My Top TV Moments (Part 2)

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

24

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

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

Homeland

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

Happy Valley

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

The Avengers

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

Department S

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

Across the Lake

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

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

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

Spend, Spend, Spend

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

The Magic Boomerang

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

Whatever Happened to The Likely Lads

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

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

Fawlty Towers

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

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


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

Undercover Boss

Relax, sit down, time for some TV. Switch on, flip through the channels. What’s this? Undercover Boss? Let’s take a look . .

ANNOUNCER: this week on Undercover Boss, Steve Higgins, CEO of Stevehigginslive.com goes undercover to find out what life is like at Stevehigginslive.com!

Cut to Steve Higgins. CU

STEVE: I’m a Manchester man, originally from Wythenshawe, a council estate to the south of the city and since creating Stevehigginslive.com I’ve never looked back. Yes, I’m looking forward to doing this.

ANNOUNCER: For this ‘sting’ Steve will be disguised by our team of top stylists so he will be completely unrecognisable.

DAY 1: INTERIOR: STEVE HIGGINS TOWER.

STEVE:: Hi, I’m Ste -I mean Joe. I’m meant to be meeting Gaynor. I’ll be working with her today.

MIKE: She’s probably running late. She usually is. Why don’t you make a brew while you are waiting?

STEVE: OK

TEN MINUTES LATER:

GAYNOR: Oh my God, I’m so late. I can’t believe it. Traffic was so bad today and parking is a nightmare. Some companies provide free parking but not this one. Hey what’s with the TV cameras?

STEVE: It’s a documentary about social media. Just ignore them. I’m the new guy, Joe. So what are we doing today?

GAYNOR: Well, I work in the blog titling and numbering department. Mr Higgins writes his blog posts and he probably thinks that’s that! But anyway, here in Blog Titling we have to give it a title and a number.

STEVE: Yes, Mike was telling me about the incident the other week when one of the blogs was numbered incorrectly.

GAYNOR: Oh he did, did he? Well blog titling isn’t so easy, as Mike will find out if he ever gets a promotion and gets the chance to work in this department!

STEVE: What was the problem with that post? Don’t you just give it a number?

GAYNOR: Sounds so easy doesn’t it? Well what with the old software we use its hard work believe me! Not only that, we’ve got Thoughts from a Sun Lounger, we’ve got Sun Lounger Thoughts and we’ve got Sun Lounger French Thoughts and  so answer me this: You get another Sun Lounger Thoughts post, is that Sun Lounger 4, or 5, or is it Thoughts from a Sun Lounger 3? Is it Thoughts from a French Sun Lounger? Are they different or are they the same? How do we know how many sun loungers have gone before?

STEVE: Can’t you just check WordPress?

GAYNOR: Check WordPress he says! So easy. What if you have been locked out and haven’t got a password?

STEVE: Don’t you just press the I forgot my password button and they send you a re-set link to your e-mail?

GAYNOR: You’re so smart Joe but what if you’ve been locked out of your emails? Answer me that Joe? Anyway, don’t bother. It’s time for a tea break.

STEVE: But haven’t we just got started?

GAYNOR Listen Joe, you need to chill a little. Here at Stevehigginslive.com it’s a high pressure environment. A girl needs a break!

STEVE: Yes but . .

GAYNOR: Don’t ‘yes but’ me dude! Did you have to get up early, drop the kids off at school, drop off the eldest at university, check that your elderly mama is OK then get here to work? All in a knackered old Ford Fiesta and God only knows how I’m going to pay those uni fees for my boy!

STEVE: Wow, that must be hard.

GAYNOR: Don’t get me wrong, I love this job. Being part of Stevehigginslive is great but I have to look out for my family, especially as my husband left me last year for a younger version!

Steve: Hey that’s terrible. Can I give you a hug. I’m really empathising with you now.

DAY 2:

ROGER: Hi, I’m Roger.

STEVE: Hi I’m Ste- I mean Joe.

ROGER: Welcome to the team.

STEVE: OK, what are we doing today?

ROGER: OK, we work in the imaging and visual department. The blogs come down to us direct from Mr Higgins and he says Roger, get some images pasted into that blog. ‘Get some Images!’ Can you believe that? Like it’s so easy?

