Morton answers her questions coolly and quietly and them some minutes later, displays all his powers as a barrister by apparently assassinating young Winslow’s claims to innocence.

He exits quickly asking for the relevant papers.

“Will you need those now?” asks someone.

“Of course. The boy is plainly innocent. I accept the brief !” And with that he is gone.

Rex Harrison as Charles Condomine.

Another favourite Englishman is Rex Harrison and I’ve always loved him most in Blithe Spirit, the witty and amusing comedy by Noel Coward. David Lean directed a colour version in 1945 and Rex was just as I’ve described David Niven above, effortlessly urbane and eloquent, as of course was Noel Coward himself.

Leslie Howard as Professor Higgins.

Rex Harrison also portrayed an archetypal Englishman in My Fair Lady, playing the part of professor Higgins in the musical version of George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion. There was an earlier version, a non musical version made in 1938 starring Leslie Howard. Howard is probably most famous for his portrayal of Ashley Wilkes in Gone With the Wind but his version of Higgins was to me, much superior to Harrison’s although I love both.

In Pygmalion, Wendy Hiller plays Eliza Doolittle. Hiller is much more believable as Eliza, no disrespect to Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady, and Howard is a bright, eccentric Higgins. What is interesting from researching the film on the internet is that a controversial (at the time) line was included in the film: Eliza saying ‘Not Bloody Likely!’ This made Wendy Hiller the first person ever to swear in a British film. Dear me, how times change!

George Sanders as Jack Favell.

Sanders was born in Russia to an English father and Russian mother and he and his family left for England in 1917 at the outbreak of the Russian Revolution when George was 11.

He made his British film debut in 1929 and first appeared in a Hollywood film in 1936. After that he was in constant demand with his suave persona and upper class English accent. He is seen at his best as Jack Favell, the ‘favourite cousin’ of the unseen title character Rebecca, in Alfred Hitchcock’s classic movie.

Albert Finney as Arthur Seaton.

Finally, I must come back to what is really me, the essential northern working class man.

Saturday Night and Sunday Morning is set in working class Nottingham. Albert Finney stars as Arthur Seaton, a rebellious factory worker who works hard in the factory by day, but at the weekend he spends his money in the pubs and clubs of the town.

He is involved with a married woman but starts to lose interest when he meets a single girl called Doreen and begins a relationship with her.

My favourite line from the book and the movie is this: “I’m not barmy, I’m a fighting pit prop that wants a pint of beer, that’s me. But if any knowing bastard says that’s me I’ll tell them I’m a dynamite dealer waiting to blow the factory to kingdom come. I’m me and nobody else. Whatever people say I am, that’s what I’m not because they don’t know a bloody thing about me!”

I sometimes wonder if the essential Englishman portrayed by Niven, Donat, Harrison and Howard still exists in the 21st century. I’m sure it does somewhere, in the posh parts of London and the home counties. People who travel first class everywhere and dress for dinner. Members of Prince Charles’ set perhaps?

As for me, I’m not sure I can really aspire to be like David Niven and Phileas Fogg. Still, next time I go down to the Ego restaurant in Lytham I might dress up in my best suit and tie, pop a pocket watch and chain in my waistcoat and just . . pretend.

If you liked this post then when not try my book Floating in Space? Click the links at the top of the page or here to go to my amazon page.

More about James Bond 007, and Me.

I spoke briefly about James Bond in a previous blog and thought I might write a little more about the UK’s most famous secret agent.

I started reading the Bond books when I was a schoolboy and unfortunately the very first one I read was the only one they had in our local library: ‘The Man With The Golden Gun’, one of writer Ian Fleming’s worst Bond books. Fleming used to write his initial drafts of the novels and then write a second one, adding in all the details which make the Bond books so interesting. Things like details of Bond’s clothes, (the Sea Island cotton shirts) his food, (Bond always had scrambled eggs for breakfast) his cars, his cigarettes (the special handmade ones with the triple gold band) and all that sort of stuff. ‘The Man with the Golden Gun’ was published after Fleming had died and sadly he had not revised his original draft. I persevered though, did some research, found the proper order of the books and began to read ‘Casino Royale’, the first in the series. I have loved the books, and the films ever since.

004I didn’t see the Bond films until 1969 when I saw probably my favourite Bond film ever, ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’, at the cinema. It was everything I had imagined it would be and what I liked about George Lazenby, who played 007 in the film, was that he looked pretty much as I had imagined Bond. He had the authentic ‘comma of black hair’ as Fleming had always described Bond having and not only that, Diana Rigg was probably my favourite Bond girl too.

