Some Hints and Tips from my Adventures on YouTube

I was checking my YouTube page the other day and noticed that I have eighty four videos there. That figure was quite a surprise to me. Eighty four videos? I have to admit, some of those are in my private file and are for production use only. (That makes me sound like a real film producer – production use only!) By that I mean some were uploaded so I could use the soundtrack on another video, some were uploaded without a soundtrack so I could add YouTube music later and some were promotional videos that use the old Floating in Space cover and were made before I introduced the newer version and rather than delete them I have just taken them offline.

By far my most popular video is this one, Trucking: The life of an HGV driver, 1980’s Style! I’d like to be able to tell you what a cracking video it is and that it is well worth watching although, in fact, it isn’t. It’s one of my first videos made before I even went on a media course at the Manchester WFA. I spent a few days with my friend Brian who was an HGV delivery driver and I made a short film about him at work.

I think people watch the film because of the nostalgia factor. I can see perhaps former HGV drivers watching it because that’s how things used to be, no sat navs or other gadgets, just get your map out and get trucking. They are certainly the ones who leave comments. Apart from that it has no particular merit. Pity I didn’t remove the title sequence, done on my old Sinclair Spectrum with music from Elton John, because if I had, the 35,917 views I’ve had at the time of writing could be making me a few quid in royalties. Instead the video is subject to a copyright claim by the owners of Elton’s music.

That’s probably the best lesson I’ve learnt from my time on YouTube; if you made a video years ago and used your favourite tracks from your record collection, replace them with royalty free music which you can download free from YouTube.

One of my favourite videos is another I made in the 1980’s, A Welsh Journey, Manchester to Porthmadoc. It’s a short documentary made about a rail trip which was inspired at the time by a documentary film presented by Michael Palin called Confessions of a Train Spotter. It was part of a Great Railway Journeys series and unlike some of the travel films made later by the former Monty Python performer, it was a great little film full of enthusiasm for the subject.

My old friend Steve and I wanted to recreate Palin’s journey but instead decided to do something cheaper and easier, a rail trip from Manchester Victoria to Porthmadoc. I did a great edit with a documentary style voice over and some top notch sound, music and effects mixing, courtesy of the new sound mixer I had just picked up. The big problem with that video, as regards YouTube, was that I used music from a great album by the Crusaders called Images. Now, that was fine in 1986 when the video was viewed just by me and my friends. Fast forward however to the 21st century digital age, upload it to YouTube and suddenly you have a whole lot of  musical rights owners who are not happy that their music is playing on my video. Result: YouTube have muted the entire soundtrack. You can still watch it but you cannot hear it.

The only thing to do was to take my original VHS video, slip the digitised version into my Windows Movie Maker and then re-edit and add some royalty free music provided by YouTube, in this case a little track by a guy called Kevin MacLeod called Local Forecast. I re-did some of the commentary, faded in Local Forecast in place of the Crusaders and even tidied up the video as a whole.

Some time ago videos could be edited on YouTube using their on-line video editor, hence the reason for uploading videos for ‘production use only’ as I mentioned earlier. You could trim videos, use the soundtrack from a different video and so on. Alas, the YouTube editor is no more, so it’s important to have your video all ready for viewing before you upload it.

One handy little thing on YouTube are YouTube cards. They are just that; a little card that appears in the top right hand corner in which you can add a link to other videos or even to your website.

Just going back to my Trucking video, two other reasons why that video does so well might be as follows.

a) The title is very SEO compatible. It’s straight to the point and tells you all you want to know and it also has a pretty good thumbnail or icon. That’s the image when you see when you first find a video on YouTube. If you look at the railway video above, you can see the icon has all the basics, a simple but relevant picture, the title, and a little explanation that it’s the updated version, not the one with the sound muted!

b) Thumbnails are important as a  good one can pull the viewer into watching your video.