STEVE: So, it’s not easy?

ROGER: Its hard work man! First of all, Steve, Mr Higgins, wants us to use all his own pictures. Well that’s OK up to a point but sometimes I’ve got to be creative.

STEVE How do you mean?

ROGER: OK, take the other week. There was a video about Manchester and in the narration, Steve says something about beautiful women and we’re supposed to find a picture to go with it.

STEVE: Right . .

ROGER: So what I did was this. A few weeks back we had a post about these Russian women who send out e-mails wanting love and relationships and all that. They’re actually scammers but they try to entice men into their scam by sending pictures of sexy women, supposedly themselves. So I had to use one of those. What else could I have done?

STEVE: You could have used a photo stock company something like Shutterstock or Unsplash.

ROGER: Maybe, maybe. What would be good here at Steve Higgins Tower is to have a whole photography studio with cameras, lighting and so on and Steve could call up and say ‘Roger my man’ -he calls me that sometimes- ‘Roger, sort out some top models and do me a photo session with some gorgeous girls.’ Now wouldn’t that be easier?

STEVE: I still think maybe a photo stock website would be easier.

ROGER: Just imagine this, a full studio set up. Steve wants some pictures of naked girls-

STEVE: Naked girls? Would he ask for naked girls?

ROGER: Well, he could do. He might do, not perhaps totally naked but you know, lingerie shots, that sort of thing . .

STEVE: I don’t think he would want that. It’s not that sort of blog, just stuff about books and it’s generally funny, humorous stuff.

ROGER: Hey, there are some serious issues in Steve’s blogs you know, like the naked Russian girls.

STEVE: Naked Russian girls? You know, I read that post and it wasn’t about naked Russian girls.

ROGER: Joe, you are never going to get on here. Know why? cause you’ve got no imagination!

DAY 3: STEVE FINALLY REVEALS HIS REAL IDENTITY.

ANNOUNCER: CEO Steve Higgins is about to reveal to two employees who have no idea who he is, his real identity as their boss.

GAYNOR: Hi

STEVE: Recognise me, Gaynor?

Gaynor: I’m not sure. You voice sounds familiar, are you Joe? Oh No. My God! It’s Steve Higgins!

STEVE: That’s right it’s me. So tell me, how did Joe do?

GAYNOR: Well, he was OK, I mean you were OK. I just don’t think he, I mean you, have any idea of how hard we work here. Creating blog titles and numbers is hard work and the equipment, well the software just isn’t up to it!

STEVE: Gaynor, I could see that and from now on I’m going to get you a WordPress password and make sure your e-mail system is unlocked and not only that . .

GAYNOR: What?

STEVE: I can’t have you doing that journey every morning dropping off the kids and your eldest in that old banger car of yours. I’m going to get you a new Mitsubishi 4×4 to make that journey easier!

GAYNOR; Oh my God!

STEVE: Not only that, I’m going to pay for all your son’s university fees and give you £5,000 to take your family on holiday!

GAYNOR: Oh my God! I can’t believe it! I’m so happy. I can’t wait to tell my children! Are you serious?

STEVE: Actually, I’m joking. Being serious though, Gaynor, I think you needed to raise your game a little if you want to stay with Stevehigginslive.com!

GAYNOR: What?

CUT TO ROGER.

STEVE: Any idea who I am?

ROGER: Steve Higgins?

STEVE: You guessed?

ROGER: No, I just heard Gaynor screeching on her way out. You really had me fooled man.

STEVE: Roger, I really appreciate all the work you do for me so I’m getting you a brand new digital camera to help with some imaging and I’m going to get you unlimited access to adobe Photoshop.

ROGER: OK . .

STEVE: How do you feel about that?

ROGER: Well a studio and some beautiful girls would be nice . .

STEVE: What if got you access to a stock photo company?

ROGER: Steve, just think what we could do with a studio and some beautiful naked girls. We wouldn’t need a stock photo company!

STEVE: Did you say naked girls?

ROGER: Well, not necessarily naked, well not fully naked.

STEVE: Roger, I just don’t think you get the overall profile of Stevehigginslive.com, it’s books, films, humour, not naked women.