The Bond films were not then a staple of UK TV but there was always a Bond documentary, usually on TV at Christmas time which built up, as it was supposed to do, the public interest in Bond. It certainly built up mine. There was one documentary I remember which showed the viewer how Ian Fleming suffered with back pain and was sent to recuperate at a rest home where they put him on a back stretching machine which he later incorporated into ‘Thunderball’. Aha, I thought, this is how writers think!

Sean Connery was the first movie Bond and he did a great job in setting out the 007 ‘stall.’ The Bond movies are as much about Bond’s colleagues as they are about Bond and in the original films we had some great supporting actors, Miss Moneypenny, played by Lois Maxwell, ‘M’ played by Bernard Lee, and the long serving ‘Q’, played by Desmond Llewellyn. CIA man Felix Leiter was always played by a different actor in each of the movies, which never ceases to surprise me. A good Leiter would have been a pretty good idea for US cinema goers, surely.

George Lazenby was selected to play Bond when Connery tired of the role. However, he was new to the industry and advisers told him that the Bond movies were on the way out. Friction occurred with his movie bosses when he grew his hair long and sported a beard and eventually Lazenby was sacked. Connery returned to the Bond role in ‘Diamonds are Forever’. With Lazenby that would have been such a good movie but Connery played a tired and lacklustre Bond and after the serious and fast moving ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’, ‘Diamonds’ perhaps appears a little tame. Worse was to follow however when Roger Moore was selected to play Bond. Moore plays Bond as a sort of smooth talking fashion icon and some dreadful Bond films were produced in the 1980s.

Timothy Dalton took over for two movies, ‘The Living Daylights’ and ‘License To Kill,’ and after that the film franchise was in limbo until it re started with ‘Goldeneye,’ which after OHMSS is my favourite Bond movie. Brosnan doesn’t overdo the comedy unlike Connery and Moore. He seems like a pretty tough customer yet looks good in a finely tailored suit and, like Sean Connery, he has a wonderful troupe of supporting actors to help him. Judi Dench plays a female ‘M,’ Samantha Bond plays the faithful Miss Moneypenny, and Desmond Lewellyn once again plays ‘Q.’

I was sorry to see Peirce Brosnan go because I can’t really say I’m keen on the latest Bond films although I have seen them all at the cinema except for the latest offering. The aim of the producers was to re-introduce Bond to 21st century moviegoers and to show Bond as the hard man he must really be. My feeling is that they have succeeded too well and the films have a hard edge that I don’t really care for. Let’s have another villain like Goldfinger or Doctor No. Not trying to take over the world perhaps but with a really clever criminal scheme for Bond to sort out. And give me some good espionage gadgets, please! Yes, I’m sorry to say that Daniel Craig isn’t my idea of James Bond. Fleming himself reckoned that Hoagy Carmichael was how he imagined Bond and he wanted David Niven to play the part, which he did although it was in the spoof version of Casino Royale back in 1967. And it’s my considered opinon that Bond was based on one man, yes, none other than Commander Ian Fleming of Naval Intelligence in World war II.

Anyway, it was nice to see that in ‘Skyfall’, a good set of supporting actors was established and instead of one actor departing and being replaced, the introduction of the new ‘M’ was handled well and an interesting element was the story giving some background to the Moneypenny character.

Spectre is the latest Bond movie. It was released in 2016 and although I always try to see the new Bond at the cinema, I somehow managed to miss this one. I have not seen it until now as I recently managed to pick up a cheap second hand DVD version for a few pounds. It’s a very well made glossy movie although it is a little lacking in the story department. Yes, the fights scenes are great, as are the car chases although in recent years the Bond films have stepped away from reality slightly. In one scene Bond and a young lady are having dinner on a train. A Spectre assassin comes to assault Bond and a frantic fight scene ensues in which a great deal of the dining car is destroyed. Bond eventually gets the upper hand but the next morning, Bond and his companion are dropped off at the station as if nothing has happened.

One good thing was the return of Ernst Stavro Bolfeld who comes complete with a backstory linking him to Bond’s earlier life. I suspect somehow that Blofeld will return in another Bond but will Daniel Craig?

One annoying thing about Spectre was I felt that the scriptwriters had somehow confused Bond with the character Jack Bauer from the TV show 24. As you will know, if you’ve ever watched the TV show, Bauer is a sort of maverick agent who disregards any instruction or advice from his superiors, even the President, his commander in chief. He always goes off at a tangent and is a complete loose cannon. That is exactly how Bond starts out at the beginning of this film, he is at odds with ‘M’ the head of the secret service but, just like Jack Bauer, he disappears going completely his own way and later he gets colleagues within the service, like Miss Moneypenny and Q, to follow him just as Chloe O’Brian was an insider for Jack.