A lot of my more recent videos were made on the Animoto web site. Animoto is a video editing website that comes with templates so you can easily upload your photos and video clips and the template will do the rest. You can even create a whole slide show video with just a collection of still images. Here’s one of my favourites, even though it’s just a little advert for my book:

Here’s another one, this time a collection of photographs of Lytham St Annes :

Right, so so far we’ve got documentaries from the 1980’s, promo videos, and slide shows. Not only that but I also have my book reviews on YouTube. Yes, I’ve always added a video version of my Book Bag series. Here’s the last one, filmed in sunny France in 2017:

Just as I’ve finished this post and pretty much finished re-editing my Airport 1986 video by adding royalty free music, I’ve had an email from YouTube advising me that because I have under a 1000 subscribers I can no longer ‘monetise’ my videos! Oh well, the Internet is a fast moving and ever changing place. Perhaps I should look at shifting my videos over to rival video channel Vimeo.com! Anyway, here’s my updated airport video, split into two parts for ease of uploading.

So, just to finish, here are three points that are key to developing your YouTube channel:

1. Use royalty free music!

2. Think carefully about your video title.

3. Add a simple but effective icon for your video; that and your video title can be the key to bringing in your viewers and subscribers!

4. People have very short attention spans these days. If they are not interested in your video in the first few seconds, they will navigate away from your video to something else so make those first few seconds count.


Floating in Space is a novel set in Manchester, 1977. Click the links at the top of the page for more information or watch the short promo below.

Bankers, Potboilers and J. Edgar Hoover

Bankers, Potboilers, J Edgar HooverHow easy, or hard, is it to write a weekly blog post? Well there is no straight answer to that. Sometimes I just seem to get a whole host of ideas and other times I struggle to find one. The important thing is to keep jotting those ideas down, the ones that come when you are feeling creative or just full of ideas, and use them on the days when you don’t seem to have anything new.

One thing I try to do is have a few ‘bankers’ as I like to call them. Bankers are fully completed posts that I can use whenever I’m stuck for something to write about and that blog deadline is looming ever nearer. I’ve currently got two bankers in the pipeline and they give me that little bit of reassurance, that confidence that if the current blog goes wrong or is just not working, then the banker is there, ready for my Saturday deadline.

I also have a few ‘potboilers’. Potboilers are draft posts that have been going on for a while and need more work to get them right. Every so often I’ll review the potboilers, update them, do more research and add to them. I have two on the boil at the moment. One is about Oliver Stone and is part of a series about movie directors. The first instalment was about Woody Allen, my favourite director and although I‘ve researched a lot about Stone, and his films are great favourites of mine, the post just doesn’t feel right. It doesn’t have –yet- that personal anecdotal connection I like to have in my posts. The Woody Allen post seemed to just work straight away but then I do so love his movies. I love that balance he maintains between the serious and the humorous, something I look for in my own writing.

Another one is about Watergate, the scandal that erupted around President Nixon in the early seventies. Watergate and the US White House of the sixties and early seventies are two of my great interests but Watergate is one of those things I know perhaps too much about. I wanted to talk about an interesting connection to Howard Hughes that I think explains a lot about the core of Watergate but now I find I’ve produced the War and Peace of blog posts! A little trimming is in order before I publish that one.

One interesting aspect of Watergate was the involvement of the FBI. Nixon wanted the FBI to do his dirty work, to wiretap his enemies and to provide all kinds of dirt on the people Nixon thought were against him. J. Edgar Hoover, the FBI chief, would not help and this was the reason for the creation of the ‘Plumbers’, the covert group who searched for leaks in the government and did Nixon’s dirty work for him.

Hoover, Gray, Higgins

Hoover, Gray and Higgins

J. Edgar Hoover died in 1972 and was replaced by a fellow called L. Patrick Gray and it has always made me wonder if I became the director, pretty unlikely I know, would I have to be known as S. Ralph Higgins?

The great goal of a blogger is to write something that really takes off and becomes, in internet parlance, ‘viral’. The nearest I have come to going viral was a post I wrote some years ago that suddenly cranked up 192 views in a very short while. All the views originated in Argentina so either ‘Floating In Space’ really rocked their boat down there or there is an Argentinian Steve Higgins who pulls in a lot of Internet traffic!

While I was labouring away last week to sort out the Watergate post I came up with an idea about book trailers and quickly knocked out a post about the making of these video trailers. I always seem to produce something in the nick of time, in fact, that deadline of 10:00 AM on a Saturday morning is good for me as a writer: it forces me to produce the goods. Still, a while ago I had five bankers. Now I’m down to only two!

