Gregory’s Girl and Memories of Schooldays

There are two films in particular that bring back memories of my schooldays. One is the classic movie Kes and the other is a film that I watched last Sunday night; Gregory’s Girl.

Gregory’s Girl was a low-budget movie made in 1981 and was written and directed by Bill Forsyth. The film is a gentle comedy about a young lad who fancies a girl who has just joined his school football team. The film was one of those special films where so many things come together to make a truly great and memorable film, in fact it is ranked number 30 in the British Film Institute’s list of the top 100 British films.

It reminds me so much of my own schooldays in so many ways. The hairstyles in the film were similar to those of myself and my friends back in 1973, the year I left school (armed with only four O levels to take on the world). The school ties and jackets were similar to mine, the classrooms and desks were also similar and lead actor John Gordon Sinclair’s gaudy and shy manner both on and off the football field was just like mine.

The scene where Sinclair, playing the part of Gregory, asked Dorothy for a date brought back memories. I remember asking some long forgotten girl out once. I had planned what to do and what to say but nothing came out. The girl, perhaps recognising my situation asked me ‘would I be going down the shops tonight?’

The shops, yes that’s where my school friends used to congregate of an evening and we didn’t do much except talk and wander about. Sometimes there would be a ball game, other times, just like Gregory, we’d go down to the chip shop and eat a bag of chips. We did talk, that long forgotten girl and me, but that was about all we did, after all we shared our ‘date’ with about six other people!

On Gregory’s date he borrows his friend’s jacket and my friend Chris also had a jacket which he loaned to his friends. It was his number two jacket, not quite as smart as his number one jacket and when Chris used to take us to places where we could ‘chat up’ the girls I would always get friends and acquaintances asking me ‘is that Chris’ jacket?’ I would always deny it but that jacket was pretty well known!

In the early seventies fashions were different and I was famous at my school for having the biggest and fattest tie, just like my hero, flamboyant TV detective Jason King. Back then my school pals and I all loved Jason King and his trendy outfits and we went out of our way to get a giant tie knot, just like the one Jason had in ‘Department S.’ Most of the kids got the big knot by tying their ties way down at the fat end of the tie making their ties short but at least with a big knot. I got some help with my tie from an unexpected source: My Mother!

We were watching Department S one day and I was wishing out loud for a big fat tie like the one Peter Wyngarde who played Jason King was sporting and she said to me “You could make one yourself. It’s easy.”

“Easy!” I said. “How?”

“Well, all you need is another tie to go inside the first one and make it bigger.” Sounds good I thought but how do you get one tie inside another? My Mum showed me how with a big safety pin! What you had to do was get your second tie, the one that needs to go inside the other, pin the safety pin to it and then you can thread it through the other one, manipulating it along with the safety pin which you can feel through the material.

I dug out an old tie and threaded it through my school tie, took out the safety pin and then tied my tie in the usual way. Result-one huge knot that Jason King himself would be pleased with.

The next day I went into school wearing my new fashionable tie and half the school–or so it seemed to me-were stunned by my trendy new school tie. Where did I get it from? How did I get such a knot? Did I tie it in a special way?

I remember once after games, getting changed in the changing rooms and everyone turned to watch as I fastened my tie. There was me, fastening the tie in the mirror with all my school mates watching. I had become a sort of mini school celebrity: The kid with the trendy tie!

“Here it comes,” said someone as I made the final tie of the knot, “Super knot!”

Well, my fifteen minutes of fame came, went, and vanished as other people worked out how to make their own special ‘super knots.’ Jason King went on to star in his own spin-off TV series then he too vanished into TV’s Golden past. Fashion moved on and in the eighties ties went the other way; narrow thin ties were the norm. Trousers lost their flares, jacket lapels slimmed down once again. ‘Penny round’ shirts were forgotten but then, that’s the great thing about old movies like Gregory’s Girl, whenever they pop up again on TV you can experience everything all over again!

Another movie that reminds me of schooldays, although in a different way, was Kes. Kes was a 1969 film directed by Ken Loach and based on the book A Kestrel for a Knave by Barry Hines. It’s about a teenage schoolboy in a deprived part of Yorkshire. The boy comes from a dysfunctional family and he is bullied by his older brother. He fares badly at school and has few friends but seems to find a direction in life after finding a baby kestrel and he decides to care for and train the bird.

It’s a gritty film that pulls no punches and it’s shot in a realistic documentary style using a lot of local and amateur actors as well as professionals. One sequence that stood out for me was about a group of boys who are outside the headmaster’s study awaiting punishment. Another lad who comes along with a message for the head finds himself caught up with the guilty boys and given a few strokes of the strap as a result. When they shot the scene, director Loach assured the boys they would not be strapped and he would call ‘cut’ just in time. He didn’t and the result, seen in the film is for real.

My own headmaster was very like the head in the film. He used to give these long elaborate morning assemblies and talk, quite eloquently about some subject or other, the Vietnam war being one of his favourites and then, right in the middle of speaking he would burst out in a complete frenzy, shout at some boy or other to remove himself and wait at his office for punishment for talking during assembly. Why he couldn’t just make a note of the offenders and seek them out later or arrange for one of his teachers to direct the boys to his office I don’t know.

Looking at the trailer above there were some great performances from both amateur and professional actors. Brian Glover, a familiar face to British TV viewers played the aggressive football master and Colin Welland played one of the more sympathetic teachers. He was a veteran of the TV show Z-Cars and went on to write the screenplays for the movies Yanks and Chariots of Fire for which he won an Oscar.

