The Almost But Didn’t Quite Make it Stars

This is a post about actors who came close to the role of a lifetime but for whatever reason, they didn’t quite get there. The film and TV business can be a fickle one as you can see . . .

The Avengers and Elizabeth Sheperd.

The Avengers began as a TV show in 1961 starring Ian Hendry as a doctor who sets out to investigate the death of his fiancée. He is helped by a mysterious stranger called John Steed played by Patrick MacNee and together they set out to solve the crime. As the series progressed the character of Steed became more important and when Hendry left the show to pursue his film career Steed became the main character.

His new assistant was Cathy Gale played by Honor Blackman; she played a female character unlike anything seen before on British TV. She was a judo expert with a passion for leather clothes. Her many athletic judo driven fight scenes made her a huge star in the UK and Steed progressed into a typical English gentleman wearing Pierre Cardin suits with a bowler hat and umbrella.

Elizabeth Sheperd as Mrs Peel.

In 1965 the series moved over from video tape onto 35mm film and with an increased budget the producers decided to try the series in the US market for which videotape was wholly unsuitable, in fact, as was the custom at the time, many TV programmes shot on video were ‘wiped’ and the tapes re-used.

Honor Blackman left to star in the Bond film Goldfinger and so the search was on for a new female assistant for Steed. After over 40 auditions, the producers chose their new ‘Emma Peel’, it was actress Elizabeth Sheperd. Shepard shot the pilot film episode and part of the next one, but the producers decided to drop her feeling she was not right for the role. With a two-million-dollar deal with the US network ABC hanging in the balance, the producers began searching for a new Emma Peel and chose unknown actress Diana Rigg.

Diana Rigg was perfect for the new crime fighter/agent Mrs Peel and wowed TV audiences with her intelligence, her judo and karate skills, her avant-garde fashion sense and her witty banter with Steed.

Diana Rigg became famous as Mrs Peel and played the part until 1967 when she left the series to become a Bond girl in ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’.

Elizabeth Sheperd appeared on Broadway in 1970 and made many appearances in TV and film but never quite achieved the fame she might have done had she made a success in the Avengers.

Voyager and Captain Janeway.

Star Trek Voyager was the fifth series in the star Trek franchise, following on from the original series, the cartoon series, Star Trek the Next Generation and Star Trek Deep Space 9. The producers decided on a female captain, Captain Janeway and French-Canadian actress Genevieve Bujold was chosen to play the part.

“I am very excited about starring in the new series” Bujold told the National Enquirer in 1994.

“But I must admit that I’ve never been a Trekkie. In fact, although I had heard of Star Trek, I had never seen any of the shows of films before now.”

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a science fiction movie at all. But because of that I believe I’ll be able to bring a freshness to this role. I’m studying Star Trek episodes the producers sent me, so I can see how William Shatner and Patrick Stewart handled the role of captain, I want to do it right.”

“This role is a challenge, but it feels right. I am going where no woman has gone before.”

“I am 52 — a perfect age for the captain.” she declared

“52 can bring the authority with it, yet you’re still young enough to do everything that has to be done — and old enough to be wise.”

Genevieve started work on the pilot episode of Voyager, the Caretaker, then quit after a day and a half of filming. It seems that the actress was not up to the rigours of the day to day filming of a major TV series and producer Rick Berman said in 1994 that “it was immediately obvious that she was not a good fit!”

Kate Mulgrew had auditioned twice for the role, once in person and once by sending the producers a video tape. It was she the producers turned to when Bujold exited the production.

Kate played Captain Janeway throughout the run of Voyager from 1995 to 2001 and remains a firm favourite of Star Trek fans everywhere.

Indiana Jones and Tom Selleck.

The first film in the Indiana Jones series was Raiders of the Lost Ark, released in 1981. The idea for the film came from executive producer George Lucas who wanted to recreate the film serials of the 1930’s. Lucas’ friend Steven Spielberg was enlisted as director and the film was finally set for production after a deal with Universal Studios was arranged.

Spielberg wanted Harrison Ford to play Indiana Jones, but Lucas resisted the idea and wanting an unknown actor to play the role; the two auditioned many actors. Finally, they chose Tom Selleck to play the part. Selleck however had just made the pilot for the TV series Magnum PI and Universal Studios decided to pick up Selleck’s option and go ahead with the series. As filming conflicted with the shooting for Raiders, Universal declined to release Selleck for the project. George Lucas decided to give the role to Ford only 3 weeks before shooting commenced and the rest is history.

Later filming of Magnum was delayed due to strike action, so it turned out Tom could have played the part after all. The Indiana Jones role could have changed his life but even so, Selleck has had a good career in films and TV, his most famous role probably being in the movie Three men and a Baby.

Back to the Future and Eric Stoltz.

Back to the Future is a 1985 sci-fi film written and directed by Robert Zemeckis. Zemeckis co-wrote the film with Bob Gale but various film companies rejected the film until Steven Spielberg decided to produce through his Amblin Entertainment company. Zemeckis’ first choice to play Marty McFly, the time travelling youngster was Michael J Fox, but Fox was committed to a TV show called Family Ties and the show’s producers declined to release Fox. That led to Eric Stoltz being cast as Marty.

Principal photography began in November 1984 but after a few weeks Spielberg and Zemeckis decided that Eric Stoltz was not good enough in the part. They wanted someone who was less dramatic and could give a lighter touch to the part. Also, Stoltz was not good in the skateboarding scenes whereas Fox was a natural and confessed to spending much of his younger days ‘chasing girls and skateboarding.’

Spielberg went back to the producers of Family Ties and worked out a deal where Fox could star in both the film and the TV show but if a filming conflict occurred priority would be given to the TV show.  Filming continued apparently for a few weeks on the scenes at the Twin Pines Mall but only the shots with Christopher Lloyd who played Doc Brown were shot; the reverse shots with Stoltz were not done which caused some consternation with the crew. Later Stoltz’s scenes were done again with Michael J Fox.