Hello, Bond scriptwriter! Just remember who you are writing about, it’s Bond, former English naval officer turned secret agent and not Jack Bauer!

Final result: Enjoyable, good in parts but the next Bond would benefit from a more tangible back story.


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TV News, Mystery Diners and Steve McQueen’s Car!

The Election.

The other day I watched the debate with Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn on channel 4 and one of the most shocking things was the outrageously rude interview technique of Jeremy Paxman. In fact, this wasn’t an interview but more of an interrogation. He harped on at Jeremy because of various things not in the labour manifesto yet are known to be things that he favours, like getting rid of the monarchy for instance. Mr Corbyn’s perfectly reasonable answer was that the manifesto was a document arrived at by democratic means and not he himself trying to dictate his ideas to the Labour Party but nevertheless, Mr Paxman continued to harp rudely on about it.

Mrs May also suffered because she was in the Leave camp prior to the EU Referendum and has ended up leading the country into Brexit. The Prime Minister went on to explain that Brexit was the result of the referendum so clearly she must follow the will of the people. Having said that, Brexiteer Boris Johnson would probably be the Prime Minister now had he not been stabbed in the back by the traitorous Michael Gove.

Mr Paxman’s attitude was nothing short of downright rude and reminded me of a conversation I had in a pub years ago when some drunken hooligan accosted me and demanded to know which team I supported? Jeremy Paxman, you have just gone right down in my estimation!

The Ford Cougar.

I mentioned last week that my lovely convertible had been damaged by a council van reversing into it. The council accepted blame and my car was promptly whisked away for repairs. In the meantime they offered me a hire car which I initially declined but then had to later accept because of the slow pace of my car repairs. I received a call from the hire company telling me the insurance company had asked them to provide me with a car and when did I want it dropping off?

Well, nice service I thought. We sorted out the details and then I asked what sort of a car would it be?

‘A Cougar,’ they replied.

‘A Cougar?’

‘Yes a Ford Cougar.’


Now, I don’t know about you but I was under the mistaken impression that the car Steve McQueen drove in the movie Bullitt was a ford Cougar so for a few moments I had visions of myself bumping up and down the hilly streets of San Francisco, perhaps even cavorting with Jaqueline Bisset but no, things didn’t turn out that way. McQueen drove a Ford Mustang in Bullitt, a hunky looking car with a superb throaty roar. I do love those 60s/70s American motors!

Anyway, my car duly arrived and it was not a Cougar but a Kuga, one of the latest Ford models fitted with so many gadgets it made my rather lovely 2006 Renault look a little dated.

It was rather comfy and nice to drive and as I began the long journey to work I felt the faint idea for a blog post coming on. I worked it over in my mind a few times then thought it was time to jot it down somewhere. Not so easy when you’re driving but luckily I had my hand-held tape recorder. I reached over into the door shelf but couldn’t feel anything then I remembered. This was my hire car. The tape recorder was in my own car!

The News.

When you want to know what is going on in the world you probably do what I do: change to the news channel of your choice. I usually go to BBC news. I’ve always thought BBC news was pretty impartial and generally I think it is but when you did a little deeper I’m not so sure. Fracking for instance gets very little coverage. In Lancashire the County Council voted against having fracking in the county but then the Government overruled them, deciding it was OK. Numerous protests are going on in Lancashire against fracking which the evidence shows is not good for the environment but the BBC seems to have largely ignored that issue. Still, it’s the news media themselves that decide what is important and if you want to find out more about things outside of mainstream news, then we are lucky to have the internet as a secondary resource.

On a less serious note, I have a theory about news channels. Unless some really serious news breaks during the day the whole news programme for the day is decided pretty early on. For instance, if the news bosses decide that an upcoming speech by the Prime Minister is going to be pretty important, then early newscasts will make a point of mentioning the planned speech due at, for instance, eleven o’clock. At eleven o’clock the planned speech will be usually shown live and all subsequent news casts will highlight the speech.

One thing that I think happens is that at say eight AM, the news people will re-show the seven AM newscast, recorded earlier, while everyone heads off to the BBC canteen for breakfast. I can sort of imagine that in the canteen the top news readers and bosses will perhaps get waiter service at special tables while the others, the cameramen and sound guys will have to get a tray and queue up. After breakfast they will all have to be back at nine ready to take over from the video that we all think is live but really isn’t.

Mystery diners.

