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.’

Nice.

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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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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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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A Man, his TV, and A DVD Box Set

picmonkey-imageI’ve spent a couple of afternoons this week slumped in front of the TV after an early morning shift. Starting at 6 in the morning does tend to knacker you out and although many times I start to think I can sort this or that out in the afternoon, the lure of the TV set is sometimes too much. Over Christmas I bid on a box of Doctor Who DVDs on the shopping site E-Bay. I didn’t bid that much, in fact I only remembered about the bid when an e-mail popped up asking me to pay. A large cardboard box duly arrived. I scanned through the box and found various box sets like Frontier in Space, Planet of the Daleks, The Silver Nemesis and various others. I stashed the box away, not far from the DVD player waiting for a quiet moment to commence my viewing pleasure.

Over Christmas I watched the Doctor Who Christmas Special and I have to say I was disappointed. Current Doctor Who Peter Capaldi plays a good part and the effects and production values in the series are excellent but the stories seem a little bit lacking if you ask me. The Christmas special was about a young lad, accidentally given super powers by a chance meeting with the Doctor. When he grows up he uses his powers to become a super hero and we are left with a sort of spoof on the Superman/ Clark Kent/ Lois Lane story. I know it was the Christmas special and it was supposed to be a bit quirky but it just all seemed a bit daft to me.

Now I think of it, last year’s Christmas Doctor Who didn’t do it for me either; it was too full of sci-fi gobbledygook language. You know the sort of thing. Doctor, the Tardis is heading into the sun, what can we do? Well, if we reroute the dark matter converters into the phase drive and reverse the polarity. . You get the sort of thing I’m sure.

Anyway. Let’s fast forward to the other day and there’s me, arriving home all tired and grumpy after an early morning shift. I get a quick wash, sort out a brew, crank up the DVD player and insert Planet of the Daleks, a six part serial from 1973 into the DVD player. Then I settle down on the settee with a ham sandwich in one hand and the remote control firmly in the other and press play. I emerge a few hours later, rumpled, unshaven but happy. Planet of the Daleks was an enjoyable jaunt back to the TV of the 1970’s. Ok, the sets were a little on the cardboard side, the Spirodons, the resident aliens, when they weren’t invisible, were just blokes covered with big fur coats but throw in the Daleks, Doctor Who and his lovely assistant Jo Grant and I was as happy as Larry in TV heaven. The Doctor’s assistant was played by Katy Manning and it was nice to see Jo in her 1970’s gear and hairstyle once again. It was a shame when the very 70’s chic jacket she was wearing was thrown away because some very nasty jungle plants had sprayed it with some fungus.

pixabaytardis-1816598_1920Back in the 1970’s Jon Pertwee took over the role of Doctor Who from Patrick Troughton. William Hartnell had played the original Doctor as a grumpy and unpredictable old man, Troughton was the celestial comic and hobo and Jon Pertwee made the Doctor into a suave, smooth talking, velvet jacketed action hero with a penchant for Venusian karate. I wasn’t completely convinced at the time by Jon Pertwee’s Doctor Who but looking back I feel that his Doctor was one of the very best. All the others, even the modern ones, have kept on board elements of the first two doctors characters but Pertwee’s characterisation is just ever so slightly different. I can’t say I remember the first episode of Doctor Who being shown, I was only seven at the time but I Do remember William Hartnell and the strange thing is that I have grown up from a child to a middle aged man with this TV show always in the background. Jon pertwee was with me in the seventies, Tom Baker in the eighties and so on and when the Doctor returned after a long absence in 2005 with the part played by Christopher Eccleston, it was like the return of a long lost friend.

An interesting bonus on the DVD was that episode three, for which only a black and white version was available, was restored to full colour using a variety of new techniques. Back in the 1970’s of course, the future home video industry was not even a twinkle in the eye of the BBC bosses and they routinely taped over Doctor Who episodes for reasons of storage space, scarcity of new tapes and a belief that the tapes were of no commercial value. Not only Doctor Who but many other programmes were lost in this way until the BBC revised its policy in 1978 and began to keep a proper archive of recordings.