Back to the Future and its two sequels were a worldwide hit. Eric Stoltz may have lost out on the part of Marty McFly but to date he is still in demand as an actor on film and TV.

Back to the Future and Crispin Glover.

Crispin Glover’s story is slightly different from those above. He did get the role of a lifetime and played a great part as Marty McFly’s dad, George but he was dropped from the Back to the Future sequels. He is dropped in quite a subtle way, so you don’t quite miss him although George McFly is never seen in centre stage again. Apparently, Glover asked for more money for Back to the Future II and the producers declined to cough up even though Glover was the lowest paid of the principal actors. Glover himself has said that he didn’t return because he felt that the story rewarded the characters with financial gain which was wrong. Either way, he didn’t appear in the sequels and another actor was made up to look like Glover and shot in ways where his features weren’t fully visible, in long shots and wearing sunglasses for instance. Glover sued the producers for using his image without his permission as well as unused footage from the original film and won a substantial settlement. Even so, had he appeared in the sequels he would have been much more well known today than he is.


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

Mars, Martians and Robinson Crusoe

Robinson Crusoe on Mars

Many years ago, and I’m talking over thirty odd years (funny how certain things stick in your mind) I remember coming home after an early shift, making a brew and slumping down on the couch for a bit of a doze. I was idly flipping through the channels and came across Robinson Crusoe on Mars. I didn’t pay much attention at first but gradually I realised this was a pretty good film. Just recently that film came back to me for some reason and I started searching for it on eBay. Then one day, quite recently, I noticed it was showing on Film 4.

I settled down to watch expecting a black and white 1950s film but actually Crusoe was in colour having been made in 1964 and filmed in Technicolor. Paul Mantee plays astronaut Kit Draper who is forced to eject over Mars and drop down to the inhospitable red planet. Fellow astronaut Adam West, star of the 1960s TV show Batman, also ejects but is killed on impact. Kit Draper faces the gruesome prospect of suffocating when his air supply runs out. He finds a cave and starts a fire and is excited to find that the Martian rocks release oxygen when they are heated. Making a rudimentary pump, he is able to top up his air cylinders.

Every day, the stricken main body of the spacecraft hurtles overhead ignoring all Draper’s remote signals to land. Later, in frustration, he presses the destruct button and blows the ship up.

He has a recording unit into which he keeps us, the audience, updated with his thoughts and feelings which of course is pretty handy in a film that is mostly following the actions of one single man. Later on Crusoe finds his Friday, an alien on the run from other aliens whose spacecraft dart through the skies above Mars looking for him.

I won’t tell you how the film ends just in case it comes up on your TV set anytime soon but Robinson Crusoe on Mars is a film well worth watching if you like sci-fi. It’s well made and interesting and even looks at the psychological side of being marooned when Kit starts dreaming about meeting his dead partner. The effects are pretty reasonable too and unlike many films of the period, they show space craft whooshing across the screen just like in Star Wars, not released until 13 years later.

The Martian

Just recently I was mooning about the house suffering from a really upsetting tummy bug so what else was there to do except slump in front of the TV? As I slipped through the channels I came across this movie, The Martian, a 2015 film directed by the renowned Ridley Scott, director of Alien and Gladiator, and starring Matt Damon.

Martian is surprisingly similar to Crusoe in many ways. The crew of a Mars mission is on the surface when a major  dust storm threatens to topple over their space vehicle. The crew decide to abort the mission and take off but one crew member is hit by debris and presumed dead and they leave him behind. Later, Mark Draper played by Damon awakes from unconciousness in the desert and makes his way back to the martian base camp. The bio-data telemetry from his space suit had been damaged and so made mission control assume that he was dead. Now the martian base camp is pretty basic and although it has computer stations and food and water and so on, there is no communication to earth. The next mission is not due for four years so Matt Damon’s character must find a way to survive until then on the camp’s meager supplies.

Draper decides to make part of the camp into an area where he can plant some potatoes and hopefully produce more food.

Just like in Crusoe, Mark Draper keeps us interested in what is happening by recording his thoughts in a video diary. Not only that but back on earth, observatories notice the activity taking place on Mars and realise Draper is still alive.

Still unable to communicate with earth the marooned astronaut decides to dig up an old space probe, drag it back to base, plug it into a power cable and use it for commumication. I won’t ruin everything for you by telling you everything but again, if you like sci-fi and perhaps even if you don’t, this is such a well made  and enjoyable film and well worth watching.

Mars.

Just to finish off this post I thought I’d give you a little info about Mars itself. It is also known as the Red Planet and is the fourth planet from the sun in our solar system. Mars has a thin atmosphere and a surface with valleys, deserts and even polar ice caps although pitted with craters like the moon. In the past many astronomers have commented on the so called martian ‘canals’. In the modern era, these have been revealed as optical illusions made by astronomers using low resolution telescopes. Modern hi-resolution photography and close up shots by unmanned spacecraft show no such features.

Mariner 4 was the first spacecraft to approach Mars making its closest approach in 1965. In 1976 Viking 1 made a soft landing on Mars. The Soviets had done so 5 years earlier but their spacecraft failed soon after touchdown. In 1997 the Mars Pathfinder arrived on Mars and released its robotic rover. Since then other spacecraft have successfully landed on or orbited the planet including one from India in 2014.

Below is a video from the Mars rover Curiosity from 2019. Technology, isn’t it amazing?


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.

Codes, Films, Christmas and John Wayne

There are two particular films that come to mind at Christmas. I’m not talking about films that are typical Christmas films, things like It’s a Wonderful life or Scrooge or even Home Alone but films that tell the true story of Christmas, the story of Jesus himself. The two films I’m thinking of are King of Kings and The Greatest Story ever Told.

King of Kings starred Geoffrey Hunter as Jesus and in the Greatest Story it was Max Von Sydow. Max was in a way an unusual choice to play Jesus, he was pale and blue eyed and had a faint Swedish accent. Even so, he played a good part, so much so that whenever I see another portrayal of Christ, I always mentally compare it to that of Max. As for being pale and blue eyed, I suppose it is inevitable that people everywhere will envisage their religious icons in their own terms.