Maybe you’ve seen Mystery Diners on the Food Network channel on late night TV. I sometimes pop it on when I come in from a night shift and I get the impression that on American TV there are numerous advertising breaks. There must be unless Americans have a really low attention span because every few minutes the presenter will review the whole show. In case you haven’t seen it Charles Stiles, the owner of a company called Mystery Diners will, at your request, visit your restaurant to sort out your problems. He doesn’t do it like the foul-mouthed Gordon Ramsey, by shouting and swearing and insulting everyone (is he a relation of Jeremy Paxman at all?) but by installing hidden cameras in the restaurant and sending in undercover diners and fake new staff members to find out the root of the problem.

After five minutes he will give us the first review: Joe Smith has invited us into his Chicago diner to find out why takings have suddenly slumped . . OK, then we will be shown a few furtive shots of the suspect staff member, some secret camera shots from the kitchen and then Charles will click on to his radio and ask his undercover diner to go in and order the New York Deli Burger with the secret ingredient tomato sauce. Cue Charles to give us another review: Joe Smith has invited us into his Chicago diner to find out why takings have suddenly slumped  . . The mystery diner asks the waiter for the specials then mentions something that was seen on a hidden camera, a kebab that was not on the menu but was enhanced with the secret ingredient tomato sauce!

‘Could I have one of those?’ asks the diner. ‘Yes,’ says the waiter but the kebab is off menu and cash only.  The waiter furtively speaks with the chef and hey presto, the new kebab is served. Time for an update from Charles: Joe Smith has invited us into his Chicago diner to find out why takings have suddenly slumped !

Eventually the cash only kebab dealers are invited into the Mystery Diners’ control room and confronted with the video evidence. They are sacked and the restaurant is saved! The programme lasts less than 30 minutes on UK TV but I can imagine that in America it goes on for at least an hour. Chop out all the rehashing and you are probably left with about fifteen minutes!

Still, back in the UK I noticed a similar thing on shows like A Place in the Sun: Joe and Jennifer Smith are looking for a holiday home in sunny Spain. After a couple of possible homes the presenter reminds us that Joe and Jennifer Smith are looking for a holiday home in sunny Spain! Did she think we weren’t paying attention? Or was it that we were likely to forget this gripping scenario in the last 10 minutes? Who knows? Come to think of it, I did wonder what the Smiths were doing in Spain! Maybe they were looking for a holiday home!

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Burton, Taylor, and the Nature of Love.

I’m always recording films and TV shows to watch and the other day I scanned through my hard drive to find that some time ago I had recorded a movie called Burton and Taylor. It’s a made for TV movie, first shown on BBC Four. I found it on the drama channel and it’s about, as if you hadn’t already guessed, Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor.

Back in 1983 when this film is set, Burton and Taylor were probably the most famous celebrity couple in the world. The only other couple of a similar status that I can think of are Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks, a couple from a completely different era. Let me see who else comes to mind; Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn, Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, Posh and Becks. Hardly in the same class are they?

Back in the 1920’s, nearly a hundred years ago, silent movies travelled the world, unhampered by the constraints of language. Stars like Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks were as famous in Moscow and Tokyo as they were in London and New York .

Fairbanks and Pickford in a postcard from the 1920’s

Mary Pickford was known as America’s Sweetheart in part due to her work during the first World War selling Liberty Bonds. She had a Canadian background but she became a US citizen when she married Fairbanks. Douglas Fairbanks made a series of swashbuckling films like Robin Hood, The Three Musketeers and The Thief of Baghdad. The couple bought an estate on Summit Drive in Hollywood which the press dubbed ‘Pickfair’. The house became the focal point of social life in the movie capital and the Fairbanks’ invited many famous people there. As well as the film stars of the day, HG Wells visited as did F Scott Fitzgerald, Amelia Earhart, Lord Mountbatten, Noel Coward and many others.

Along with Charlie Chaplin and the silent movie director D W Griffith, the couple founded the film company United Artists, but as actors they did not fare well when talking pictures came along and they retired from the screen. In retirement, Fairbanks wanted to enjoy his love of foreign travel but Pickford hated travelling, so on many occasions Douglas travelled alone. On one trip he met an English socialite, Lady Ashley and began an affair that ultimately led to the end of his marriage . Douglas and Mary were eventually divorced in 1936.

Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. Image courtesy Wikipedia Creative Commons.

Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor met on the set of the film Cleopatra in 1961, a movie that went down in history as one of the most expensive ever made. Taylor didn’t want to make the picture so decided to ask for a ridiculous amount of money, confident that 20th Century Fox would never pay it. However, pay it they did and the troubled movie went into production. The Burton/Taylor TV film however focusses on the later years of the pair when they decided to star in a stage revival of Noel Coward’s witty play, Private Lives.

