The Best Book about Hollywood, Ever

Is ‘Bring on the Empty Horses’ the best book ever written about Hollywood? I really think it is.

It’s a book written from first-hand experience for starters. The author, British born movie actor David Niven arrived in Hollywood in the early 1930’s. He had decided to try his luck in the movie business and he had come to the right place because Hollywood, California was the centre of the film making universe.

Some years previously it had been a rural backwater of lemon and orange groves but the silent film pioneers had found it had the perfect climate for film making. Back then in the silent days films were made in the open air shot on sets with no ceilings to let in the abundant California light.

By the 1930’s, sound had well and truly arrived and the big studios all had their coterie of stars and David Niven has a pocketful of stories, anecdotes and sketches about them and the other bit players, extras, directors and writers who inhabited Hollywood between the years 1935 to 1960.

Working as a boat hand to make some extra cash, Niven came on board a small vessel one morning. His job was to mop the boat down, get the fishing rods and bait ready and make sure some coffee and breakfast was on the go. The charter that day was for a man known as the King of Hollywood, none other than Clark Gable. Gable turned out to be a friendly customer who enjoyed his fishing. Some years later when Niven had made his first forays into acting and had a seat at a table at the Oscar ceremony, he was understandably very happy indeed to find Gable greeting him enthusiastically, his stock at that particular table rising dramatically after Gable came over to talk about fishing.

Niven goes on to paint an affectionate portrait of Gable alongside some other essays on various stars of the time. My favourite must be the short chapter on Errol Flynn. Flynn and Niven shared a house at one time and Niven comments that Flynn was completely trustworthy in a way, because whatever happened, he would always let you down!

During the making of ‘the Charge of the Light Brigade‘ which Warner brothers decided to set in India rather than the Crimea, Flynn, the new star started to get a little big headed. One big brute of an extra decided to waggle a lance under the behind of Flynn’s horse to teach Flynn a lesson.  The horse consequently threw Flynn off. He got up, dusted himself down and proceeded to teach the big guy a lesson of his own by beating him into a pulp!

Flynn had a yacht named the Zaca and weekends on the boat included sailing trips full of wine, women and song. Many young girls appeared on the boat, none of whom produced any ID which was unfortunate for Flynn as he was later charged with statutory rape. The accusing girls appeared in the courtroom wearing school uniforms and in pigtails but happily for Flynn the court saw through that and he was acquitted, although the image that the press painted of him was one that he was happy with.

In later life Flynn was bankrupt and became a floating shadow of his former self, sailing the seas in the Zaca. Later he made a great Hollywood comeback playing his great friend John Barrymore in ‘Too much Too Soon.’ He died in 1950 aged only 50 and in a poignant moment, Niven living then in the south of France, takes a walk along the French coast only to find the dis-masted remains of the Zaca lurking quietly in a boat yard.

Another great portrait is the one that Niven gives us about Prince Romanoff, known as Mike to his friends who ran the famous Romanoff’s restaurant on North Rodeo Drive in Beverley Hills. He was also a former conman once known as Harry F Gerguson. Harry or Mike possessed an immaculate old Etonian accent and assumed the identity of the late Romanoff prince. His restaurant became a popular venue and by the end of the Second World War was a well-established Hollywood eating house. Niven tried to haggle with Mike many times and break down his stories of mingling with royalty, of Eton and Harrow and military academies like Sandhurst but to no avail. If he was a con man he was in the top echelon of his profession.

I’ve always loved George Sanders with his easy smooth talking suave style. Niven recounts various stories about him including some about his relationship with Zsa Zsa Gabor. During the break up of their marriage they stayed fairly friendly. However, George was well aware of the California divorce laws and decided that it was important to have evidence of Zsa Zsa’s relationship with her new lover. His plan was to break into his house –that Zsa Zsa had contrived to still live in- and photograph her in the arms of her new man. In case entry to the house proved difficult he took along his lawyer, a photographer and a brick with which to break in. Conscious of looking suspicious carrying the brick he gift wrapped it. On arrival at the lover’s nest the bedroom door was conveniently unlocked. They entered, took the appropriate evidentiary picture and then when tempers had cooled they all trooped down to the lounge. It was Christmas time and Zsa Zsa mentioned that George’s present was under the tree. Sanders passed her the brick, still gift wrapped and said ‘and here is yours!’

Many famous places appear in Niven’s book; the Brown Derby restaurant, Chasen’s and many other bars and restaurants frequented by long gone stars; Ava Gardner, Monroe, Rita Hayworth, Orsen Welles and many more. Niven also recounts a visit to some distant drinking den frequented by Robert Newton who appeared with Niven in ‘Around the World in 80 Days’. Niven and Newton imbibed a generous amount of alcohol but when Newton began to disclaim various Shakespearean passages to the locals Niven realised it was time to leave. The pair had arrived straight from the studio and David had no money with him so it was with some surprise that he heard Newton hiss that he had none either. “We have a tricky situation here” observed Newton rolling his eyes.

Happily the two made a quick exit in Newton’s Chauffeur driven ancient Rolls.

The book tells of the big studios like Warner Brothers and MGM and their great back lots.  There was little location filming in those bygone days and on the back lots could be found entire New York streets, French and Spanish villages, frontier towns, Indian camps, medieval castles, a railroad station complete with rolling stock, lakes with wave making machines and a Mississippi steamboat.

Small wonder then says Niven that ‘Gone with the Wind’ was filmed in Culver City, ‘Mutiny on the Bounty’, just off Catalina Island, and ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’ in the San Fernando Valley.

I actually own two copies of this wonderful book. One is a smart hardback copy for my bookshelf. The other is the copy photographed for this post, a well-thumbed tatty copy that I pick up and take to the garden now and again or to the dentist or whenever I have a spare moment to spend in Hollywood’s golden years.


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.

 

Which Bond is the very Best Bond?

