Things to do During a Pandemic (Part 2)

Some people are born to do certain things. Winston Churchill was a born leader, and Clark Gable was born to play Rhett Butler in Gone with the Wind. As for me, I was born to watch TV. My old dad used to call me ‘square eyes’ because I was glued to the television, or so it seemed to him.

During this unprecedented time -I had to use that phrase because I keep hearing it so much on TV- there is not much to do in one’s own home. Those lovely few warm days have slipped away leaving us in the northern UK a little chilly. The sun is hidden behind grey clouds and it is cold so no barbecues, no more reading out on the lawn.

I’ve have done a little reading and writing and put together a few revised videos for my various internet pages, but mostly I’ve been sipping red wine and watching TV. Some of it has been good, some of it not so good. Anyway, here’s a quick look at what I’ve been watching on TV this week . . .

Young Winston.

I’m not a great fan of director Richard Attenborough but to my mind he has made two really good films: Chaplin and Young Winston. I remember seeing Young Winston at the cinema back in the seventies. Simon Ward plays the part of young Winston Churchill and he plays a good part. He even comes across with a fair approximation of Churchill’s voice, both in his portrayal and also in the many voice overs. The book is based on Winston’s own book My Early Life. I read it many years ago and it was a wonderful read as I remember and this film is a particularly good version of it.

The film tells the story of young Winston Churchill, the son of Lord Randolph, who adores his father who sadly dies young, spoiling Winston’s dreams of working with him in Parliament. The film flips backwards and forwards in time showing Winston’s first day at school and then his exploits in the army. Winston failed to get elected as the Tory candidate for Oldham but later, after making a name for himself as an army officer, correspondent and author, he returns victorious after escaping from a Boer POW camp and finally enters Parliament.

Various familiar names play their parts beautifully including Anne Bancroft as Winston’s American mother, Robert Shaw as Lord Randolph Churchill and many others in smaller roles; Robert Hardy as a prep’ school headmaster and Jack Hawkins as the headmaster of Harrow.

Randolph died at the early age of 45 apparently from syphilis although others have suggested his illness may have been a brain tumour.

This was a wonderful film, beautifully photographed and put together from a script by producer Carl Foreman. What is rather sad is that when I first saw this film there was a scene at the end where the older Churchill falls asleep and dreams of meeting his father who appears free from illness. The scene was based on a short story Churchill wrote in 1947 but for some reason that scene has been dropped from TV and DVD versions of the film which is a great shame.

Bridget Jones’ Baby.

Another film I’ve seen during the lockdown was Bridget Jones’ Baby. The film was based on the book by Helen Fielding and I have to say, I was surprised to hear the TV announcer warning me of some ‘highly offensive language’ used in the film. Bridget Jones? Offensive? Really? Yes really! Even a scene with a child swearing. OK I do swear myself now and again but some of the language in this film was actually just as the announcer suggested and was highly offensive. The other thing was that most of the actors looked really old, really haggard. Now this may have been that we were watching on our new smart TV and the picture quality is just so good these days that it can appear daunting. Sometimes, when Liz and I are at our local pub quiz, Liz will ask why am I watching the TV when its tuned to Sky Sports news? Well, a lot of the time I am just amazed that I can see some football pundit’s pores or some hair that has escaped his razor. Still, the original film in the Bridget Jones series was made in 2001 while Baby was from 2016 some fifteen years later.

Film tends to freeze an actor in time and when you see them on TV talk shows plugging their new film it can be surprising to see just how old an actor has become. A while back I was watching Tom Hanks on Graham Norton and he had grey hair! Tom Hanks? Of course, not long prior to that, I had watched Apollo 13 which was made in 1995, 25 years ago!

Bridget Jones’ Baby finally settled down but I wasn’t totally impressed.

Storyville.

BBC Four have been showing a documentary about OJ Simpson recently. I missed the first few episodes but thank heaven for catch-up TV. The documentary is in 5 parts and won an Oscar for best documentary. Episode one details Simpson’s incredible sporting career and also showed how it was important for him to be seen just as OJ rather than OJ the black athlete. He was apparently a friendly and amiable man who made many friends in the sporting world and kept himself well away from controversy and was never involved in the civil rights movement in America unlike sporting celebrities like Mohammed Ali. Later episodes show how he made a life after sport by becoming a TV sports pundit and by courting wealthy friends in Los Angeles to advise on his investments. In particular he made TV advertisements for Hertz car rentals which were highly popular and did well not only for Hertz but raised Simpson’s profile in the USA even higher.

