A Completely Inaccurate and Unreliable History of TV and Film Time Travel!

I think I’ll start this post with that fabulous time travel film Back to the Future. If you have never seen it, (shame on you) the film concerns young Marty McFly who helps his friend Doc Brown with a time travel experiment. The time machine is a 1985 DeLorean sports car which morphs through time when it reaches the magical speed of 88 mph. The experiment goes horribly wrong when a gang of Libyan terrorists whom the Doc has double crossed in order to get some vital nuclear supplies for his car/time machine arrive and shoot the Doc apparently dead.

Marty escapes in the DeLorean, accidentally hits the time travel switch (the flux capacitor) and zooms back to 1955 when he speeds up to 88 mph.
There Marty has to enlist the help of Doc Brown’s younger self, get his parents’ romance back on course after accidentally knocking that off target, and get himself back to 1985 in time to prevent the Doc being murdered by terrorists.

In Back to the Future 2, Crispin Glover, who played Marty’s dad, failed to agree terms with the producers so was not in films 2 or 3. Instead a look-alike actor was used prompting Glover to sue the production company. His legal challenge failed but next time you watch 2 and 3, that’s why Marty’s dad isn’t in the film much!

There are some great little touches to the film too, some you may not even have noticed, for instance, when Marty leaves 1985 and goes back to the past, he departs from the Twin Pines Mall. There, in 1955 he hits a pine tree and later arrives back in 1985 at the Lone Pine Mall!

In the final film Doc Brown gets accidentally flipped back to 1885 and Marty has to time travel back there to save the Doc. How does he know the Doc is in 1885? Well, the Doc arranges for a courier service to deliver a message to Marty at the exact time and spot where he disappears and flips back to 1885. Of course as Marty rescued him and brought him back to the future, then he wouldn’t have been there to write the message for the courier, well wouldn’t he? Maybe he wrote the message before departing!

Funnily enough, that is a similar situation in one of my favourite of the rebooted Doctor Who episodes, Blink. The doctor, played by David Tennant, gets stuck in the past courtesy of the Weeping Angels, aliens who appear frozen when watched but otherwise move in the blink of an eye. However he manages to add some special video links to a future DVD so people in the present can pick up his messages and help him.

Blink is possibly the most beloved episode of the modern Doctor Who era, with an oddball mystery that is intriguing and a slightly off beat approach to the show’s usual format, focusing mainly on a new character named Sally Sparrow instead of David Tennant’s Doctor. Sally is played by the now famous Carey Mulligan, and her portrayal of a normal young woman who has to solve a crazy time mystery when her friend is transported to the past by a living angel statue won her plenty of fans among the Doctor Who faithful.

Really though, the best Doctor Who episodes were back in the 1980’s with Tom Baker as the Doctor and Elizabeth Sladen as assistant Sarah Jane Smith. A great episode was Pyramids of Mars, which combines sci- fi with the mystery of Egyptian tombs and artefacts. The Tardis materialises back at Unit headquarters in the UK. (UNIT by the way, is a military organisation the Doctor worked with in the 1980’s.) However, they are not at the current time period but have arrived earlier, in 1911. A great country house is there and it appears that a mysterious Egyptian has taken over the late Professor Scarman’s estate and there are many strange goings on. Later the Doctor finds that an ancient alien called Sutekh, imprisoned thousands of years ago by another alien, Horus is trying to escape captivity and wreak death and destruction on the universe. The Doctor, naturally, foils his plans.

Doctor Who is the world’s longest running sci-fi show having been first broadcast on the 22nd November 1963. Not many people watched the show that day as most people were desperate to find out about the Kennedy assassination and so it was repeated again the following week. William Hartnell, the original doctor, left the show in 1966 and the role passed to Patrick Troughton. The producers came up with the ingenious idea of having the doctor, an alien from the planet Gallifrey, regenerating into another body making it easy to reboot the series every time the lead actor left.