ROGER: Right, look Steve, I’ve seen Undercover Boss and the boss usually gives the employees £5000 and a new car or a free holiday to Barbados. Now, you’re offering me Photoshop access? Is that fair to you Steve? Tell you what, stuff your job, I quit and guess what?

STEVE: What?

ROGER: Your blog stinks!

ANNOUNCER: Well Steve. How did things go for you? Was working for SteveHigginslive.com all you though it would be?

STEVE: Well, you know I’m not sure it was. I’m starting to wonder, maybe I could add the pictures myself, and add the blog titles and stuff. I think I need to go back to basics. Get rid of this whole corporate thing, the Tower, the big cars, the Ferraris. Get rid of the whole lot, get my Renault Megane back and go back to sitting in the spare room at home and doing it all myself on my laptop.

ANNOUNCER: What are we talking then Steve? Full closure? Redundancy packages?

STEVE: Yes, of course! Actually, no. I’m just closing the place down!

GAYNOR: What about my Mitsubishi?

STEVE: Forget it! You couldn’t even add a title to Sun Lounger Thoughts part 5? How hard was that!

GAYNOR: Bastard!


Floating in Space is a novel set in 1970’s Manchester. Buy the book today by clicking here!

National (Customer) Service!

Steve HigginsBad manners, foul language and general bad behaviour are some of the criticisms pointed at the youth of today. Some people blame poor schooling, some blame bad parenting as the source of the problem. Of course the thing is what to do about it?

The first thing my dad would say, and perhaps many others of his generation too, would be ‘bring back National Service!’ Ok but I say let’s go one better: Let’s have National Customer Service! Yes, the youth of today should have to commit to a minimum of two years customer service before they embark on life. Two years given to the mother nation in the name of customer service. That would do the job!

THE SCENE: MANCHESTER BUSES CUSTOMER ENQUIRY OFFICE ON A QUIET SATURDAY MORNING.
THE TIME 08:12 HRS.
IN LEVENSHULME THE 190 SERVICE INTO MANCHESTER ALBERT SQUARE HAS PASSED THE MIDWAY PUB FOUR MINUTES EARLY.
AN IRATE WOULD BE PASSENGER HAS IMMEDIATELY CALLED THE ENQUIRY OFFICE.

OPERATOR 1
Morning ,bus enquiries.
IRATE CUSTOMER
Where’s my f***ing bus!
OPERATOR 1
Sorry, I am not paid enough money to listen to that sort of language!
OPERATOR 1 CANCELS THE CALL.

OPERATOR 2
Morning, bus enquiries.
IRATE CUSTOMER
Where’s my f***ing bus you bast***s!
OPERATOR 2 CANCELS THE CALL.

OPERATOR 3
Morning, bus enquiries.
IRATE CUSTOMER
You lousy bas****s! Where’s my f***ing bus?
OPERATOR 3 CANCELS THE CALL

Eventually the call reaches operator 8. Now operator 8 is my friend Jiffrey. That’s right, we tend to call him Jiffrey, rather than Geoffrey, his actual name.  He used to be known rather humourously, we thought, as ‘Jiff Lemon’, as he is a bit of a, well, a lemon. Having said that the way he dealt with our irate customer should qualify him to be an instructor in the new National Customer Service.

JIFFREY
Morning, bus enquiries.
IRATE CUSTOMER.
Your fu**ing company and your drivers are a shower of bas**ds!
JIFFREY
I see, how can I help though?
IRATE CUSTOMER
Your fu**ing bus has gone past 4 minutes early! I’m going to be late for f***ing work!
JIFFREY.
Dear me. Shall I call the local zoo and tell them the monkey cage is going to be short this morning?
IRATE CUSTOMER
What?
JIFFREY
Don’t mind me, just my little joke. Sorry about the bus this morning. I’ll send a report to the inspector straight away.
IRATE CUSTOMER
And another thing. One of your people just called me a bastard! Tell him he’s a cheeky c**t!
JIFFREY
I’ll pass that message on straight away.
IRATE CUSTOMER
So what can I do now?
JIFFREY
Well there’s another bus at 08:38. That’ll take you to Albert Square or if you want Piccadilly there’s a 192 every six minutes.
IRATE CUSTOMER
OK I’ll have to wait for that one then but I’m not f***ing happy about that. I’m going to be late.
JIFFREY.
Well, sorry about that. Anyway, It’s been a pleasure and a privilege speaking with you. Have a nice day.
IRATE CUSTOMER.
(Lost for words.) OK.