The series also looks at the climate of race relations in Los Angeles and the activities and methods of the LAPD who clearly were not engaging or even trying to engage with the black community. A ‘them and us’ situation evolved in LA and when Rodney King, a black driver was brutally beaten by a group of white police officers the situation become even more inflamed. The officers were taken to court but found innocent by a white jury causing riots and disturbances in the area.  This was the background of the the later OJ Simpson murder trial.

Simpson divorced his wife and married eighteen year old Nicole Brown, a blonde LA waitress. Their marriage lasted seven years and was not happy, especially in the latter years when Nicole was beaten and abused by Simpson. She called the police numerous times reporting OJ for assault. On June 13th, 1994, Nicole and a waiter named Ron Goldman were found dead. A trail of blood led away from the scene and later blood was found on Simpson’s white Ford Bronco.

Simpson was not as famous in the UK as in America but I do remember seeing the crazy car chase on TV with Simpson in his white Bronco followed by a fleet of Police cars. I have to say that this series has completely gripped me so far and the portrait of Simpson himself and the racial climate in Los Angeles and the attitude of the police is compelling. If you are interested you can still find the episodes on the BBC I-player, at least you could when I wrote this a few days ago. When I tuned in to watch the final episode it was not available! 

Rocketman.

As we are cooped up at home for the duration, why not watch a good film on pay per view? It just so happens that Liz renewed her Sky sunscription recently so we were entitled to a free film. OK, settle back, pop corn at the ready, red wine poured, here we go.

Rocketman was an enjoyable film, well mostly. In parts it was a cross between a music video and a Hollywood musical featuring, of course, Elton John’s music. The first part of the film was very good while the second part seemed to just go on a little too much about Elton’s addiction to alcohol and drugs. Elton’s songs were all presented in an interesting way, some pretty much as we have heard Elton perform them in the past, others in a sort of musical fantasy production number way. I enjoyed all of them.

Elton’s relationship with lyricist Bernie Taupin was shown to be much closer than I realised; Elton, in the film, thinking of Bernie as the brother he never had. Elton’s father doesn’t come over as such a nice character and one sad moment was when Elton was reunited with him and found him to be much closer to his new sons in his new marriage than he ever was with him. Come to think of it, his mother doesn’t come out of the film as being a great mum either whereas before I always thought Elton and his mother were close.  The family member who always believed in him according to this film was his gran. Anyway, even if you don’t like the film itself the rest of the time it’s pretty much like listening to Elton’s Greatest hits, so if Elton’s music does it for you then you should like it.


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Elton John and Me

Way back in the 1970’s when I was a shy gawky teenager, one of my very best friends was a big fan of the Moody Blues. Everything that ever happened to him, life, love, romance, anything and everything really, he related back to something on one of the Moody Blues’ many concept albums. I really wanted something like that, a band or musician I could relate to and follow as they created more music. Very quickly I discovered Elton John.

I was sure Elton was American and it was with some surprise that I later found out he was English.

Elton was born Reginald Dwight in 1947 in Pinner, Middlesex. He started playing his grandmother’s piano as a young boy and began formal music lessons at the age of 7. At the age of 11 he won a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music.

When he was 14 his parents divorced and his mother re-married and Elton, his mum and new step dad moved into a flat at 1A Frome Court in Pinner. According to Wikipedia he stayed there until he had 4 albums simultaneously in the US top 40.

1973 was probably my first record buying year. Up until then I really had little interest in music. The Beatles had pretty much passed me by and I was more interested in TV and film music rather than the pop charts. For Christmas 1972 my brother and received a shared present, a new stereo record player. Of course having a record player meant that I needed something to play on it. That’s when I discovered Elton John.

A big hit for Elton in 1973 was Candle in the Wind, Elton’s ode to Marilyn Monroe. I remember hearing it regularly on radio 1. After some investigation I found it was from an album by Elton, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. I picked up the title track single cheaply, probably from a little music store I used to visit in Wilmslow, Cheshire where we were living at the time. Later I got to know more and more music stores, particularly in Manchester which I would visit every Saturday flicking through singles in the reduced section. Incidentally the flip side or B side on Goodbye Yellow Brick Road was another great track, Bennie and the Jets.

Later I bought the Album, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road which must be Elton’s best ever work. It was a classic double album and contained more hit singles like Saturday Nights alright for fighting.

I discovered Elton’s back catalogue and began buying albums like Empty Sky, Elton John, Tumbleweed Connection, Friends and Madman across the Water.

Elton’s next album was Caribou. I have to say I was a little disappointed at the album cover art. Yellow Brick Road had such an amazing cover and here was Elton’s next album with an oddball amateur looking cover of an embarrassed looking Elton with what appeared to be a Polaroid snap! The album wasn’t so great either.

His next album was Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy, a nostalgic look back at Elton and his co-writer Bernie Taupin’s own lives. The title track is one of my all-time favourite Elton John tracks and the album came complete with little inserts of photo albums and other bits and pieces.

