My top 10 TV Moments

OK, 10 favourite TV moments. When I thought of that idea I had one particular TV moment in mind and thought I could easily come up with 9 others. I did but they are not exactly TV moments as such, they are more TV episodes or theme tunes or just generally TV stuff. Anyway if you have a spare few minutes stick with me and let’s see what I did come up with. They are in no particular order but I did save my absolute favourite until the end.

TV Moment 10

The TV show the Prisoner was produced back in 1968 and was the brainchild of its star actor Patrick McGoohan. McGoohan was fresh from the hit TV show Danger Man and he wanted to make a series about a spy who had resigned from the secret service but refused to give up his secrets. Episode number 1, Arrival, set the scene for the cult series. McGoohan, playing an unknown spy, resigns from the secret service by slamming his resignation letter down on the desk of his boss and drives back home in his Lotus 7. As he packs his belongings, he becomes aware of his home filling with gas. He slumps down unconscious and when he awakes he finds that he is in the mysterious ‘village’.

The series was filmed in the Welsh village of Portmerion. I visited the village in 1986 but when I returned a few years later they tried to charge me just to enter the village and look around. As this is against all the rules of a card-carrying tightwad like myself, I had to decline.

TV Moment 9

Do you ever wonder what happened to all those great TV western shows? Back in the sixties when I was a mere schoolboy my old dad and I regularly watched series like Branded, Bonanza, The Big Valley and many others. One of the very last western series was Alias Smith and Jones. The show was about two cowboy outlaws, Kid Curry and Hannibal Hayes. The Kid was the fastest gunslinger around and the producers used a very simple editing trick to show this. The other guy would be shown drawing and they would then cut quickly to the kid whose gun was already out of his holster and cocked, already to fire.

It was a great show but fizzled out when Pete Duel who played Hannibal Hayes committed suicide. They carried on with another actor playing Hayes but it was never the same afterwards. The show ran from 1971 to 1973.

TV Moment 8

I’ve always been a big fan of Star Trek especially the original series with Kirk, Spock and McCoy. Everything else is just a pale imitation of the original and it’s no surprise to me that the recent Star Trek films have centred on the original characters. The very best Star Trek episode ever, and it’s not just my choice, this particular episode was voted the best ever episode by Star Trek fans and also by Empire magazine, has to be City on the Edge of Forever. In this episode the Enterprise has been buffeted by waves of temporal energy and Doctor McCoy is called to the bridge to deal with casualties. This being Star Trek the antidote for any wound or disease is the wonder drug of the future, cordrazine. McCoy however accidentally injects himself with a full hypo of the drug and goes completely crazy. He escapes to the transporter room, beams down to a nearby planet where he encounters a time portal and jumps through it thereby changing the whole of time. Captain Kirk decides the only way to change time back to normal is to try and enter the time portal in the same fashion, locate McCoy and reverse whatever damage he has done. It turns out McCoy has saved social worker Joan Collins from death in a car accident which in turn has various effects, one of which delays the US entry into World War 2, enabling the Nazis to complete their atom bomb and win the war. Kirk who has fallen in love with Miss Collins has to decide what must happen, does he save her or let her die? Look it up on YouTube, it’s a great episode!

TV Moment 7

I’ve always been fascinated by the concept of time travel and another of my favourite TV shows was The Time Tunnel. The series was produced by Irwin Allen and featured two American scientists ‘lost in the swirling maze of past and future ages, during the first experiments on America’s greatest and most secret project, the Time Tunnel. Tony Newman and Doug Phillips now tumble helplessly toward a new fantastic adventure, somewhere along the infinite corridors of time’ as the opening blurb used to go. In my very favourite episode Tony and Doug arrive in Honolulu on the day of the attack on Pearl harbour. Tony lived here as a child with his mother and father and on the day of the attack, his father disappeared. The two try to warn Tony’s dad about the attack but they are not believed but they do solve the mystery of his death finding that he was fatally wounded in a control centre hit by Japanese bombs.

TV Moment 6

I might as well stay with the subject of time travel and tell you about another great TV series, Doctor Who. Doctor Who has been running since 1963 and the very first episode was broadcast on the fateful day of November 22nd of that year. When actor William Hartnell decided to leave the series the writers came up with the idea of the Doctor ‘regenerating’ in order to introduce another actor into the role. My favourite Doctor, and it’s hard to nominate one because I like them all, is probably the 1980’s version played by actor Tom Baker. Tom’s assistant back then was Sarah Jane Smith played by actress Elizabeth Sladen. She stayed with the Doctor until 1976 when he dropped her off supposedly in Croyden before he went off back to his home planet of Gallifrey. Sarah Jane returned in 1983 for the series’ 20th anniversary episode The Five Doctors.

The series was cancelled in 1989. There was the possibility of a reboot of the series in 1996 but only a one-off TV film was made. In 2005 the BBC began to produce the series once again with Christopher Eccleston in the lead role. David Tennant became the 10th Doctor after Eccleston left. In that second season of the new series Sarah Jane returned in an episode called ‘School Reunion’. It was wonderful to bring back Sarah Jane after so many years and showed that the new producers of the show were respectful of the series’ long history. Not only that, Sarah Jane has long been my favourite of the Doctor’s companions.