Geoffrey Hunter you may remember from the Star Trek pilot episode where he played Captain Pike, the original captain of the Enterprise. The producers of Star Trek, not wanting to waste the footage shot in the pilot, remade it into a two part episode where Mr Spock tries to help his former captain and is court marshalled.  In King of Kings Hunter plays a Jesus a little more forceful than that of Max Von Sydow’s but both portrayals are excellent. In King of Kings the director seems to compare the life of Jesus with that of Barrabus the rebel and freedom fighter –or terrorist, depending on your viewpoint. The two lives come together when Pontius Pilate asks the Jerusalem mob who do they wish to be freed. The mob chose Barrabus.

King of Kings was directed by Nick Ray who directed the famous Rebel without a Cause, James Dean’s iconic second film.

The Greatest Story was directed by George Stevens who made such classic films as Shane and James Dean’s last film Giant. Stevens was a director who worked the way I would work if I was a director. He shot a great deal of film then sat back, reviewed everything and put his film together one brushstroke –or film clip-  at a time. He chose Max to star as Jesus as he wanted a performer that was unknown to the general public. He might have been better in choosing unknown actors for the other roles too because the many star appearances seem to stop the viewer in his or her tracks as we spot various top actors and actresses in minor roles.

I do have a personal reason for liking this film. Once, many years ago my school friends and I were taken on a Christmas school trip to watch the film. We walked it as I remember in crocodile fashion from our Junior school Crossacres, down Wiggins hill and into Gatley, a small nearby village that boasted a lovely old cinema. That trip to watch this film did more for me than any teacher or RE lesson had ever done before or since and although I cannot claim to be overtly religious, I am certainly not an atheist and my respect for the person of Jesus has never been greater.

In Dan Brown’s thriller the Da Vinci Code, Brown looks at the ideas presented in The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail about the idea that Jesus was married and that his widow, Mary Magdalene went to France where her child began a bloodline that exits to this day. The Holy Grail apparently was not a goblet that caught drops of blood from Jesus but an actual bloodline, a dynasty of Meringovian Kings that can be traced back to Jesus himself.

In the Da Vinci Code, Brown reveals these things as something that could tear the Christian church apart, why, I don’t know. To me, the idea that Jesus married and had children means he is more human and more understanding of the human condition than I have previously thought, so this news, if indeed it is actual news, does not distress me, to me it is joyous news.

While on the subject of the Da Vinci Code, I read it some time ago and although the book has many detractors, I personally found it a gripping read, one that I found hard to put down. Its effect though is perhaps like one of those very bright and loud fireworks that capture the attention for a short while and then fizzle out. In a St Annes charity shop not long ago where I go to peruse the second hand books and DVDs, they had a sign up next to an entire row of Da Vinci Codes. No more Da Vinci Code please: We’ve got plenty!

At the Regent Cinema in Blackpool they recently had a showing of that Christmas classic It’s a Wonderful Life. Sadly I was working that day but I hope to catch up with the film soon as they are bound to show it again on TV over Christmas. Director Frank Capra is another of my favourite directors and the film successfully combines fantasy with real life and James Stewart plays such a good part. Pity I missed that showing at the Regent, I really fancied seeing the film on the big screen.

There are a whole lot of film versions of a Christmas Carol, 73 TV and film versions according to a BBC news item I saw a while ago but the definitive version is the one with Alastair Sim as Ebenezer Scrooge

A Christmas Carol was published over a hundred and seventy years ago. It’s a wonderful story by that master storyteller Charles Dickens. Within six days the entire print run of 6,000 copies had sold out. Within six weeks theatre adaptations had hit London’s theatres. In many ways the book is Dickens’ defining vision of a Victorian Christmas.

Going back to the film versions there’s one with Albert Finney, one with George C Scott, a cartoon version and even a version with Bill Murray as a modern-day Scrooge.. Don’t give any the time of day except for the definitive 1951 classic.

I must finish with one final anecdote about The Greatest Story ever Told. As I have mentioned, numerous star actors make guest appearances in the film from Sydney Poiter to Van Heflin, Angela Lansbury to Shelley Winters and many others but there is one I must mention: John Wayne as the Centurion who watches Jesus die on the cross. When Wayne uttered his immortal line, ‘truly this man was the son of God.’ Director George Stevens called ‘cut’ and asked Wayne to do the scene again but this time with more awe.

Wayne duly complied.

‘Action’ called Stevens.

‘Aww, truly this man was the son of God’ said Wayne.


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.

My Top TV Moments (Part 2)

As I was away last week enjoying the delights of Southport I was a little rushed when it came to putting together a new post for this week. A couple of weeks back I wrote about my Top TV moments and looking back at my notes I see I had a few ‘moments’ left over so rather than consign them to the waste paper bin I think it’s time to welcome you to my Top TV Moments, Part 2!

24

24 was an action/espionage series which was shot in ‘real’ time, the 24 hour long episodes of each series covering a full 24 hour day. Kiefer Sutherland stars as special agent Jack Bauer of the CTU, Counter Terrorist Unit. Jack and his colleagues have to deal with various terrorist threats including in the opening season, plans to assassinate presidential candidate David Palmer. The show is full of twists and turns and other plots and villains emerge and unfold. Events are shown in real time and to emphasise this a digital clock is frequently shown with split screens depicting the various elements happening in the same time scale.

Bauer is a tough hombre who stands no messing and is perhaps similar to the Bruce Willis Die Hard character. A meme I saw on the Internet went like this ‘Jack Bauer threw a grenade and killed 50 terrorists. Then the grenade went off . . .’

Homeland

Carrie Matheson, a CIA agent who also suffers from a bipolar disorder has information that Al-Quaeda are planning a strike against the US using one of their own people. When Nicholas Brody, an army officer who has until recently been a captive in Iraq is rescued and returned to the US, Carrie believes this may be the man in question and he could have been programmed or brainwashed to act against his own country. The series builds the tension quietly and is a psychological drama rather than an action series like 24. Claire Danes as Carrie produces an outstanding performance as does Mandy Patinkin as Saul Berenson, Carrie’s mentor in the agency.