So who was the best Bond? That’s Bond of course, James Bond, licensed to kill.

I’ve had a little time on my hands this week, looking after my elderly mother. Nothing particularly exciting presented itself on terrestrial TV so I thought, the perfect time to pour a glass of red and crank up a few Bond DVDs.

Sean Connery.

The very first Bond movie was Doctor No starring Sean Connery as the very first Bond. Connery was excellent as the suave James Bond, former naval officer and now agent of M16, the Secret Intelligence Service. Bond gets sent to Jamaica to look into the disappearance of the local station head. It turns out he was killed for being far too interested in the very first Bond villain, Doctor No. Throw in some exciting sets, car chases, gunplay and pretty girls and you have the instant formula for a successful film franchise.

Connery plays a great James Bond and he carried on with his portrayal in three subsequent films. After Thunderball he decided enough was enough and packed the job in. Later he was enticed back to play Bond one more time in Diamonds are Forever.

Stevehigginsinslive.com Bond rating: #4

George Lazenby.

George Lazenby was an actor in a TV advert and was spotted by the producers to take on the role of 007. Lazenby was to me, the perfect Bond; rugged and good looking as well as smooth and unruffled. To me he was just how I imagined Bond after reading the Ian Fleming novels as a schoolboy. His one Bond film, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is one of the best films in the 007 franchise. Diana Rigg is a great Bond lady who, unlike no other Bond girl before or after, actually gets to marry Bond. The film is a fast paced thriller with some great fight and chase scenes including a classic ski chase. Lazenby quit the Bond series after getting some bad career advice and it was such a shame that he did not portray James Bond again.

Stevehigginsinslive.com Bond rating: #1

Roger Moore.

Roger Moore is one of my favourite actors, good looking, smooth and someone who never takes himself too seriously. He was great as Simon Templar and Lord Brett Sinclair in two TV action series but as for James Bond, well I don’t know what went wrong but Moore just didn’t cut it as Bond for me. His first film Live and Let Die was . .well, not bad I suppose but most of the rest were just dreadful, more carry On James Bond than the Bond we, or at least I wanted to see. Sorry Roger, just not my cup of tea at all and as for that underwater car. . . Seriously?

Stevehigginsinslive.com Bond rating: #6

Timothy Dalton.

Relaxing in front of the TV the other day and The Living Daylights popped up on my TV schedule. I’ve never really thought much of this film but actually it was pretty good. Timothy Dalton was a welcome relief after the Roger Moore years; finally, a serious Bond film again. Good film, good music and a great Bond girl who had, unusually, more to do that just look nice. Dalton made two Bond films, the other one being the slightly tedious Licence to Kill. Great song but a film that needed a few kick starts along the way.

Stevehigginsinslive.com Bond rating: #3

Pierce Brosnan.

There was a 6 year gap to the next Bond film due to legal issues. Timothy Dalton declined to star as Bond and the producers gave the role to Pierce Brosnan. Brosnan’s first Bond film was the impressive Goldeneye, one of my personal favourites of the whole series. Brosnan’s Bond is as smooth and stylish as the previous incumbents of the role with the addition of some wry humour in the style of Sean Connery. Goldeneye was the best of Brosnan’s films and the only real dud was Tomorrow Never Dies but even that had its merits. His last Bond film Die Another Day did venture slightly into Roger Moore territory with an invisible car though. Brosnan’s series of films were made all the more impressive by a small company of regular co-stars in particular Judi Dench as a female M, and Samantha Bond as Miss Moneypenny. I have to vote Brosnan in as my second favourite Bond.

Stevehigginsinslive.com Bond rating: #2

Daniel Craig.

Craig made his Bond debut in Casino Royale, actually the first book in Ian Fleming’s series but the last to make it to film, well, in the official franchise anyway. Fleming sold the rights to Casino Royale separately to the rest of books for some reason which is why a comedy version was made in the 1960s starring David Niven as Bond. In fact Niven was Fleming’s personal choice for a film Bond!

Anyway, this series of Bond films brings us to the 21st century version of the British superspy with an accent less on gadgets but heavy on action. The Daniel Craig Bond films are tough and gritty but are all reasonably enjoyable, the best one by far being Skyfall. Craig’s Bond is noticeably more thuggish than his predecessors although he tends to drive a classy vintage 1960s Aston Martin. Interestingly, in the books, Bond’s personal car was a vintage Bentley.

Stevehigginsinslive.com Bond rating: #5


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.

 

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.

 

 

Cameras Then, and Cameras Now . .

I still have my old camera bag, well, camera case actually. I have often wondered just how much money I would make if I sold it on eBay. Would I be impressed I wonder of the value of my once expensive film cameras? Or would I be disappointed to find these great cameras are now comparatively worthless?

I was always rather proud of my aluminium camera case. It made me feel like someone who was serious about cameras and who knew something about photography. There was my Olympus OM10 complete with the manual adapter which transformed the camera from an amateur’s automatic device to a professional tool. The OM10 cost a lot of money as I remember and so did the bits and pieces that went with it. A wide angle lens which always delivered some super sharp shots. Then there was my 200mm telephoto lens, my medium 80 to 150 zoom and my 3 times converter that made my 200mm lens into a 600mm although it struggled in that configuration for light so large apertures and slow shutter speeds were the norm.

Also in the case is my Olympus OM2SP complete with spot programme technology. As you may probably know, a modern camera tends to average out the light that comes into the lens giving a slightly false reading or at least an overall reading which when shooting scenes with dark and bright elements can cause confusion. The spot meter in the OM2SP means the user can choose a single spot from which to take a light reading and set the camera accordingly so that the point of interest would always be perfectly lit.

To assist further on the quest for the perfect picture my case also had a wide variety of filters. A small number of screw on filters which screwed directly onto the front of the lens and another set, my Cokin filters which were square filters that slotted into a holder which screwed onto the front of the lens.