A few nights ago I woke up in the middle of the night with a perfect blog in my head. I was lying there writing it mentally even though I was still half asleep. It was a cracking post: The title was Blog Heaven. It was all about blogging and writing posts and was full of quirky humour. I knew I’d quickly forget it all so I thought I’d grab my trusty tablet and send myself a reminder e-mail so that when I was fully awake I could crank up my laptop and knock out the post.

Later on I sat down checked my e-mails and saw this:

Viral writing- moulding the blog – blog viral- FBI J Edgar Hoover

Sound anything like the post you have just read? Well, it wasn’t half as good as the one I woke up with that other night!


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

 

Confessions of a Self Published Author!

self publishingYes, this post is about me, because believe it or not, I am a self-published author. The digital world of the 21st century has given me a chance that was unheard of before now. In the pre-digital world, writers like me would be prostrating themselves before the publishers of the world, trying to get them to accept our offerings, publish them and pay us royalties. Now, even professional writers, not just lowly amateurs like myself, are turning to self-publishing. The digital age has turned the publishing world on its head.

Of course, publishing is one thing but then there’s another stage, something that a publisher would consider part of his job: Marketing. How do the book reading public know about our books? How do they know what is available, what to read, where and why to buy? Yes, marketing provides the answer. A book must be marketed, brought to the attention of the public and, using all the slippery tools of the marketeer, the public must be made to want the book, and then actually buy it!

DSCF0008

Oops, yes, that was the copy that turned out too big!

I completed my book about a slice of 1970’s working class life some years ago. Three publishers had rejected it when I decided to self-publish. I was disheartened by those rejections I must admit, but in the world of publishing, twenty, thirty or more rejections for a new author are commonplace. I used Createspace and Kindle Direct Publishing, both part of the Amazon empire to platform my book. The paperback was produced using Createspace and the Kindle version with Kindle Direct.

Producing my book online was fairly simple but the process was one which actually underlined how much work was still required on my manuscript, which until then I had foolishly thought was complete. The first version for which I ordered a test copy was far too big, which I only realised once the finished product was in my hands. I ordered another version which again I wasn’t too happy with and after untold issues with fonts and formatting I finally produced a version that I thought was ready for the reading public. I explain things more in the video below;

I feel I now know something about writing a book but as for marketing, well, I’m just a beginner. I started this blog on wordpress for the prime reason of telling the public about my book but then immediately I was faced with a similar problem. How do I get the public to read my blog? It’s like one of those trick photographs you see, someone holding a picture of themselves and in the picture they are again holding a picture and it’s repeated into infinity. I had to create an Internet presence so I started selling myself on Google+, Facebook and particularly Twitter. I began a campaign of Tweeting; Tweeting my book, my posts, my photographs and my videos. I followed everyone who has followed me and gradually I have built up a pretty big following going from 90 followers to over 3000 in just over a year. That would be nice if all my followers bought my book, however, many are in a similar place to me, wanting to sell their book or video or music track or whatever, so not only are they not interested in Floating In Space, they see me as a potential customer of theirs!

output_lNzmQ3Yes, the writer of the 21st century is free of the restrictions of previous times. He is not beholden to or waiting on the attentions of a potential publisher but he has his own set of unique problems: He must be not only be a writer but also a marketeer. And he needs to have some graphic design ability and perhaps some photographic and video skills too! On top of that, most of my videos are me talking to the camera so a degree of TV presenting skill must be thrown into the mix also!

Sometimes I think about those heady days some years ago when I decided to self publish. Yes, the lure of fame as a writer, the interviews I expected, the potential trappings of success. Yes, that spurred me on to take my unfinished novel that had lain unread and unnoticed on a collection of floppy disks for many a year. To take it and bring it back into the modern cyber world, to re-write it, update and finally finish it for all those hungry fans of kitchen sink working class drama. (Yes, where are you, hungry fans of kitchen sink drama?)

Ferrari

Whoops! Not quite ready to order that new motor!