Happy Valley

A few years ago Liz and I spent part of the winter months in sunny and warm Lanzarote and to keep us occupied on those winter nights we took along the box set of Happy Valley. I have to say I wasn’t that interested at first. Sarah Lancashire who has long since moved on from the scatty part of Raquel in TV soap Coronation Street, plays Catherine Cawood a police sergeant in a small West Yorkshire town. She is divorced from her husband and the two of them are scarred by the suicide of their daughter Becky 8 years earlier. Becky had been raped and gave birth to a son Ryan who lives with Catherine and her sister, a recovering alcoholic and heroin addict. Plenty of drama in that set up alone but a kidnapping occurs and it turns out that Tommy Lee Royce, the man who raped Becky is involved. All in all, an outstanding production.

The Avengers

Not the comic book superhero Avengers but the 1960’s TV show about secret agents John Steed and Mrs Emma Peel. Steed was played throughout all the various incarnations of the Avengers by Patrick MacNee and Mrs Peel was portrayed by Diana Rigg. Mrs Peel was the leather jumpsuit wearing judo expert and together she and the charming bowler hatted Steed foiled various villains. The series was not in the same action packed mould as 24 or Homeland but had a slightly camp and comic edge to it. Mrs Peel drove a Lotus Elan as I remember while Steed preferred a vintage Bentley. When Mr Peel returned from being lost in the jungle Mrs Peel left the series to join him, handing over to Tara King, Steed’s new assistant. The two passed on the stairs to Steed’s apartment with Mrs Peel advising Tara to always stir Steed’s tea anti clockwise!

Department S

Department S was about an Interpol department that tries to solve cases that are particularly baffling. In the very first episode the team investigate an aircraft that lands at Heathrow having been missing for 6 days, although the passengers and crew have no recollection of what has happened. Department S consisted of three investigators, Stuart Sullivan, novelist Jason King and computer expert Annabelle Hurst. Jason King played by the flamboyant Peter Wyngarde was the real star and his stylish clothes preempted the fashion trends of the early 70’s. Wyngarde loved the part and I read somewhere that he even invented Mark Caine the hero of Jason King’s novels. Wyngarde later starred in a spin off series Jason King.

Across the Lake

Across the Lake was a BBC film made in 1988. It starred Anthony Hopkins as speed king Donald Campbell in the final days of his life as he tried to raise the water speed record to over 300 miles per hour. Hopkins gives a lovely performance as Donald Campbell, a man who believed himself to be living in the shadow of his father, record breaker Sir Malcolm Campbell. He decided to take his old Bluebird boat, update her and try to break the 300 mph mark on Coniston water in the lake district. The jet boat flipped over and Campbell was killed. His body was not found until 2001.

The film shows the unglamorous side to record-breaking. Waiting in poor weather, the endless delays, the mechanical issues, the press waiting for something to happen. Something drove Campbell onwards in his pursuit of records. He was short of money and had sold all sorts of rights to his name, his films of record-breaking and so on. This was all before the days of big time sponsorship in the speed and motor racing industry and Hopkins shows us a Donald Campbell undefeated, perhaps even a little desperate but still with considerable style.

The record-breaking team disperse for Christmas and then return after the holidays. They begin their preparations again until a fine January morning appeared. Campbell powered up his speedboat and did a run of 297 mph but lost his life on his second run.

Spend, Spend, Spend

Vivian Nicholson was a british woman who became famous after telling the press she was going to spend spend spend when her husband won £152,000 on the pools in 1961. Lavish spending depleted their fortune quickly and after her husband was killed in a car crash Viv was declared bankrupt. Nicholson wrote her life story with author Stephen Smith and a copy of the book was given to TV writer Jack Rosenthal who dramatised the work for the BBC’s Play for Today. The episode was broadcast in March of 1977 and stars Susan Littler as pools winner Viv Nicholson. The film tells the story of a hard working class life in Yorkshire that is transformed when she and husband Keith, played by John Duttine, win the huge amount. Three years later Keith was killed in a car accident and Viv was declared bankrupt. The film tells the story of their early life together and their inability to deal with their huge fortune.

The Magic Boomerang

There are a series of TV adverts on at the moment for ‘Quick Quid’, a loan company which invites you to apply for a quick loan (as long as you don’t mind paying their incredible interest rates that is!) There are various versions of the ad but they all go a similar way; the boiler has conked out or the car has broken down and some hapless member of the public has no money to pay to get it sorted. Suddenly that’s the clue for time to freeze while the person calls up ‘Quick Quid’ and arranges a loan. In the Magic Boomerang, a 1960’s black and white show from Australia, a young lad comes across a magic boomerang and finds that time freezes for everyone except him, just like those aforementioned adverts, while the boomerang is in the air. I remember running home from school years ago just to watch it.

Whatever Happened to The Likely Lads

The Likely lads was a TV sitcom from the 1960’s about two young Geordie lads. The follow up colour version, Whatever Happened to The Likely Lads, aired in the 1970’s and followed the antics of those same two lads. Rodney Bewes played Bob who is now happily married to Thelma and James Bolam played Terry, still footloose and fancy free. Each is jealous of the other in their own way and together they comment on the changing nature of life from pubs closing down to high rise flats but in particular their working class roots. Bob is constantly tormented by Terry as he is keen to become part of the middle class; he has a white collar job and a new house on a brand new housing estate. Terry however constantly laments the changing attitudes of the 1970’s.

Writers Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais had planned a new series meeting up with the pair in their later years but James Bolam declined to be involved. The two actors apparently fell out after making the feature film version in 1976. After the death of Rodney Bewes in 2017 James Bolam denied rumours of a rift between him and Bewes saying “I think that Rodney wanted to do some more Likely Lads and I never did . .” Such a pity, I would have loved to see the pair together in later life.