TV Moment 5

Andy Williams had a hugely popular TV series in the 1970’s and one of my favourite parts in it was a comedy sketch with Andy and a bear (OK, a guy dressed in a bear outfit) who always asked Andy for some cookies and then they went into a different comedy routine every week. Sounds a little crazy I know but I loved that show and Andy’s music ever since. I loved the bear sketches so much that I wrote a fan letter to Andy Williams care of Desilu productions in Hollywood California, who were mentioned on the credits of his show. Months later, a large envelope arrived and inside was a picture of Andy and the bear. ‘To Stephen from Andy and friend’ was the inscription.

I think it says a lot about Andy Williams, that he should make such a gesture for a faraway English schoolboy. Thanks Andy, I loved that picture so much!

Andy_Williams

TV Moment 4

That leads me smoothly onto this next section because Moon River sung by Andy featured in a great episode of Sex and the City. Sex and the City is a comedy/drama about sex and relationships and the episode in question was the one where Mr Big decides to leave New York as he has bought a vineyard in the Napa valley. Season 4 of Sex and the City was the season where all the elements of this great show seemed to just come together to produce some outstanding TV. Carrie, played by Sarah Jessica Parker gets involved with former beaux Aiden played by John Corbett. Aiden is reluctant to get involved again with Carrie as she cheated on him last time around with the super cool Mr Big played by Chris Noth, however Aiden decides to take another chance and the two embark on a new relationship. Miranda’s mother dies and although she tries to keep everything to herself, she is happy to see her friends at the church for the funeral. Miranda still has time though to help former boyfriend Steve with his testicular cancer problems.

Later Aiden realises Carrie does not want to get married and they split up. Its hard to compress a whole season into this short paragraph but if you ever see season 4 going cheap on DVD, it’s well worth getting it.

TV Moment 3

I’ve already written a blog post about my favourite TV detective, Columbo. I love so many of the episodes it’s hard to pick my favourite but it’s probably ‘Murder by the Book‘, starring my favourite murderer, Jack Cassidy. In this 1971 episode, Jack plays a writer, actually part of a writing double act who together produce a series of novels about ‘Mrs Melville’ who is an amateur detective. The thing is, Jack’s partner wants to ditch the partnership but Jack is not happy about it. He is so unhappy he decides to, yes you guessed it, bump off his co-writer. He does it in a rather ingenious way which foxes Columbo but not for long and to cap it all, the episode is directed by none other than Steven Spielberg!

TV Moment 2

Way back in my school days Monty Python was on TV late on -I think- a Thursday night. It was certainly a week night and it was certainly late as I had a running argument with my Mum about staying up to watch it. The next day talk at school would be all about the latest episode and if you had missed it, which happened to me quite a few times when I lost that long running argument, you were just socially dead for a day.

Deciding on a favourite sketch is a difficult if not impossible task. I loved the Superman/Bicycle Repair Man sketch, thought the Dirty Fork sketch hilarious, the Lumberjack Song broke me up but the one I’ve chosen here is the ‘Is this the right room for an argument’ sketch. Enjoy.

TV Moment 1

MASH was a sitcom that ran for 11 seasons and an incredible 256 episodes. In case you didn’t know MASH stands for Mobile Army Surgical Hospital and is set in the Korean War. The series follows the exploits of the doctors and nurses of the MASH, in particular Hawkeye played by Alan Alda and Trapper John played by Wayne Rodgers. The episodes feature a mixture of comedy and drama expertly mixed together by the writers and performers.

My favourite ever MASH episode was one called ‘Sometimes you Hear the Bullet.’

Hawkeye’s friend Tommy comes to visit the 4077th MASH. He’s a former journalist who wants to write the story of the Korean War from the point of view of the soldier, not the journalist which is why he has not enlisted as a war correspondent. He stays with Hawkeye for a while and the usual zany humour ensues. Tommy then has to return to the war. A side story is one where a wounded young lad (played by future film director Ron Howard) admits he is under age but joined up to prove to his girl that he was a man. In one scene he tells Hawkeye that he is out to get him some ‘gooks’ and Hawkeye replies calmly that another word for gooks is people.

Hawkeye and Trapper plan to steal Major Frank Burns’ Purple Heart- he’d had an accident and because it happened in a war zone, he is eligible for the award -and pass it on to the young lad so he can impress his girl back home. Anyway, later in the episode, Tommy the journalist returns to the MASH, only this time he is seriously wounded. He was planning on writing a book called ‘They Never Hear the Bullet’ but this time he heard the bullet. ‘Never mind’ says Hawkeye, ‘just change the name. Sometimes you hear the bullet, it’s a better title anyway.’ Tommy is anaesthetised and Hawkeye gets to work. Sadly, Tommy dies on the operating table. Colonel Blake has to remind Hawkeye about the queue of wounded and Hawkeye, tragedy etched on his face (an outstanding performance by Alan Alda) has to carry on with his next patient. Every time I watch that episode, I sob my heart out, just as I did years ago when I first saw that episode on my Mum and Dad’s old black and white TV.