Jiffrey was, as you can see, a master of customer service. He had skills that are so lacking in today’s society but a National Customer Service would remedy that issue. The benefits are enormous:

1: No more foreign call centres.
2: Foreign people from eastern Europe could be sent to the centre too, vastly improving their English language skills.
(Not long ago I went for a pint in Manchester with my brother. The lady behind the bar was a Polish lady. I greeted her with ‘Hi. Can we have two pints of lager please love.’
She replied with ‘Vot did you say?’
I repeated, ‘Two pints of lager!’
She looked at me as if I had used similar language to the irate man in the text above, went into a back room and returned with the landlord . He said ‘yes?’
I replied, ‘two pints of lager please mate’
He looked at the girl and said ‘two pints of lager.’
She looked again at him questioningly and he pointed to the lager pumps and gave her two fingers. I assume for the number of pints.
Eventually we were served but then another man came in and said, ‘pint o’ bitter love please!’
She answered with, ‘vot did you say?’)
3: Improved manners and behaviour in young people.
4: Vastly improved people skills nationally.
5: Unemployment figures vastly improved.

Lobby your MP today for National Customer Service!


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 better still, click the icon below to go straight to my Amazon page.

Floating in Space

MASH and the Emotional Leap Indicator

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

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

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

Hawkeye and Trapper plan to steal Major Frank Burns’ Purple Heart- he had an accident and because it happened in a war zone he is eligible for the award -and pass it on to the young lad so he can impress his girl back home. Anyway, later in the episode, Tommy the journalist returns to the MASH, only this time he is seriously wounded. He was planning on writing a book called ‘They Never Hear the Bullet’ but this time he heard the bullet. ‘Never mind’ says Hawkeye, ‘just change the name. Sometimes you hear the bullet, it’s a better title anyway.’ Tommy is anaesthetised and Hawkeye gets to work. Sadly, Tommy dies on the operating table. Colonel Blake has to remind Hawkeye about the queue of wounded and Hawkeye, tragedy etched on his face (an outstanding performance by Alan Alda) has to carry on with his next patient. Every time I watch that episode I sob my heart out, just as I did years ago when I first saw that episode on my Mum and Dad’s old black and white TV. Now I know why; because it wasn’t a case of just dropping down from 0 to minus 36 on the emotional scale, I was already up there on +45 so I had to drop way, way down. That’s why I love MASH: Humour, drama, and tragedy, all mixed into one.

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

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


Hope you enjoyed this post. If you want to read more of my work, why not try Floating In Space? Click the links at the top of the page for more information.

12 Chart Hits from a Decade when Pop Music was Fun!

quotescover-JPG-88Bored by the latest music chart? Remember when the music charts were fun? Well, maybe you don’t but back in the 1970’s, the decade covered in my book ‘Floating In Space’, the music charts were a whole different ball game. Every taste of music was covered from soul to rock and back again. TV theme tunes made it into the charts, as did comedy and novelty records. Here’s a quick selection of ten of the most memorable. Can you think of any others?

Toast by Street Band (1978. Can you spot a young Paul Young?)

King of the Cops (1975)

Mr Jaws by Dickie Goodman. (1975)

Renta Santa by Chris Hill (A sort of British Mr Jaws using the same idea of music clips. 1975.)

Theme from Van Der Valk by the Simon Park Orchestra (a number 1 hit in 1973!)

Ernie, the Fastest Milkman in the West (Benny Hill reached the Christmas number 1 slot in 1971)

The Monster Mash (Bobby Boris Picket and the Crypt-Kickers! originally from 1962 but re-released in 1970.)

The Wombles (1974)

Convoy: C W McCall (1975)

Convoy GB By Laurie Lingo and the Dipsticks (1976)

Ugly duckling Mike Reid (Number 10 in 1975!)