Eventually of course, reality stuck its ugly size 12 boot in the door: My book isn’t yet a best seller. The TV channels are not begging for interviews. The megabucks are not rolling in: Not sure if the guys at Ferrari were too happy when I asked them to put on hold the order for a new Ferrari I had tentatively made. In fact, the meagre pittance I have spent on a few facebook and twitter ads has far outstripped my royalties from Amazon. Still, who knows, maybe the next youtube video will go viral. Some random BBC producer may notice my blog and read my book and think ‘hey, this would make a great TV film!’ (Just in case, I should mention here that I do have a ‘Floating In Space’ film script draft!)

Of course, all writers are dreamers, that is why we write but if you too have aspirations of publishing success, be prepared to wait a while!


If, after reading this post you feel the urge to read my book, click on the links at the top of the page for more information or click the icon below to visit my Amazon page!

 

Three Funerals and a Pork Pie

Letters from an unknown author!

quotescover-JPG-12The other day my Mum started discussing her funeral plans with me. She is eighty five this year and I suppose at that age one starts to think that the day is coming when you won’t be around. Even so, it was pretty shocking to be talking about her funeral.

The first ever funeral I went to was my Uncle Raymond’s. Raymond was my favourite uncle and the most wonderful guy. When I first started work when I was sixteen, going on seventeen, I used to get off my bus, the 152, at the Bluebell pub in Handforth after coming home from work in Manchester and Uncle Ray was there, waiting for the pub to open. Inside he chatted to everyone, the staff, punters he had never met before and at the drop of a hat would produce the photographs from his recent cruise showing him and my Auntie Elsie…

View original post 483 more words

How Not to be a Writer!

How not to be a writerHow not to be a writer!
Yes, there are plenty of blogs and posts out there telling you how to become a writer. Don’t be fooled by those them because once they pull you in and extract your e-mail address, you’ll be bombarded with firm requests asking you to sign up for an intensive blogging course that will require you to hand over money! Now, please tell me if I’m wrong but I didn’t hear about Dan Brown signing up for such a course, or Patricia Cornwell or even Hemingway for that matter.
Anyway, here’s a post that is slightly different, how not to be a writer!

Checking your e-mails.
Now this is a certain way not to start writing because checking those e-mails will lead to certain internet browsing -guaranteed, and by the time you have finished, that will be your writing time gone!

E-bay Watched Items.
Another instance, similar to the one above is checking your watched items on e-bay! That antique pocket watch you urgently need for your pocket watch collection needs attention before some other pesky collector comes along and nabs it! I can’t think of anything more annoying than a watched item being stolen from under your very nose because you didn’t watch it closely enough or –heaven forbid- you started writing a blog post or even worse- actually started work on that follow up novel you’ve been planning for ages!

Facebook.
Now here is a perfect opportunity to stop yourself writing. Have a scroll through Facebook and take a long look at your friends and what they are doing, where they are lunching, what they are having for tea, and so on. Perhaps you could even count the amount of times you see ‘LOL’ whatever that means or check who has replied to a post with the one word comment ‘awesome’ today. If you are really motivated why not go to quotescover and create one of those cheesy quote cards like . .’Love is like a password:  hard to figure out but you want to keep trying!’ Yuk!

Your Motor Vehicle.
Is your car looking a little bit dusty? Does the screen wash need filling up? Absolutely! Not a good option to run out of water or screen wash on these warm and dusty spring days. Get that screen wash filled up!

Have a lie in.
Great idea. How about a lazy Saturday morning, just the time you have set aside for ‘creative writing’! Perhaps drag yourself to the kitchen for a cuppa or a sausage sarnie then back to the bedroom for some lazy bedroom TV watching. Don’t forget, there are quite a few episodes of ‘Columbo’ that you may not know off by heart yet.

That new post.
Ok you’ve finally created a new post. It’s gritty, full of biting humour, topical and interesting so what do you do next? Tweet about it? Post it on every social media site you are a member of?
No, go and make a cup of tea and pat yourself on the back!

Finally: Actual Writing.
Eventually, you may find yourself sitting at your laptop or PC in a position to actually write something. If this does happen, be prepared to call a member of procrastinationalert.com

If that fails, there is only one option: Get on with writing!


If you liked this post read more by Steve Higgins. Floating In Space is a novel set in late 70’s Manchester. Click the links at the top of the page or the icon below to go straight to Amazon!