Fawlty Towers

After the success of the Monty Python series and before the appearance of the Python films, the various members of the Python team set about various other personal projects. John Cleese began writing the sitcom Fawlty Towers based on his experiences staying in a small hotel, actually the Gleneagles Hotel in Torquay, where he stayed while filming for Monty Python. He co-wrote the sitcom with his then wife Connie Booth although they had divorced by the time of the second series. The series is about hotel owner Basil Fawlty played by Cleese and his wife Sybil played by Prunella Scales. Other characters are the waitress played by Connie Booth and Manuel, a spanish waiter played by Andrew Sachs.

Only two series of six episodes each were made and the initial reception was only lukewarm but as the series gained popularity, critical acclaim began to follow. The show has won many plaudits including being ranked first on the BFI’s list of the top 100 British television Programmes and was named the greatest ever sitcom by a panel of comedy experts for the Radio Times magazine.


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.

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.

 

 

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.

Which Bond is the very Best Bond?

So who was the best Bond? That’s Bond of course, James Bond, licensed to kill.

I’ve had a little time on my hands this week, looking after my elderly mother. Nothing particularly exciting presented itself on terrestrial TV so I thought, the perfect time to pour a glass of red and crank up a few Bond DVDs.

Sean Connery.

The very first Bond movie was Doctor No starring Sean Connery as the very first Bond. Connery was excellent as the suave James Bond, former naval officer and now agent of M16, the Secret Intelligence Service. Bond gets sent to Jamaica to look into the disappearance of the local station head. It turns out he was killed for being far too interested in the very first Bond villain, Doctor No. Throw in some exciting sets, car chases, gunplay and pretty girls and you have the instant formula for a successful film franchise.

Connery plays a great James Bond and he carried on with his portrayal in three subsequent films. After Thunderball he decided enough was enough and packed the job in. Later he was enticed back to play Bond one more time in Diamonds are Forever.

Stevehigginsinslive.com Bond rating: #4

George Lazenby.

George Lazenby was an actor in a TV advert and was spotted by the producers to take on the role of 007. Lazenby was to me, the perfect Bond; rugged and good looking as well as smooth and unruffled. To me he was just how I imagined Bond after reading the Ian Fleming novels as a schoolboy. His one Bond film, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is one of the best films in the 007 franchise. Diana Rigg is a great Bond lady who, unlike no other Bond girl before or after, actually gets to marry Bond. The film is a fast paced thriller with some great fight and chase scenes including a classic ski chase. Lazenby quit the Bond series after getting some bad career advice and it was such a shame that he did not portray James Bond again.

Stevehigginsinslive.com Bond rating: #1

Roger Moore.

Roger Moore is one of my favourite actors, good looking, smooth and someone who never takes himself too seriously. He was great as Simon Templar and Lord Brett Sinclair in two TV action series but as for James Bond, well I don’t know what went wrong but Moore just didn’t cut it as Bond for me. His first film Live and Let Die was . .well, not bad I suppose but most of the rest were just dreadful, more carry On James Bond than the Bond we, or at least I wanted to see. Sorry Roger, just not my cup of tea at all and as for that underwater car. . . Seriously?

Stevehigginsinslive.com Bond rating: #6

Timothy Dalton.

Relaxing in front of the TV the other day and The Living Daylights popped up on my TV schedule. I’ve never really thought much of this film but actually it was pretty good. Timothy Dalton was a welcome relief after the Roger Moore years; finally, a serious Bond film again. Good film, good music and a great Bond girl who had, unusually, more to do that just look nice. Dalton made two Bond films, the other one being the slightly tedious Licence to Kill. Great song but a film that needed a few kick starts along the way.

Stevehigginsinslive.com Bond rating: #3

Pierce Brosnan.

There was a 6 year gap to the next Bond film due to legal issues. Timothy Dalton declined to star as Bond and the producers gave the role to Pierce Brosnan. Brosnan’s first Bond film was the impressive Goldeneye, one of my personal favourites of the whole series. Brosnan’s Bond is as smooth and stylish as the previous incumbents of the role with the addition of some wry humour in the style of Sean Connery. Goldeneye was the best of Brosnan’s films and the only real dud was Tomorrow Never Dies but even that had its merits. His last Bond film Die Another Day did venture slightly into Roger Moore territory with an invisible car though. Brosnan’s series of films were made all the more impressive by a small company of regular co-stars in particular Judi Dench as a female M, and Samantha Bond as Miss Moneypenny. I have to vote Brosnan in as my second favourite Bond.

Stevehigginsinslive.com Bond rating: #2

Daniel Craig.

Craig made his Bond debut in Casino Royale, actually the first book in Ian Fleming’s series but the last to make it to film, well, in the official franchise anyway. Fleming sold the rights to Casino Royale separately to the rest of books for some reason which is why a comedy version was made in the 1960s starring David Niven as Bond. In fact Niven was Fleming’s personal choice for a film Bond!

Anyway, this series of Bond films brings us to the 21st century version of the British superspy with an accent less on gadgets but heavy on action. The Daniel Craig Bond films are tough and gritty but are all reasonably enjoyable, the best one by far being Skyfall. Craig’s Bond is noticeably more thuggish than his predecessors although he tends to drive a classy vintage 1960s Aston Martin. Interestingly, in the books, Bond’s personal car was a vintage Bentley.

Stevehigginsinslive.com Bond rating: #5


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.

 

Remembering Apollo 11

image By NASA –

I’m not one for writing topical blog posts. I pretty much write about whatever comes into my head but this week it’s the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, something that made a deep impression on me as a 12 year old boy in June, 1969.

There have been lots of anniversary programmes on TV about the moon shots and Apollo 11 and for me who was once obsessed by the Apollo missions they were all pretty interesting.

One was a programme I have seen before about Neil Armstrong which involved his friends and family talking about the late astronaut. Armstrong was a quiet man who took lessons at his local aerodrome and learned to fly before he could drive. He joined the US air force and became a pilot in the Korean War before returning home to study aeronautics at university.