Car 67 by Driver 67 (My favourite oddball hit  of all time from 1978!)


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!

Sunday Lunch with My Arch Enemy.

I published this post some time ago but sadly, my arch enemy passed away a few days ago on the 22nd October. He wasn’t really my arch enemy just a lovely old man who liked to engage in some cheerful banter. Sunday lunch will sadly never be the same again. RIP Harry.

quotescover-JPG-20Sunday afternoon and my arch enemy is about to arrive. Zoe, Liz’s daughter has picked him up and I can hear them at the front door. I’ve lit the coal fire and done a quick tidy up and Zoe is showing him through. In the hallway he asks “Is the Mad Monk in?”

That’s me by the way, the Mad Monk.

“Bloody hell Zoe,” I say. “I had that door locked to keep the riff raff out!”

“Stephen,” he says using my Sunday name as he comes into the lounge. “We don’t mind slumming it with the riff-raff. Anyway, how lovely to see you!”

“Always a pleasure to see you, Harry,” I reply.

Harry is just approaching ninety years of age and all his faculties are in order although his memory is perhaps not as good as it used to be.

“Take a seat Harry,” I say. “What can I get you? A glass of water? Lemonade? A cup of tea perhaps?”

Harry turns to Zoe, a fake look of disdain on his face.

“Pillock!” he murmurs.

Liz brings him a glass of French sherry..

“That’s more like it,” he says.

The women go off into the kitchen to sort the dinner and Harry and I chat about various things. Once Liz and Zoe come back though, we resume battle.

“Harry went for a brain operation the other day,” I announce, matter of factly. “It was free but they charged him £2000 search fees.”

“Dear me, I wish you’d try some new jokes Stephen,” comments Harry. “If you had a brain you’d be dangerous,”

Over seventy five years ago when war broke out Harry decided the army wasn’t for him so he went on a wireless operators course in Preston then signed up in the merchant navy as a ‘sparks’.

His first voyage took him down through the Mediterranean to the Persian Gulf and Iraq. One day while his ship was being refuelled he went for a walk and he heard a voice call his name. He turned to find one of his old schoolmates hailing him. Frank and Harry went to school together, both went to sea and bumped into each other in Basra, along the Shatt-Al-Arab river,  a place Harry called the ‘arsehole of the world.’

Harry had no money on him but his friend Frank treated him to a meal and a few beers and they didn’t see each other again until Harry’s fiftieth birthday, many years later.

“That doesn’t surprise me Harry,” I say. “That poor fella, having to pay for everything. No wonder he didn’t want to see you again.”

“Stephen. What you don’t realise is how hurtful insinuations like that are to a sensitive man like me.”

“I’ve not noticed your sensitive side Harry.”

“Well, you will in a minute if you don’t top my wine up, garcon!”

The wine is topped up and Liz calls for a ‘skivvy’ to help in the kitchen.

“That’s a good word for you Stephen, skivvy. Off you go and if you do a good job there might be a tip in it for you!”

Atlantic convoys during World War 2 were a lifeline for the UK. Bringing in food and supplies and munitions as we fought alone against the Nazis after the fall of France. U boats were a deadly menace to our ships and Harry told me once how he lay on his bunk shivering with fear during an attack. If a ship went down there was no one to help. Other ships couldn’t stop for survivors as they too might be torpedoed. After a while though Harry told me you just got used to the threat and got on with your job. He told me of trips to the Middle East taking tanks and equipment for the Middle Eastern campaigns. A trip from Argentina to the UK with a cargo of rice. A visit to Rio and a trip to New York.

We eat our Sunday dinner with little let up in the banter. Later when it’s time to go Harry turns to Liz and says, “Lovely meal darling.” Then with a wink he says, “pity about the company though.”

So, let me finish Harry with the toast that you so often give to me,

“May your shadow never grow less.”