In the film, Taylor is played by Helena Bonham-Carter and Burton by Dominic West. West doesn’t really look much like Burton but captures his voice and persona well. Bonham-Carter as Liz Taylor does look surprisingly like the original and together they make a good reproduction of the famous couple.

The writer seems to believe, and whether it is true or not I don’t claim to know, that Liz Taylor engineered the theatre production of Private Lives as a way of bringing her and Burton back together again. They had already been married and divorced twice and the movie reveals that Liz clearly still had feelings towards Burton. On the first day of rehearsals she is surprised that Burton will not be lunching with her but spending time with his new girlfriend, Sally. Burton in turn is shocked that on the first read through it is clear that Taylor has not previously read the play. Burton of course knows it off by heart. He is the consummate professional actor and Taylor the consummate professional movie star. During the run when Taylor calls in sick, the production is halted rather than carry on with an understudy, as it becomes clear from the public reaction that the audience are not interested in the play without superstar Liz.

Helena Bonham-Carter and Dominic West (image courtesy BBC)

Burton and Taylor were clearly in love but love must have been difficult in the face of their superstar status, just as it was for Fairbanks and Pickford. I can imagine Burton’s upbringing in a mining community and Taylor, having been a star since childhood, were not personalities that could bend much for the other.

The film is interesting, enjoyable and gives the viewer a fascinating peek into the private lives of these two superstars of the past.

In one sequence where the pair sit down and reminisce together, Burton considers the nature of love and ponders about love’s important ingredients: Is it passion? Is it sex? I’m not even sure of the answers myself. Both sex and passion are important but so are respect, humour and understanding.

William Shakespeare was a man who knew a thing or two about love and one of his most famous sonnets, Sonnet 116 provides a quintessential definition of love. Love, according to this sonnet, does not change or fade; it has no flaws and even outlasts death.

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come:
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

My favourite though, has to be this one;

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date:
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimmed,
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance, or nature’s changing course untrimmed:
But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st,
Nor shall death brag thou wander’st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou grow’st,
So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

I particularly like the two last lines. They tell us how the subject lives again in every reading of the sonnet which is a very wonderful thing that applies not only to this but to all other literary evocations of the past. Was the subject of this sonnet a real person or was it just an ode to wonderful women in general? It was a real woman, I suspect, although I am no Shakespeare expert but whoever she was, she lives again in this work, just as the author wished.

When I began writing this post about love, I was inspired by a distant memory, a quote, a distant few lines that seemed just out of reach in the back of my mind. When I finally brought those words into focus and tracked them down, I realised I must have read them in the Bond novel Goldfinger.

Some love is fire, some love is rust. But the finest, cleanest love is lust.” Wikipedia claims that when Ian Fleming used that line he was quoting from ‘The Wild Party’, a book length poem by Joseph Moncare March. Fleming changed the quote slightly in Goldfinger but I liked it so much myself, it inspired my own poem, Some Love.

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Adventures with a Hard Drive TV Recorder

You may have read in a previous post about the numerous advantages, especially to a couch potato like me, of a hard drive TV recorder. Sometimes, I record things and completely forget about them until the day comes when I am free to sit down with a large cup of tea (mandatory for serious TV watching) a cheese sandwich, a chocolate digestive biscuit and see what television delights await me. Here are some recent highlights!

Rising Damp Forever

I do love a good documentary, especially ones about the making of a movie or TV programme. This last week I’ve watched a two-part programme about the TV sitcom Rising Damp. The documentary followed the story of how a play by Eric Chappell was seen by TV producers who then urged Chappell to make it into a TV series. The result was a sitcom that ran for four seasons and was one of the funniest things on TV in the late seventies. Leonard Rossiter’s performance as landlord Rigsby is nothing short of brilliant; a wonderful comic creation. Frances De La Tour played the spinsterish Miss Jones and the late Richard Beckinsale was a virginal long-haired student who shared a room with an African chieftain’s son played by Don Warrington.

A preview of the show billed the programme as a reunion of the cast members, however, if you know anything about Rising Damp, you will know that of its quartet of stars, Leonard Rossiter and Richard Beckinsale are no longer with us. Frances De La Tour is still alive as far as I know but did not appear in the documentary leaving Don Warrington to mostly chat with himself. The reunion appeared to involve Don, former directors, the former floor manager, a production assistant and the writer, Eric Chappell.

To be fair, the documentary was pretty interesting because I love anything like this, the back room story to a successful film or TV show, especially when we get to see the writer talking about his creation. Also appearing were some former guest stars, as well as Christopher Strauli who played the Richard Beckinsale part in the film version. When he first met Leonard Rossiter, the undoubted star of the show, Rossiter told him ‘We know this works as a TV show so if the film is a failure it’ll be your fault!’ No pressure then!