Two movies then, both completely different in tone and outlook. Both wonderful viewing but one makes me look back and think ‘thank God my school days are over’. The other allows me to look back warmly and remember the good times. School days are important and I made such a lot of mistakes back then, mistakes that changed my whole life. If only I’d chosen my subjects better, if only I’d been more determined to be a writer back then and hadn’t had my head set so firmly in the clouds. Maybe I could have trained as a newspaper reporter and actually written for a living.

Either way, I’d probably still be here, still writing this blog although perhaps with a better title: Letters from a Northern Reporter sounds good . .


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.

Christmas Day Menu: Starter, Main and Classic Film.

There has been some discussion in our household recently about Christmas dinner. Personally, I think I am just easy to please but others apparently think differently. No one in our house is a great turkey fan although now I think of it, at a Christmas party recently at the Inn on the Prom in St Annes, a local hotel, I did choose the turkey roast as my main meal, and very nice it was too.

One thing I do not like is fish. Well, let me clarify that, I don’t like fishy fish. I quite like fish and chips, usually deep-fried cod because it doesn’t really taste that fishy. I’ve had a hake dish before now. Occasionally, very occasionally I have eaten mussels. They are not my cup of tea but sometimes I can eat a few especially with some strong sauce, something garlicky or spicy to drown out the fishiness.

Liz and daughter number 2 who is dining with us on Christmas Day like fish and they seem to favour something like smoked salmon for a starter. Yuk! Not for me please. Another idea was prawn cocktail. I have to say I’m not a great prawn lover either. I have eaten prawn cocktail before now, though I must say it’s not my dish of choice. What would I choose for myself then? Well, a nice pâté might be nice but some crusty fresh bread would be vital for that. Perhaps a nice tomato or even minestrone soup, yes that would be nice.

Many years ago the two dishes I first cooked for myself as a schoolboy were boiled eggs (I do love my eggs!) and tomato soup. By ‘make’ I mean I opened the can and warmed up the soup on the hob so no great talent required there but I have loved tomato soup ever since and today it’s one of those comfort foods for me. If I’m ever feeling low or under the weather, a nice bowl of tomato soup just does it for me.

Boiled eggs are the first things I can claim to have actually cooked. If the eggs come from the fridge, warm them gently in some warm water before cooking. The perfect timing for me is 2 minutes and 50 seconds. Serve with lightly toasted fresh bread and you have a wonderful snack or breakfast.

Back to the main course and a great favourite for me would be roast gammon. That apparently is off the menu because we will be having that when Liz’s French family come visiting just prior to Christmas with gammon leftovers also being served on Boxing day when daughter number 2 comes for dinner. I did mention roast beef but that suggestion was frowned upon. Goose and duck were also mentioned but they are two meats that just don’t do it for me. Roast chicken? OK with me but I’m in a minority there. That of course brings us back to . . turkey. Oh well, I may have to bow to a majority decision and perhaps suffer one or two slices of duck with some extra roast potatoes.

Whatever the roast of your choice some important additions are vital to your christmas dinner. Roast potatoes for instance. Personally I don’t like crispy ones. I like them soft and cooked in the roast beef juices. If not serving roast beef then goose fat is good for your roasties, apparently. Brussels sprouts are usually mandatory for a christmas dinner and the other day I saw them made on one of those TV cookery programmes but instead of boiling them, the TV chef cut them in half, gave them ample salt and pepper and roasted them. I tried them myself a while back in one of my rare forays into the kitchen and I have to say they were much nicer roasted than boiled. Carrot and turnip is another welcome addition for me. I’m not a great fan of mashed potatoes but I do like my mash rustic; mashed and served with butter is perfect although I have seen TV chefs mash potatoes into almost a puree and throw in butter and cream! Not in my mash, please.

I know that Yorkshire pudding is traditionally served with beef but I’ll be hoping for a portion of Yorkshires on Christmas day too. I recently produced a perfect Yorkshire pudding but my second attempt was a disaster as was my third. At least Liz will be in charge of the kitchen on Christmas day so looking forward to a veritable feast!

Now for Christmas day dessert we will be having Liz’s wonderful low sugar cheesecake. It is absolutely fabulous and we all look forward to having a slice. Another element is the cheese course. Here’s a question though, do the French have cheese before or after their sweet? I’ll have to make a few enquiries before the French contingent arrive because personally, I like to finish with some cheese, some English Cheddar, a little French Brie and perhaps a slice of Stilton to liven things up. A glass of red, some fresh bread or crackers, what could be nicer!

One last element of dining over the Christmas period is perhaps something that gets easily forgotten. the humble sandwich. Now I don’t much care for turkey sandwiches but the great thing about gammon is that when cooked, it becomes ham, and some freshly sliced ham slapped on some fresh bread is just perfect for relaxing with a late night glass of port, perhaps even a mince pie and my favourite Christmas film, A Christmas Carol with Alastair Sim as Ebenezer Scrooge. Yes there are a whole lot of film versions of a Christmas Carol, (73 TV and film versions according to a BBC news item I saw recently.)

A Christmas Carol was published 175 years ago this week. It’s a wonderful story by that master storyteller Charles Dickens. Within six days the entire print run of 6,000 copies had sold out. Within six weeks theatre adaptations had hit London’s theatres. In many ways the book is Dickens’ defining vision of a Victorian Christmas.