Star Trek, although not really a time travel programme actually had quite a few episodes which involved time travel. The fans’ firm favourite, an episode voted the best ever Star Trek episode, was City on the Edge of Forever. The crew of the Enterprise arrive at a distant planet searching for the source of some time displacement. The source is a time portal, left among the ruins of an ancient civilisation which although abandoned, still emits waves of time displacement. In the meantime, Doctor McCoy is suffering from paranoia brought on by an accidental overdose of the wonder drug cordrazine which any Star Trek fan will tell you can cure any known Galactic ailment. McCoy in his crazed state bumbles through the time portal, back to 1930’s America (handy for that old 1930’s set on the Paramount back lot) and changes history. Kirk and Spock are forced to also go back in time, stop McCoy from changing history and restore things to as they were. Joan Collins plays a charity worker at the core of events; does she have to die in order to restore things to as they were?

In the Star Trek movie world there was another great time travel film, Star Trek 4 in which earth is threatened by a space vehicle causing havoc with the world’s weather. It turns out that the aliens are sending signals in whale-speak so the crew travel back to the 1980’s in order to find a hump back whale which can respond to the aliens. Sounds a bit mad when I put it like that but actually Star Trek 4 was one of the best Trek films. Highlights included Mr Spock diving into a giant pool and mind melding with a whale and later asking a punk rocker to turn down his ghetto blaster.

I must of course mention the sixties show the Time Tunnel the Irwin Allen show about 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.

The Time Tunnel starts off with a Congressman coming to investigate the growing budget of the time tunnel complex and threatens to close things down unless he sees results. Scientist Tony Newman decides he must therefore travel back in time to prove that the tunnel really works and save the project. Tony ends up on the ill-fated liner Titanic. His colleague Doug follows him back to 1912 and the control room struggle to shift the two in time before the ship sinks. Unable to return the duo to the present,  the technicians struggle every week to shift the duo to somewhere new just in the nick of time. One episode that I particularly remember was when the pair land in Pearl Harbour, just before the Japanese attack in 1941. Tony meets himself as a young boy and finally solves the mystery of the disappearance of his father in the attack.

I’m at the point of running out of time travel TV shows but here is one great time travel movie, 12 Monkeys. I didn’t like it the first time I saw it then some time later I saw part of the film again and thought, hey, maybe this film isn’t so bad. The third time I saw it all the way through and did enjoy it although it can be a little hard to follow. 12 Monkeys was inspired by the French short film La Jetée made in 1962 and it goes something like this; Bruce Willis plays prisoner James Cole who lives in a post apocalyptic society in the year 2035 where people are forced to live underground after a deadly virus was released in 1996 which wiped out most of humanity. The virus was released by a group known only as the 12 Monkeys and Cole is selected to be sent back into the past to try and find the original virus so scientists can perfect a cure. Cole is plagued by a vision which constantly returns to him in which a man is shot dead on a railway station and as the film reaches its final moments, this tragic vision is finally explained.

I’ve tried to keep this post pretty much research free so no doubt numerous errors and omissions will be evident. What was your favourite time travel film or TV episode?


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.

Cary Grant, Peter Sellers and Home Movies.

The BBC does do a good documentary and the other day I settled down to watch a documentary about the film star Cary Grant; Becoming Cary Grant.

Grant was the smooth talking and sophisticated star of many a Hitchcock film, indeed the documentary revealed ‘Hitch’ to be his favourite director. Grant and Hitchcock were both immigrants from the UK.

Cary Grant was born Archibald Leach in Bristol in the south of England. He had a rather sad childhood during which his mother disappeared. Various explanations were put to the young Archie including the lies that she had gone on holiday and later that she had died. In fact his father had his wife committed to an asylum where she languished until her rich and famous son returned to her much later. In fact, Grant did not learn that his mother was still alive until he was thirty-one years old.

Archie’s father remarried but Archie was not included in the new family. Instead he was sent to live with his grandparents. At school he developed a love of theatre and spent much time helping and later working at small theatres in Bristol. When he was only 11 he began working with a small troupe known as the Pender Troupe and when they went to undertake a new tour in the USA, the young Archie went with them, following in the footsteps of other performers like Charlie Chaplin and Stan Laurel.