My old 1980’s camera case

There was more also. My cable release, vital for those late night long exposures. Long exposures, now I think of it, were photographs I used to love taking. One of my favourites was shooting someone in the dark, whirling a sparkler or a torch round and round while the shutter was open then I’d fire a hand held flash to freeze the person and then close the shutter. I’m not even sure you could do that on a modern digital camera but anyway it was a fun picture to take.

Also in the case is my motor wind, a vital addition for capturing the fast action of the cars at my nearest race track, Oulton Park in Cheshire. If you look at the outside of the case still adorned with motor sport stickers from the 1980’s, you can see how much I was into car racing back then.

My current SLR camera bag

Fast forward to the present day and there is not much in my SLR camera bag. My Nikon D100 and zoom lens, a medium zoom, a spare battery and a lens cloth and that is about it. Filters are available today but it’s probably just easier to add a filter with image editing software after you have downloaded your snaps to your laptop.

My video case has a little more to it. It contains quite a few cameras, my three action cameras and batteries and my Canon G7X. Also in there is my trusty Panasonic mobile phone sized video camera. Most of the other gear consists of things like mini tripods and devices for attaching the cameras to something, bike handlebars, car doors and so on. I have a fairly new gadget I’ve only used once so far, you can see it in the lower centre of my video case, it’s a device like the professional steadicam, a weighted handle that absorbs movement when you are moving to give a smoother camera pan.

My video camera bag.

Oh and plenty of cables, charging cables, connecting cables and well all sorts of various cables. Now I come to think of it, I’ve probably got cables I don’t even need.

I do love my old Olympus but to be fair, I love my modern cameras more. Even so, I wonder if it’s worth putting one last roll of film through my Olympus before eBay beckons?


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.

6 Great British Films You May Never Have Heard Of!

The Night my Number Came up (1955) starring Michael Redgrave, Sheila Sim, Alexander Knox and Denholm Elliot. Directed by Leslie Norman.

A senior Royal Air Force officer (Michael Redgrave) is at a dinner party in Hong Kong and a naval Commander played by Michael Hordern, talks about a dream he had in which the Air Marshal and a group of 5 other companions were flying from Bangkok in a Dakota which crashed on a rocky shore. The Air Marshal is due to fly to Tokyo the following day but he is not unduly bothered as many of the details differ from his planned flight including using a different kind of aircraft, a Consolidated Liberator.

When technical issues ground the planned aircraft a Dakota airliner, like the one seen in the dream, is substituted, and a number of other passengers arrive to make the total number of people on board 13, the same number of people as in the dream. As the flight proceeds, other circumstances change so that eventually most of the details correspond to the dream. When the aircraft runs low on fuel due to becoming lost in bad weather the pilot manages to bring the aircraft down in emergency landing in a snowfield in the mountains and all on board survive. The naval commander hears about the missing plane and arrives at the RAF base to direct search parties to the correct area.

The director, father of the film critic Barry Norman, builds the tension in the aircraft as more and more people come to know about the dream and gradually become more and more anxious. It was interesting to find out when I researched the film that it was based on a real incident in the life of British Air Marshal Sir Victor Goddard. All in all, an excellent film with good performances from Michael Redgrave, Alexander Knox and a young Denholm Elliot.

The Dead of Night (1945) starring Mervyn Johns. A series of short stories that combine together. Each instalment had a different director.

This is probably one the great horror movies of the 1950’s, in fact, one of the great movies full stop. It’s a series of short stories all linked together by the central character played by Mervyn Johns. His character architect Walter Craig, arrives at a house in the countryside where he has been consulted on some building work. The house seems all too familiar to him and then he then realises that everything that happens he has already lived through in a dream, a nightmare in fact. As more guests arrive for the weekend he recognises them from the dream and is convinced something terrible is about to happen. When he confides this story to the others, they in turn all relate a supernatural story before the central theme reaches a terrifying climax. Two stories that were particularly good were one in which an unbalanced ventriloquist (Michael Redgrave) believes his dummy is alive and another where a woman played by Googie Withers buys an antique mirror for her husband and finds that the mirror has an hypnotic effect on the man.

An outstanding film and one that was highly rated by director Martin Scorcese and was voted the 35th best horror film of all time by Time Out magazine.

The Intruder (1953) starring Jack Hawkins. Directed by Guy Hamilton.

Another classic 50’s film starring Jack Hawkins. Hawkins plays Colonel Merton, an ex-army officer who returns home one night to find his London flat being burgled by a petty thief. Merton confronts the man played by Michael Medwin, only to find that the intruder is in fact Ginger Edwards, one of the men from his old command. He is shocked to see one of his former soldiers reduced to crime. He tries to talk to Ginger but accidentally knocks over his phone in another room which leads Ginger to think he has called the Police. When there is a knock at the door Ginger bolts and makes a hasty departure. Merton then decides to visit some of his old army comrades – Ginger mentioned he was in touch with one of them – in order to track the man down. Each old comrade tells a story about Ginger which all nicely link together to show how circumstances have worked against their old friend. A lovely film with excellent performances and a number of familiar faces from British film and TV, among them Dennis Price, Dora Bryan and George Cole.

The Long Arm (1956) starring Jack Hawkins and directed by Charles Friend.

This is a brilliant film, it really is. It’s a sort of CSI London from the 1950’s. Like the present day CSI series, this film shows the crime detection process using the then start of the art technology. Jack Hawkins is a police inspector and is called on to look at a robbery in London. The theft was from a safe manufactured by a company called Rock. There is little to go on and Jack returns to his 1950’s suburban home feeling rather disappointed. Happily his typical 1950’s housewife is there waiting for him, his tea is ready and his evening bottle of beer also all ready too. Hawkins spends a little time with his son before bed time and tells him all about his current case and the lack of clues. Well, says the boy, perhaps the thief is a super thief who has never been caught. This revolutionary thought rings a bell for Hawkins and he goes back down to Scotland Yard straight away for a meeting with the records guy played by Geoffrey Keen. Together they trawl through the card file (no computers back in the 1950’s!) of unsolved cases and find one relevant link. A set of robberies all from  safes manufactured by, yes you’ve guessed it, Rock.