Pixabay.com

Pixabay.com

Ninety-seven episodes from Doctor Who’s first six years are missing. Some tele cine copies have been found in various TV stations around the world as the BBC copied tapes onto film for showing by other broadcasters.
I mention all this because included in the special features of the DVD was an item about Doctor Who videos. When video recording emerged in the 1980’s many people, like myself, started to record programmes like Doctor Who for home viewing. Fans interviewed for the feature spoke about attending fan conventions and hearing that various recordings of old shows were available. Many came from Australia where local broadcasters began showing old episodes of Doctor Who on Australian TV. Word got back to fans in the UK and considerable sums were exchanged for VHS copies of the episodes. One of the problems was that many of the copies were second, third, or even tenth generation copies but clearly there was a great demand from viewers for old episodes and eventually, the BBC began releasing episodes on video and later, DVD. I do love watching these extra segments on DVDs and the Doctor Who ones especially because as I mentioned in an earlier post, I’m not the TV sc-fi nerd I thought I was, or least I am but there are plenty of other fellow sci-fi nerds about too.

Anyway, the Jon Pertwee Doctor Who experience was a very pleasant and enjoyable one and perfect for a cold wintry afternoon. Turn up the fire, get the kettle on and settle down with an old favourite TV show from 1973, the year I left school and started work at the tender age of sixteen. What could be nicer?

Anyway, it just goes to show that successful TV series sc-fi is more, much more than special effects and top class production. Perhaps the producers of Doctor Who in 2017 should take heed.


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(Almost) Unseen TV

tv documentaryIt’s interesting that on TV, the same movies come at us time after time. The Great Escape, wonderful film though it is, has been broadcast so many times I know the script off by heart. The Bond films are a staple of UK TV. They and the Die Hard films, the Carry on series and a hundred others–they are all constantly on British TV. Old TV shows are another staple of the new free view channels.

In fact, just lately a lot of my favourite shows from when I was a school boy are currently being shown on TV: The Saint, Land of the Giants, The Invaders and many more. (Wish they’d get around to showing the Time Tunnel though!) Some things that rarely, if ever, are repeated, are old TV documentaries and old made for TV movies. Here are three of my favourites, two documentaries and one made for TV movie, preserved for my viewing pleasure on trusty old VHS video tape.

The Peter Sellers Story: As He Filmed It.

The BBC Arena team made this film about Peter Sellers in 1995. It was created largely from cine film shot by Sellers himself, who was a lifelong camera enthusiast. The original documentary was made in 1995 and if I remember correctly, Sellers’ widow, Lynne Frederick had died and left behind a lot of Sellers’ effects, including his home movies which is how the film came to be made.

Normally, I’d say that you have to be interested in movie people and how movies are made to like this documentary but this film is so special I don’t think that rule applies.

The original film was in three parts and began with Sellers’ early days, and his early films. The first cine films we see are black and white movies and as Sellers’ career takes off, his cine equipment also improves and he upgrades to colour and then on to sound. His own images show his young self as a sort of ‘spiv’, a Flash Harry sort of character with his double-breasted and shoulder padded jackets. An uneasy relationship with his mother emerges, as does a rather spoilt and volatile personality. His first wife talks about their early days and their life together and friends like Spike Milligan talk happily about successes like the Goon show and their beginnings in show business. Milligan had a 8mm camera and Sellars a 16mm one. Of course ‘Peter was richer,’ comments Milligan. ‘Richer by 8 millimetres!’

Sellers’ cine film is blended with interviews from various people who played a part in Sellers’ life.

Sellers as Group Captain Mandrake in Dr Strangelove.

Sellers as Group Captain Mandrake in Dr Strangelove.

A fascinating section concerned Casino Royale, the spoof James Bond film. Various directors were involved but Joe McGrath shot one segment with Peter Sellers and Orson Welles. McGrath was a TV director relishing the move into feature films, that is until Sellers told him he didn’t want to be in the same shot as co-star  Welles. A heated debate ensued which became physical. Sellers said he was going off to calm down. He never returned and if you ever see the completed movie, you’ll understand why Sellers’ character abruptly disappears too!