Later he joined NASA and became an astronaut and apparently the first his family knew about it was when NASA introduced its new trainees on the television news.

Armstrong was a talented pilot who went from testing aircraft like the experimental X15 to become part of the manned spaceflight program and later from being an unknown astronaut to perhaps the most famous man in the world. Everyone wanted to meet the first man on the moon and perhaps get his autograph.

Later on he declined to sign autographs when he found that people were selling them on.

Armstrong resigned from NASA in 1971 and decided to take up a professorship at the University of Cincinnati.

He seemed reluctant to talk about Apollo 11 and I even remember back on the 25th anniversary, the BBC ran a documentary in which Buzz Aldrin did most of the talking, explaining how Neil landed the Lunar Module Eagle on the moon’s surface.

On the way down the Eagle’s computer kept throwing up ‘1201’ and ‘1202’ program alarms. Neither Armstrong nor Aldrin knew what that was but the controllers at mission control knew. The on-board computer which had less memory that a modern mobile phone, could not deal with all the data is was receiving. Armstrong switched over to manual flight, hopped the lunar lander over a rocky area then finally dropped down safely onto the lunar surface with only a scant few seconds of fuel remaining.

Anyway, getting back to July, 1969, I don’t know if you can imagine the excitement of a twelve year old boy, getting up for school one morning to find the TV on and Neil Armstrong walking on the moon when the usual TV broadcast at that time would have been the test card!

Those black and white ghostlike TV images enthralled me that July morning and how my Mother eventually managed to pack me off to school I do not know. Back then I was glued to the BBC transmissions about the Apollo programme and I was a great fan of James Burke who gave us concise updates on what was happening in space and at mission control.

Another BBC programme I saw recently was one about the BBC broadcasts of those days and James Burke himself looked back at film from the late sixties. Video tape was apparently in short supply at the BBC back then and most of his broadcasts were deleted but many of the filmed inserts, broadcast presumably when not much was happening live, were really interesting.

In one, Burke gets inside the cramped command module and shows us just how small it actually was. Apparently in zero g: weightlessness, it appeared bigger because then one could float off into a corner that was normally inaccessible and go to sleep.

In another Burke goes aboard a NASA plane which makes a steep descent creating a few moments of weightlessness which was important for astronaut training.

I often think about that day in 1969, watching the Apollo 11 crew on the moon. The images looked ethereal and ghostly as the two astronauts bobbed about in the low gravity of the moon. I used to wonder just what it was like for Aldrin and Armstrong and what it was like also for Mike Collins, waiting patiently orbiting above in the Command Module Columbia.

Collins must have been the loneliest man in the world just then.

Later in the Apollo program, the TV pictures improved enormously but it was the pictures and cine film that the astronauts brought back which were really amazing.

You might be forgiven for thinking that with the moon landing being 50 years ago, manned space exploration has gone on to bigger and better things. Not so. The Apollo program was incredibly expensive: 25.4 billion dollars according to a quick search on Google: Money that of course the US government could well use elsewhere and after Apollo 17 the moon landing programme was shut down.

Still, think about the spin offs in technology, not only rocketry but computers and electronics and so on. I once read that the secret to the US winning the space race was computer technology and that many calculations done by the Soviets were done by teams of mathematicians using abacuses!

The space race was also part of the cold war and although the Soviets seemed to excel in the early part of the 1960’s, it was the USA that finally put a man on the moon and that man, the first man, was Neil Armstrong who went from relative obscurity to the most famous man in the world. The only other person I can really think of with a similar fame was Charlie Chaplin, whose films, in the days of silent films, went all the way around the world.

One interesting thing to finish with: On one of the BBC documentaries, one of Armstrong’s friends, or perhaps it was his brother, remembered Neil as having a regular dream when he was a child.

Armstrong dreamt that he could float in the air by holding his breath! Quite an interesting dream for a future astronaut!


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.

Rooms, Film sets and Homes from the Corners of my Mind . .

Film sets? Rooms? What exactly is this guy going to write about rooms you might think? Well, this idea about rooms might take me a while to explain so here we go.

I’ve always been interested in really exciting rooms, usually those seen on a film where the room in question has been designed by some really top designer and put together by some award-winning prop guy and set dresser but the first room that comes to mind is one from my comic book days.

Back in the 1960s some British comics started to reprint American super hero comic strips. They did it by combining various super hero comic strips into one comic. The one that comes to mind was called Marvel after the producers of such comic books as Spiderman, the Hulk and so on.

One strip that I really loved was the new super hero Daredevil. Now he, believe it or not, was a blind guy but had this ‘radar sense’ that enabled him to see in a way that no sighted person could. In the first Daredevil strip I ever read there was a cutaway drawing showing Daredevil’s flat (apartment to you US readers) and its secret ‘underground lair’ when Daredevil got his kit off and exercised in a personal gym where he honed his gymnastic skills which as you know, are required by all costumed crime fighters. It was probably the idea of the concealed rooms that interested me as a child, I always loved that in the sci fi of the 1960s.

Image courtesy berkeleyplaceblog.com

Batman too had his underground lair; it was the Batcave and there was a great moment in the 1960’s TV series when Bruce Wayne would say to his young ward Dick Grayson ‘to the Bat poles!’ Robin alias Dick would flip the switch on the bust on Bruce’s desk and the two would leap onto the bat poles in the now opened secret compartment and slide down to the Batcave.

Another underground lair was that of Doctor No, the first villain in the James Bond film series. The doc had these amazing quarters with a glass wall looking out under the ocean.

‘A million dollars’ says the doc to James Bond as he quietly enters the room.

‘You were thinking of how much it cost?’ He goes on.

Actually, I wasn’t as I knew it was a film set but it was pretty cool.

The next great room and location that comes to mind was that of Ernst Stavro Blofield in my favourite Bond movie, On her Majesty’s Secret Service. Blofield has a mountain hideaway on top of a peak in the French Alps, or was it the Italian Alps? Either way Piz Gloria was an actual skiing lodge that had just been constructed and had been lent to the film crew. The interior, which I always rather liked, particularly Blofield’s inner sanctum was really cool and presumably designed by the production designer Syd Cain.