Going back to the film versions there’s one with Albert Finney, one with George C Scott, a cartoon version and even a version with Bill Murray as a modern-day Scrooge. According to my TV guide they are all available in the UK over the holiday period. Don’t give any the time of day except for the definitive 1951 classic.

Best wishes and have a lovely Christmas.


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.

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.

The Cruel Sea

When I was writing my post ‘The Book of the Film or the Film of the Book’ a while ago, I did consider including ‘The Cruel Sea’ as not only is it one of my favourite films, it is a pretty good book too. I didn’t include it because I couldn’t find my copy of the book, which I hadn’t read for years and also I hadn’t seen the film for years either.

In one of those odd coincidences that always happen when I set my mind on a subject and leave ideas churning over in the upstairs room in my head, I was scouring through a charity shop in St Annes when I came across the DVD of the film. It was one of those free newspaper DVDs that seem to cost anything from a pound upwards at a car boot sale but was happily on sale here for a paltry 30 pence.

After a busy late shift at work I settled down with a glass of red in one hand and a ham sandwich in the other, compulsory on these occasions of course, and began watching.

The film starts off at the beginning of World War 2 when the Jack Hawkins character is at the builder’s yard helping with the fixing up of his new escort ship, Compass Rose. His officers begin to arrive, many of whom are easily recognisable as stalwarts of the 40’s and 50’s British film industry: Donald Sinden, Denholm Elliot, and Stanley Baker and later in the film Virginia McKenna appears as an officer in the WRNS.

The cast and characters are therefore introduced and then the ship goes off for its sea trials and crew training and soon the Compass Rose is escorting its first convoy. Nothing much happens at first as this is the early part of the war but when the Nazis over run France and the ports of northern France come available to the enemy, many U-Boats converge on the convoys and a great deal of merchant ships, along with the supplies so desperately needed by Britain, are lost.

The boredom of those early dull convoys contrasts sharply with the terror and mayhem waged by the U-boats later on. The film reveals the desperate tragedy of abandoning ship in the middle of the Atlantic, the oil and grease, not to mention the cold, are terrible. Many escort vessels could not stop for survivors as they would become easy prey to the unseen U-Boats, though some did, others returning later in the light of day as the attacks usually came at night.

Leave was a great relief for the naval crews. On one trip back to England the film shows the crew at home, some enjoying some home comforts, others struggling with failing marriages, a situation made worse by the war. One crewmate takes his friend the engineer home to meet his sister. On a later voyage the engineer tells his mate how he has fallen for the sister and plans to ask her to marry him. Later, the Compass Rose is sunk by a torpedo and as the survivors struggle to stay alive in the cold Atlantic many succumb to their injuries. As they drift in the oily water the soundtrack replays echos of their recent dialogue, a marriage proposals hangs in the air over the groom who will never wed and a petty argument haunts the body of the unhappily married officer. Happily, some survive till daylight when a destroyer returns to rescue them.

It must have been difficult living during the war, trying to get on with your own personal life when everything was wrapped up in the war effort. Manchester was a target for enemy bombers because of its industrial strength and also because of its airport at Ringway, now Manchester International Airport. My mother used to tell me stories of air raid shelters and late night cocoa when the air raid warnings were on and everyone trooped into the shelter. Everyone except my granddad who always said ‘If I’m going to die, I’ll die in my bed!’ She told and still tells stories of gas masks, bomb craters and how you could tell the differing sounds of German and British aircraft.

I’ve often wondered what happened if your house was bombed? Were you given new housing? What happened to your mortgage? Did you still have to pay it? Imagine being stuck with a 25 year mortgage and a house that was just a pile of rubble.

One other observation about films in the 40’s and 50’s: People seemed to have a different pattern of speech back then, a different and faster rhythm than today with clearer and more precise diction. Is that the case or is that just the way the actors and actresses of the time were taught to speak. Speech today seems slower and less precise and sprinkled with regular use of words like ‘awesome’!

Back to the Cruel Sea and Captain Ericson alias Jack Hawkins is given another ship which he captains until the end of the war. The producer, Sir Michael Balcon said that Hawkins was always the first choice for the Cruel Sea, even going so far as to say that without Hawkins he wouldn’t have made the film. The finished picture was the hit British film of 1953.

Hawkins was the epitome of the trustworthy British authority figure. In his obituary one writer wrote that Hawkins ‘exemplified for many cinemagoers the stiff upper lip tradition prevalent in post war British films. His craggy looks and authoritative bearing were used to good effect whatever branch of the services he represented.’

Hawkins himself was a three pack a day smoker and later became ill with throat cancer. In 1966 his entire larynx was removed however he still appeared in films with his dialogue dubbed by either Charles Gray or Robert Rietti. He died in 1973.

Just as I was writing this post, one thought came back to me about the book of the Cruel Sea. It was written by Nicholas Montsarrat and on the last page, when the war is over, the captain who has always hated his safety vest, hurls it into the sea. The vest sank like a stone!


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

The Film of the Book or the Book of the Film (Part 2)

It’s always  a bitter-sweet experience when someone decides to make your favourite book into a film. It doesn’t always work out because maybe it was a big, thick, long book and they have cut out your favourite bit, or perhaps the cast wasn’t the one you imagined. It’s usually just the same in reverse. You see a great film and in the credits it says based on the book by so and so, then you rush out and get the book and it turns out to be a little disappointing. Sometimes it’s even better than the film!
You can read the Film of the Book part 1 by clicking here. Meanwhile, here are a few more of my film/book experiences.