Laughter and Some Random Thoughts on Movie Comedians

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Chaplin with Jackie Coogan in ‘The Kid’ (1921)

Charlie Chaplin is one of my personal heroes and one of the greats of the silver screen, perhaps the very first movie genius ever, but here’s a flash; he never ever made me laugh. Smile, yes, but laugh, no. I look at his movies and recognise his story telling power, his movie making magic and much more but no, Charlie never really made me laugh. Laurel and Hardy on the other hand, two movie comedians who are not perhaps as lauded the world over as geniuses, but who are perhaps more universally loved, well, now they do make me laugh. Whenever some catastrophe befell Oliver Hardy, whenever he stood and looked straight at the camera after a cabinet landed on his head or a car accident befell him and he stood up straight amid the shambles of a house exploding around him and Stanley would go into his helpless ‘it wasn’t my fault’ act, that my friend, would not only crack me totally up but would leave me helpless with tears of laughter running down my face.

My Dad liked Laurel and Hardy and my Dad was the master of the silent laugh. I remember once, convulsing with merriment at the aforementioned duo and wondering why my Dad didn’t think it was so funny, then turning to see him also creased up with laughter, only this was a completely silent laughter, his shoulders shook and his face contorted with mirth but no sound would ever pass his lips.

chickadeeOne of the reasons that the above few lines came to me was because, through the power of e-bay and the internet, I came into the possession of a DVD starring another of my Dad’s favourite stars, WC Fields. Fields starred with Mae West in a movie called ‘My Little Chicadee’ and it’s good to think that this movie, produced some 75 years ago still has the power to bring laughter to people like me. I love the ending of the movie when the two stars use each other’s catchphrases, Fields saying to Mae West, ‘Why don’t you come up and see me some time?’ and West replying ‘I might do that, my little chickadee!’

Another favourite comedian of mine who only made a few movies was Tony Hancock. Hancock was a successful radio and TV comedian and his TV show was so popular in the late fifties and early sixties that pub landlords complained they were losing revenue because people stayed at home to watch Hancock. Tony Hancock was a troubled and insecure man though. He dropped Sid James from his show as he felt James was becoming too popular, and at times of stress had trouble learning his lines. If you take a close look at the classic ‘blood donor’ sketch it’s clear Hancock was reading his lines from cue cards. He ventured into movies only a few times but did make the wonderful movie ‘The Rebel’ written by his BBC TV writers Galton and Simpson. In later years Hancock and his writers had a parting of the ways and Hancock sadly committed suicide in Australia in 1968.

DSC_0287Peter Sellars was a master of impersonation and the funny voice and it was his voices and the inspired madness of writer Spike Milligan that made the Goon show such a hit. Sellars went on to make many a memorable comedy movies, including the Inspector Clouseau series but for his last movie, ‘Being There’, Sellars based his character, Chancey Gardner on Stan Laurel, whom he made friends with and spent time with when he lived in Hollywood. Sellars was a strange character and if you ever catch that wonderful TV documentary made by the BBC Arena team you can see Sellars as he saw himself through his own amateur film footage. Sellars seemed to think he had no personality of his own and cloned himself from the many characters he played. During the movie ‘Casino Royale’, a spoof version of the James Bond film, Peter had a disagreement with the director and vanished for three weeks. If you watch the finished film, which has its great moments as well as its bad ones, Sellars’ character seems to disappear from the movie towards the end; clearly that’s why.

Being a great comedy star is a difficult job and perhaps that’s why so many comics and comedians are difficult people. Today’s comedy stars really do nothing for me at all and ‘observational’ comedy which is at the centre of contemporary stand-up comedy leaves me cold.

Still, if I ever need cheering up I can always just reach for the DVD cabinet and take out some classic Laurel and Hardy!


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The Trials and Tribulations of a Coach driver

Quite a few times travelling on the motorway I’ve seen some really nice looking futuristic coaches. Back in the early eighties I had a short spell as a coach driver working for National Travel but the coaches we drove were not quite so exotic.

picture courtesy wikipedia

picture courtesy wikipedia

Today’s coaches are limited to seventy mph but back then our coaches could do eighty or even ninety miles per hour. The job for us drivers on the Manchester to London route was all about getting down to Victoria Coach Station as quickly as possible, parking up at Battersea coach park then getting down to the pub. One of the problems of running at high speeds, especially in the summer, was that engine temperatures soared and we had to slow down. One day when, once again, I was the last to arrive in London and consequently got the worst hotel room, the one that nobody wanted, one of my fellow drivers asked me if I had used the heaters.