Among other things the programme revealed that De La Tour and Rossiter were poles apart in real life and did not get on well. Richard Beckinsale had just finished filming Porridge and had short hair so was forced to wear a long wig and the writer, Eric Chappell, based the show on a newspaper article about a bedsit tenant who pretended to be the son of an African chief in real life!

Beckinsale left the cast because he felt he was not being taken seriously as an actor and wanted to pursue more dramatic roles. Sadly, he died of an undiagnosed heart condition not long afterwards when he was only 31. Leonard Rossiter went on to star in the equally wonderful the Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin but died during a stage performance of Joe Orton’s black comedy Loot.

Yes, remind me to dig out my box set of Rising Damp for my next rainy afternoon off.

The Secret life of Bob Monkhouse.

I have seen this documentary before and last week’s showing on BBC Four was a repeat but a very welcome one. Bob Monkhouse was a comedian who seemed to collect everything and the full extent of his collecting compulsion was only revealed after his death in 2003. He kept all his old scripts, all his old notes, even for things like The Golden Shot. He would make up small cards about the contestants with notes about their backgrounds. Then he would go through his joke notebooks which were indexed for subject and if the contestant was for instance a plumber, he would go down the list, look up plumber jokes and use it during the broadcast.

The other thing about Monkhouse was that he was a serial TV recorder. He bought one of the very first home video recorders when the cost was similar to that of a family car, and he set about recording anything and everything. During the 1980’s he apparently had six video recorders in his home and many of his recordings are the only remaining recordings of various TV shows. He had recorded episodes of the Golden Shot thought to be missing and also the only known recording of Lenny Henry’s TV debut. All in all, Monkhouse amassed 50,000 video tapes and numerous other film and audio recordings, all of which were kept in a temperature controlled unit he had built in his garden which he called the ‘Boardroom’.

Despite a career as a TV star, Monkhouse had a hard life. He was married three times, had a disabled son and another who died from a drugs overdose. He worked hard on the TV show The Golden Shot and was then fired for supposedly plugging a brand name on the show. When Norman Vaughn and later Charlie Williams seemed to struggle with the pressure of the live broadcast, Monkhouse was asked to return and he hosted the Golden Shot until the end of its TV run before moving on to Celebrity Squares.

After his death Bob’s daughter donated his huge video and film collection to Kaleidoscope, a television archive company, dedicated to finding and rescuing ‘lost’ TV shows which were routinely wiped or not recorded at all prior to the 1980’s. Pity Bob wasn’t a Doctor Who fan!

The Magic Box

This is one of those movies rarely, if ever, seen on terrestrial TV. Made in 1951 for the Festival of Britain it starred the Manchester born actor Robert Donat with a whole host of stars playing minor and supporting roles. The technicolor photography by cinematographer Jack Cardiff is excellent and the story of British cinema pioneer William Friese-Green is told in flashback by director John Boulting.

Friese-Green thought his troubles were over when he finally produced a working movie camera but his obsession with the project led to a serious neglect of his photography business which collapsed into debt and bankruptcy. When he died he had only the price of a cinema ticket in his pocket. The Magic Box is something of a sad film but well made and a feast for classic movie fans. Even the portraits on the walls of Friese-Green’s studio were of famous British film stars.

The Persuaders.

Roger Moore and Tony Curtis star in this seventies action and adventure series.  Tony Curtis plays  New York entrepreneur Danny Wilde who teams up with Roger Moore as Lord Brett Sinclair to fight crime. Moore is perfect in the part. Pity he was so poor as James Bond! 

In my favourite episode, Danny and Lord Brett go camping and we see Danny getting up the next morning, emerging from his small one man tent. Lord Sinclair’s tent however, just across the way, is a massive tent worthy of an Arab prince. Danny wanders in to find Lord Brett in a huge fully fitted kitchen. He turns to Danny and remarks, ‘I’ve really enjoyed roughing it for once, Daniel!’

The Invaders.

I still have plenty of episodes saved on my hard drive, ready for viewing, of the 1960’s sci-fi series, the Invaders! Roy Thinnes plays architect David Vincent who becomes aware of an imminent alien invasion. As the narrator said in the opening titles:

The Invaders, alien beings from a dying planet. Their destination: the Earth. Their purpose: to make it their world. David Vincent has seen them. For him, it began one lost night on a lonely country road, looking for a shortcut that he never found. It began with a closed deserted diner, and a man too long without sleep to continue his journey. It began with the landing of a craft from another galaxy. Now David Vincent knows that the Invaders are here, that they have taken human form. Somehow he must convince a disbelieving world that the nightmare has already begun!