OK next up is a visit to the Rock factory for more investigation but then the robber makes a fatal mistake. While fleeing from the scene of his latest heist the robber runs over and kills a passerby. Later the abandoned murder car is found and 1950’s style forensic technology uncovers various clues. The most interesting one is a rolled up newspaper used to clean the window. A fascinating look at newspapers and how they are produced and distributed follows and the police are soon on the trail of their man. I won’t give away the ending but the film kept me on my toes throughout and Guy Hamilton who directed some of the early Bond films throws in a little action to bring the film to a climax.

No Highway in the Sky (1951) starring James Stewart, Marlene Dietrich, Glynis Johns. Directed by Henry Koster.

James Stewart plays an aircraft technical expert Theodore Honey who is trying to solve the mystery of a crash involving a new aircraft, the Rutland Reindeer, which has crashed in Canada. Honey theorises that the crash was a result of metal fatigue and sets up an experiment which involves the tailplane of the aircraft subjected to continual vibration in a controlled environment. When Mr Honey flies home on another Reindeer he is shocked to find that the aircraft is an early production model and is fast approaching the flight time that he has theorised the tailplane will fail. Mr Honey decides to warn the crew and also a famous film star aboard played by Marlene Dietrich. Consternation reigns in the cockpit but the pilot has no choice but to carry on. On arrival at Gander the pilot consults with experts in London and the aircraft is cleared to fly on. In a desperate act, Honey retracts the undercarriage and wrecks the plane to stop it from flying.

Stewart plays Mr Honey as a slightly eccentric character, very similar to his character in the film Harvey. Marlene Dietrich takes quite a liking to him as does the stewardess and they are both eager to help and support him and his young daughter when his theory is attacked from all sides. Needless to say, he is proved right in the end.

Last Holiday (1950) starring Alec Guinness. Directed by Henry Cass.

Guinness plays a pleasant mild-mannered salesman called George Bird who has no friends or family and finds out he only has a few weeks to live. He decides to spend the time he has left by going to a rather posh residential hotel where the residents find him a sort of enigma. His star rises here as he becomes involved with the residents and staff and people start to wonder about him. Who is he? Is he rich? Lucrative job offers come his way as well as love but only one person knows his secret, a member of staff that he confides in. In the end Mr Bird finds out he was wrongly diagnosed but the film ends on a sad note when he is killed in a car crash. Penned by author J.B.Priestley, it’s another wonderful British picture full of excellent performances with a whiff of sadness and poignancy about it.  Guinness’ performance is excellent and the underlying sense of inevitability is further enhanced by a haunting musical theme that we hear throughout the film.

If I had written this a few years back I might have been tempted to add this to a blog like Unseen TV which was a post about cinema and TV films which rarely get an airing on terrestrial TV. However, I am happy to see that all of the above films can be found on the new freeview channel 81 Talking Pictures.


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

Star Wars, Remakes and Dealing with Man-Flu

Our motorhome was looking a little forlorn lately, parked up on the drive all packed up ready to face the winter. The thing is, just lately the weather has been rather mild and Liz felt that we should perhaps unpack the motorhome and give it a winter drive out. So we set off for Southport, a small seaside town just a short 90 minute drive away. We parked up the motorhome, put on our glad rags and went off to dine and generally make merry.

It just so happened that this particular night turned out to be the coldest in modern UK history. Well, at least it was in Scotland so it was lucky we weren’t staying there. Southport was much warmer and our heater worked a treat. However, having to get underneath the van in the cold and rain and empty the water system wasn’t so nice, in fact I reckon that’s where I caught a chill which was soon to develop further into a major man-flu episode.

A couple of days later I was back at work. On the first day I felt fine and I wasn’t too bad when I went in on the second day but by the end of the shift I was coughing and sneezing like nobody’s business. By day 3 I was feeling so poorly I had to throw a sick note in. Anyway, home on a cold day with no energy to do anything except cough and sneeze, what was there to do but watch TV.

On a Sunday on UK TV there is always a choice of Columbo episodes because they are shown on two rival channels, ITV3 and 5USA. Which one should I watch though? Luckily, the first one started on 5USA at one o’clock and the other over on ITV3 at five past. Just enough time to start the first one, see if it was a good one then quickly check out the other one to see if that was more interesting . The 5USA one was the one for me, a classic 70s episode guest starring Robert Culp as the murderer.

A couple of hours and a hot lemon drink later Columbo had his man and it was time for a change of channels. I switched over to ITV2 to watch the first Star Wars film. I’m tempted to call it Star Wars 1 but just to confuse you, the first Star Wars film was actually the fourth episode in the series. The second and third films, all made in the late seventies are all actually pretty much more of the same thing although not quite as good as the original.

Later on writer and director George Lucas decided to make episodes 1, 2, and 3 which were actually films 4, 5, and 6. Now those latter three films were, and I don’t want to put too fine a point on this, a load of old tosh. Even if I was on my last legs I wouldn’t sit and watch any of those movies. In 2015 JJ Abrams was tasked to make a new movie following on from episode 6 which reunited the original cast of Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamilton and Harrison Ford (who I must nominate as one of the worst movie actors ever along with the equally dismal Richard Gere.)

The result seemed to me pretty much a remake of Star Wars 1 (I mean 4). It was the usual thing, droids on an unknown planet with info which the Empire wanted, or maybe the new Empire wanted because the original Empire had been defeated in the previous Star Wars film. The droids and their human helpers escaped in Harrison Ford’s old ship the Millennium Falcon and then, well, I don’t know what happened then because I either mentally or physically switched off!