Rebecca (the film)

Rebecca was directed by Alfred Hitchcock and released in 1940. Laurence Olivier plays Max De Winter and Joan Fontaine is particularly good as the shy, unworldly new wife of the rather grand Max De Winter.

Max and his new wife, who is never named in the novel as she is also the narrator, meet in the south of France, marry and return to Max’s grand country house Manderley, in Cornwall. There they settle into country life rather uneasily, as lurking always in the background is the spectre of Max’s late wife Rebecca who died in a boating accident.

Also lurking in the background is the housekeeper of Manderley, Mrs Danvers. She was devoted to Rebecca and her presence seems to cloak the house in a sinister gloom. George Sanders plays his usual suave smooth talking self; in this film he is the apparent lover to the late Rebecca. A number of incidents occur making the new wife believe her husband resents her and prefers Rebecca. Nothing could be further from the truth as we find out when Rebecca’s body is discovered in the cabin of her sunken boat just off the coast. Max reveals he had an argument with Rebecca, struck her and she fell, hitting her head on some heavy fishing tackle. He carried her dead body to her boat, took to sea and scuttled the small vessel, creating the lie of her death at sea. Now the body has come to light, George Sanders’ character comes forward with a letter from Rebecca, inviting him to visit on the day of her death and with this he decides to blackmail De Winter as this shows she could not have contemplated suicide.

There is a nice twist at the end which I won’t give away but Rebecca is a wonderful film, well worth looking out for on one of the many movie channels available these days.

One disappointing aspect of the film was the rather cheap model of Manderley used at the beginning and end of the film. If I was Hitchcock I would have been tempted to revisit the film in the 1960’s and add some better model effects.

Rebecca (the book) by Daphne Du Maurier

The book is written in the first person by the unnamed new wife of Max De Winter. It’s a very good read indeed and I enjoyed it very much, so much so I had to take it out of my work’s bag (I’d been reading at work during my dinner breaks) and take it into the garden on a lovely sunny day as I was so keen to get to the end. It is very similar to the film although in the book De Winter actually shoots his wife unlike the film where De Winter strikes her and she falls and hits her head. The ending is also rather abrupt but an excellent read, well worth picking up if you see a copy for sale.

Serpico (the film)

Al Pacino stars in the true story of Serpico, a New York City cop who tried to fight the culture of bribery and corruption in the NYPD in the 60’s and early 70’s. This 1973 film is directed by Sidney Lumet and is shot in a gritty natural style. It starts with Serpico being shot in the face and then on his way to hospital it flashes back to tell the story of rookie cop Frank Serpico and his graduation to detective and his refusal to take bribes. It is shot and acted in a very natural documentary style and the film portrays Serpico’s ongoing disappointment with his superiors and those he trusts to look into the situation very well indeed. A brilliant example of 70’s moviemaking at its best.

Serpico (the book) by Peter Maas

It’s a long while since I read the book and despite a lengthy search I couldn’t get my hands on it for a read through for this post. It was a fascinating read as I remember, reading more like a work of fiction than the true story it really was.

Serpico (the DVD)

Since I couldn’t say much about the book I just want to throw in a quick comment about the DVD. One thing I love about DVDs are those special versions with extended features, documentaries and so on. On the DVD of Serpico there is an interview with the producer Dino De Laurentiis where he tries to explain the character of Serpico this way; He and Serpico go to a screening of a film in New York. They are checking out possible directors or something, anyway, the theatre is empty and ignoring the no smoking sign, De Laurentiis decides to light up. ‘Wait a minute’ says Serpico, ‘you can’t smoke in here.’ De Laurentiis replies ‘what does it matter? There is no one here but us.’

Serpico points to the no smoking sign and replies ‘look, you just can’t smoke here’ and makes the producer put out his cigarette. That, says Dino on the DVD, was when he began to understand what Serpico was about. There were no grey areas with him, everything was black and white.

The Big Sleep (the book) by Raymond Chandler 

The Big Sleep, which refers to death in American gangster speak was the first of Raymond Chandler’s novels to feature his famous detective Philip Marlowe. Marlowe was described by one reviewer as ‘a 20th-century knight who treads the mean streets of Hollywood and Santa Monica, and who also visits the houses of the stinking rich, with their English butlers, corrosive secrets and sinister vices.’ I couldn’t have put it better myself. In the Big Sleep Marlowe is summoned to the house of General Sternwood whose daughter is being blackmailed by a seedy bookseller.

Sternwood, a crippled old man spends his time in a heated conservatory and seems to draw strength from the overwhelming heat. He engages Marlowe who sets off on a trail of blackmail and murder. I have to say the film rather confused me and it was only after reading the novel that I began to understand some of the intricacies of the plot.

The Big Sleep (the film)

Director Howard Hawks was also aware of the complexity of the novel. He once asked Raymond Chandler who had shot the chauffeur. Chandler replied that he had no idea.

The movie version from 1946 stars Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall and I used to think that this was the film where Bogart and Bacall met although in fact it was actually another movie, ‘To Have and Have Not‘, also directed by Howard Hawks. By the time of ‘The Big Sleep’ their romance was in full swing. Later Bogart left his wife Mayo and he and Bacall were free to marry.

The opening of the film where Bogart meets the general is brilliant. The wayward daughter remarks he is not very tall. ‘I try to be’ Bogart replies. Later, the other daughter played by Bacall says she doesn’t like Bogart’s manners. He replies ‘I’m not crazy about yours. I didn’t ask to see you. I don’t mind if you don’t like my manners. I don’t like them myself. They’re pretty bad. I grieve over them on long winter evenings.’