It’s worth stopping here for a moment to look at how Elton and Bernie’s partnership came together. In 1967 the pair answered an advertisement in the New Musical Express. Liberty Records were asking for musical talent and when Elton arrived at Liberty’s offices he was given a sheaf of lyrics written by Bernie Taupin and so Elton promptly began writing music to Bernie’s words. Their writing partnership continues to this day.

Back in the 1970’s Radio 1 began running the Elton John Story in various parts which I recorded onto cassette tapes. On one of the tapes, the two discuss their big hit ‘Your Song’. Elton claims Bernie wrote the lyrics about his then current girlfriend. Bernie denied that saying he wrote the lyrics after having eaten bacon and eggs at Elton’s mother’s flat in Pinner, while Elton was having a bath!

In 1975 Elton appeared in the film version of the rock musical Tommy and his version of Pinball Wizard became another chart hit. Another hit single was Elton’s fabulous version of John Lennon’s Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds with Lennon himself playing guest guitar on the track.

Elton’s next album was Rock of the Westies a sort of rock/funk album. It was, well OK I suppose but as we went into the 1980’s I found myself not really caring for Elton’s music much anymore. I liked the poignant Song for Guy, a song named after a young lad from Elton’s record company who was killed in a road accident but little of Elton’s music interested me in that period.

In 2001 Elton released the album Songs from the West Coast. The album was received warmly by the media and I remember hearing many great reviews saying how Elton had returned to his piano based roots and so on. On Wikipedia I see that the album was recorded on analogue tape as Elton felt that gave the sound a warmer feel. OK I thought, sounds like a good time to try some of Elton’s latest music. While I was waiting to pay for the CD in HMV I noticed another album of Elton’s, Made in England, in the reduced section so I grabbed that while I was there.

Anyway Songs from the West Coast was a total disappointment for me and not only that, I thought the whole thing had a tinny sound to it, not a warm one.

A few months later I noticed Made in England lying unplayed on a shelf so I popped it into my car to give it an airing. I’m so glad I did because Made In England is the album that to me, sounds much like his classic 70’s stuff with some outstanding tracks. A fabulous album just as good as Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.

Pity I missed the Elton John film Rocket Man. I’ll have to look out for it on DVD. I was going to finish with a YouTube clip from the film but I’ve always liked this TV advert from 2018. Enjoy . .


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.

Music and the Fifty Year old Teenager

800px-nadelaufplatteMany years ago in my mid-teens I was in Manchester doing pretty much what I have always done, then and now, whenever I have free time on a Saturday, either looking at records in a music store or looking at books in a book shop.

In 2014 there are not many record stores left; the whole culture of buying records is a different ball game these days, downloading instead of taking home a hard physical copy. You might be thinking hey: haven’t we had this blog already? Yes but the other day I went on to talk about James Dean, today I want to carry on with music.

As a teenager Saturday afternoons meant one thing to me, going into town, probably Manchester, and flipping through records and books. I was a big music fan and back in the seventies and eighties singles were marked down in price as soon as they dropped out of the charts and vultures like me were there to buy up cheap records. I started buying singles in 1973 and the last one I bought must have been in the late eighties. I wish I knew which record it was. In the eighties I started buying picture singles which were singles in clear vinyl with a picture running through. My favourite is probably Alexi Sayle singing ‘Hello John, got a new motor’ which comes in the shape of a Ford Cortina With Alexi Sayle on the bonnet.

The day came, probably sometime in the nineties, when the pop charts had become a mystery to me, singers and bands were in there that I’d never heard of with records I had no interest in buying. Just then, almost like a thief in the night, vinyl disapeared and the CD era began.

In the box room at my Mum’s house are four or five boxes of my singles, another box of LP’s and a two boxes of 12 inch singles which started out in the eighties as a single but with a longer or different mix or sometimes with an extra track. The strange thing is, my teenage counterparts in 2014 probably have a similar size collection only without the physicality. A huge stack of music kept on a hard disc or MP3 device, kept forever in cyberspace. I like my vinyl records, I like the smoothness of the plastic, the static electricity, the album covers, the sleeve notes (can anyone really read the sleeve notes on CDs written in that tiny writing?) and the inserts. I still have all the booklets that came with Elton John’s Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy and I so wish I’d written the lyrics to that Cliff Richard song, ‘Wired for Sound’; power from the needle to the plastic.

I’m not much of a downloader but I do have a shed load of CD’s I’ve picked up over the years and I’ve gradually started to use my MP3 player, especially on holiday and I even have fun making up playlists just like in the old days when I’d copy my vinyl singles onto cassette tapes.

Sometimes I wonder if I’ve really changed at all from the teenager I used to be. .


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