Getting back to Star Wars 1, or episode 3 or whatever, I’d not seen the film for a long while and I enjoyed the sending of the droids to seek out Obi Wan Kenobe, the appearance  of Luke Skywalker, the hiring of Hans Solo and his Millennium Falcon and the trip to the rebel alliance planet, Alderon. The truth is, just like when I watched Star Wars 7, I actually got a bit bored with the whole thing and decided to change channels. Star Wars isn’t a bad film but like all the rest in the franchise they seem to flatter only to deceive.

Over on the Paramount film channel they were showing a bunch of Steve Martin films and the first up was Roxanne. While not exactly brilliant it was actually a pretty good film and despite the continual coughing and spluttering I still managed to enjoy the proceedings. Roxanne was based on the 1897 play Cyrano De Bergerac and it’s about, as you may have guessed, a man with a big nose.

(Short break here while I sort out another hot lemon drink this time with a small shot of -purely medicinal- whisky.)

Paramount decided to follow this up with ‘The Out of Towners’, which was a remake of a 1970 Neil Simon film. Sadly, the Out of Towners wasn’t that great a film and I can only hope the 1970 original was much better. The fact is, it’s hard to understand the motivation behind remaking a very average film. Do they hope to make a better version? Do they think with better actors and updated film making techniques the film will be better or funnier? The fact is that if you remake an average film you will still get an average film as the result. Not long ago I saw the new version of Flight of the Phoenix. It was OK, although I switched channels after about thirty minutes. Then again, the original version starring such heavyweight actors as James Stewart, Richard Attenborough, Hardy Kruger and Peter Finch wasn’t that brilliant either although I have watched that version through to the end.

Still, does that mean we should only remake classic films? I can’t really imagine any new version of Casablanca, for instance, bettering the original. Who could take the place of Bogart? Who could replace Ingrid Bergman? Yes, there is always the chance a mediocre movie could be remade better, I suppose.

A lot of film franchises are pretty much just a series of remakes. That is true of the Star Wars series as I have already mentioned but take a look at the Rocky films. Rocky 2 was pretty much another version of Rocky and while Rocky was a great movie, Rocky 2 was just, well, Rocky 2. Towards the end of the series Rocky star Sylvester Stallone made Rocky Balboa which was a fitting end to the series. Rocky has retired and is running his small Italian restaurant. His wife has succumbed to cancer and then he gets the chance to be involved in a computer fight with the current champion Mason ‘the line’ Dixon.

I did wonder when I saw the film whether writer and director Stallone was inspired by the 1970s computer fight between Muhammad Ali and Rocky Marciano. My dad, a great boxing fan and a great fan of Marciano was outraged by the fight as the result was a win for Ali. My dad loathed Ali even to the extent of always referring to him by his former name of Cassius Clay. When I looked up the fight on the internet I discovered that only European viewers saw Ali win the fight. American viewers saw a version in which Marciano emerged as the victor in the 13th round. I know which version my dad would have prefered.

Getting back to remakes, after a short pause for another whisky and hot lemon: Which films would be good candidates for a remake? Well, there are two that I can think of. The first is Desperately Seeking Susan, an 80’s film starring pop singer Madonna in a small role, that of an independent young girl who travels the country but keeps in touch with her friends using the personal ads in a newspaper. Step in bored housewife Rosanna Arquette who follows the personal ads, even to the extent of watching Madonna from afar when she meets with her boyfriend. There is a lot more to it of course, memory loss, mistaken identity and stolen jewels but it’s a great film and here’s the thing; substitute personal ads with modern-day social media and the film is perfect for a 21st century remake! Casting might be an issue though, after all, who could replace Madonna?

One last film that I’d remake: Capricorn One. Now you may remember in an earlier post I wrote about watching an old VHS tape of the film and finding, sadly, that the tape ran out before the end. Now the more I thought about the film it made me remember that I had the full film on VHS somewhere and after a long and dusty search of my mother’s house I finally found it, a proper VHS shop bought, full version of Capricorn One. If you haven’t seen the film and I have to say, I haven’t noticed it on the TV schedules for a long time, the film is about the first manned voyage to Mars. On launch day the crew are removed from the spacecraft and it blasts off without them. They are then taken to an abandoned air force base and find that the plan is to fake the mission using a TV studio.

Why, you may ask? Well this is where the film falls on a little shaky ground. The space missions are in danger of losing funding from the government and as the life support system has been found to be faulty, this would be a good reason for the program to be cancelled. To prevent this, this fake mission is the course of action chosen by the top brass at NASA to keep the Mars program going.

Yes, not sure that NASA would really do that sort of thing. Perhaps if they threw in something else, some sort of conflict between Russia and America where winning the Mars race was of vital political importance, well then perhaps it would be more believable.

Later on during the mission Elliot Whitter, a member of staff in mission control, discovers that the TV signals supposedly coming in from the spacecraft are coming in ahead of the spacecraft telemetry. Of course they are! They are being beamed from a TV studio out in the desert. OK, this guy has to be got rid off so how do the NASA people do it? Nab him on his way home? Grab him somewhere at Mission Control? No, they wait until he is in the middle of a pool game in a bar with his best mate, a TV news journalist played by Elliot Gould. The journalist takes a call at the bar and when he returns, two minutes later, his mate has vanished! Something fishy going on here thinks the journalist.

Although the TV journalist eventually solves the case there is no real link as to how he does it, just guesswork really so in the remade version maybe Elliot Whitter made a computer disk that leads to the TV studio at the abandoned air force base, the TV journalist gets hold of it, finds the astronauts who are now virtual prisoners and hey presto we have a proper ending to the film.

Don’t miss Capricorn One if it ever gets shown on TV because it really is a great film despite me criticising it. And if any wily film producer is thinking about a remake, my updated re written script is available, whenever you are!


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.

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.

Cary Grant, Peter Sellers and Home Movies.