I couldn’t find the episode on YouTube so here’s a clip of Alan Alda who played Hawkeye, talking about the episode.


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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

Image courtesy berkeleyplaceblog.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Never did get that gap in the hedge sorted.


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

 

 

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.

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

 

Schoolday Memories

The other day I was watching one of my favourite movies from my favourite director: Woody Allen’s Radio Days. In case you haven’t seen it, it’s about Woody Allen looking back at his young self and how he lived his life through the radio shows of the day. It pretty much reminded me of myself, and how I was obsessed with TV when I was a child. Personally, I wouldn’t have said obsessed but that’s what my Mum and Dad used to say. They used to tell me I watched that much TV I would grow up with ‘square eyes’.

Anyway, that movie got me thinking about my schooldays, but as I started to put pen to paper, I remembered an essay I had written years ago about my schooldays. I scoured my notebooks and old laptop archives and finally, after a long search, here it is, suitably updated.

My first school memory is of infant school, in fact I can remember my very first day there I remember being taken there by my Mum. She stayed for a while and watched me take my first tentative steps into the classroom. Once I was happy and started playing with the other kids she then slipped discreetly away. I remember playing with these large wooden bricks, like household bricks but wooden and light. I made a car with them, or a plane; some sort of vehicle that you could actually sit in and pretend to drive or fly.

On the next day a new climbing frame arrived at the school. It was made of wood, painted blue with a sort of platform at the top if you were good enough a climber to get there. It was much better than the old climbing frame which was just a series of wooden poles interlocked together. If you got to the top you could only pop your head out and look around. I much prefered the blue one, it gave you a goal: getting to the platform at the top.

The memory of Christmas at infant school still lingers fondly. I played one of the three kings in the nativity play. I can still remember the excitement of getting changed in the makeshift dressing room, actually the headmistress’ office. The backstage nerves, most of all I recall the feeling of being part of things, not just an observer.

In junior school I was a member of the choir and there was that same excitement: The rehearsals. Missing normal lessons to be in the hall for all the rehearsals and the big one, the dress rehearsal, then the even bigger one, the real thing.

One day, while in the choir practice, the music teacher stopped in front of me. After some thought she put her ear directly to my mouth, listened intently to my singing then banished me from the choir, from backstage, from everything that mattered. My voice clearly wasn’t good enough. Then I was once again just a spectator. Not really part of anything.

One exciting part of the Christmas events was the setting up of Mr Todd’s 16 mm projector and the watching of his films in the main hall. They were mostly cartoons like Woody Woodpecker but I also remember seeing those Walt Disney true-life films. I can still hear now the clicketty-click of the projector and feel the excitement of the lights going down just as the show began. When Mr Todd retired, the projector, which must have been his personally, retired also and the film sessions went with him.

In that same hall I danced with my childhood crush, Jacqueline Stonehouse. In junior school we used to have dance lessons and she was my regular partner.  One day after being off sick for a while, I returned to find she was dancing with Luke White, the class hard man. I was devastated.

When I walked home at lunchtime I used to save a biscuit from the tuck shop to give a to a dog that I had made friends with. He waited behind his gate on my way home for this usual treat. The dog was always there and always waited. One day at playtime Luke White demanded a biscuit and I refused. As I walked home he and his big brother chased me and took away my biscuit. The biscuit and Jacqueline Stonehouse. I don’t know which crime I hated him for the most.

The Christmas slide in the junior school playground is another memory; this was a dangerous slide, big and long and fast. Only for the biggest lads, only for the most skilled of sliders. You had to be skilful and quick because a split second behind you was the next man. No time for hesitancy, no time for time wasters. Go quickly, feel the ice, the slippery smoothness, the danger, keep your balance and enjoy the exhilaration of a great slide!

Then there was the Christmas party. I cannot remember enjoying any party more, even some fifty years later. Pass the parcel. Jelly and cream. Paper hats. I must have been happy all the time at junior school. I had all the important things in life; my bike, my friends and my favourite TV programmes: Star Trek, Stingray, Time Tunnel, Doctor Who and a hundred others, and not a worry in the world.

The move to ‘big’ school, comprehensive school, was a hard one. Leaving behind the familiarity and warmth of my old school and its teachers was hard. Not only that; I had been one of the big boys. I was among the oldest in the school and now I would be among the youngest again.  All I had heard about the new school was how the big lads would be after us. Don’t let them get you alone in the toilets because they would grab you and push your head into the toilet bowl and flush! The fear comes back to me again, deep in the stomach along with the smell and feel of my new green blazer, my brown leather briefcase, my gym kit and my hated football boots. I remember the thrill of going to school in my new long trousers. The feel of being a grown up.

Just like young Joe, the young Woody Allen character in Radio Days who was mad about radio, I was mad about television. I loved my TV programmes then and looked forward to my regular dose of Blue Peter, How, Magpie, and Crackerjack. One firm favourite was the Magic Boomerang. It was set in the outback of Australia and was about a young boy who has, yes, a magic boomerang. Whenever he threw it, time stood still for everyone except the boy. A little bit like those quick quid adverts today!