In the USA, Archie toured the vaudeville circuit with the Pender Troupe and decided to stay on in the USA when the troupe returned home. He and some others formed their own troupe and Archie spent a lot of time doing various acts like stilt walking and unicycle riding. Gradually he moved on to better roles in various theatre productions and even had a screen test in the early 1930s, which was shown on the documentary. Archie, now using the name Cary Grant comes over as a loud-voiced individual, making many faces for the camera. Of course, as a vaudeville actor he was used to talking loudly and making exaggerated expressions but he soon learned to tone down his performance for the cameras.

The documentary uses text from Grant’s unpublished autobiography and it is clear an experience in later life had a great effect on him. Grant took part in a form of psychoanalysis using LSD which enabled him to confront issues from his early life which the actor felt had unduly affected his relationships as an adult, particularly with women, in fact he was married five times.

The film was interesting but focused mainly on the unpublished autobiography and many of his friendships and relationships that I have read about in other books were not even mentioned. A great part of the film also was Grant’s collection of home movies which were used throughout the film although many times what we were seeing was not properly explained. Towards the end of the film Grant’s daughter was interviewed and visits Cary’s old home. In one scene we see her visiting the patio shown in a earlier shot on one of Cary’s home movies. More interviews and perhaps some more location footage would have benefited this film enormously. Still, it was interesting and can be found on the BBC i-Player if you missed the original broadcast.

The Peter Sellers Story: As He Filmed It.

A similar and much superior film to the Cary Grant documentary is this one, The Peter Sellers Story: As He Filmed It, made by the BBC Arena team in 1995. It was created largely from cine film shot by Sellers himself, who was a lifelong camera enthusiast. 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.

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.

If you are interested the original is available in three parts on vimeo.

Part One

Part Two

Part Three


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

Ally Mcbeal, Eddie the Eagle and my TV Hard Drive

Looking back at some of my previous posts I see that back in April I was waxing lyrical about the onset of spring, the lengthening of the days and how nice it was to finish a night shift and find myself greeted by daylight as I left my workplace.

This week I was back on the night shift again but as I climbed into my car I had to crank up the heater for the first time in many months. I always think that September going into October is a sad time of the year. The days get shorter, the weather is colder and it is time to start wearing my fleece to work.

Being back home after three weeks in France is frankly, something of a let-down. The washer is humming away cleaning our holiday gear. I’m thinking about where I can put all that unnecessary stuff I bought at the brocantes and vide greniers we visited. The prospect of returning to work is no longer looming on the horizon, the moment is actually here. There was a time, I remember sadly, when I actually loved my job and looked forward to going back to work. Alas, those days are gone.

My car, my trusty Renault Megane convertible is a veritable hive of CDs. The glove compartment is full of them as are the pockets in the driver and passenger doors. Down in the passenger footwell there is a box of CDs which is interchangeable with one in the boot. When I get fed up with the selection I swap them round and the box I am tired of goes in the boot and the other one comes into the front. When I am tired of both boxes, I take them back home and make up a new selection.

Today, going back into work I had a good search through them for something new to listen to. Radio adverts are just not on my agenda. TV adverts, OK I can live with them, you can pop into the kitchen and make a cup of tea, yes, OK but radio ads: Not on my watch as they say. Anyway, the CD I decided to listen to was an album of songs from the TV show Ally McBeal, mostly by Vonda Shepard but with a sprinkling of guest singers. Ally McBeal was a comedy drama that aired back in the nineties and it’s surprising that it hasn’t turned up on some random Freeview TV channel yet. Ally McBeal played by Calista Flockhart was a Boston Lawyer and the show focussed on the antics of Ally and her colleagues not only in the courtroom but also in the local bar, which is where the music comes in. There were a heck of a lot of songs sung in that bar.

Music played a major part in the show and Vonda Shepard covered some classic pop tunes all slotted in carefully with lyrics that corresponded to the storyline of the show. One of my absolute favourites was Vonda’s cover of Gilbert O’Sullivan’s ‘Alone Again (Naturally)’ a hit single for O’Sullivan from 1972.

Gilbert O’Sullivan featured regularly in the music charts until the 1980’s when he began a legal battle with his music publisher Dick James regarding royalties and the ensuing legal contest stopped him from releasing his music.