The BBC does do a good documentary and the other day I settled down to watch a documentary about the film star Cary Grant; Becoming Cary Grant.

Grant was the smooth talking and sophisticated star of many a Hitchcock film, indeed the documentary revealed ‘Hitch’ to be his favourite director. Grant and Hitchcock were both immigrants from the UK.

Cary Grant was born Archibald Leach in Bristol in the south of England. He had a rather sad childhood during which his mother disappeared. Various explanations were put to the young Archie including the lies that she had gone on holiday and later that she had died. In fact his father had his wife committed to an asylum where she languished until her rich and famous son returned to her much later. In fact, Grant did not learn that his mother was still alive until he was thirty-one years old.

Archie’s father remarried but Archie was not included in the new family. Instead he was sent to live with his grandparents. At school he developed a love of theatre and spent much time helping and later working at small theatres in Bristol. When he was only 11 he began working with a small troupe known as the Pender Troupe and when they went to undertake a new tour in the USA, the young Archie went with them, following in the footsteps of other performers like Charlie Chaplin and Stan Laurel.

In the USA, Archie toured the vaudeville circuit with the Pender Troupe and decided to stay on in the USA when the troupe returned home. He and some others formed their own troupe and Archie spent a lot of time doing various acts like stilt walking and unicycle riding. Gradually he moved on to better roles in various theatre productions and even had a screen test in the early 1930s, which was shown on the documentary. Archie, now using the name Cary Grant comes over as a loud-voiced individual, making many faces for the camera. Of course, as a vaudeville actor he was used to talking loudly and making exaggerated expressions but he soon learned to tone down his performance for the cameras.

The documentary uses text from Grant’s unpublished autobiography and it is clear an experience in later life had a great effect on him. Grant took part in a form of psychoanalysis using LSD which enabled him to confront issues from his early life which the actor felt had unduly affected his relationships as an adult, particularly with women, in fact he was married five times.

The film was interesting but focused mainly on the unpublished autobiography and many of his friendships and relationships that I have read about in other books were not even mentioned. A great part of the film also was Grant’s collection of home movies which were used throughout the film although many times what we were seeing was not properly explained. Towards the end of the film Grant’s daughter was interviewed and visits Cary’s old home. In one scene we see her visiting the patio shown in a earlier shot on one of Cary’s home movies. More interviews and perhaps some more location footage would have benefited this film enormously. Still, it was interesting and can be found on the BBC i-Player if you missed the original broadcast.

The Peter Sellers Story: As He Filmed It.

A similar and much superior film to the Cary Grant documentary is this one, The Peter Sellers Story: As He Filmed It, made by the BBC Arena team in 1995. It was created largely from cine film shot by Sellers himself, who was a lifelong camera enthusiast. If I remember correctly, Sellers’ widow, Lynne Frederick had died and left behind a lot of Sellers’ effects, including his home movies which is how the film came to be made.

Normally, I’d say that you have to be interested in movie people and how movies are made to like this documentary but this film is so special I don’t think that rule applies.

The original film was in three parts and began with Sellers’ early days, and his early films. The first cine films we see are black and white movies and as Sellers’ career takes off, his cine equipment also improves and he upgrades to colour and then on to sound. His own images show his young self as a sort of ‘spiv’, a Flash Harry sort of character with his double-breasted and shoulder padded jackets. An uneasy relationship with his mother emerges, as does a rather spoilt and volatile personality. His first wife talks about their early days and their life together and friends like Spike Milligan talk happily about successes like the Goon show and their beginnings in show business. Milligan had a 8mm camera and Sellars a 16mm one. Of course ‘Peter was richer,’ comments Milligan. ‘Richer by 8 millimetres!’

Sellers’ cine film is blended with interviews from various people who played a part in Sellers’ life.

A fascinating section concerned Casino Royale, the spoof James Bond film. Various directors were involved but Joe McGrath shot one segment with Peter Sellers and Orson Welles. McGrath was a TV director relishing the move into feature films, that is until Sellers told him he didn’t want to be in the same shot as co-star Welles. A heated debate ensued which became physical. Sellers said he was going off to calm down. He never returned and if you ever see the completed movie, you’ll understand why Sellers’ character abruptly disappears too!

Sellers claimed to have no personality of his own and ‘borrowed’ them from the characters he impersonated. It’s interesting to watch the TV interviews included in the film where Sellers seems to mimic the Yorkshire tones of Michael Parkinson and again, in other snippets he is taking on the accents and style of his interviewers.

The film overall has a sort of melancholy feeling which I feel accurately represents Sellers’ persona. He was a sad character, disappointed in his life and loves. He was not happy with his last wife, Lynne Frederick and he even junked many of his cine films prior to his death as they didn’t seem to match his expectations. The mood of the film is further enhanced by a wonderful soundtrack full of sad saxophones and jazz tones.

There are some that put down documentaries that are full of so-called ‘talking heads’ but personally, if the talking head has something interesting to say, I like to hear them. However, in 2002 the BBC re edited the film by taking the soundtracks from the ‘talking heads’ and combined them with Sellers’ self filmed visuals. The result is now available as a BBC DVD. The original is much better though.

If you are interested the original is available in three parts on vimeo.

Part One

Part Two

Part Three


Floating in Space, a novel by Steve Higgins and set in Manchester, 1977 is available from Amazon as a Kindle download or traditional paperback. Click the links at the top of the page to buy or for more information.

Woody, Marcus and such Small Portions!

I’ve just returned from yet another jaunt to France, a short one this time, six days in Liz’s motorhome, meandering around the Loire area, which we both love. One of our aims was to spend our nights ‘wild camping’, that is to say camping wherever we could without using commercial camping sites.