Sellers claimed to have no personality of his own and ‘borrowed’ them from the characters he impersonated. It’s interesting to watch the TV interviews  included in the film where Sellers seems to mimic the Yorkshire tones of Michael Parkinson and again, in other snippets he is taking on the accents and style of his interviewers.

The film overall has a sort of melancholy feeling which I feel accurately represents Sellers’ persona. He was a sad character, disappointed in his life and loves. He was not happy with his last wife, Lynne Frederick and he even junked many of his cine films prior to his death as they didn’t seem to match his expectations. The mood of the film is further enhanced by a wonderful soundtrack full of sad saxophones and jazz tones.

There are some that put down documentaries that are full of so-called ‘talking heads’ but personally, if the talking head has something interesting to say, I like to hear them. However, in 2002 the BBC re edited the film by taking the soundtracks from the ‘talking heads’ and combined them with Sellers’ self filmed visuals. The result is now available as a BBC DVD. The original is much better though.

Barry Sheene. Photo courtesy Wikipedia

Barry Sheene. Photo courtesy Wikipedia

Barry Sheene. Daytona 1975.

This is a film about the late motorcycle racer Barry Sheene. He was a star of the 1970’s motorcycle racing scene. A long-haired, chain-smoking racer who had Donald Duck on his crash helmet and who famously gave the V sign to one of his opponents, I think it was Kenny Roberts, at a race at Silverstone in 1979. In this film Sheene goes to Daytona and is flat-out testing his bike when the engine locks up. He yanks in the clutch but is still sent hurtling along the track breaking several bones in the process. The film follows him to hospital where he joked with colleagues, even saying to his team manager, ‘the staff really hurt me. I’m glad I didn’t tell them about that pain I’ve got in my shoulder.’ His manager looks confused for a moment and says, ‘well, don’t you think you should tell them?’

Sheene is pinned back together with various metal rods and is later seen hobbling away from the hospital but even so, later in the film, we see him back on his motorbike once again.

The film was produced and directed by Canadian documentary maker Frank Cvitanovich and is a fascinating insight into the world of Barry Sheene. It is clear he lived and breathed motorcycles. In later life he retired and became a sports commentator in Australia. He died of cancer at the age of only 52

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.

Having written this post about three old films I watch now and again on my old TV with the built-in VHS cassette player, it was interesting to find, during research, that all three can be seen online.

The original three-part version of The Peter Sellers Story: As he filmed it can be see on vimeo. Click here to watch it.

Frank Cvitanovich’s Barry Sheene Daytona 1975 documentary is on you tube. Watch it here.

Across the Lake is also on youtube. Watch it here.

Perhaps those old films are not as unseen as I thought!


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Aliens, Frank Sinatra, and Three Days in the Life of a Couch Potato

Day 1

quotescover-PNG-85In this technological age, one item in particular has come to the aid of the dedicated couch potato and that is the hard drive recorder. It’s a wonderful invention which enables the recording and playback of programmes at the touch of a button.

Last Sunday was my first day off and I had planned, unbeknown to my lovely lady Liz, a day of rest, self indulgence, and laziness, including Internet surfing and of course, TV watching.

She on the other hand had other ideas, in particular, a trip to the combination music and kite festival down on the beach. Anyway, all that went ok, the kites were flying well and the music was good. We went back home for some dinner and then it was time to get down to some TV viewing.

Now the Sunday lunch over ran a little making me late for my appointment with the German Grand Prix on Channel 4. Here, however, is where the hard drive recorder comes into its own because of one very simple fact: You can start watching the recorded programme even before it has finished! Technology; incredible isn’t it?

Anyway, The German Grand Prix from Hockenheim wasn’t a classic race but for an F1 fan like me it was well worth watching: Lewis Hamilton won and Nico Rosberg had a penalty but the real joy of watching the race just slightly behind the broadcast time is you can catch up by fast forwarding through the boring stuff from the drivers; “the team did a great job today in qually” and “I’d like to thank the guys back at the factory,” and so on. There is also the questions to the drivers which are well worth fast forwarding through: “You’re in second position on the grid, what can you do today?”
Not much of a record for a TV couch potato but I had big plans for day 2!