My absolute favourites though, were the puppet shows of Gerry Anderson. Four Feather Falls was about a sheriff with magic guns set in the wild west but then came Supercar, a show set a hundred years into the future. Supercar was a small craft that could fly up into the atmosphere or under the sea and was developed by professor Popkiss, Doctor Beaker and test pilot Mike Mercury.

Supercar was followed by Fireball Xl5, the adventures of a space patrol and its crew. Then came Stingray, a submarine operated by WASP, the World Aquanaut Security Patrol with Captain Troy Tempest and Marina, the mute girl from under the sea. I always loved the opening titles for Stingray; the fabulous theme tune, the battle stations at Marineville (WASP headquarters) and finally the launch of Stingray into the ocean. The best bit was always Commander Shore speaking into the tannoy and saying ‘anything can happen in the next half hour!’

The great thing about Gerry Anderson’s work was that it all linked together and never looked down on the children who watched it. It was all serious stuff. His next show was the highly successful Thunderbirds which I have to say was never really one of my favourites. I mean come on, who serviced all those craft at the underground base on Tracy island? Brains? By himself? I don’t think so and don’t get me started on the launch of Thunderbird 3 because the round house would have been totally incinerated when Thunderbird 3 launched and as for Alan Tracy’s launch procedure, well that’s a whole other blog post!

Gerry Anderson’s futuristic world was incorporated into a comic called TV21 which I bought every week and just like the young Woody Allen character who longed for a Masked Avenger ring, I was desperate for an Identicode with which I finally sent numerous coded messages to friends.

One last school memory to finish with. As time moved on my friends and I settled into the new routine. We all seemed to grow up at pretty much the same pace and as time went on we all naturally became taller. All except for Luke White that is.

Once the class hard man, Luke had stayed pretty much the same size as he was in junior school. One day he approached myself, and some others, demanding money or sweets, I can’t remember which but I do remember hearing his voice and having to look down to see him. The others looked down on Luke like the pygmy he was and some one, I can’t remember who it was, but I heard a voice say firmly and with some disgust, ‘piss off White!’ Luke looked at us and quietly shuffled away.

His days as the class tough guy were over.

Finally, yesterday, as you read this, was my last night shift for a while as next week Liz and I are off on our travels again to France. Leaving work I pulled onto the M6 to travel home and switched on Radio 2. Chris Evans had just started his morning show and began a long monologue about the morning’s highlights. What was that playing in the background though?

Yes, I remember it well; the theme from Thunderbirds!


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

Adventures on eBay!

ebayOn eBay a while ago I came across a listing for a razor handle for a pound. I remember thinking at the time what plonker is going to even think about buying that? Well, more about that later. Still, there are a huge amount of crazy things on eBay, things like broken items for instance. Quite a few times I’ve come across something on eBay at a fraction of its usual value. That’s where you have to stop and take a closer look. Check the small print because many times you will find something like ‘not working’ or ‘for parts only.’ That’s right, your old mobile phone packs up -flog it on eBay because somewhere, there is someone either collecting broken mobiles or using the parts to fix other broken mobiles and re selling them to make money. Of course it could just be some weirdo who collects broken phones, who knows?

Not long ago, my partner Liz, asked me to bid on a dress or a top on eBay and ever since I have been getting e-mails from eBay advising me about even more ladies dresses and tops. I also bought an iPad on eBay so now I’m inundated with emails about iPads for sale. Pay attention eBay, – I’ve already bought an iPad. I don’t need another! And please stop sending me emails about ladies dresses!

I do love old movies and eBay is the perfect place to find them. Yes, enter a film title into the search page, click on movies and DVDs and within a few moments there will be the DVD you are after. You can search by price, by time left to the end of the auction or by distance to your home but if the movie is on DVD and is out there, you will find a copy. Here are a few of my e-bay buys, some successful, some not so . .

High Noon.

I picked up a very cheap copy of this on e-bay a while ago. No cover or box, just the disc in a plastic wallet and I parted with just £1.60 for my purchase. High Noon is the story of a small town sheriff who has just got married. He is about to hand over to a new sheriff due to arrive the next day when he hears that the murderer, Frank Miller – the man he sent to prison when he cleaned up the town – is on his way back and gunning for revenge.

The sheriff played by Gary Cooper has just married the lovely Grace Kelly, but how can he leave when the killer, along with his gang, plans to get him when he arrives on the noon train? If he leaves, the gang may hijack him out in the country, so the sheriff reasons his best bet is to stay in town and fight it out on his own turf. However, for one reason or another, the help he is hoping for from the town’s residents fails to appear and Cooper must face the men alone. The movie counts down relentlessly towards noon with the memorable sound in the background of ‘Do not forsake me oh my darling’ sung by Tex Ritter.

I mentioned this to my brother the other day and he related a story my Dad had told him. My Dad saw the film during his army days in Hong Kong. The film was shown in a corrugated Nissen hut and afterwards when everyone had left the hut all that my Dad could hear was his fellow soldiers humming and whistling the theme song.

The Ghost and Mrs Muir.