The Man From Uncle

Time to open channel D because over on the True Entertainment channel, free view 61, they are showing my school boy 1960’s favourite The Man from Uncle. Yes, Robert Vaughn and David McCallum are back in action fighting the agents of the criminal organisation, Thrush. The last episode I caught was called Discotheque and involved a disco, quite unlike any I have ever visited – everyone wore a shirt and tie and there were mini skirted dancing girls in cages. Secret Agent Napoleon Solo’s oxy-acetylene torch-cum cigarette lighter put James Bond’s gadgets to shame and the lady strapped to a moving channel heading towards a cylindrical saw, provided a great finale. Eventually, super smooth agent Solo, helped ably by colleague Illya Kuryakin, foiled a plot to spy on head of Uncle, Mr Waverley, or was it to obtain secret Thrush files? I forget now but I loved it all anyway.

Love those opening titles with that fabulous theme by Jerry Goldsmith!

Press that pause button, time for another cuppa!

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Pinterest, the Lion, and a Visit to the Cinema

Pinterest is one of those social media sites that are a little different from other ones. You don’t shout out about what you are doing, you don’t tell people which bar or restaurant you are in or post pictures of your friends being silly. No, you post pictures of things you are interested in onto your various ‘boards’.

My Pinterest page has various boards mostly about subjects similar to those of my posts on this blog. I’ve got movie boards, TV boards, music boards and so on. My favourite board is probably my Cult TV board which has pictures, sorry pins, from TV shows like The Time Tunnel, Doctor Who, Department S and The Avengers. (Not the superhero Avengers but the John Steed and Mrs Peel version!) Bowler hatted John Steed and his partner Mrs Emma Peel were sixties icons who battled quirky criminals in the offbeat 60’s espionage series. Mrs Peel sported a nice line in leather figure hugging cat suits and dealt karate kicks and chops to the numerous villains that came her way.

What I’ve noticed lately though on Pinterest is things getting a little political. I saw a picture the other day and it was a picture of a woman in America holding a placard which said ‘Donald Trump is not my President.’ The best thing though was the comment underneath which said ‘I have a poster too which says Hilary Clinton is not my President and I know who would be right!’’ That’s democracy for you. Sometimes those you vote for get elected, sometimes they don’t. That doesn’t make the winner any the less legitimate.

Another pin I saw the other day was one of a series of pins about the Rothschild family and how they are mega rich and actually rule the world via their multi-billion dollar banking empire. I’m not sure how true that is but what is strange is that in the past, American millionaires like Randolph Hearst, Howard Hughes and Joe Kennedy all paid money into the campaign of their preferred candidate and in return the candidate, if he got elected felt bound to return the favour. The new President might pass a bill easing the tax burden for his oil millionaire supporters for instance or in the case of Joe Kennedy, a grateful Franklin D Roosevelt made Kennedy Ambassador to the UK. This time round in 2017, rather than favour a particular candidate, one of the millionaires has run for office himself –and got elected!

This week I went to the cinema for the first time in ages. The last film I saw at the pictures was probably the last Bond film. Actually no, it was the Bond film before that -Skyfall! This time Liz and I went to see the movie Lion. Have you heard of it? Well if you haven’t that doesn’t surprise me as I had never heard of it either as it’s not exactly the most hyped film. In fact even if you do a search on the web the word ‘Lion’ brings up all sorts of things and not necessarily this movie.

Anyway, back to our local picture house in St Annes. It is a pretty small one. The screens are more like a sort of big TV lounge than a cinema. When we visit there we always like to sit right at the front. You can stretch your legs out, relax and enjoy an unhindered view of the big screen.

I was looking forward to the usual Pearl and Dean advertisements and that little jingle that always accompanies their advertising sequence. It’s one of those jingles you remember from your childhood and lets you connect long ago cinema visits to your present one. Sadly it never came. There was a preview though; it was a trailer to the upcoming Lego Batman film. Yes, that’s right, the Lego Batman film. An animated movie made using . . Lego. I’ve heard of product placement but this is taking things to a new level!

Anyway, back to the main event, Lion. Liz had heard about the film from friends and had been warned to bring plenty of tissues. Straight away that had set off a warning bell for me. I knew this wasn’t going to be the film for me. Wrong! Lion was one of the best movies I have ever seen! Well shot and acted, the film tells a moving and original story about a young Indian lad and his brother who go out collecting coal to sell and bring some extra food back to their poor family. One night they go into the local railway station where the older of the two brothers looks for work. Seru, the younger boy is tired and falls asleep on the platform. Later he wanders onto an empty train and when he awakes later the train is carrying him to some distant place far away from his family.