In Ally McBeal, John Cage and Richard Fish were the co-owners of the law firm where Ally works. Cage was an oddball attorney nicknamed ‘the biscuit’. I loved his odd ways, his ‘taking a moment’, his antics in the communal toilet area and his invocation of the spirit of Barry White when he needed a confidence boost. Richard Fish was another oddball lawyer and also part of the firm was Billy, Ally’s former boyfriend and his new wife Georgia. Legal cases were up there in the foreground, actually the background and in the background, actually the foreground, if you see what I mean, were the loves and lives of the cast.

One thing that was important on returning home from holiday was checking the hard drive on my TV recorder and finding out just what was lurking there. What had recorded and what had failed.

There was of course three weeks of our favourite soap, Coronation Street lying in wait so we decided to have a duvet day, actually two duvet days of non-stop soap action. In some ways Corrie is best watched just like that. Fast forward through the adverts and no waiting between Friday night’s cliff hanger episode and the Monday night follow-up.

Some things seem to sort of leap out when you watch a soap in that fashion. One storyline involved Sean Tully, one of the Street’s gay characters. Sean packed his job in at the local factory in favour of a new job and new flat in the city centre. It turned out though that his job had fallen through, then he returned to live with friends who had to give him notice due to some new arrangements. Then it was revealed Sean had lost his job and now was actually homeless. Sean endured a few weeks of living rough in a tent and trying to conceal the shame of his new position from friends but suddenly, the way it is in soaps, his old friend Billy offered him a room at his house, he got his old job back and hey presto, all is well again.

It was nice that the soap tried to show a little of what life is like for the homeless but couldn’t they have carried the storyline on a little longer, like things are in, you know, real life?

Then again there was the storyline when poor old Rita started losing her memory and was diagnosed with dementia. Luckily there was that quick lifesaving operation and Rita’s brain power and memory were restored just like it never happens in real life. And there was the one about young Simon who had become violent towards his mother. Luckily, he quickly grew out of that phase. Oh well, that’s soaps for you.

Also there on my hard drive were two formula one Grands Prix. The Belgian Grand Prix from the impressive and historic Spa Francorchamps and the Italian race from the equally historic Monza. There was a time too when I would have hungered to watch those races. As it is, Formula One still has its moments and I do still love the sport but not like the days when I bought a shed load of racing magazines every week and hungered for every snippet of racing information I could find.

While in France I subscribed to Radio Five Live’s F1 podcasts. Now the podcasts are not quite what I had thought they were going to be. I thought they might be an audio version of the race highlights with the commentators breathlessly describing the race track action in the way Murray Walker used to do in the old days. (Murray, for those of you who have never heard of him, was a BBC commentator who was once described as a man who talks like his trousers are on fire -in his quieter moments!)

No, the podcasts were not like that. They start off, unlike the TV highlights show on Channel 4, by telling you the results, and just how they came about. Then there are 30 to 50 minutes of driver interviews and endless discussion about what happened, why it happened and why didn’t something that didn’t happen, not happen. Yes, interesting but maybe the production team assumed we listeners had watched the race on TV. Actually we hadn’t, or at least I hadn’t, which is why I was listening to the podcast in the first place.

There were some exciting elements to those races, Hamilton and Vettel colliding at the first corner at Monza and Hamilton hunting down Raikkonen’s Ferrari and just pipping him for the win. Still, watching those races a few weeks after they had happened just wasn’t my cup of tea.

Anyway, soon it was time to go back to work but before that we sat down one evening after our tea looking for something to watch. Nothing was on TV (naturally) so once again I scanned through the hard drive and came across a film I had recorded about Eddie the Eagle.

In 1988, Eddie became the first skier to represent Britain in Olympic Ski jumping since 1928. The film describes Eddie’s life as an Olympic obsessed youngster and his progression to ski jumper. He self-trains in Germany where the seasoned skiers belittle him. However by grit and determination, Eddie qualifies for the Olympics in Calgary despite resistance by the Olympic team for his amateur and uncouth appearance. Eddie turns the tables on everyone by his determination and humour and in fact becomes the star of the Olympics, feted by the world’s press.