By Trailer screenshot (The Ghost and Mrs. Muir trailer) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By Trailer screenshot (The Ghost and Mrs. Muir trailer) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

This is a movie that I could add to a previous blog, one about movies rarely seen on TV. I have seen it on TV though, some years ago. Mrs Muir is played by Hollywood star Gene Tierney and Rex Harrison is perfect as the formidable sea captain whose ghost scares off all occupants of the cottage his former living self once inhabited. Mrs Muir – a widow who longs to live by the sea – defies him and after a while the ghostly sea captain begins to fall for his mortal tenant. Money problems beset Mrs Muir but the captain decides to dictate his memoirs to her in the hope that when published, his tales of seafaring will make enough money for her to buy the house. This she does but also meets a suave writer played by that elegant actor, George Sanders. Mrs Muir falls for him much to the chagrin of the captain. Didn’t he – the captain – advise her to go out and meet other men and to enjoy herself, asks Mrs Muir when confronted with the captain’s jealousy? The captain retreats then, back into his ethereal world and leaves Mrs Muir with only the memory of old daydreams about sea faring captains. I won’t tell you about the end in case you want to see this lovely film but rest assured you will enjoy it. In some ways it’s a bit of a theatrical film with a lot of stage set scenes and there is an overriding sense of sadness in the film; a bittersweet feeling of lost love. Rex Harrison and Gene Tierney both give excellent portrayals.

The Signed Letter from Richard Nixon.

Yes, only £1.50, a signed letter from Richard Nixon. Couldn’t be real could it? Well, that’s what the eBay listing said, signed by Richard Nixon. I paid my money and guess what? It was a photocopy! When I complained the guy said did I really expect a signed letter from President Nixon for £1.50? Well no, but where did it say ‘Photocopy’? Somewhere in the small print obviously.

The Clothes that were Too Small.

Yes, it only goes to prove that one man’s XXL is another man’s XL. I keep saying I’ve learned my lesson but one day I will buy a leather jacket that actually fits me!

The Razor Handle.

I had one of those Wowcher emails a while ago offering me thirty razor blades ‘compatible’ with my Wilkinson’s razor at a very cheap price indeed. Blades are pretty pricey these days, so, OK, I clicked on the link, bought my voucher, then went to the razor blade site, and added my voucher code. OK so far but then I had to add a few quid for postage. Well, I wasn’t happy about that. That extra money was eating into my savings. Anyway, eventually the blades arrived at my door. Not sure what kind of service was used but it certainly wasn’t the next day courier service, more like the next month slowest possible but we get there in the end service. OK, I get the blades but then there’s another problem: They won’t fit on my razor! Now, things get confusing because there are so many razors available these days. There’s the Hydro, the Quattro, the Quattro Titanium, and a shed load of others I couldn’t even begin to name. The blades were for a Hydro which I didn’t have but guess what? Remember that razor handle I told you about earlier? The one selling on e-Bay for a pound with free postage? Remember I asked what plonker would even think of buying that?

Yes, that plonker would be me!


If you liked this post, why not try my book, Floating In Space? Click the links at the top of the page for more information.

Cillit Bang, Doctor McCoy and the Launch of Thunderbird 3!

You might be thinking, and believe me I can understand it if you are, what have Cillit Bang, Doctor McCoy and the launch of Thunderbird 3 got in common? Well it is simply this; together they are three small mysteries that have annoyed me for a while and in the case of Thunderbird 3, a very long time. Please read on . . .

Cillit Bang
A cleaning company has just created a new household cleaner. It works in the kitchen: It works anywhere! It washes away dirt and grime so what should we call it?
INTERIOR. DAY. A PLUSH HI TECH MARKETING OFFICE. A MEETING IS IN PROGRESS. AT THE HEAD OF THE TABLE IS THE HEAD OF MARKETING. HE ADDRESSES THE GROUP OF EAGER YOUNG MARKETEERS.

HEAD OF MARKETING.
Ladies and gentlemen, you know all about the product. We are getting ready to sell to the public as soon as possible. We already have contracts to sell to the major stores and supermarkets, all we need is a name!

YOUNG STAFF MEMBER #1
What about Flash? It cleans your kitchen in a flash and-

HEAD OF MARKETING.
Good but that name has been used already!

YOUNG STAFF MEMBER#1
Sorry sir.

YOUNG STAFF MEMBER #2
What about Super Clean. It’s no ordinary cleaner: it’s a Super Cleaner!

HEAD OF MARKETING.
Not bad but I’m looking for something really special.

YOUNG STAFF MEMBER #3
I know I’m new here (COYLY) But what about Cillit-Bang!

FACES FALL ALL AROUND THE TABLE. SOME STAFF MEMBERS HOLD THEIR HEADS IN THEIR HANDS. OTHERS OPENLY MOUTH ‘OH MY GOD!’

HEAD OF MARKETING.
That’s brilliant. Just what we want.

THE WHOLE OFFICE APPLAUDS.

OK, that’s just a fantasy, just an idle musing that came to me a few weeks back under the hot Lanzarote sun while I pondered about whether to take another dip in the pool. The thing is though, why did they really call it Cillit-Bang?

