Adventures with a Hard Drive TV Recorder

You may have read in a previous post about the numerous advantages, especially to a couch potato like me, of a hard drive TV recorder. Sometimes, I record things and completely forget about them until the day comes when I am free to sit down with a large cup of tea (mandatory for serious TV watching) a cheese sandwich, a chocolate digestive biscuit and see what television delights await me. Here are some recent highlights!

Rising Damp Forever

I do love a good documentary, especially ones about the making of a movie or TV programme. This last week I’ve watched a two-part programme about the TV sitcom Rising Damp. The documentary followed the story of how a play by Eric Chappell was seen by TV producers who then urged Chappell to make it into a TV series. The result was a sitcom that ran for four seasons and was one of the funniest things on TV in the late seventies. Leonard Rossiter’s performance as landlord Rigsby is nothing short of brilliant; a wonderful comic creation. Frances De La Tour played the spinsterish Miss Jones and the late Richard Beckinsale was a virginal long-haired student who shared a room with an African chieftain’s son played by Don Warrington.

A preview of the show billed the programme as a reunion of the cast members, however, if you know anything about Rising Damp, you will know that of its quartet of stars, Leonard Rossiter and Richard Beckinsale are no longer with us. Frances De La Tour is still alive as far as I know but did not appear in the documentary leaving Don Warrington to mostly chat with himself. The reunion appeared to involve Don, former directors, the former floor manager, a production assistant and the writer, Eric Chappell.

To be fair, the documentary was pretty interesting because I love anything like this, the back room story to a successful film or TV show, especially when we get to see the writer talking about his creation. Also appearing were some former guest stars, as well as Christopher Strauli who played the Richard Beckinsale part in the film version. When he first met Leonard Rossiter, the undoubted star of the show, Rossiter told him ‘We know this works as a TV show so if the film is a failure it’ll be your fault!’ No pressure then!

Among other things the programme revealed that De La Tour and Rossiter were poles apart in real life and did not get on well. Richard Beckinsale had just finished filming Porridge and had short hair so was forced to wear a long wig and the writer, Eric Chappell, based the show on a newspaper article about a bedsit tenant who pretended to be the son of an African chief in real life!

Beckinsale left the cast because he felt he was not being taken seriously as an actor and wanted to pursue more dramatic roles. Sadly, he died of an undiagnosed heart condition not long afterwards when he was only 31. Leonard Rossiter went on to star in the equally wonderful the Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin but died during a stage performance of Joe Orton’s black comedy Loot.

Yes, remind me to dig out my box set of Rising Damp for my next rainy afternoon off.

The Secret life of Bob Monkhouse.

I have seen this documentary before and last week’s showing on BBC Four was a repeat but a very welcome one. Bob Monkhouse was a comedian who seemed to collect everything and the full extent of his collecting compulsion was only revealed after his death in 2003. He kept all his old scripts, all his old notes, even for things like The Golden Shot. He would make up small cards about the contestants with notes about their backgrounds. Then he would go through his joke notebooks which were indexed for subject and if the contestant was for instance a plumber, he would go down the list, look up plumber jokes and use it during the broadcast.

The other thing about Monkhouse was that he was a serial TV recorder. He bought one of the very first home video recorders when the cost was similar to that of a family car, and he set about recording anything and everything. During the 1980’s he apparently had six video recorders in his home and many of his recordings are the only remaining recordings of various TV shows. He had recorded episodes of the Golden Shot thought to be missing and also the only known recording of Lenny Henry’s TV debut. All in all, Monkhouse amassed 50,000 video tapes and numerous other film and audio recordings, all of which were kept in a temperature controlled unit he had built in his garden which he called the ‘Boardroom’.

Despite a career as a TV star, Monkhouse had a hard life. He was married three times, had a disabled son and another who died from a drugs overdose. He worked hard on the TV show The Golden Shot and was then fired for supposedly plugging a brand name on the show. When Norman Vaughn and later Charlie Williams seemed to struggle with the pressure of the live broadcast, Monkhouse was asked to return and he hosted the Golden Shot until the end of its TV run before moving on to Celebrity Squares.

After his death Bob’s daughter donated his huge video and film collection to Kaleidoscope, a television archive company, dedicated to finding and rescuing ‘lost’ TV shows which were routinely wiped or not recorded at all prior to the 1980’s. Pity Bob wasn’t a Doctor Who fan!

The Magic Box

This is one of those movies rarely, if ever, seen on terrestrial TV. Made in 1951 for the Festival of Britain it starred the Manchester born actor Robert Donat with a whole host of stars playing minor and supporting roles. The technicolor photography by cinematographer Jack Cardiff is excellent and the story of British cinema pioneer William Friese-Green is told in flashback by director John Boulting.

Friese-Green thought his troubles were over when he finally produced a working movie camera but his obsession with the project led to a serious neglect of his photography business which collapsed into debt and bankruptcy. When he died he had only the price of a cinema ticket in his pocket. The Magic Box is something of a sad film but well made and a feast for classic movie fans. Even the portraits on the walls of Friese-Green’s studio were of famous British film stars.

The Persuaders.

Roger Moore and Tony Curtis star in this seventies action and adventure series.  Tony Curtis plays  New York entrepreneur Danny Wilde who teams up with Roger Moore as Lord Brett Sinclair to fight crime. Moore is perfect in the part. Pity he was so poor as James Bond! 

In my favourite episode, Danny and Lord Brett go camping and we see Danny getting up the next morning, emerging from his small one man tent. Lord Sinclair’s tent however, just across the way, is a massive tent worthy of an Arab prince. Danny wanders in to find Lord Brett in a huge fully fitted kitchen. He turns to Danny and remarks, ‘I’ve really enjoyed roughing it for once, Daniel!’

The Invaders.

I still have plenty of episodes saved on my hard drive, ready for viewing, of the 1960’s sci-fi series, the Invaders! Roy Thinnes plays architect David Vincent who becomes aware of an imminent alien invasion. As the narrator said in the opening titles:

The Invaders, alien beings from a dying planet. Their destination: the Earth. Their purpose: to make it their world. David Vincent has seen them. For him, it began one lost night on a lonely country road, looking for a shortcut that he never found. It began with a closed deserted diner, and a man too long without sleep to continue his journey. It began with the landing of a craft from another galaxy. Now David Vincent knows that the Invaders are here, that they have taken human form. Somehow he must convince a disbelieving world that the nightmare has already begun!

The Man From Uncle

Time to open channel D because over on the True Entertainment channel, free view 61, they are showing my school boy 1960’s favourite The Man from Uncle. Yes, Robert Vaughn and David McCallum are back in action fighting the agents of the criminal organisation, Thrush. The last episode I caught was called Discotheque and involved a disco, quite unlike any I have ever visited – everyone wore a shirt and tie and there were mini skirted dancing girls in cages. Secret Agent Napoleon Solo’s oxy-acetylene torch-cum cigarette lighter put James Bond’s gadgets to shame and the lady strapped to a moving channel heading towards a cylindrical saw, provided a great finale. Eventually, super smooth agent Solo, helped ably by colleague Illya Kuryakin, foiled a plot to spy on head of Uncle, Mr Waverley, or was it to obtain secret Thrush files? I forget now but I loved it all anyway.

Love those opening titles with that fabulous theme by Jerry Goldsmith!

Press that pause button, time for another cuppa!


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A Man, his TV, and A DVD Box Set

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pixabay.com

Pixabay.com

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

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

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


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A Brief History of TV Spies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Homeland

Homeland

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

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


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