The heaters? What, in this heat?”

“Yes,” said my colleague. “When your temperature goes up slap the heaters on and you’ll see that temperature dial drop right down.”

Well, anything’s worth a try I thought so the next time I was on the London route I was hurtling along, way ahead of everyone and the temperature dial rose up into the red. Instead of slowing down I popped on the heaters and like magic the temperature gauge dropped down from the red into the black.

When I finally pulled up into the coach station in London I looked up into the mirror and there were my assembled passengers looking as though they had spent the trip in a steam room.

Hey, at least I got the pick of the hotel rooms though!

My fellow drivers and I were booked in at a hotel not far from Battersea coach park and in the evening we would assemble in a pub called the Drum for drinks. Some of the guys had told me about a group of ladies there who used to favour the coach drivers. They were known as ‘the heavy gang’ and for some reason I got the impression of them as being movie starlets, or fashion models. Big mistake! When I was first introduced to one of these ladies with, I might add, the whispered comment ‘she’s a right goer’ I was, well, let’s say disappointed. The epithet ‘heavy gang’ was clearly a reference to the ladies weight rather than their passionate nature as I had mistakenly believed. The Drum was not for me and from then on I rarely frequented its portals.

On one particular London trip I fell into the age old trick of thinking I had begun to actually know London. We were diverted down a different route because of road works and just as I thought we were back on the normal road I looked about and realised to my horror that I didn’t recognise any of the roads. Just then a young girl came down to the front and told me I was going the wrong way and I would have to turn back somewhere. I turned off the main road into a housing estate and just after completing a difficult three point turn (it was a 57 seater coach after all!) the same girl came back and asked if she could get off. I said sorry, no, I could only stop at authorised stops. She looked at me and pointed to the door of a house only yards away, “but that’s where I live!” She gave me that sad imploring look she must have used on many a coach driver so I opened the doors and let her off. Perhaps she wasn’t used to kindly northern coach drivers but whatever the reason she planted a huge kiss on my astonished lips, told me I was wonderful, and nipped off the coach. As I was finishing the three point turn and straightening the coach up she went into her front door and waved back with a huge smile. The rest of the passengers, subjected to this untimely diversion were not so happy.

After meeting the ‘heavy gang’ I tended to drink in the pub next door to the Drum. They had a pool table and I used to put a marker down and have a game. On this particular night a driver called Freddie came in (not his real name!) He was a really over the top friendly guy and seemed to be very concerned that I was on my own playing pool. He brought a few of the other National Travel drivers in and we all had a chat and a nice evening. Later on he asked me if I fancied going on to a club. Great stuff I thought. Here I am, a northern lad, clubbing down in London. I even imagined mydelf bumping into the girl I had dropped off earlier!

One of the other guys said to me quietly “Are you going to this club?”

“Yes,” I replied. “You fellas up for it too?”

“Well, not really, “they said. “Do you know what sort of a club it is?”

“What sort of a club? Well, I assume it’s a nightclub.”

“Yes, it is. But it’s a gay club.”

What?” I said.

If you don’t believe it they said, ask Freddie.

Well, I asked Freddie and it was a gay club and Freddie turned out to be the resident gay driver at National Express. He was a really nice guy but I was unable to return his affections. It’s nice to be wanted of course, especially when you are the new guy but it was hard work making Freddie understand that gay clubs weren’t my scene.

The next day when I arrived back in Manchester the Boss called me over. Apparently he had been inundated with complaints about my conduct on the trip down to London.

“What?” I asked, incredulously, “me?”

“Yes,” he said. “What’s all this about you going off route and dropping your girlfriend off at her front door in London?”

That one took some explaining!


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The funny things kids say!

I’ve not been lucky enough to have kids but many years ago I remember watching TV with my girlfriend’s daughter, Wendy. I can’t remember the film we were watching but the star was Christopher Reeve, most famous perhaps for playing the part of Superman. Wendy was wondering why he wasn’t ducking into a phone booth to change into Superman and streaking up into the air at the drop of a hat. Well, I thought, it’s time for a serious talk with Wendy about the movie world.