The film is an enjoyable and affectionate portrait. I’m not sure just how accurate or true it is but I enjoyed every minute of it and if I had been there at the Olympics, I would have been cheering for Eddie myself.

Well, that first night shift was hard. Not actually hard in itself just hard to endure, sitting there wishing I was back in my rented villa tapping away on my laptop trying to finish a new blog post so that I could hurry out for a dip in the pool, after decanting some vin rouge to breathe, of course.

When I finished at 6 am it was still dark and rather cold. As I pulled away from the car park I turned up the heat and switched on the CD player. Vonda Shepard was singing another of my favourite songs, a cover of the Dusty Springfield’s hit, I Only Want to be With You . .


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.

 

Second Hand DVDs and don’t mention the Roger Moore Bond Films!

I write a lot of posts about second hand books which I am always buying but I do also get hold of a lot of second hand DVDs so its perhaps only fair I write something about those for a change.

James Bond.

Most of my James Bond DVDs, were bought either reduced or at second hand shops and the greater part of my collection was from an Ebay job lot of Bond films. Sadly the job lot contained all of Roger Moore’s Bond films which must surely rank as the worst films in the series. (Please don’t mention the Roger Moore Bond films!) My brother, a great fan of classic movies actually likes the Roger Moore Bond films (Thought I said don’t mention the Roger Moore Bond films!) so happily I was able to just pass those over to him. In a way I’m not sure why I bought any of the Bond films on DVD because they are always being shown on TV and the great thing is that if I come home from work and a Bond film has already started, I’ve seen them all so often that I know them off by heart so I can just get a brew on and settle down to watch the remainder of the film.

Sex and The City.

Recently I came across a box set of the entire Sex and the City TV series in a Lytham charity shop. All the TV seasons in one big plastic box. Great, I thought when I saw them. I already have the individual box sets but now I can keep this giant set near the TV and pop the discs into the DVD player whenever I like. The price tag was a paltry £2.50 and so one day I settled down to watch them planning to take in, one DVD at a time, the entire series.

DVD 1 was popped into the player but what had we here? This was DVD2! Back to the DVD box and I see that DVD2 was in position one but position 2 was empty! How had I not spotted that the first DVD of the entire series was missing? What the heck, my whisky and dry was all ready, so was my cheese sandwich so I had no choice but to start with DVD2. Carrie was already involved with Mr Big, my favourite character of the series by DVD2. Just in case you have never seen Sex and the City, Mr Big is not only the coolest guy ever but actually takes cool to new unexplored heights. Carrie and Big are finished by the end of series 1 but by series 2 they were back together again. Towards the end of series 2 Carrie is asking Big about their summer holiday arrangements but Big reveals he may be off to start work on a new job in Paris. Carrie is stunned and eventually they agree to go their separate ways and Big goes off, we assume to Paris.

A few episodes later, Carrie and the girls are spending time in the Hamptons -now, I’m not sure exactly what the Hamptons are but I guess they are some kind of resort or country area near to New York. Come to think of it, despite all the films I have seen set in New York I sometimes wonder about New York geography. Is New York in Manhattan or is Manhattan in New York? Anyway, at a party in the Hamptons, Carrie bumps into -Mr Big! Apparently the Paris job fell through and there is Mr Big -with new girlfriend, Natasha! Carrie is not amused!

Now the great thing about Sex and the City is that all these relationship issues roll happily along with a touch of comedy, and a great deal of sharp and finely tuned observations about people, relationships and, of course, sex. I’ve not yet reached series 3 but I’ve seen it before, years ago when it was first broadcast and I’m pretty certain Carrie gets involved with Aiden, another very cool dude with a coolness of a different category to Mr Big. Aiden is a woodworker, a beer drinker and an outdoor sort of guy. Carrie cheats on him with Mr Big if I remember correctly but season 4 is really where this whole series reaches its zenith. Carrie gets back with Aiden and in one episode he takes her for a trip to his log cabin in the country (might even be in the Hamptons but I’m not certain.) Mr Big is having his own relationship problems and wants to talk to Carrie about it and a drunken Big is forced to spend the night in Aiden’s log cabin. Tensions erupt in the morning when Big and Aiden have a mud fight after a rainstorm but by the end of the episode they are best buddies.