France is actually very motorhome friendly with many municipal sites providing free camping and toilet emptying facilities free of charge with optional charges for things like fresh water or electrical hook up and so on. We found a lovely spot by a lake, actually a plan d’eau, called Lac du Homme. In the summer when we visited it was a busy bustling place with a bar and restaurant and many spots for bathing and picnicking. The french take their picnics seriously and always bring huge hampers of food, always covering the many wooden and stone picnic tables with table cloths before opening up their bundles of cutlery, plates and food. At the Lac du Homme there were also quite a few areas with barbecue facilities dotted about, all that was needed were the hot coals and some steaks and burgers to cook.

Now in early October a last burst of summer had come and the restaurant and bar were boarded up for the winter. Most of the time we had the lake to ourselves, joined only by the few occasional visitors. The last two days were so hot we even ventured out onto the man-made beaches for a refreshing dip into the cold, very cold, waters.

One of the great things about being at this quiet lake was not only the quiet, calm and relaxing atmosphere but also the chance to read. I read a great deal but at home and at work I tend to read in short bursts, on my dinner breaks at work, in quiet moments in a morning or before I go to sleep. Holidays are when you can really get to grips with a book, really read it through without having to put the book down and go back into work. On this short break I finished off a book I was reading at work, The Assassination of Princess Diana’ (more about that in an upcoming post) and started on one of the P G Wodehouse Jeeves and Wooster books. It was amusing and interesting and thoroughly English but it wasn’t quite my cup of tea.

One other book I read was one of last year’s reads, Meditations by Marcus Aurelius. Marcus was an emperor of Rome and when he was compelled to go out with his armies to do battle he spent many hours alone in his tent compiling a series of philosophic writings that became known as the Meditations. Marcus was concerned with the force of nature, the force that drives the universe and all its  workings. Nature for him was probably more akin to God than what we understand nature to be but his thoughts and ideas are very moving, even more so as they were written prior to the year 180, nearly 2000 years ago. A lot of his thoughts are about life and death, simple things like a man who enjoys a long life and a man who experiences a short one both lose the same thing when they die. Death is a natural state he explains. Why fear it when everyone who has ever lived before us, has experienced it. To those of us who hunger for fame (potential authors perhaps) Marcus asks what is the point? One day you will die, one day those who remember you will die so one day your fame will vanish when no one remembers you. Time, says Marcus, is like a river, for as soon as something happens, the river of time carries it away, then some other event comes, also soon to be washed away.

In the opening of Annie Hall, one of Woody Allen’s most popular films, he talks about life in this way: “There’s an old joke, two elderly women are at a Catskill mountain resort, and one of ’em says, “Boy, the food at this place is really terrible.” The other one says, “Yeah, I know; and such small portions.” Well, that’s essentially how I feel about life – full of loneliness, and misery, and suffering, and unhappiness, and it’s all over much too quickly.” Woody Allen and Marcus Aurelius, both philosophers in their own ways.

I’ve spent a lovely couple of hours this week watching To Rome with Love, one of Woody Allen’s more recent films. Woody, if you have read one of my earlier posts about directors, is my all-time favourite director. I love his subtle observations about life and love, and his humour. What is a little sad lately, is that Woody’s image and persona have been challenged by his adopted daughter Dylan, who claims Woody assaulted her when she was young, 7, I think, and that he should be arrested and prosecuted. Woody stands by an investigation into the charges from 1975 that exonerated him but of course now, in the age of digital media, Dylan is able to go straight to the people with social media and put forward her case.

Someone who has put forward defence of Woody Allen is Moses Farrow, Woody and Mia’s adopted son. He has claimed in a blog post that his mother Mia was abusive and domineering and referring to the details of Dylan’s claims that there was no railway in the attic-supposedly where the attack took place- and that the attic was only a crawl space, not a place where father and daughter could play.

Many actors and actresses have come forward saying they will never work with Woody again and his reputation seems to sink lower every day and the body of work he has produced is now, by association, tainted. There is even a possibility that his latest film may not be released. I am a big fan of Woody Allen and although these revelations did not put me off watching To Rome with Love, it does set off a small alarm bell in the back of one’s mind. Did Woody do it? Did he molest the young Dylan? Well, two people know for sure: One is Dylan and the other is Woody. Woody claims Dylan’s claims were fabricated by Mia Farrow, his one-time partner and the mother of Dylan as part of a war of hate aimed at Woody because he became involved with another of Mia’s step daughters, Soon-Yi, and in fact, later married her. Mia, according to Woody, has brain washed Dylan with her abuse claims, so if that is true, then only Woody himself knows the truth. It seems to me that if Woody was an abuser then he would have abused other women and as no one else has come forward then that means Woody is innocent -doesn’t it?

Anyway, I don’t expect to see Jimmy Saville on old episodes of Top of the Pops, or Gary Glitter for that matter. Their actions and behaviour have airbrushed themselves out of history. Still, I will be very sad if they stop showing Woody’s films on TV.

Getting back to our trip to France, it was my birthday while we were away and it was nice to celebrate it in the sunny Loire valley instead of cold and rainy England. On our previous motorhome trip we had a lot of issues with mobile wi-fi which can be a bit of a pain when you have a blog deadline for Saturday morning. I wasn’t happy with Virgin media because my mobile data didn’t work in France, despite an expensive phone call to Virgin. Anyway, they sent me a new SIM card and I was happy to find that on this trip my mobile phone connected to the internet without problems. I even found that I could connect my Ipad to my mobile and use my mobile internet on my pad, so much easier than writing a blog post on your phone. Of course I had written my last post about Comics and Superheros in advance and had it scheduled but even so, I always like to tinker with my posts right up to that last moment.

After we returned, Liz and I went to a birthday meal for Liz’s sister-in-law who has a similar birth date to me. One of the other guests, a young girl, asked me about my birthday and how old I was. I was reluctant to say but finally answered 62. “62?” She said, “I didn’t think you were that old!”

Maybe that’s a good thing, that I look younger than I actually am and in fact that comment was really a boost for my personal image but there’s no getting away from that figure of 62. Still, here is one last quote from Marcus;

When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive – to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love.