My advice, get yourself the DVD, pour yourself a large glass of red, press play and relax and enjoy.

The Silence of the Lambs (the Film)

The film was released in 1991 and it’s one of those films that seemed to naturally self-publicise itself, one of those word of mouth films that everyone at the time was talking about. It’s a gruesome film in parts and not really my usual sort of film but what is appealing is the slow relentless process the FBI makes to track down the killer and the procedures and techniques they use. Jodie Foster plays FBI trainee Clarice Starling. She is sent by the head of the FBI’s Behavioural Science Unit to interview captured serial killer Hannibal Lector played by Anthony Hopkins, in the hope he might give some clue or insight into helping with the capture of a new serial killer known as Buffalo Bill.

Hopkins gives a chilling portrayal of the psychotic serial killer and Jodie Foster and the other principals were given much acclaim for their performances. The film was only the third to win Oscars in the top 5 categories: Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay. It is perhaps the only horror film ever to win the best picture award.

The Silence of the Lambs (the Book) by Thomas Harris

The book, like the film, focusses on the FBI and their attempts to trace the killer known as Buffalo Bill. Trainee agent Clarice Starling builds up a relationship with imprisoned murderer Doctor Hannibal Lector where Lector dribbles out bits of information in exchange for personal details about Clarice herself. Clarice, the vulnerable young FBI agent is a sort of counterpoint to the evil Murderer Dr Lector.

The book like the film is more of a horror story than a detective novel. I felt drawn to the passages that were chilling and gruesome in a strange way, almost like when a spider appears and I’m compelled to watch it even though I hate spiders. The relationship between Lector and Starling is intriguing and is really more of a focus than the capture of the Buffalo Bill and I did find myself wondering whether Lector might want to murder Clarice or perhaps his interest in her is something different.

I read the follow up book, Hannibal, expecting more of the same but it was even more gruesome and had a strange implausible ending. Since then I’ve steered clear of Mr Harris’ books but Silence is a great read.


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

The Film of the Book or the Book of the Film

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2001

Picture courtesy Flickr.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Verdict: Brilliant book and a lovely film.

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

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

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

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

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


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

Resignations, Old Friends and Green for Danger!

I don’t know if you remember that old British movie, Green for Danger? I’ve not seen it myself for a while but this week I’ve been thinking about it and even done a search through my old VHS video tapes to find my copy.

If you’ve not seen it, the film is a murder mystery set in World War 2, and Inspector Cockrill, who is sent by Scotland Yard to investigate, is played by none other than one of my favourite actors, Alastair Sim. Although the film is a serious one, as usual Alastair Sim adds just the right amount of whimsical humour to make it just a shade lighter than perhaps it might have been. In one scene Sim crouches down expecting the crash of a German Doodlebug only to find a tractor passing by. A number of great British actors are also in the movie, Trevor Howard and Leo Genn to name but two.

The film is narrated by Sim in the form of a letter of resignation to his superiors after the case is finally resolved although not in quite the way he would have liked.

This week, I too have written my letter of resignation. It has not been a great week for me at work. I’m a deputy manager but deputising in my organisation is slightly different. I work in an emergency control room and most of the time I am just an operator, just like my colleagues. When my boss is not around, either off sick or on leave then it is me, as his deputy, who steps up and manages the shift. When he comes back I must once again step down and join my colleagues on the shop- sorry, control room- floor.

Still, it’s not a bad arrangement you might think, surely a step up the corporate ladder? Wrong. Maybe in an organisation that takes notice of its staff perhaps, maybe in a company where senior management are actually aware of the performance of the lower echelons and the efforts they make, yes, but here in a place where anonymous panels judge staff by their form filling abilities, it’s not a great situation.

Anyway, a while ago the management undertook a ‘refreshment’ -to use their word- of the deputy management situation. In basic terms, anyone who was a deputy had to re-apply in order to stay on as a deputy and now I find after six years I have not made the cut and I am no longer able to call myself a deputy manager.

Perhaps I am not that good at my job you might think, perhaps I am no longer up to the task of managing. Well, after six years of deputising I am older and wiser and although I have more backache than I used to have, I can still run the control room as well as I have always done. I wonder if I skimmed over the application too quickly; approached it too flippantly? Surely though, with six years worth of experience under my belt I must be better, more knowledgeable, more experienced than before. Does that matter? Apparently not. Am I a bad form filler? Perhaps yes.

All this started me thinking about a much simpler time many years ago when I became a bus conductor at the tender age of nineteen. I had returned from hitch hiking around Europe, sunburned and penniless and my Dad was not at all happy that I moped about the house all day winding up his electric bills by playing music constantly. That’s where the bus conducting job offered a solution. Well paid work while I looked for a proper job.

My driver was a guy called Jimmy. He was older than me and became a sort of, not a father figure but more an older brother figure to me. He mentored me in the arts of bus conducting and people management and laughed at my timid efforts to chat up the girls on our bus. Jimmy was a big speedway fan and quite a few times I joined him at Belle Vue and other venues watching the sport. At the time Jimmy had a three-wheel Reliant van and we chugged our way about the country to various speedway venues and after a late shift Jimmy would drop me off at home to save me from waiting on the grumpy staff bus drivers’ pleasure.