The Maltese Falcon.

I’ve had a copy of this video for a while but recently a dispute occurred between me and my brother. He borrowed my copy and claims he returned it. As it is now not to be found I claimed that the version that resides at his place must be mine. No he says, that is his copy. Why then did he borrow mine in the first place? I rest my case you honour! Anyway, rather than argue further I spotted a cheap version on Ebay, available for 99 pence and snapped it up.

According to that mine of information Wikipedia, The Maltese Falcon has been recognised as the very first major film noir. It was written and directed by John Huston and based on the novel by Dashiell Hammett. Humphrey Bogart stars as Private Eye Sam Spade who tries to unravel the mystery of his partner’s murder and along the way comes across another mystery, that of the jewelled figure of a bird known as the Maltese Falcon. A number of people are after the bird, Joel Cairo played by Peter Lorre, Kasper Gutman played by the unforgettable Sidney Greenstreet and Brigid O’Shaugnessy played by Mary Astor who makes the mistake of thinking that Sam Spade is corruptable.

It’s hard to put the finger on my favourite scene but one of them is this exchange between Bogart and Greenstreet:

Gutman: We begin well, sir. I distrust a man who says “when”. If he’s got to be careful not to drink too much, it’s because he’s not to be trusted when he does. Well, sir, here’s to plain speaking and clear understanding. [They drink.] You’re a close-mouthed man?

Spade: No, I like to talk.

Gutman: Better and better. I distrust a close-mouthed man. He generally picks the wrong time to talk and says the wrong things. Talking’s something you can’t do judiciously unless you keep in practice. Now, sir, we’ll talk if you like. I’ll tell you right out – I’m a man who likes talking to a man who likes to talk.

Spade: Swell. Will we talk about the black bird?

Gutman: [chuckling] You’re the man for me, sir. No beating about the bush, right to the point. Let’s talk about the black bird, by all means.

The Shape of Water.

Now, there are those who seem to think I only ever look at black and white classic movies. Not so, I like modern films too and just to prove it I picked up the Shape of Water, again for a few pounds on Ebay. You may remember that the film won the Oscar for Best Film at this year’s awards and it looked pretty interesting in the various clips I have seen. Everything I had heard about the film was positive but the first warning sign was the extensive availability of DVDs of the film on Ebay and the second was the rather low prices. Anyway, I got my DVD and watched it and how this film won an Oscar I really do not know. Yes it is well acted. The photography was excellent although everything is presented in a sort of greenish hue that the director perhaps feels enshrouded late fifties and early sixties America. However the content just didn’t do it for me. It’s about a young mute woman cleaner in a top secret government installation who falls in love with a strange creature, half man, half fish, that is held captive there. She and her father rescue the fish man and take him back to their apartment high over a cinema and install the creature in the bath.

The Guardian said this about the film: Guillermo del Toro’s escapist fantasy-romance The Shape of Water was the biggest winner, (at the Oscars) the story of a young woman’s love for a captured sea creature — with best picture and best director, setting the official seal of approval on what is, by any measure, a beautifully made movie to which audiences have responded with distinctively sensual delight.

Don’t believe a word of it, the fact is the Shape of Water is a dismal weird film and my copy will soon be available once again on Ebay. It was so bad it even made me hunger for one of Roger Moore’s Bond Films. (Don’t mention the Roger Moore Bond films!)


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

10 Famous and Not So famous Cars!

The Batmobile.

No, I’m not thinking of the one that locks up in a sort of caterpillar way, although I’d love to have a car that does that. Nor am I thinking of the one that resembles a tank. Just in case I’ve lost you here I’m talking about the comic strip hero Batman and his motor car, the Batmobile. Batman has progressed from comic strip to TV to the big screen but my favourite Batmobile is the one from the 1960’s TV series starring Adam West as the Caped Crusader and Burt Ward as Robin, the Boy Wonder. The dynamic duo regularly leapt over the doors into the car ready for a quick getaway in their pursuit of the dastardly villains of the 1960’s such as the Penguin, the Joker and so on. I used to have a Corgi model version if I remember correctly.