Day 2

Now day 2 promised much more TV watching than day 1. Liz was off to work round about twelve, leaving me time to check my e-mails, sort out a few social media updates plugging blog posts like this one, and then a whole afternoon of serious TV watching.

For starters I had Aliens, the sci-fi movie to watch, recorded from ITV 2 some weeks earlier. I have seen it before but some movies just get better over time. I do love the opening of Aliens: The music gradually fades in as we come across a lifeboat drifting through space. Yes, the lifeboat holds astronaut Ripley, sleeping soundly in suspended animation after her adventures in the previous movie, Alien. Ripley has been abandoned in space for 57 years and it turned out that this version was a director’s cut with a restored back story about Ripley’s daughter who we find has died recently as an old lady. The story gives an added poignancy to the film later on and we understand why Ripley is so passionate about rescuing the young girl ‘newt’ who we meet later in the film.

Time for a cuppa when we get to the adverts and then we follow Ripley through the committee meeting where it is revealed that the spacecraft Nostromo, which Ripley self-destructed, caused a loss of over 64 million adjusted dollars. Another committee member advises that LV426, the planet where the Nostromo landed was ‘a rock’ with no indigenous life forms. I can feel Ripley’s frustration when she says, “Did IQ levels just drop while I was away?” She tries to tell the group about a derelict alien vessel containing alien eggs but the meeting ends and Ripley’s story is not believed.

Now before Liz went to work she had left me a couple of jobs and the thought of them threatens my TV watching marathon so I decide to get them out of the way. One of them involved mowing the lawn so I put Aliens on pause and sorted out the mower and strimmer. I was actually immersed in my mowing when Liz popped back in and caught  me doing a bit of grafting! This was great because she could see with her own eyes I’m not just sprawled on the couch watching TV! Result!

Anyway, job done and it’s time for some more TV. I fancy a change from Aliens so I finish off an episode of The Saint I watched part way through last week. A TV Diva is kidnapped but Simon Templar saves the day and rescues the lady. Nice to see these old TV shows from my school years still looking good and getting another airing on TV.

Time for a brew and a cheese sarnie, the Saint episode is deleted (that space on the hard drive is in constant demand!) and I’m ready for something more serious. I crank up a BBC 4 documentary about Frank Sinatra. I was planning to listen to it and simultaneously surf the net on my iPad but it’s so engrossing I have to put the pad down.

Six o’Clock and Liz is home and asking why am I not ready yet? Ready? Of course, we have a family meal planned for tonight. “Just about to get changed, love” I say quickly! (Phew!)

DAY 3

Day three and Liz is off to work at the usual time, twelve-ish. The breakfast pots are duly washed and the only cloud on the horizon is that I need to get some eggs and some milk in. Should I leave it until later or sort it now? Tell you what, time for a quick Saint episode (series record, I love that button on the recorder!) and a cuppa. The episode is one about the Saint receiving threats on his life and it’s a bit of a naff one with the back lot at Elstree or Pinewood trying desperately to look like swinging sixties London and wait a minute, isn’t that lady reporter played by the same lady who played the film actress diva in the last episode? The Saint, the more you watch it increasingly becomes like a little TV repertory company, with increasingly familiar faces, even in the bit parts. Anyway, I fast forward through most of it and then it’s off to the shops for the milk and eggs.

Sigourney Weaver as Ripley

Sigourney Weaver as Ripley

Back home and it’s time for some more Aliens. I don’t know about you but I tend to watch a lot of recorded films in two or more parts. I settle down with Aliens and the Slimy Carter Burke has enticed Ripley on a trip to LV426 with the tough hombres of the Space Marine Chore. They drop into orbit over the planet, now inhabited by terraformers with their atmosphere processors and Ripley, Burke and the marines awake from hibernation. I think for a moment that if LV426 is that far away enough for the crew to hibernate while travelling there, it isn’t that much of an emergency rescue mission but hey, what do I know? Later they arrive on the planet in a pretty exciting drop from the mother craft. The marines secure the area but then find that the Aliens have taken the humans into the atmosphere processor to use their bodies to hatch more of their creatures. Aliens is a sort of hybrid film; a sci-fi horror action movie, combining two or even three genres. The rest of the series was a little poor if you ask me but the first two in the series: Alien and Aliens, are classic cinema. Sigourney Weaver creates a memorable movie character in Ripley, tough and uncompromising, she is a sort of female John McClane. (Remember the Bruce Willis character from Die Hard?)