Confessions of an Armchair Formula One Fan

F1 fanI’m not a great sports fan but I do like my motor sport. I first started following Formula One back in 1970 when I was a school boy.

1970 was a pretty exciting year for formula one racing. Colin Chapman and his Lotus team had unveiled their new Lotus 72, a revolutionary ground-breaking car that set the standard for formula one cars for years to come. Jochen Rindt won the World Championship but sadly he was killed in practice for the Italian Grand Prix at Monza. His points score was never overtaken and so he took the crown posthumously. In fact three F1 drivers were killed that year, Rindt, Bruce Mclaren, the founder of the Mclaren F1 team, and Piers Courage who drove for Frank Williams, a black year indeed for motorsport.

Jack_BrabhamBack in the early 70s there wasn’t great TV coverage but I do remember watching the Monaco Grand Prix live on the BBC and I will always remember that moment when the potential winner, old hand Jack Brabham, slipped into the barrier on one of the last corners letting Jochen Rindt through to win.

A few years later the BBC was not happy about the explosion of advertising on Grand Prix cars and the crunch came when the cars of John Surtees displayed advertising for Durex. The BBC pulled the plug and F1 effectively vanished from British TV screens for a long while. Towards the end of the seventies the BBC began to broadcast the odd race now and again and then their show ‘Grand Prix’ with long time commentator Murray Walker began in 1978 although I don’t think they broadcast the entire season until 1979.

For most of the seventies I had to depend on BBC radio to find out what had happened at the Grand Prix. In 1978 I listened to a report from the Italian Grand Prix about a crash just after the start in which Ronnie Peterson was injured. Ronnie had broken both legs and been taken to hospital. I was glad to hear he was OK. Ronnie was one of those drivers who appeared to me to be destined for a world championship. If someone had told me in the early seventies that Niki Lauda would be a three times champion I would have laughed out loud. He didn’t look or sound like a champion, unlike Ronnie, his team mate at the STP March team in 1972. The next day I picked up a newspaper and was shocked to find Peterson had died during the night from a fat embolism resulting from his broken bones.

Senna, Mansell, and Prost were the great drivers of the eighties and Gerhard Berger sometimes looked like a future champion although he never made the cut. He survived a terrible crash at Imola in 1989 when he hit the wall at Tamburello and his Ferrari burst into flames. I was watching the race live and thinking how could anyone survive that but moments later a marshal’s van drove up and quickly put the fire out. Berger survived with only 1st degree burns to his hands.

Mansell won a great race at Silverstone in 1987, probably one of my favourite races. It was a gamble on Mansell’s part, turning up the boost on his Honda turbo engine to catch Piquet and on the last lap he should have ran out of fuel. According to his dashboard he had, but his Williams somehow kept running to the end finally grinding to a halt on the slowing down lap.

Alain Prost Mclaren 1988 German Grand Prix

Alain Prost Mclaren 1988 German Grand Prix

Alain Prost retired after a comeback season with Williams when he walked to his final world championship in 1993. In 1994 the Grand Prix circus came to Imola for the San Marino Grand Prix and I remember well watching the race live on TV when Senna crashed, again at Tamburello. Someone said to me ‘he’s dead’ but I disagreed, Berger’s crash was worse and he survived. Sadly, Senna did not.

Television has had a great influence on formula one racing. In the nineties Bernie Ecclestone seemed to be trying a lot of tweeks to get more viewers, especially after one rainy Saturday qualifying round when hardly any drivers went out on track. Naturally really because they could not hope to improve on the previous day’s dry running. That spelled the end of Friday qualifying and from then on, only times set on a Saturday counted towards the grid. That tweeking resulted in an interesting knockout qualifying format which is enjoyable and good for the sport but it hasn’t stopped the rulers of F1 trying to fiddle with it even more and that interference has cast a cloud over the first part of the 2016 season.

Bernie Ecclestone

Bernie Ecclestone (image courtesy Wikipedia)

Formula One team bosses are currently in something of a panic. Investors have poured millions of pounds into F1, not because they like the sport but because they find their investment can pay off big style in these days of multi million pound global TV and advertising deals. Reports of failing interest in the sport however has rung alarm bells and throughout the motorsporting media there have been calls to make F1 more interesting. Why are the cars not louder? Why are Mercedes winning all the time? Should we bring back refuelling? Is the high tech aspect ruining the driver input? There are even calls for Bernie Ecclestone, the aging F1 emperor to hand over to someone else. Only time will tell what will happen.