John Steed’s car

Patrick MacNee played the debonair John Steed in TV’s the Avengers and his car throughout much of the series life was a vintage Bentley. Steed, just like the dynamic duo, had a habit of leaping over his car doors. Must have scuffed those leather seats with his shoes though, I wouldn’t be happy about that. If you have ever read the original James Bond novels, you’ll know that Bond’s personal car was a Bentley, although it can’t have looked too good after Hugo Drax forced him to crash in Ian Fleming’s novel Moonraker. If you are thinking well, I saw the film and I don’t remember that bit, I think it’s fair to say that the books are usually pretty different to the films!

The Saint’s Volvo.

Simon Templar alias the Saint, played by Roger Moore, drove a white Volvo P1800 with the registration plate, ST1, which by my reckoning, if that was a real plate, would be worth quite a few bob today. In fact, if I had that few bob I might be tempted to buy it for myself. ST1, yes, that’d look pretty good on my old Renault Megane!

James Bond’s Aston Martin.

One of the memes I use frequently on Twitter is one of Sean Connery, exclaiming ‘ejector seat? You’re joking!’ to his technical colleague Q in the James Bond film Goldfinger. Bond’s Aston Martin DB11 had a variety of gadgets ranging from the aforementioned ejector seat to rotating number plates, forward facing machine guns (just the job to deal with road rage issues) and oil and smokescreen ejectors to fend off any following bad guys. In a later Bond film, Die Another Day, Bond, this time played by Pierce Brosnan, had an invisible car. Pity Brosnan didn’t reprise the ‘you’re joking’ line in that film which was Brosnan’s last outing as 007.

Steve McQueen’s Car.

The movie Bullitt was a classic cop film. OK, the plot was a little complicated but the car chase was the classic movie car chase of all time. McQueen drove a Ford Mustang 390 GT. Its 6.4 litre engine making a throaty roar as McQueen gunned his car in pursuit of the bad guys. I used to think his car was a Ford Cougar which is why I got all excited when I once used a hire car and was told over the phone it was a Ford Cougar. It turned out to be a different car altogether, a Ford Kuga!

‘Back to the Future’ 1981 DeLorean DMC-12

In the Back to the Future time travel trilogy, Marty McFly ends up back in the 1950’s courtesy of the time machine installed in the car by wacky inventor Dr Emmett Brown. The car warps into the past, or future, whenever the car’s time circuits are activated and the car hit 88mph. That of course happens to Marty McFly early on in the movie and he ends up back in 1955. There he meets a younger version of Doc Brown and he agrees to help Marty return Back to the Future. A great film and a pretty nice looking motor for the mid 1980’s. I particularly liked the gull wing doors.

‘Smokey and the Bandit’ 1977 Pontiac Trans Am

Still on the subject of films, ‘Smokey and the Bandit’ was the second highest grossing movie of 1977, second only to Star Wars. It’s about a trucker known as ‘the Bandit’ who is paid a large amount of dollars to get 400 cases of Coors beer across the state boundary from Texas into Georgia. I don’t exactly know much about US State boundaries or whether it was illegal or not but anyway, Burt Reynolds plays the ‘Bandit’, who recruits fellow trucker ‘the Snowman’, to drive the beer truck while the Bandit himself drives a Pontiac Trans-Am to lure any ‘smokies’ or police, away from the beer laden truck. Along the way the Bandit picks up the lovely Sally Field and finds himself being pursued by Texas Sheriff Buford T. Justice. Sounds pretty simple doesn’t it? A Guy, a fast car, a lovely girl and a whole load of fun filled action packed car chases. It’s a great film and that Pontiac is a great looking motor car.

Number Six’s Lotus 7.

Remember The Prisoner from the late 60’s? Well if you don’t, it was a sci-fi fantasy-espionage TV show starring Patrick McGoohan. McGoohan stars as ‘Number 6’, a British agent who resigns and is kidnapped from his home, waking up in in the mysterious ‘village’ where the man in charge, Number 2, wants information. The opening sequence shows McGoohan driving around London in the rather lovely Lotus 7 and then back to his London flat where his mysterious abductors pounce. I’ve always rather fancied a Lotus 7, although I do like my creature comforts such as my CD player and my air con. Doesn’t look like there is much room in the Lotus for all my CD’s either!