Anyway, time for the usual afternoon cheese sarnie and a brew and I settle down to watch the end of the Frank Sinatra documentary. I found it highly interesting as the film explored Sinatra’s relationships and associations and shows how the Kennedys dumped him, not wanting to be associated with him when his friendships with mafia figures became public. Later, in the eighties, Sinatra, a lifelong Democrat allied himself with republican Ronald Reagan.

A quick check of my e-mails and some more posts sorted on Twitter and Google+ and time for another cuppa. (Choccy biscuit? Don’t mind if I do!) Time to crank up Aliens again and this time the action heats up as Carter Burke decides Ripley knows too much and he locks her in the med lab with one of the alien parasites. It’s a pretty scary sequence. Ripley gets away but the Aliens are trying to break through into the complex. Why are the radar tracker signs showing the Aliens inside? Look at the roof, people!

Enough scary stuff for today. Liz comes in and asks “Is my dinner ready?” in a tone that suggests she doesn’t think it is. I need to think fast and quickly come up with: “Thought we might go to the Turkish Restaurant darlin’.”  “Well,” she says, “sounds nice, better get ready then.” As I leave to follow her I glance at myself in the mirror and hear myself saying: ‘Top TV couch potato? Steve, you are the man!’


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The Saint, James Bond, and a Rather Hot Afternoon.

The Saint and James BondI spent a lot of time last week trolling through my book collection and photographing the books for last week’s post about Marilyn Monroe. It wasn’t quite that easy because since my divorce my books have been boxed up in the spare room at my Mum’s house and it took me a while to search through the boxes and find the books I wanted. The other problem was that being a bit of a book fanatic, I kept coming across books I’d not read for ages or forgotten about and my original task was put on hold while I sat and started reading! I came across my James Bond book collection and as you will know from reading these posts I do love James Bond.

One of the Bond books I found was ‘Live and Let Die’. It’s not one of the best in the book series but it’s pretty good. Roger Moore played Bond in the movie version, in fact it was Moore’s first Bond movie and I have to say, Roger just didn’t do it for me as Bond. He just didn’t look the part unlike the previous 007, George Lazenby, who completely fitted in with the Bond of my imagination.

Live and let DieSadly, Lazenby listened to some poor advice which advised him that secret agent espionage films were on the way out: They weren’t, but it turned out Lazenby was. Sean Connery filled in for one more Bond film, Diamonds are Forever, until Moore took over on Live and Let Die.

Moore was a poor Bond. He looked like a sort of tailor’s dummy all the way through the film and was unable to present that hard edge that a real spy must have had. Don’t get the idea that I don’t like Roger Moore though because the fact is he’s one of my favourite TV and film actors and was great in the TV version of the Saint. His slightly flippant, happy go lucky personality was perfect for Simon Templar, the playboy cum adventurer of the TV series.

I have always loved that opening sequence in the Saint. You know, the bit where he meets some pretty girl, something happens like an attempted robbery or something, Templar saves the day and the girl says, ‘aren’t you the famous Simon Templar?’ Moore then looks up, raises an eyebrow, a halo appears and then we cut into the theme tune and the opening titles.

Funnily enough, The Saint is currently being reshown on ITV4 during the day and as I have come into possession of one of those freeview digital recorders it’s so easy to record all the episodes. Just a touch of the series link button and there they are, queuing up on the hard drive waiting for my viewing pleasure.

I started watching one today; it was an episode about an actress who is what they call today a ‘diva’. The Saint was invited to watch some filming by his old friend Lois Maxwell who would one day play Miss Moneypenny to Moore’s James Bond. The actress threw a bit of a wobbler and retreated into her caravan which was then hijacked right out of the studio and the actress held to ransom. I’m not sure how the episode ended because it was so hot (Tuesday as I write this) I had to get outside for some fresh air.