I won’t say any more about what happens but if you have an ounce of feeling in your body believe me you will shed a tear or two at the end of this movie.

Make sure you look out for this wonderful film.


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Tipping Point, The Chase, and Donald Trump!

Donald Trump. Picture courtesy Wikipedia

Donald Trump. Picture courtesy Wikipedia

Just over a week ago, I settled down on a Friday afternoon in front of the TV, ready for my usual afternoon dose of Tipping Point and the Chase, only to find normal programmes had been suspended in favour of the Presidential Inauguration. When I say Presidential, I’m of course referring to President Trump of the USA so it was surprising to find the event televised live in the UK on BBC1, ITV and all the usual news stations. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the French or German elections given this much coverage, or any other foreign election or inauguration for that matter. If you have followed the election on TV you might be forgiven for thinking this had been a two-way fight between Republican Trump and Democrat Hilary Clinton. Absolutely not, in fact there were a huge number of presidential hopefuls as you can see by clicking here. Not one of them was involved in the televised presidential debates because the media, well certainly the British media, only seemed to focus on the Democrat and Republican contenders. Unless a third candidate could somehow muscle himself in onto the TV debates or somehow get some national coverage then he or she would have no chance of competing with the top two.

Anyway, Donald Trump was declared the victor in the election and duly became the Chief Executive and Commander in Chief of the United States on January 20th and all seemed to go fairly smoothly. The chap who introduced the proceedings -I’m afraid I can’t remember his name- commented on the inaugural speech of President Ronald Reagan which I quote here:
“To a few of us here today this is a solemn and most momentous occasion, and yet in the history of our nation it is a commonplace occurrence. The orderly transfer of authority as called for in the Constitution routinely takes place, as it has for almost two centuries, and few of us stop to think how unique we really are. In the eyes of many in the world, this every 4-year ceremony we accept as normal is nothing less than a miracle.”

Reagan touched on the whole essence of democracy in that speech which is essentially this, that of the leader of a nation voluntarily handing over power to the new leader, the victor of the election process. In the news the same day was a story about The Gambia’s long-term leader Yahya Jammeh who has, until now, refused to accept that Adama Barrow had defeated him in the election last December. It seems he has finally decided to hand over power as threats from other West African nations have forced him to concede defeat. It would have been interesting if Barack Obama had said, ‘sorry, no, I’m not stepping down, I’m not ready yet!’ The last President who had to be forced from office was Richard Nixon who finally accepted that the Watergate scandal had destroyed his presidency in 1973 and resigned, handing over to Vice-president Gerald Ford.

In Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe has hung onto power since 1980 despite an abysmal record of leadership in the country. In the 2013 elections he was again victorious although Pedzisai Ruhanya, from the Zimbabwe Democracy Institute, a Harare-based think tank, had this to say; “When Mugabe used violence in 2008, he lost legitimacy, so he had to find other ways to win. What we have seen is a masterclass in electoral fraud. It is chicanery, organised theft and electoral authoritarianism.” Mugabe is now well into his nineties but can a dictator ever relinquish his power? I doubt it. Stalin continued as leader of the Soviet Union until his death in 1953 at the age of 73. When he did not arise from his bedroom one morning at his dacha in Kuntsevo, just outside Moscow, his guards were too nervous to enquire if he was alright. When they finally entered the room they found he had collapsed and assumed he was suffering from a bout of heavy drinking the previous night. The guards made him comfortable on a couch and then withdrew. When he was found unable to speak the following day, only then were the doctors summoned. Seen in that light, the events in the USA are, as Ronald Reagan said, nothing less than a miracle.

A US president can only serve two terms as the US senate, perhaps resentful of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s three terms in office, voted to limit a president to only two four-year terms. Eight years, not much time to change the world, is it?

The USA however seems a much more democratic place than the UK. Our current leader, Theresa May has taken over as Prime Minister without a single vote made by us, the citizens of the UK. Granted, Conservative MP’s have had their say but members of the Conservative party have not been consulted, nor has the country in general. The next general election in the United Kingdom is scheduled to be held on Thursday 7 May 2020, in line with the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011; it may be held at an earlier date in the event of a vote of no confidence or other exceptional circumstances. How Theresa May will fare with the people then, is anybody’s guess but then who would have thought Donald Trump would have been elected president?

Oh and one more thing. I had to wait until Monday for another edition of Tipping Point and The Chase. I was not happy!

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