Doctor McCoy in Star Trek

Dr McCoy Star Trek

Picture courtesy Wikipedia

I have always been a fan of Star Trek, well, the original one anyway. You know the one, Captain Kirk, Mr Spock and Doctor (Bones) McCoy. (Proper Star Trek, not those wishy washy Next Generation people!) Kirk was played by William Shatner, Spock by Leonard Nimoy and McCoy by DeForest Kelley. DeForest did you say? Yes, DeForest, that was his name. I’ve often wondered how he got a name like that, perhaps it was something like this;

INTERIOR. DAY.THE SCENE:THE SUBURBAN HOME OF THE NEWLY WED KELLEYS.

MRS KELLEY
You know, we ought to think about names, there’s not long to go now.

MR KELLEY
Yes, you’re not wrong. Remind me, when is the little one due?

MRS KELLEY
Well, my due date is January 20th.

MR KELLEY
Well, what about Woodrow, you know after the President?

MRS KELLEY (WITH HARDLY A HINT OF ENTHUSIASM.)
What! Woodrow?

MR KELLEY
Well, only a suggestion.

MRS KELLEY
Edward is a thought. I’ve always liked Edward.

MR KELLEY
Edward? Edward Kelley? Don’t know, Edward Kelley. Sounds a bit ordinary . . .

MRS KELLEY
We could name him after you, Ernest David.

MR KELLEY
Yes but then he’d be Ernest David Kelley Junior. I’ve always hated that junior stuff! I want something memorable, something that invokes, you know, the forest or something.

MRS KELLEY
The forest? What are you on about?

MR KELLEY
Well, remember that time in the forest when we were camping and we both, you know . .

MRS KELLEY
Oh my giddy aunt! I’ve never heard anything like it in my life!

MR KELLEY
Look, let’s be straight; we once did it in the forest. So what? Couples have to do it somewhere, it’s only natural. In fact, tell you what, what about Deforest?

MRS KELLEY
Deforest? Are you bonkers? Are you out of your tiny mind?

MR Kelley
It’d be a private joke, you know, me and you against the world and we’d always remember that special time. You know, when we did it in ‘de forest!’

MRS KELLEY
Are you on mind altering drugs or what? I was reading only the other day they reckon that by the 1960’s mind altering drugs could destroy western civilisation. Sure you’re not on them already?

MR KELLEY
OK, so what have you got?

MRS KELLEY
So Ernest David is out?

MR KELLEY
Absolutely.

MRS KELLEY
OK, DeForest it is but I want it with a capital F.

MR KELLEY
It’s a deal!

Thunderbird 3The Launch of Thunderbird 3.

Did you ever watch Thunderbirds, the 1960’s sci-fi show? I’m talking about the original, not the 21st century computer animated version, because something has been annoying me ever since I first saw the show as a schoolboy, and it’s this:
Alan, as you probably know, is the pilot of Thunderbird 3, the space ship, and Thunderbird 3 launches from underground, blasting off right through the circular opening of the Round House. Now to access the craft, Alan sits down on the settee in the Tracy Island main house. His Dad, Jeff Tracy, flicks a switch and Alan and the settee drop down into an underground complex. OK? With me so far? Well this is where the problem arises. As Alan and the settee drop down on a sort of hydraulic pole, just behind him we see another settee, being pushed up towards the lounge on another hydraulic pole,  where it pops into the vacant slot where Alan’s settee was moments earlier. However, as Alan’s settee is going down on the first hydraulic pole, and the alternate settee is on a second hydraulic pole to his rear, there is no way that second settee is going to pop into the vacant slot left by the first. Also, what if Alan was watching TV when the call came in and he goes off on the departing settee with the remote control? It could be halfway to trajectory insertion when Jeff wants to switch over to Sky Sport and he says, “Who’s got the remote?” Not only that, imagine if Alan was on his way to an emergency launch which came in while Grandma was in the kitchen making everyone a cup of tea and a slice of toast?

THE SCENE. INTERIOR. DAY. TRACY ISLAND LOUNGE.

JEFF TRACY
This is a job for Thunderbird 3.

ALAN TRACY
OK Dad. Ready for launch.

JEFF TRACY
Off you go Alan.

ALAN TRACY
Bye Dad, tell Grandma I’ll have a brew later.

JEFF TRACY
Look Alan, those tea bags don’t grow on trees you know. We have them imported from the UK.

ALAN TRACY
Gee whizz Dad, never thought of that. Only thing is, that rocket on collision course with the sun, don’t you think that has to take priority?

JEFF TRACY
Well . . . Sometimes I fancy an extra cuppa anyway so I guess I could always finish yours off. Hot diggedy dog Alan, you’re right. Off you go and I’ll sort your brew out.

ALAN TRACY
Thanks Dad.

JEFF PRESSES A SWITCH AND THE SETTEE DROPS AWAY ON ITS HYDRAULIC POLE INTO THE CAVERNOUS SECRET WORLD BENEATH THE TRACY HOME.

JEFF TRACY
Right, that’s that. Think I might have a gander at Sky Sports. Where the heck is the remote? Grandma! Grandma! Where has the old biddy got to? Bet she’s got the damned remote, she’s always watching daytime TV.

JEFF GOES OFF STAGE RIGHT TO LOOK FOR GRANDMA.