Another room I always liked was Joe 90’s dad’s house from the TV series Joe 90. It was a very comfy old-fashioned farmhouse where Joe and his dad, professor -I nearly said professor 90 but I don’t think it was. Anyway, the two of them lived there assisted by their housekeeper until Joe went off on his secret missions. Their front room was remarkably similar to the one owned by Barnes Wallis in the film The Dambusters. Wallis’ home was a typical 1940’s English farmhouse and it all looked pretty comfortable to me.

Remember the Beatles movie Help? In the film there is a great shot of the four Beatles walking up to their respective front doors along a typical row of English terraced houses.

They turn their keys, open their doors and they each step into: -Cut to interior shot- One ultra-modern long room and we see the Beatles step inside and settle down. John has a settee or couch sunk into a low area which he has to step down into and down there, or so I imagine, he has a TV and stereo and all the mod cons of the mid-1960s. I loved that little space and if I had a big enough house it would be great to recreate it. Then again, I can just imagine coming home late at night after a few beers at the pub, walking into it in the dark and breaking my neck!

Did you ever watch the 60’s TV show The Prisoner? A secret agent resigns, returns home to find gas filling his house. He awakes, seemingly in the same room but when he opens the window, he finds himself in a village where he is apparently a prisoner. The Prisoner starred Patrick McGoohan and the show combines elements of intrigue, espionage and sci fi. It was filmed in the Welsh village of Portmerion where a long time ago I was able to visit number 6’s old house. The inside of it was of course not in Portmerion but was something assembled on a film set at Elstree or somewhere. It was small and compact and the door automatically opened as you approached.

Number 2, the administrator of the village had an ultra modern office with stylish 1960’s bubble chairs. I’ve always fancied one of those chairs: I can just imagine curling up in one and having a good read.

Another great setting was Hugh Grant’s house in the film Notting Hill. Notting Hill is an actual area of London and Grant’s house in the film was presumably an actual house. Notting Hill, and I have to say I have no actual experience of the real Notting Hill, comes over in the film as a busy, vibrant and exciting place to live. Hugh’s house is a terraced house, rather narrow but with lots of light and a rather cosy area on a landing by the stairs with a couch where Grant spends the night on one occasion in the film and looks to be a really great place to relax, maybe watch TV or write blogs and just generally have some private time.

Anyway, enough of films, it’s about time I told you about my favourite room. I had two and they were both at the first house I ever bought; my house in Didsbury, Manchester. There was a small front room which I decorated myself, slowly. There was a dado rail with different but matching wallpapers above and below, bookshelves, books and videos (VHS of course). I also kept one of the three bedrooms for myself as a music room and my stereo and records were all stored there along with a couple of comfy chairs and all the other toys, gadgets and cameras I had at the time.

Once, years later, I remember visiting the old place and I parked outside for a while feeling like an intruder. Years before, this had been my street and my house and if, back then I had glanced outside and seen a strange guy in a strange car just waiting, I might have been tempted to call the police. Times had changed, and now I was the intruder.

There was a time when I might have been tempted not to mention that story but I remember watching my favourite TV documentary of all time about the late actor, Peter Sellers. Sellers had a thing about dragging his ex-wife out and taking her on these regular tours of his old haunts, his old schools and old homes and so on. If a famous actor and comedian like Sellers did something like that then clearly parking outside my old house for a few moments can’t be so bad after all.

I enjoyed some happiness in that house but also a lot of pain and sadness too. I remember sitting there in my car and I tried to turn my mind to the happier times I had there.

Once, we had a sort of, well gathering there. I was tempted to say dinner party but really it was just a few people coming around for drinks and nibbles and things.

One guest was our solicitor, I’ll call him Phil (although his name was actually Pete!) Seriously, Phil was a really arrogant guy. In fact he had very bad eyesight and could hardly see his hand in front of his face. He rejected the use of a white stick and arrogantly pushed away anyone who tried to help him. He was a good solicitor and although he could be a bit of a pain I had a lot of respect for him.

He was sitting in the small lounge in my comfy chair when he got up to get a drink or some food or something from the other room. I was tempted to nip into the comfy chair but another guest pushed me aside and slipped into the seat. When Phil came back with a plate of nibbles he turned to sit back in the chair, obviously not seeing the girl sitting there and she slipped out of the seat just as Phil sat down again.

We were all killing ourselves laughing but Phil didn’t quite get the joke.

Later when he left, he once again declined any assistance. Pity really because the path from our front door to the street went towards the right at a 45 degree angle whereas Phil went straight ahead towards the privet hedge.

Never did get that gap in the hedge sorted.


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.

 

 

6 Great British Films You May Never Have Heard Of!

The Night my Number Came up (1955) starring Michael Redgrave, Sheila Sim, Alexander Knox and Denholm Elliot. Directed by Leslie Norman.

A senior Royal Air Force officer (Michael Redgrave) is at a dinner party in Hong Kong and a naval Commander played by Michael Hordern, talks about a dream he had in which the Air Marshal and a group of 5 other companions were flying from Bangkok in a Dakota which crashed on a rocky shore. The Air Marshal is due to fly to Tokyo the following day but he is not unduly bothered as many of the details differ from his planned flight including using a different kind of aircraft, a Consolidated Liberator.

When technical issues ground the planned aircraft a Dakota airliner, like the one seen in the dream, is substituted, and a number of other passengers arrive to make the total number of people on board 13, the same number of people as in the dream. As the flight proceeds, other circumstances change so that eventually most of the details correspond to the dream. When the aircraft runs low on fuel due to becoming lost in bad weather the pilot manages to bring the aircraft down in emergency landing in a snowfield in the mountains and all on board survive. The naval commander hears about the missing plane and arrives at the RAF base to direct search parties to the correct area.