It sometimes makes me smile when I compare Formula 1 to other sports like cricket. Can you just imagine if Ecclestone and his investors had a stake in cricket and the TV viewing figures were down? What would happen then? Increase the number of overs? Maybe have an extra ball in each over, seven instead of six? Change the wooden ball to a rubber one? Add an extra stump?

Maybe they will resolve the issues, maybe not. F1 racing goes from terrestrial channels to Sky pay per view in 2019. Will I be subscribing? I’m not so sure . . .


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

The Secrets of a Schoolboy Correspondent to the Stars!

A schoolboy correspondentNeil Armstrong, the commander of Apollo 11 stepped out onto the moon in July 1969. He and his crew, Buzz Aldrin and Mike Collins, came home to incredible global adulation and spent a lot of time touring the world and cementing global understanding that the USA had well and truly won the space race. I can’t imagine what it was like to receive that sort of world-wide adulation but for Armstrong his work with NASA was over. He resigned and became a university professor. People at the university of Cincinnati looked at him with wonder. He signed autograph after autograph then realised that many people were using these as a source of income. For every schoolboy who took his signature, venerated it and saved it in some secret safe place, there were others making a buck from every photo or scrap of paper he signed. So, one day, he stopped doing it.

That’s the thing about the famous; people want to connect with them. Today many people see their hero or heroine and they want to take a ‘selfie’ with them on their smart phone. Facebook and other social media are littered with these sorts of pictures, but in earlier times fans wanted autographs. In fact, they still do. Take a look at ebay and you’ll find many hits for the autographs of movie, TV and sports stars. Rare ones cost many thousands of pounds and if you are lucky enough to have an autograph signed by Neil Armstrong, well it’s worth about £8, 500. Autographs by Neil Armstrong are pretty rare and very collectable, partly because he stopped signing autographs!

You might be wondering where I got that figure from, well it’s from the PFC40 autograph index, a listing of autograph values to help collectors. Top of the list is James Dean’s autograph. Dean was famous for only a short while before his death in a car crash at the age of 24 and it’s the rarity of his signature that gives it such a strong price, showing in the index at £18,500! I wish I had the autograph of James Dean or Neil Armstrong in my collection but here are a few of the ones I do have.

Graham HillGraham Hill can’t really lay claim to being the greatest driver ever, but without a doubt he is one of the greatest motor sporting personalities to ever grace the racetrack. I wrote to him in the seventies and he responded with a card and his signature and it’s one of the prize autographs in my collection. Jackie Stewart, my favourite ever F1 driver and quite frankly, in my opinion, the greatest ever driver, sent me a card with only a machine printed signature. (Little bit disappointed there Jackie!) I have a number of signatures of F1 drivers in the seventies, Bruce McLaren, (founder of the McLaren F1 team) Denny Hulme (world champion 1967) Jack Brabham (world champion 1959, 1960 and 1966) Jackie Oliver, (he drove for BRM in 1970) and John Surtees (world champion 1964.)

Jack_Brabham

Three time world champion Jack Brabham

One of my colleagues who has a daughter who lives in Australia showed me something a while ago. A programme from the 2013 Australian GP signed by all the drivers. Knowing I’m a big Formula One fan my friend thought he had a sure fire sale but sadly, the programme looks a little as if a schoolboy has scribbled all over the pages and the autographs are just undecipherable swirls of a felt tipped pen. It was hugely disappointing and a ‘no sale’ for my friend. Perhaps in the age of the computer, people, well at least Formula One drivers, have forgotten how to write and how much more satisfying are the signatures in my collection than the ones on that programme.

william_shatner

Captain Kirk from Star Trek

As a school kid I spent a lot of time writing to my schoolboy TV heroes and I have signed pictures from Patrick Macnee who played the debonair John Steed in the Avengers, and Linda Thorson who played Steed’s sidekick Tara King. I wrote to the producers of Star Trek in the USA and they sent me colour pictures of William Shatner who played Captain Kirk and Leonard Nimoy, who was Mr Spock.