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.

Spiderman, Comics and the World of the Super Hero!

When I was a school kid which now I think of it, sometimes feels like years ago and other times feels like yesterday, I was a big, very big fan of comics. All my pocket-money went on comics and I would spend many a happy hour reading, lost in the world of comic book heroes. My Dad used to get me a copy of the Hotspur even though I knew it was really for him despite his denials. I read the Hotspur after I managed to prise it off him and a number of other comics like the Beano, The Tiger, TV Comic, TV 21 which was based on Gerry Anderson’s TV series and  whole host of other comics, all of which have faded into the world of comic history. Looking round the newsagents these days you don’t seem to see comics any more. Perhaps today’s youngsters are too grown up, too enthralled with computer games and television. Still, I loved those old comics and still do and I tend to think they kick started my imagination and made me want to be a writer.

Another type of comic I used to buy were American comics which back then were split into two types, DC comics and Marvel comics. Superman and Batman were the stars of DC comics along with the Flash, Green Lantern and Wonder Woman. On the Marvel side were Spiderman, the X-men, the Hulk, Ironman and many others.

Every summer I used to beg my mother for the latest summer 80 page Giant, which was usually one of the DC comics. It consisted of 4 stories from an ordinary comic reprinted in one bumper edition. A great staple of the 80 page Giant was the superhero ‘origin’, the story of how that particular superhero began his life of crime busting and derring do.

Fast forward to the present day and those superhero characters have made the leap from comic book pages to the big movie screen, mainly with the help of modern-day computer generated effects.

Superman.

Superman, made in 1978, started off the movie superhero craze and starred Christopher Reeve as the Man of Steel. It was a movie made before the aforementioned CGI were even thought of. Many traditional techniques were used in the film such as back projection, miniatures and matte paintings. Wire riggings were used, suspended from cranes or the studio ceilings, to enable Christopher Reeve to fly as Superman.

Marlon Brando appeared as Superman’s father, Kal-El and many other major film stars added to the cast list and the budget. The shooting was constantly marred by cash flow issues but somehow the producers kept everything together and the film was released in December 1978 becoming a major financial hit, in fact the 6th highest grossing film of all time, despite a multi million dollar salary paid to Brando who appears in only part of the film.

Batman.

Batman hit the big screen in 1989 in a film directed by Tim Burton and starring Michael Keaton as the Caped Crusader. A series of films followed with various actors taking on the role of Batman. Burton’s film was a dark, serious version of Batman in some ways returning to the vision of Batman that the original authors, Bob Kane and Bill Finger had first presented in 1939 when the comic strip began. The film depicts Gotham City as an ugly and bleak city where crime is an every day hazard.

I’m not sure I’d put the Batman films down as my all time favourites. They are actually a little slow with outbursts of action and violence. The Batman film franchise, like all film franchises, has rebooted itself several times. In 2005 came the film Batman Begins, based upon a new comic book version called the Dark Knight. Batman Begins starred Christian Bale as Batman and the first time I saw it, I wasn’t impressed. It didn’t resonate with my 1960s comic book memories and it seemed to me to be a sort of Batman meets Kung Fu, the 1970’s TV series. One of my work colleagues told me recently it was his favourite film ever so I watched it again after a busy late shift at work and actually, perhaps it’s not such a bad film.

Thor.

Thor was another comic book hero that became a feature film. In the comic as I remember it, Thor is actually a doctor who finds Thor’s hammer disguised as a walking stick, and when he bashes the stick to the ground the good doctor is transformed into the God of Thunder. The movie version released in 2011 was actually rather boring. I only managed about 40 minutes of it before changing channel. The X-men movie suffered a similar fate at the hands of my remote control. I think I managed about 30 minutes before going channel hopping. I don’t remember Wolverine from the comic books either. Cyclops, the Beast and Professor Xavier were all part of the X-men comic book version that I used to read, as was Invisible Girl, although perhaps that was the Fantastic Four. I did get to the end of the movie version of the Fantastic Four though, although another failure was Iron Man.

The Hulk.

Bruce Banner was a scientist who is accidentally exposed to gamma rays and finds that when he gets angry he morphs into a huge green-skinned mutant with incredible strength. There was a TV series made in the 1980s and a catchphrase of Bruce Banner’s, played by Bill Bixby was, ‘you won’t like me when I’m angry!’

In the 2003 film Erica Bana plays Banner and the Hulk is a creation of computer technology. I wasn’t crazy about the film, in fact the computer imaging looked more like a cartoon than CGI effects. The Hulk franchise was rebooted again in 2008 as The Incredible Hulk, this time Edward Norton playing Bruce Banner. In this film Banner is on the run from the American miliary and trying to cure himself of the effects of the gamma rays that transform him into the Hulk. The military however, want to use the gamma ray effect to create a ‘super soldier’ so they are intent on tracking Banner down. The film connected with the comics I used to read much more than some other superhero films and I enjoyed the film very much. The CGI effects were a big improvement on the earlier Hulk film too.

Spiderman.

One of my absolute comic book superhero favourites was Spiderman. The great thing about the 60s comic book version was that it wasn’t all about Spiderman. A lot of the appeal of Spiderman was the story of Peter Parker, the nerdy student who has a crush on red head Mary Jane Watson.

Peter gets bitten by a radioactive spider which gives him incredible spider powers: strength, agility and in the comics Peter develops this incredible synthetic web which he can shoot from his wrist, spin a web and swing from skyscraper to skyscraper across New York City. In 2002 the amazing Spiderman hit the big screen in a film directed by Sam Raimi and starring Toby McGuire as Spiderman. James Franco appeared as Peter’s fellow student but had I been casting the film, I think I might have been tempted to have Franco play Peter Parker. I thought that perhaps Toby McGuire was a little too wimpy!

Oh well, maybe I should stick to the comic books or even the old TV cartoon series. I did love that theme song . .


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.