In return, I once gave Jimmy this big Lego set that my brother and I had. It had been a joint Christmas present to us years before; a great assortment of Lego bricks in a big wooden box that over time my brother and I added to with more bricks and bits and pieces and gradually built it up into a pretty big Lego set. It was no longer used and my Mum had suggested I give it to Jimmy for his children.

Jimmy was over the moon with the Lego and told me several times how his kids loved it.

One day I had the call from the chief inspector and he told me it was time for me to go in the driving school to become a driver. I wasn’t keen on leaving Jimmy and asked if I could defer driver training for a while. He agreed and Jimmy and I carried on our teamwork up and down the roads of south Manchester. Not long afterwards Jimmy had the call too, only he was called to become a one man operator. One man operators were paid much more money than conventional bus crews and being a fellow with a wife, children and a mortgage, it was not something Jimmy could refuse.

On our last shift together, we had arranged to have a fish and chip treat to mark the occasion. We were on the 148 route from Manchester to Woodford where we had a long layover at the terminus. I think we had a twenty-minute drop back but as we had so much extra running time at the far end of the route we could easily put our foot down and extend that to twenty-five minutes. We stopped in Cheadle Hulme, I nipped out and bought the chips and then we raced up to Woodford. Just as we arrived a man was running for our bus, waving his hands presumably as he thought we were about to drive off and leave him behind. We pulled up in the layby and set ourselves up at the back of the bus. Jimmy poured us a brew but the guy was knocking on the window. I eventually let him in and he was glad he had seen us because he was in a rush to get to Bramhall, a place about ten minutes down the road. We told him that he had a long time to wait and that we weren’t due to leave for another twenty minutes but he sat down a couple of seats from us at the back, watching us eating our chips and looking at his watch, all the while carrying on a moan about buses and timetables and public transport in general. He completely ruined that last fish and chip supper on our final day of working together. We left on time and dropped our one passenger off at a place which was hardly a five-minute walk from where he had boarded our bus.

Jimmy settled down as a one-man bus driver but I left and came back to the company quite a few times as well as transferring to other depots and other rotas. On another occasion I took a job working in the coaching unit and then got a position in the bus control room. In those days I was always on the look out for something new and doing the same old thing bored me very quickly.

Years later I bumped into Jimmy and we had a long natter and a brew at the bus canteen in Stockport. I’d not seen him for many years and I was so pleased to see him again. ‘Listen my mate,’ he said, he always called me ‘my mate’. ‘I need to see you again, why don’t you meet me back here tomorrow?’

I met him in the car park the next day and he opened up the boot of his car with a big smile and there was the old Lego set. His kids had grown up and he was returning the Lego set to me for my kids.

Sadly, I never did have any children and the Lego set was lost, probably left forgotten in the attic on one of numerous house moves. Jimmy and I lost touch and I never saw him again.

I remember once sitting with Jimmy at some nameless bus terminus and he turned to me and told me how much he loved his job and how he knew he would stay as a bus driver until he retired. That’s the same feeling I used to have here at my present job; that this was the place where I would finish my working career. Yes, used to have: until they demoted me.

Anyway, back to the letter of resignation. What was it Alastair Sim said at the end of the film?

In view of my failure — correction, comparative failure — I feel that I have no alternative but to offer you, sir, my resignation, in the sincere hope that you will not accept it.

Yes, I think I’ll put my resignation on hold, for now!


If you enjoyed this post, why not try my book Floating in Space? Click the links at the top of the page or watch the video below for more information!

 

Have Movies Influenced your Music Choices?

classical music + moviesClassical Music and Three of my Movie Favourites

I’m not a great lover of classical music but the classical music I do know and love has come to me through the medium of film. Yes, movies have inspired almost all of my favourite classical music choices.

The Blue Danube

The Blue Danube is a waltz written by the composer Johann Strauss II. He was an Austrian composer known as the ‘Waltz King’ and was largely responsible for the popularity of the waltz in Vienna in the 19th century. I first heard the music in the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey, the memorable sci-fi movie directed by Stanley Kubrick. Kubrick used numerous classical pieces in the movie and the Blue Danube is used during the space station docking and lunar landing sequences.

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

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

2001

Picture courtesy Flickr.com

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

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

2001 is a wonderful movie and as well as continual enjoyment, it has also given me a love of Johann Strauss.

March of Pomp and Circumstance.

The March of Pomp and Circumstance was written by Sir Edward Elgar and there are actually six marches altogether. The most famous is the ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ march which traditionally ends the last night at the proms. I first heard this classical piece in the movie ‘Young Winston.’

The music for the movie was written by Alfred Ralston and includes his original work as well as arrangements of Elgar’s music. I used to have the soundtrack to Young Winston on vinyl and on the back cover there were extensive notes by the producer. He rather pompously announced that neither he nor Richard Attenborough, the director, had any interest in making a film about the British Empire, which is rather sad because the British Empire, in my view, was something we British should be rightly proud of. Anyway, Churchill himself was certainly proud of the Empire and his part in it, and in making this film the producers therefore did what they say they didn’t want to do. The movie is based on Winston’s early life, indeed his autobiography of his early days was entitled just that: ‘My Early Life.’ It is a wonderful read and has been made into a lovely film.

One interesting feature of ‘Young Winston’ is that at the end of the film there is a rather poignant scene where Winston, in his later years, falls asleep in his study and has a dream about his late father, his relationship with whom, as we see in the movie, was not good. In the sequence his father, Randolph Churchill, returns to him; he and Winston discuss life and finally part with a sort of understanding nod to each other. I have always thought that it finished the film off rather nicely but whenever I see Young Winston on TV, that scene has been cut. Years ago I bought the video version and the scene had been cut on the video too, so if I ever decide to buy the DVD version, I’ll be checking the running time before I buy!