That’s the thing about the UK. You know how it is -once a year the temperature in Manchester is higher than in Barcelona and the newspapers suddenly revert from Celsius to Fahrenheit because 100 degrees is so much more exciting than 37.7!

The other thing is that in Spain, if it’s too warm you automatically go indoors, because indoors in Spain is so much cooler. In the UK it’s the opposite, it’s warmer indoors!

Looks like I’ll just have to wait for a much cooler evening to find out what happened to the Saint and the actress!


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A Brief History of TV Spies

quotescover-JPG-40Now that the X Files has returned to our TV screens I thought I might just take a quick look at TV spies and secret agents. I’ve always been interested in espionage, and the earliest TV spy show I can remember was the Man from Uncle. In case you don’t remember, the show starred David McCallum as Ilya Kuryakin and Robert Vaughn as Napoleon Solo. It was one of those slick and smooth TV shows from the USA and I even read somewhere that Ian Fleming, the creator of James Bond, had a hand in producing the series format.

Solo and Kuryakin were agents of UNCLE (United Network Command for Law and Enforcement) and used a various array of gadgets in their persecution of criminal organisation THRUSH (Can’t remember what THRUSH stood for!) They had pens that were communicators; ‘open channel D please‘ was something we used to hear our heroes say frequently, explosive devices hidden in the heels of their shoes and I loved every moment of it. The Head of UNCLE, Mr Waverly was played by film actor Leo G Carroll and he worked in a secret headquarters in New York accessed via a dry cleaning store. There was even a spin off series called the Girl from Uncle which starred Stephanie Powers.

1000501009DVDFLT_33df324They recently remade the Man from Uncle into a big screen movie but looking at the trailer, a lot of the best elements were not there; the music, the suave Robert Vaughn, the boyish David McCallum. To be fair I should save my judgement until I’ve seen the film but can you really recreate  something like the Man from Uncle on the screen, years later? I’m not so sure.

In the sixties and seventies there were plenty of crime and espionage series, things like The Avengers with Patrick MacNee as John Steed and his lovely sidekicks Cathy Gale, (Honor Blackman) Emma Peel, (Diana Rigg) and Tara King (Linda Thorson.) The Avengers was a thoroughly British tongue in cheek espionage show which was revived in the eighties as ‘the New Avengers‘ with Joanna Lumley as Steed’s new assistant, Purdey. Back in the sixties though there were other shows like Danger Man with Patrick McGoohan and the Prisoner, which was a sort of secret agent show with a twist. It starred McGoohan as a former agent trapped in a mysterious village. Perhaps he was the character from Danger Man, perhaps not, but those who ran the village wanted information and Patrick McGoohan’s character, number 6, wasn’t ready to give it!

In the 1970’s there was the Six Million Dollar Man starring Lee Majors as astronaut Steve Austin. Austin is injured in a testing accident but as they said in the opening titles, ‘gentlemen, we can rebuild him, we have the technology to make the world’s first bionic man!’ Steve Austin with his bionic legs could run faster than before, see better and hear better because of ‘bionic’ technology and he became a super agent for his boss Oscar Goldman.

In 1979 the BBC produced a TV version of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, the novel by John Le Carre. A little slow and at times even tedious, it was a view of the other side of the spy world: Shabby men in overcoats and rain macs. The thankless tasks of checking files and sifting information to find a ‘mole’, an agent in the UK working for Moscow centre. The series was remade into a feature film in 2011 which I found rather dull although plenty of great reviews of the film can be found on the internet.

In the 90’s US TV brought us the X Files, a mix of spies, espionage, crime and sci-fi. Personally I rather liked the series but I always had the feeling that the writers had written themselves into a sort of hole and didn’t know the way out. What was the big alien secret? Who was the cigarette smoking man? Yes, I don’t think the writers ever knew. My all time favourite episode of the X-Files was a two parter where agent Mulder is somehow morphed into the body of a CIA man and the CIA man morphs into Mulder’s body.