Tara King

Linda Thorson as Tara King

My very favourite autograph of all though is another one from the seventies. I wrote a fan letter to Andy Williams who had a hugely popular TV show which aired on the BBC. My favourite part of the show was a comedy sketch with Andy and a bear (OK, a guy dressed in a bear outfit) who always asked Andy for some cookies and then they went into a different comedy routine every week. I loved the bear sketches so much that I wrote to Andy Williams care of Desilu productions, who were mentioned on the credits of his show, in Hollywood California. Months later, a large envelope arrived and inside was a picture of Andy and the bear. ‘To Stephen from Andy and friend’ was the inscription.

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

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

A visit to Hollywood -with Google Maps!

There are plenty of places I’d like to visit in the world but there are always problems of time and money. I sometimes think that maybe one day when I retire I’ll jump on a plane and visit all those places I’d like to see but the crazy thing is -with the Internet and Google maps- I can do it now! Here are a few of the places I’d head for in Hollywood!

1.The Charlie Chaplin Studios on La Brea and Sunset.

Charlie Chaplin studios

Charlie Chaplin built his studio just south of the corner of La Brea and Sunset Boulevarde in 1917. At the time it was a residential area and Chaplin built a facade of cottages in the manner of an English street so the studios would blend into the neighbourhood more effectively. Chaplin sold the studios when he left America in 1953 and although the property was earmarked for redevelopment, that never happened. The 1950’s TV version of Superman was shot there and later the Red Skelton TV series. In 2000 the Jim Henson company bought the studios and later installed a twelve foot statue of the Muppets Kermit the frog by the gates. In homage to Chaplin, Kermit was dressed as the little tramp.

2. The Old RKO Studios

RKO studios

Between 1921 and 1927 the Robertson Cole Company, later known as FBO, Film Booking Office (once partly owned by Joe Kennedy, father of President John Kennedy) established their basic studio on Gower St. It was later taken over by RKO and expanded. The main entrance was at 780 North Gower St and many classic movies were made in the RKO days such as King Kong and Citizen Kane. In later years the studios were owned by Howard Hughes who in turn sold the studios to Lucille Ball and Desi Arnez and it became the home of their company, Desilu Productions. Later still the studios were acquired by Paramount for their television operations and Paramount own the studio today.

3. The Samuel Goldwyn Studios AKA ‘The Lot.’

Samuel Goldwyn Studios
The studio site was bought by Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford in 1919 and was known as the United Artists Studio from 1928. It was used by many producers involved with United Artists but Sam Goldwyn won sole control in 1955 and the facilities became the Samuel Goldwyn Studios until Warner Brothers purchased the site in 1980. Today the facilities are known as ‘The Lot’ and the owners lease offices and soundstages to various production companies.

4. 7000 Romaine Street.

Romaine st Hollywood
Even though Howard Hughes owned RKO he never had an office there. Instead for a long time he had his headquarters at 7000 Romaine Street in Hollywood. He set up a central switchboard here and the place was at the hub of his vast empire for many years.

5.Lana Turner’s Hollywood home.

Lana Turner Hollywood Home

Lana Turner rented the house above in the spring of 1958 and lived here with her daughter, Cheryl. On the night of April 4th, 1958, Lana was involved in yet another argument with her boyfriend, gangster Johnny Stompanato. He was threatening Lana with violence and fourteen year old Cheryl, fearing for her mother, armed herself with a knife and listened outside her mother’s room. The door burst open, Lana ran out, Stompanato ran out after her with his arm raised as if to strike Lana and ran into the knife held by Cheryl. The inquest ruled that the murder was justifiable homicide and Cheryl was acquitted.

6.Paramount Studios

paramount studios
Paramount Studios are still going strong today. There’s even a Paramount Studio tour which looks pretty interesting for a film buff like me!

7.James Dean and Blackwells Corner
James Dean
If you’ve read my blog posts before you must have read this post about James Dean. He was killed in a car crash in 1955 while on his way to a race meeting in Salinas. He was driving his new car, a Porsche nicknamed ‘little bastard.’ Blackwell’s corner was where Dean and his friends made a last refreshment stop before the fatal crash.