Manhattan

Manhattan is Woody Allen’s ode to New York. I have always loved that opening sequence with the monologue by Woody. He narrates the opening of his book and is not satisfied with it so starts the book over again. The dialogue goes something like this;

‘Chapter one. He adored New York City. He idolised it out of all proportion.

No, make that he romanticised it out of all proportion.

To him, no matter what the season was, it was a town that existed in black and white and pulsated to the great tunes of George Gershwyn.

Oh no, let me start this over.

Chapter one . . .’

When he finally gets the book opening he wants, then the music of Gershwin’s ‘Rhapsody In Blue’ roars into focus. Manhattan is a movie shot in black and white and is one of Woody Allen’s most famous and successful films. Allen plays a 42-year-old writer who is involved with a 17-year-old girl played by Mariel Hemingway. The photography is wonderful as is the movie. There is a lovely part played by Meryl Streep who plays the part of Allen’s ex-wife who has written a book about their former life together.

How have the movies influenced your music choices?


If you liked this post, why not take a look at my novel ‘Floating In Space‘? Click the links at the top of the page for more information.

TV Movies and a Serious Case of Deja Vu!

children-403582_1920I don’t know about you but there are certain things I hang on to in life. One of those things are my diaries. The other day, looking through my schoolboy diary from 1973 I noticed that one entry mentions that I watched a film called the Inspector with Stephen Boyd. It was a movie made in 1962 and it’s about a jewish girl trying to get into Palestine. It’s not a classic movie but I’ve always liked Stephen Boyd and he was rather good in movies like Fantastic Voyage where a mini submarine and her crew were shrunk to minute size and then injected into a man’s body. Have you ever seen The Inspector? I doubt very much if you have, in fact I can’t remember ever seeing that movie again on TV. There are plenty of movies I have seen, some of them over and over though, here are a few of them;

The Great Escape. Ok I love it, I really do but I know the script off by heart I’ve seen it that many times!

Great Expectations. David Lean’s cinematic version of Dicken’s novel. Great movie but I’m fed up of seeing it on Film 4!

The Man In The Iron Mask! Seen this so many times with Richard Chamberlain and Patrick McGoohan and of course it was re made in 1998 with Leonardo Di Caprio but what about showing the 1952 version with Louis Hayward? Now that is a movie I’d love to see again.

Goldfinger, or any of the Bond films. As much as I love James Bond 007, most of the films, especially the older ones, I have seen again and again so I need a break from them. Strangely, I have a few of my favourite Bonds on DVD. I don’t think I ever watch them but I’m so familiar with the Bonds that if I come home from work and one is on TV and I’ve missed the first thirty minutes – well, it doesn’t matter!

So who is it at the BBC or Channel 4 or Sky who decides what films we can see and why is it that some are shown over and over and some only get aired rarely? What happens in the world of the TV scheduler? I really hope those guys are reading this blog because there are movies out there I want to see and a whole bunch of ones, like those above that I am fed up of seeing! Anway, here are a few recommendations for any TV schedulers reading!

CBubblesCharlie Bubbles. This is a great film penned by northern writer Shelagh Delaney and it’s about a (surprise) northern writer played by Albert Finney who journeys back up north from London to see his son. It’s a well observed and fascinating film and for a northerner like me it’s great to see the Manchester of the 1960’s up there on the movie screen. Writer Shelagh Delaney shot to fame in the sixties when she wrote her play ‘A Taste Of Honey’ and had it accepted and performed by Joan Littlewood’s theatre workshop. There’s a rather telling line in the movie when a waiter played by Joe Gladwin, (an actor familiar to UK TV audiences of the 70’s), asks Charlie, played by Finney, “are you still working or do you just do the writing?” Somehow I can imagine that line came from Delaney’s personal experience! Interestingly, this movie marked Albert Finney’s debut as a director. Have you seen the movie? I don’t think you have unless maybe you’ve sourced the DVD version.

In my large but slightly redundant VHS video box I’ve a copy of a wonderful film starring Alec Guinness called ‘Last Holiday’. Guinness plays a pleasant mild mannered salesman called George Bird who has no friends or family and finds out he only has a few weeks to live. He decides to spend the time he has left by going to a rather posh residential hotel where the residents find him a sort of enigma. His star rises here as he becomes involved with the residents and staff and people start to wonder about him. Who is he? Is he rich? Lucrative job offers come his way as well as love but only one person knows his secret, a member of staff that he confides in. In the end Mr Bird finds out he was wrongly diagnosed but the film ends on a sad note when he is killed in a car crash. Penned by author J.B.Priestley, it’s another wonderful British picture full of excellent performances with a whiff of sadness and poignancy about it. Have you seen it on TV? Well, not recently because the last time I have noticed it broadcast was in the 1980’s when I taped it with my trusty VHS video recorder. What happens to classic movies like this and why are they rarely seen on British TV? I wish I knew but I’d love to see this movie again.