In 2001, a new fast moving spy drama hit the TV screens; 24. I loved 24 with its  high tech control rooms and the ease at which staff members sent maps, CCTV images, Satellite pictures, and all sorts to Jack Bauer’s gadgets. The idea of 24 was that a complete story covering a full twenty four hours was told in real time, each episode being an hour of the day. Funny though, no one ever had a sleep in those twenty four hours!

Homeland

Homeland

Recently I picked up a DVD of the US series Homeland. It was season 1 when UK TV is just showing season 4 and the series was fantastic. Great acting, some tight direction. Excellent camera work and some really taut and intelligent writing. It’s more of a psychological drama than an action series and I love it. The only problem is I’m three series behind. Do I wait for re-runs or do I get series 2 on DVD?

Anyway, getting back to the X-Files, what do you think of new 2016 series? All the original stars are present, it was made by the original production team and even used the same opening titles so you’d think the result would be pretty good. Actually Mulder looks a little tired. Scully isn’t quite so alluring as she used to be and the first episode seemed to play up all the aspects I didn’t like about the original, especially the ‘conspiracy’ and ‘alternate government’ paranoia stuff. I wasn’t hooked enough to watch episode 2 but wonder of it’s worth doing a quick ebay search for the Man from Uncle on DVD. 1960’s version, of course!


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MASH and the Emotional Leap Indicator

mash-title-960x590MASH has always been one of my very favourite TV comedy programmes. You may have read in another post about how I used to record the programme back in the early seventies with my cassette tape recorder. Later when video tape recorders appeared I used to tape many episodes of the show and now, here in the DVD age I have a number of box sets of the series. One of the things I have always loved about the show was how they could take zany and surreal humour, not unlike that of the Monty Python guys, and set it down in a real place; Korea in the 1950s. Some of the lines that came from the mouths of the characters were not only zany and funny but also very witty and clever. Apart from that, the characters themselves, Hawkeye, Trapper John, Frank Burns, Hotlips, Colonel Blake and Radar were interesting and likeable and I, like most viewers, began a strong emotional attachment with the cast.
graph4Now, you might be wondering about that other part of this post’s title, the bit about the emotional indicator. Yes, I thought you might. It’s not so easy to explain but here goes. Most TV shows and movies have a sort of standard emotional indicator that stays pretty constant throughout the show. Take a look at the graph over to the left and let’s put some numbers up. Say a baseline of zero for a standard, calm emotional level. Now, when the show gets funny that level goes up to something like 15 for instance and I’d even say that in a movie like Police Academy that 15 or higher would be a constant throughout the film, well for me certainly. The original Police Academy movie is one of my favourites and I tend to start laughing round about the start of the film with the scene in the parking lot where Steve Guttenberg says the parking lot is full and then the guy comes in and says ‘park the car dirt bag!’ I usually stop laughing round about the end credits but on a normal film there’s a constant up and down: up when the film gets funny and down to nil when we get back to normal.

Now in MASH, where surreal humour is combined with drama, it’s a different ball game. Many times not only does the viewer hit a 20 or higher and then drop down to zero,  he also drops down further, perhaps down to a -10 or lower in the really sad moments. In the graph you can see a really funny moment that comes before a really sad moment. Here’s a prime example from my favourite ever MASH episode, it was called ‘Sometimes you Hear the Bullet.’

Hawkeye’s friend Tommy comes to visit the 4077th MASH. He’s a journalist who wants to write the story of the Korean War from the point of view of the soldier, not the journalist. So he’s not a correspondent, he’s a fully signed up member of a platoon. He stops in and visits 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 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. Now I know why; because it wasn’t a case of just dropping down from 0 to minus 36 on the emotional scale, I was already up there on +45 so I had to drop way, way down. That’s why I love MASH: Humour, drama, and tragedy, all mixed into one.