I explained, pretty thoughtfully I thought, about how movies were made, about cameras, shooting, screenplays and actors. Wendy seemed to take it all in but after a while she looked at me, looked back at Christopher Reeve and asked;

“Right, so he’s lost his powers then?”

Here’s another one. One day Tania, Liz’s daughter was asking for a drink of juice. She was very young at the time, just learning to talk so Liz filled her cup with juice and handed Tania the drink. She was expecting a word of thanks but when it wasn’t forthcoming Liz held onto the cup. Tania tugged harder, Liz waited for a thank you. Eventually she said; “Tania, what’s the magic word?”

Tania thought for a moment and replied “Abra cadabra!”

Kids. What funny things have your kids said?

 

Sunday Lunch with My Arch Enemy.

Sunday afternoon and my arch enemy is about to arrive. Zoe, Liz’s daughter has picked him up and I can hear them at the front door. I’ve lit the coal fire and done a quick tidy up and Zoe is showing him through. In the hallway he asks “Is the Mad Monk in?”

quotescover-JPG-43bThat’s me by the way, the Mad Monk.

“Bloody hell Zoe,” I say. “I had that door locked to keep the riff raff out!”

“Stephen,” he says using my Sunday name as he comes into the lounge. “We don’t mind slumming it with the riff-raff. Anyway, how lovely to see you!”

“Always a pleasure to see you, Harry,” I reply.

Harry is just approaching ninety years of age and all his faculties are in order although his memory is perhaps not as good as it used to be.

“Take a seat Harry,” I say. “What can I get you? A glass of water? Lemonade? A cup of tea perhaps?”

Harry turns to Zoe, a fake look of disdain on his face

“Pillock!” he murmurs.

Liz brings him a glass of French sherry..

“That’s more like it,” he says.

The women go off into the kitchen to sort the dinner and Harry and I chat about various things. Once Liz and Zoe come back though, we resume battle.

“Harry went for a brain operation the other day,” I announce, matter of factly. “It was free but they charged him £2000 search fees.”

“Dear me, I wish you’d try some new jokes Stephen,” comments Harry. “If you had a brain you’d be dangerous,”

Over seventy five years ago when war broke out Harry decided the army wasn’t for him so he went on a wireless operators course in Preston then signed up in the merchant navy as a ‘sparks’.

His first voyage took him down through the Mediterranean to the Persian Gulf and Iraq. One day while his ship was being refuelled he went for a walk and he heard a voice call his name. He turned to find one of his old schoolmates hailing him. Frank and Harry went to school together, both went to sea and bumped into each other in Basra, along the Shatt-Al-Arab river,  a place Harry called the ‘arsehole of the world.’

Harry had no money on him but his friend Frank treated him to a meal and a few beers and they didn’t see each other until again until Harry’s fiftieth birthday, many years later.

“That doesn’t surprise me Harry,” I say. “That poor fella, having to pay for everything. No wonder he didn’t want to see you again.”

“Stephen. What you don’t realise is how hurtful insinuations like that are to a sensitive man like me.”

“I’ve not noticed your sensitive side Harry.”

“Well, you will in a minute if you don’t top my wine up, garcon!”

The wine is topped up and Liz calls for a ‘skivvy’ to help in the kitchen.

“That’s a good word for you Stephen, skivvy. Off you go and if you do a good job there might be a tip in it for you!”

Atlantic convoys during World War 2 were a lifeline for the UK. Bringing in food and supplies and munitions as we fought alone against the Nazis after the fall of France. U boats were a deadly menace to our ships and Harry told me once how he lay on his bunk shivering with fear during an attack. If a ship went down there was no one to help. Other ships couldn’t stop for survivors as they too might be torpedoed. After a while though Harry told me you just got used to the threat and got on with your job. He told me of trips to the Middle East taking tanks and equipment for the Middle Eastern campaigns. A trip from Argentina to the UK with a cargo of rice. A visit to Rio and a trip to New York.

We eat our Sunday dinner with little let up in the banter. Later when it’s time to go Harry turns to Liz and says “Lovely meal darling.” Then with a wink he says, “pity about the company though.”

So, let me wish you a super ninetieth birthday Harry, and let me give you the toast that you so often give to me,

“May your shadow never grow less.”