Starsky and Hutch  Ford Gran Torino

Cast your mind back to the year 1975. Remember the TV cop show Starsky and Hutch? Well if you don’t then maybe you caught the movie version released in 2004. I say movie ‘version’ because the film is a sort of tongue in cheek comedy version of the TV show. Actually, neither the film nor the TV show were that great in my opinion but I did like their car which was a Ford Gran Torino in a rather lovely shade of red with white flashes down the side. Not sure if the car was much use during covert shadowing operations but hey, it looked fantastic!

My Car

If you are a big fan of film noir, you’ll have probably noticed that a lot of Los Angeles based detectives and their New York counterparts too, have a habit of parking up and leaving their cars with windows open and without any attempt at putting the roof down or locking up. If I left my car like that when I visit the council estate where I used to live I’d be lucky if my car was still there when I returned. Or if it was still there, then I’d be lucky to see the wheels still attached. TV detectives like Simon Templar for instance, also rarely lock their cars or even carry any keys for that matter. Anyway, as I’ve mentioned my car I might as well tell you more. My car is a Renault Megane convertible. I’ve always wanted a convertible and so in a way, this car is a lifelong dream. I probably would have preferred a Porsche or a Chevrolet but what the heck, I love my Renault. It’s nice to drive, supremely comfortable, well, for me anyway. Liz hates it as because of her back problems she needs a more sit up straight seat; for me, the slightly reclining position is perfect. One negative comment about the Megane: I always feel slightly embarrassed when a bulb blows because I have to take it to the garage to have another fitted. Why is fitting a light bulb so difficult in cars these days?

Just recently the weather in late April in the UK has warmed up and the other day it was time to take a drive with the ‘hood down’ as they say in American films. I do love the process of dropping the roof, hearing the smooth whine of the electric motor as the windows drop and the roof folds away into the boot. Whenever I do that I always hear the theme tune to Thunderbirds in my head and feel just a little like Scott Tracy as he slides his way from the lounge on Tracy Island over to Thunderbird 1. One interesting observation came to me today on the way to work. It was a lovely sunny afternoon and I motored along serenely with my hair ruffling ever so slightly in the breeze, the sun was warm on my head and shadows flickered lightly across my tinted lenses. I noticed a number of convertibles out on the road, some slightly more glamorous vehicles than mine, others not quite up to scratch. One thing they all seemed to have in common was that in all cases the driver was a middle aged follically challenged man wearing tinted lenses or sunglasses. Some would say that is a description that rather resembles me; surely not! Then again, perhaps certain people of a certain age and certain disposition lean towards a certain motorcar of the more open to the elements type. Oh well. . .

Now, I’m a little stuck for a video here but I did find this one, a sort of test video with my then new camera!


 Floating in Space is a novel set in Manchester, 1977. To find out more click the links at the top of the page or click here to go straight to Amazon.

 

 

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

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

Coronation Street.

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

Doctor Who.

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

Sarah Millican.

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

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

There’s Something about Mary.

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

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

The Intruder.

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

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


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

Floating in Space

Putting the O in Columbo

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

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

Mickey Spillane. Picture courtesy Wikipedia

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

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

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

Picture credit: pixabay.com

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

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

Oh, and another thing. When it comes down to it, I’m not absolutely certain ‘ShortFuse’ was my all time favourite Columbo. In fact, it might really be ‘Murder by the Book‘, starring my favourite murderer, Jack Cassidy. In this 1971 episode, Jack plays a writer, actually part of a writing double act who together produce a series of novels about ‘Mrs Melville’ who is an amateur detective. The thing is, Jack’s partner wants to ditch the partnership but Jack is not happy about it. He is so unhappy he decides to, yes you guessed it, bump off his co-writer. He does it in a rather ingenious way which foxes Columbo but not for long and to cap it all, the episode is directed by none other than Steven Spielberg!

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

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


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

Floating in Space

 

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!


If you enjoyed this post, why not try my book Floating in Space? Set in Manchester 1977 it is available from amazon as a kindle download or traditional paperback.

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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