MASH_TV_cast_1974Mash ran for 11 seasons and an incredible 256 episodes. Trapper, played by Wayne Rogers, was my favourite character after Hawkeye and he left the series after season three to be replaced by Mike Farrell playing new doctor B J Hunnicut. Colonel Blake (McLean Stevenson) also left at the end of season three. His character was discharged but right at the very end of the episode news came through to the MASH that the Colonel’s aircraft had crashed with no survivors. This episode prompted an outpouring of grief and resentment from fans at the death of the character. I could understand perhaps Colonel Blake dying part way through the episode and the second part showing the sadness and grief of the rest of the characters but it seemed to me that Colonel Blake’s death was almost an afterthought, just tagged on to the end of the episode. As time went on many of the other series regulars left including Gary Burghof (Radar) and Larry Linville (Frank Burns) and for me personally, the series was never the same.
The last ever episode was aired in 1983 and became the most watched TV episode ever in the USA at the time.

Keep an eye out for Sometimes You Hear The Bullet. It’s well worth watching!


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A Sci-Fi DVD and an Incredible Moment of Self Discovery

quotescover-JPG-38Something incredible happened to me this week: I found out I wasn’t the oddball nerd I thought I was in my youth, or at least I was but I found out there were others like me, I wasn’t alone and the nerdy things I used to do were done by many others!

So what nerdy things did I do? Well, here’s one example. In the seventies, before the age of the video recorder I had a small audio cassette recorder and did all sorts of things with it as a teenager. I wrote a number of comedy plays which my poor brother was roped into and we performed these little comedy sketches to the microphone. I did enjoy making the sound effects. One that comes to mind was my brother being sick which involved him making a retching sound then pouring a bucket of water down the toilet! I also used to record some of my favourite radio and TV programmes. I bought a second hand radio cassette recorder which enabled me to record the top twenty every week (dud records edited out of course) but TV presented another challenge. I would record a show using the microphone placed near to the TV speaker. Trial and error found the correct spot; not too close, not too far away and my family were sworn to silence during the recordings, not that that would stop my brother, or even my dad making some small comment towards the end of the show!

Photo0033So, how did this realisation that I was not alone in my nerdiness – or even a nerd at all- come about?
This realisation came about because of a gift. My brother, I might add, who is not a man known for his giving of gifts, had been given some DVDs that were of no interest to him so he passed them to me. They were BBC DVDs of the long running TV series, Doctor Who. Now I have been a Doctor Who fan for many years. I faintly remember the original Doctor Who, the grumpy bad tempered chap played by William Hartnell. The very first episode of Doctor Who, ‘An Unearthly Child’, is one of the highlights of my DVD collection and interestingly it was broadcast on the 22nd November 1963, the day of the John F Kennedy assassination. Because of the tragedy the BBC re ran the episode the following week which is perhaps why the original has survived. The thing is, back in the 60s when digital recordings and home video were just a gleam in some inventor’s eye, the archives at the BBC were getting a little crammed so what did they decide to do about it? Two things, One; they would wipe the tapes and reuse them for other shows and two, they would simply get rid of them!

Crazy, but of course, the value of these old TV shows was not understood then and many hours of classic TV was lost in this way. Not just Doctor Who but Not Only But Also, the Peter Cook and Dudley Moore shows, Doomwatch, Hancock and many others, all lost.

Anyway, one of the DVDs my brother gave me was ‘the Invasion’ from 1968 with the second Doctor Who, Patrick Troughton. The Invasion was made up of eight half hours shows and two of the eight had been lost or junked. Now many TV shows of the time, recorded on video were copied onto film by a telecine machine so the tape could be reused and the show broadcast again or sent to other parts of the world for broadcasting on foreign networks such as south Africa, Canada and so on. Many of these telecine recordings survive. Some have even known to have been rescued from tips or skips by BBC employees and even members of the public. Recently a lost episode of Doctor Who was found in Nigeria!

Anyway, here’s the punch line to this whole blog: When the BBC guys decided to reconstruct the missing episodes guess where they got the audio from? From audio recordings made by members of the public! Yes, Doctor Who fans who as youngsters recorded their favourite shows on audio cassettes, just as I did by placing  a microphone by the TV. So there we have it, conclusive proof that I wasn’t a nerd after all, or at least the nerdy activities of my youth were the same nerdy activities that other youngsters were involved in too!


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