GRANDMA ENTERS STAGE LEFT WITH A TRAY OF TEA AND TOAST.

GRANDMA
Jeff! Alan! Now where have those two got to? Where have they moved the settee to? Sure it used to be just hereeeeeeeeeeeeeee!

Yes, when you look closely, that Thunderbird 3 launch procedure is a major health and safety issue!


If you enjoyed this post why not try my novel ‘Floating In Space’? It’s available from Amazon as a Kindle or traditional paperback. Just click here or go to the links at the top of the page to find out more!

A Brief History of TV Spies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Homeland

Homeland

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

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


If you liked this post why not try my book Floating in Space? Click the links at the top of the page for more information or click the picture below to go straight to amazon.

 

More thoughts from a Sun Lounger

IMGA0475edOne of the most pleasurable things in life surely must be relaxing on a sun lounger. I love it when I have a refreshing dip in the pool, climb out and lie on my lounger and then slowly feel my wet body drying in the sun. Here in Lanzarote in January it’s quiet by our rented villa and the only sounds are the gentle hum of the pool machinery, the wind blowing through the trees and the birds singing. Now and again there is the distant sound of a car or motorbike, the sound becoming louder and then dying away into the distance. One thing about relaxing on a sun lounger, apart from getting a tan and recharging those batteries before going back to cold England, is how the mind wanders and with a little effort the beginnings of a blog post can take shape in my mind.

Christmas and New Year

Not a great Christmas for me this year as I was working. Christmas Eve and Christmas day in the UK was made worse by the terrible weather, particularly the rain in the north of England. I work in one of Highways England’s motorway control rooms and Christmas day was unexpectedly busy with crash after crash. Why people continue to drive at high speed when the weather conditions are atrocious, I’ll never know. On New Year’s day I was working on the early shift, starting work at 6 in the morning and it was a particularly quiet drive into work. It seems to me in recent years the rush hour has just got longer and longer and people now travel earlier to avoid the rush which seems to just expand the rush hour. Many times at five in the morning when I leave home for the 42 mile trip to work the traffic can be really busy.

I think that nowadays, people are just doing more and more travelling in order to get the job that they want. It becomes very apparent when my work colleagues discuss where to go for our work’s ‘do’. Colleagues live all over the north west; St Annes, St Helens, Preston, Wigan, Manchester and even the Wirral, so where can we go to suit everyone? It’s hard work choosing a venue but eventually we chose Liverpool which involved a two hour plus rail journey for me. A bit different from the days when I worked in Stockport and every one of my work colleagues lived in, yes, Stockport. Back in the eighties I don’t think the idea of long commutes to work had really taken off.

Travelling by Air

I sometimes wonder whether aircraft were invented by the Japanese, or at least, are modern aircraft designed for people with an oriental like body frame? For me, a six foot tall man with a considerable bulk although surely not that much bigger than the average male, travelling by air can be something of a trial. On the way here flying on a Boeing 737 courtesy of Jet2.com I remember thinking about this problem as I struggled to get comfy in my small seat and fumbled and wrestled to eat my cheese and ham toastie. The thought of all those movies and TV shows that depict air travel with big comfortable seats and lots of room flickered for a moment through my mind as I almost knocked over my plastic cup of red wine. Yes, once upon a time, back in the uncivilised 1940’s and the beginning of air travel they actually used proper plates, cups and glasses. How we have moved on since then!

Another trial was when I realised I had to use the bathroom. I didn’t really want to get up so I tried hard to hold things in but eventually I got to the point when I realised it was no use. I had to go. I had a good view of the toilet so I waited until I knew it was free and no one was waiting then I pried myself up and out of the seat. Just I was doing so a woman nipped past me and into the toilet! Not happy! Anyway, I had to wait at the front of the aircraft, in the way of everyone including the stewardess trying to serve drinks but eventually, my turn came. It was a little cramped but I got on with what I had to do. At least we didn’t hit turbulence while I was there and have a steward banging on the door telling me I had to return to my seat and strap myself in which has happened to me before. I washed my hands in the little basin but dropped the paper towel on the floor which was pretty hard to pick up and I incurred a bang on the head for my efforts.

By the time I returned to my seat I felt as though I needed another wee but with a supreme effort of will, I managed to push that thought to the back of my mind. To be honest, our flight was particularly friendly. The steward and stewardess were nice and helpful and I appreciated the complimentary tea due to French Air traffic Control having computer problems which caused delays on the part of our flight that passed over France. Also, there were many empty seats so we were able to stretch over to the empty ones and relax. Not looking forward to the flight back though so here’s a quick hint to the guys at Boeing: Put bigger seats on your planes!

The Glenn Miller Story

I think I mentioned in an earlier post about Christmases back home with my Mum and Dad and how we would gather round our coal fire to watch a family film on our old black and white TV with my brother, myself, and Bob the dog vying to be closest to the fire. One of the films we watched back then was the Glenn Miller Story. I really loved that movie when I first saw it on TV back in the 1960’s. It was on TV again over this last Christmas and I settled down to watch it, a nice glass of port in hand and a box of Christmas chocolates nearby. Sadly, the movie was a big disappointment! James Stewart, as much as I love him, was far too old to play Glenn Miller and the film was in colour, not the expected black and white.