The director, father of the film critic Barry Norman, builds the tension in the aircraft as more and more people come to know about the dream and gradually become more and more anxious. It was interesting to find out when I researched the film that it was based on a real incident in the life of British Air Marshal Sir Victor Goddard. All in all, an excellent film with good performances from Michael Redgrave, Alexander Knox and a young Denholm Elliot.

The Dead of Night (1945) starring Mervyn Johns. A series of short stories that combine together. Each instalment had a different director.

This is probably one the great horror movies of the 1950’s, in fact, one of the great movies full stop. It’s a series of short stories all linked together by the central character played by Mervyn Johns. His character architect Walter Craig, arrives at a house in the countryside where he has been consulted on some building work. The house seems all too familiar to him and then he then realises that everything that happens he has already lived through in a dream, a nightmare in fact. As more guests arrive for the weekend he recognises them from the dream and is convinced something terrible is about to happen. When he confides this story to the others, they in turn all relate a supernatural story before the central theme reaches a terrifying climax. Two stories that were particularly good were one in which an unbalanced ventriloquist (Michael Redgrave) believes his dummy is alive and another where a woman played by Googie Withers buys an antique mirror for her husband and finds that the mirror has an hypnotic effect on the man.

An outstanding film and one that was highly rated by director Martin Scorcese and was voted the 35th best horror film of all time by Time Out magazine.

The Intruder (1953) starring Jack Hawkins. Directed by Guy Hamilton.

Another classic 50’s film starring Jack Hawkins. Hawkins plays Colonel Merton, an ex-army officer who returns home one night to find his London flat being burgled by a petty thief. Merton confronts the man played by Michael Medwin, only to find that the intruder is in fact Ginger Edwards, one of the men from his old command. He is shocked to see one of his former soldiers reduced to crime. He tries to talk to Ginger but accidentally knocks over his phone in another room which leads Ginger to think he has called the Police. When there is a knock at the door Ginger bolts and makes a hasty departure. Merton then decides to visit some of his old army comrades – Ginger mentioned he was in touch with one of them – in order to track the man down. Each old comrade tells a story about Ginger which all nicely link together to show how circumstances have worked against their old friend. A lovely film with excellent performances and a number of familiar faces from British film and TV, among them Dennis Price, Dora Bryan and George Cole.

The Long Arm (1956) starring Jack Hawkins and directed by Charles Friend.

This is a brilliant film, it really is. It’s a sort of CSI London from the 1950’s. Like the present day CSI series, this film shows the crime detection process using the then start of the art technology. Jack Hawkins is a police inspector and is called on to look at a robbery in London. The theft was from a safe manufactured by a company called Rock. There is little to go on and Jack returns to his 1950’s suburban home feeling rather disappointed. Happily his typical 1950’s housewife is there waiting for him, his tea is ready and his evening bottle of beer also all ready too. Hawkins spends a little time with his son before bed time and tells him all about his current case and the lack of clues. Well, says the boy, perhaps the thief is a super thief who has never been caught. This revolutionary thought rings a bell for Hawkins and he goes back down to Scotland Yard straight away for a meeting with the records guy played by Geoffrey Keen. Together they trawl through the card file (no computers back in the 1950’s!) of unsolved cases and find one relevant link. A set of robberies all from  safes manufactured by, yes you’ve guessed it, Rock.

OK next up is a visit to the Rock factory for more investigation but then the robber makes a fatal mistake. While fleeing from the scene of his latest heist the robber runs over and kills a passerby. Later the abandoned murder car is found and 1950’s style forensic technology uncovers various clues. The most interesting one is a rolled up newspaper used to clean the window. A fascinating look at newspapers and how they are produced and distributed follows and the police are soon on the trail of their man. I won’t give away the ending but the film kept me on my toes throughout and Guy Hamilton who directed some of the early Bond films throws in a little action to bring the film to a climax.

No Highway in the Sky (1951) starring James Stewart, Marlene Dietrich, Glynis Johns. Directed by Henry Koster.

James Stewart plays an aircraft technical expert Theodore Honey who is trying to solve the mystery of a crash involving a new aircraft, the Rutland Reindeer, which has crashed in Canada. Honey theorises that the crash was a result of metal fatigue and sets up an experiment which involves the tailplane of the aircraft subjected to continual vibration in a controlled environment. When Mr Honey flies home on another Reindeer he is shocked to find that the aircraft is an early production model and is fast approaching the flight time that he has theorised the tailplane will fail. Mr Honey decides to warn the crew and also a famous film star aboard played by Marlene Dietrich. Consternation reigns in the cockpit but the pilot has no choice but to carry on. On arrival at Gander the pilot consults with experts in London and the aircraft is cleared to fly on. In a desperate act, Honey retracts the undercarriage and wrecks the plane to stop it from flying.

Stewart plays Mr Honey as a slightly eccentric character, very similar to his character in the film Harvey. Marlene Dietrich takes quite a liking to him as does the stewardess and they are both eager to help and support him and his young daughter when his theory is attacked from all sides. Needless to say, he is proved right in the end.

Last Holiday (1950) starring Alec Guinness. Directed by Henry Cass.

Guinness plays a pleasant mild-mannered salesman called George Bird who has no friends or family and finds out he only has a few weeks to live. He decides to spend the time he has left by going to a rather posh residential hotel where the residents find him a sort of enigma. His star rises here as he becomes involved with the residents and staff and people start to wonder about him. Who is he? Is he rich? Lucrative job offers come his way as well as love but only one person knows his secret, a member of staff that he confides in. In the end Mr Bird finds out he was wrongly diagnosed but the film ends on a sad note when he is killed in a car crash. Penned by author J.B.Priestley, it’s another wonderful British picture full of excellent performances with a whiff of sadness and poignancy about it.  Guinness’ performance is excellent and the underlying sense of inevitability is further enhanced by a haunting musical theme that we hear throughout the film.

If I had written this a few years back I might have been tempted to add this to a blog like Unseen TV which was a post about cinema and TV films which rarely get an airing on terrestrial TV. However, I am happy to see that all of the above films can be found on the new freeview channel 81 Talking Pictures.


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