Pygmalion Movie Poster

Pygmalion. You’ve probably seen the movie ‘My Fair Lady’ with Rex Harrison as Professor Higgins and Audrey Hepburn as Eliza Doolittle but I’d be surprised if you’ve seen this, the original, non-musical version, on TV. Leslie Howard plays Higgins and Wendy Hiller plays Eliza. Hiller is much more believable as Eliza, no disrespect to Audrey Hepburn and Howard is a bright, eccentric Higgins. I’ve never seen this version on TV at all, in fact I picked up the movie on one those free newspaper DVDs. What is interesting from researching the film on the internet is that a controversial (at the time) line was included in the film: Eliza saying ‘Not Bloody Likely!’ This made Wendy Hiller the first person ever to swear in a British film. Dear me, how times change!

Robinson Crusoe on Mars. Sounds a bit mad doesn’t it, a sort of 1950’s B picture. In fact this was shot in colour in 1964 and starred an actor called Paul Mantee who appears in many US TV series of the 1970’s and 1980’s. It pretty much follows the original story of Robinson Crusoe only it’s about an astronaut who crash lands on Mars. He thinks he’s had it but finds that certain rocks contain oxygen which is released when they are heated so he is able to replenish his oxygen supplies. He even finds an alien ‘Friday’ on Mars who has escaped from an alien slave camp. Sounds a little far-fetched I know but it was actually a pretty good movie. I remember watching it on TV on a cold weekday afternoon in the early eighties and it certainly warmed me up. Since then I have never seen it on British TV but it’s well worth a search on e-bay for the DVD version. The day they show it again on TV I’ll be parked up on my favourite armchair ready to enjoy! Come on TV schedulers, get your act together!

Which movies would you like to see on the small screen?


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My Favourite Movie Director (Part 1)

I’ll come straight to the point; my favourite movie director? Well, it’s complicated because I’ve got more than one; hence the part 1 in the title, but anyway, Woody Allen is probably my very favourite. Now why a working class guy like me brought up in a suburban council estate in Manchester would relate to the Jewish intellectual New York humour of Woody, well, I don’t know but I just love this guy’s films.

My very favourite moment from one of Woody’s film is probably the one from take the Money and Run when he goes into the bank to rob it and hands a note through the window. The note says “Give me the money, I have a gub!”

“Does that say gub?” asks the bank teller.

picture courtesy wikipedia

picture courtesy wikipedia

“No that’s gun! I have a gun!” replies Woody and soon all the staff are discussing the spelling and the robbery is forgotten.  That movie was right at the very start of Woody’s career when he was a stand up funny man turned movie maker and as his movies got gradually more serious and more thoughtful, well, I probably loved them even more.

I love the opening of Manhattan where Woody narrates over the opening sequence;

“Chapter One. He adored New York City. To him it was a metaphor for the decay of contemporary culture. The same lack of individual integrity that caused so many people to take the easy way out was rapidly turning the town of his dreams in… no, it’s gonna be too preachy, I mean, you know, let’s face it, I wanna sell some books here. Chapter One. He was as tough and romantic as the city he loved. Behind his black-rimmed glasses was the coiled sexual power of a jungle cat.”

Another Allen movie that opens with a monologue is Annie Hall. His character, Alvy Singer, says: “There’s an old joke. Two elderly women are at a Catskill restaurant. One of them says, ‘Boy, the food at this place is just terrible.’ The other one says, ‘Yeah I know. And such small portions.’ Well, that’s essentially how I feel about life. Full of misery, loneliness and suffering and unhappiness – and it’s all over much too quickly.”

Apart from Woody himself and his casual comedy chatter I’ve always like the look of Woody’s films from the black and white of Annie Hall, Manhattan and Broadway Danny Rose to the full colour Hannah and her Sisters and the jump cuts of Deconstructing Harry. I like the way the camera moves, or really doesn’t move. In Hannah and her Sisters Woody doesn’t follow Michael Caine when he goes into the bedroom and continues a conversation. Why should we? We all carry on long distance conversations with our partners in the bathroom or dining room when we are in the kitchen. We don’t need to see the other person, just hear them.

Woody’s films have a natural unobtrusive style which enables you to sit back and enjoy his humour and his observations. Another great Allen movie is Crimes and Misdemeanours. It’s a movie with a dark side but with the same flashes of Allen humour to keep you smiling. Martin Landau stars in the film and gives a wonderful performance. No longer the rather wooden actor from the TV series Mission Impossible or that Hitchcock movie North By Northwest. Here, Landau delivers a thoughtful and human performance and there are lots of the usual Woody Allen touches like returning to old homes and discussing morality then flipping to the next scene where Allen and Mia deliver some more comedy as a counterpoint.

I can’t write a blog about Woody Allen without mentioning Bananas. If I need to cheer myself up, this movie works every time, especially the bit at the end where Woody and Louise Lasser’s wedding night becomes a TV sports event with commentators and interviewers.

It’s almost an ‘in’ joke with Woody about how his older movies are funny and the later ones are not but all his movies have a certain something; not always laugh out loud humour, but some well observed human element. I love Woody himself in his movies which is why it’s a little odd that one movie I can watch over and over again is Radio Days. Like it says in the title, the movie is set in those days before TV when people had their ears glued to the great shows and performers of the time. Woody narrates the movie and we see him as a little boy entranced by a crime show, so much so that his parents take him to see the Rabbi. ‘You speak the truth, my faithful Indian companion’ quotes the young Woody much to the dismay of his parents, not to mention the Rabbi. In some ways I can see myself as a young lad, obsessed with the TV shows of my day and this is the crux of Woody’s films because in many ways he is turning the camera round, and the camera is pointing at us, the viewer.

My love affair with the movies encompasses many genres but when I want to smile it’s usually the Woody Allen DVD I pull down from the shelf.


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