June Alyson played Glenn’s wife and she elevated the use of the word ‘annoying’ to a new level with her constant beginning or ending of a phrase with ‘Honestly!’ I imagine the scriptwriter was fairly pleased with himself, coming up with a cute bit of business like that. Wrong! If I had been Glenn Miller and June Alyson my wife, I would have been sorely tempted to employ some appropriately placed Gaffer tape to remedy that situation.

Another moment in the film comes when Glenn comes home from work and his wife takes him upstairs and says, ‘look what just arrived’, and guess what had arrived: Two children who seemed to have arrived in time honoured fashion via the unseen stork. Of course, they may have been adopted, I really don’t know because it wasn’t really explained very well but it was a little bit like one of those moments in old episodes of Blue Peter, the children’s TV show, where Valerie Singleton or John Noakes would say, ‘and here’s one I made earlier!’

One last thing I want to tell you about the Glenn Miller story, and I do feel bad about taking the mickey out of an old favourite movie but that’s the thing about the sun and sun loungers, as your mind wanders, all sorts of old memories rise to the surface! Anyway, here goes. I must have mentioned in previous posts about how I used to have a cassette tape recorder and how many times I used to drag my poor brother into performing the skits and plays I used to write.

One time we did a skit on the Glenn Miller story and there was me in my best American accent drawling, James Stewart style, ‘that sound, that certain sound, I need to find that certain sound and I’m gonna keep on looking till I find it.’ Enter stage left my brother with a cardboard toilet tube over his mouth and he does a tremendous raspberry fart into the microphone. Cue me as James Stewart: ‘That sound, that certain sound: That’s it! I’ve found it!’


Hope you enjoyed this post. If you did why not try my novel, Floating In Space. Click the links at the top of the page for more information.

What happens when classic TV gets remade?

. . . Or perhaps more importantly, why does classic TV get remade? Why not just let sleeping TV classics lie? What! When there’s more money to be made! The thing about classic TV is that people know what it’s about. When they made Mission Impossible into a movie with Tom Cruise we all knew that somewhere in the movie Cruise would get to listen to a recording giving him some impossible mission with the reminder that ‘if any of your people are caught or killed, the secretary will disavow knowledge of your actions!’ The PR man’s job is half done already, done by the collective TV memory of millions of people who watched the TV series. Recently movie producers did the impossible, re created (re-imagined to use movie-speak) Kirk, Spock, and Scotty from the original Star Trek. The first was a pretty good movie, the second, Into Darkness, I wasn’t so keen on. Someone must have liked it though because director JJ Abrams has now been recruited to inject new life into the Star Wars franchise.

Every day the more visible you are on the internet the more stuff comes into your inbox. Some of it is unwanted, TAG_Teaser_Email_05_asome of it is junk but occasionally you get something pretty interesting. I recently received this picture to the left and a week later the video link below. Looks like there is a new version of Thunderbirds in the offing. As a school kid I was brought up on Gerry Anderson’s TV productions. I vaguely remember Four Feather Falls, a cowboy puppet show, but then came Supercar, Stingray and Thunderbirds, all part of Gerry’s vision of the future. What was great about Gerry’s TV shows was that they were aimed at kids but all had a serious adult perspective. They didn’t look down at kids, they treated children more as future adults. Supercar, Stingray and Fireball XL5 were all thirty minute shows but Thunderbirds was a full hour and many of the episodes were serious and complex. One episode entitled the ‘cham cham’ was about a musical code written into a song and it was up to Lady Penelope, the Thunderbirds London agent, to get to the bottom of things. Another Lady Penelope episode that comes to mind was ‘Vault of Death’ in which an employee is trapped in the vault of the Bank of England and the international rescue guys try to save the man before the oxygen runs out. Of course it is Parker, Penelope’s chauffeur, manservant, and former safe cracker who manages to open the vault with a hairpin!

Scott Tracy Thunderbird 1 pilot

Scott Tracy Thunderbird 1 pilot

Sylvia Anderson, Gerry’s wife, was the voice of Lady Penelope and Sylvia always had a credit on the shows for characterisation. It was always the characters that brought the shows to life, not just the incredible Thunderbirds craft launching from under the swimming pool or other hidden places. Gerry and Sylvia went on to make live action shows like UFO and Space 1999 before they had an acrimonious split. Later Gerry tried for a comeback children’s show with Terrahawks but without Sylvia’s characterisations the show didn’t really hit the mark.

Anyway, I do wonder how the guys from this new series targeted me. I must have left something somewhere, some random cookie in cyberspace that let the marketing people know that I used to watch Thunderbirds years ago. Well, I’m not ashamed to say that I did and I also subscribed to the Gerry Anderson comic TV21 and built a plastic kit version of Thunderbird One. Hope the new series lives up to the old one, although I seriously doubt it. Anyway, if today’s kids don’t enjoy the new Thunderbirds, they can catch the classic original on DVD!

By the way, if you enjoyed this post then why not buy my book?

FIScoverbuynow