8.Highway 66, the site of James Dean’s Fatal Crash.

highway 66
James Dean had already been stopped for speeding earlier and now at about 5.45 pm on September 30th, 1955, he was still driving fast. Up ahead of him a 24 year old college student named Donald Turnupseed turned left onto highway 41. He cut across Dean, apparently not seeing the low profile Porsche until the last moment. Dean tried to turn the wheel but the cars collided and Dean was killed. A memorial stands by the scene erected by Seita Ohnishi, a Japanese fan.

(All pictures courtesy google maps. )

So, where would you visit in Hollywood?

 

 

 

10 Random Hits from the World of the Vinyl Single

10 hits from the world of the vinyl singleAs a teenager there was one, really important thing in my life. Music. And by music I am talking about singles. The BBC top twenty was all important to me and every Saturday night my mate Steve and I would drink beer and talk about women, sci fi and music. I bought numerous singles every Saturday. It’s very rare that I would buy something already in the charts for the full price. I’d usually wait until the record I wanted started to drop down the placings then I’d snap it up for half price. I spent a lot of time flicking through boxes of records in record stores with the end result that now, in 2016; I have a considerable amount of boxes of records. Ninety nine percent of them are singles. I was never one for albums because mostly albums let you down. You’d hear some great single by somebody new, buy their album and it rarely lived up to the single.

Singles are a whole different ball game in these days of downloading. There are those with even more records than I have but my records fill half a small room, whereas my young friends today have their entire music collection on their mobile phone or mp3 device. Not for them the allure of the soft dark vinyl or the album art or sleeve notes. No personal annotations like there were on my record sleeves with the discreet addition of the date I bought the record. The first single I ever bought was in 1973 and it was Olivia Newton-John’s version of ‘If Not For You’. Reduced to half price it was 24 pence. One day I’ll have to sit down and work out which was the last ever vinyl single I ever bought.
Here are a few of my very favourite singles.

I’m Not in Love by 10cc
Forget about the Smiths and Oasis and all those other whiney bands. 10cc were a proper Manchester band making some great music from the early seventies all the way through to 1983. There were two distinct groups within 10cc, Kevin Godley and Lol Creme and Eric Stewart and Graham Gouldman. Godley and Creme left in 1976 to work with a musical device they invented called the Gizmatron and Stewart and Gouldman kept 10cc going until 1983 although the band did reform in later years. This fabulous track was recorded at Strawberry studios in Stockport and was originally an album track until public demand made the group release the track as a single.

I’ve Got the Music In Me by Kiki Dee
Most people associate Kiki Dee with Elton John and the hit single ‘Don’t Go Breaking My Heart’ but Kiki had a pretty successful solo career and this is a great up-tempo rock number.

Escape (The Pina colada Song) by Rupert Holmes
This was a hit in 1979. What I really love about it are the lyrics. It’s about two lovers who have perhaps lost each other but then find each other again.

Yesterday by the Beatles
Hey, it’s a list of great music! Of course there is going to be a Beatles track! This is really something of a Paul McCartney solo piece and it’s interesting to wonder how it might have turned out without the influence of George Martin, the Beatles’ producer but anyway, it’s a wonderful song. (I have to admit that this is one single I don’t have on vinyl though!)

Only You by Yazoo
Yazoo comprised Alison Moyet and Vince Clarke who later went their separate ways. There was a cover version of Only You by the Flying Pickets, a vocal group who were a group of out of work actors. Their version was just as good as the original and was a Christmas number one in 1983.

Into the Groove by Madonna
This was the theme from the movie ‘Desperately Seeking Susan’, one of my all-time favourite films. It’s actually a great candidate film for a 2016 remake because the plot of the film which involves a girl who follows the personal ads in a newspaper would be perfect for the current internet social media age. Check out the video below with clips from the movie.

Loves Theme by the Love Unlimited Orchestra.
Love Unlimited were, if you didn’t know, Barry White’s backing band and if you’ve never heard this before just imagine one of Barry White’s tracks without him singing and you’ll get the idea. I’ve always loved this single and there used to be a bar in Manchester I used to frequent called the ‘Playground’. It was a sort of disco bar and the DJ used this as his theme song. Read more about the Playground in my novel Floating In Space.

How Long by Ace.
Now this is a serious contender for my all-time favourite single ever. Written by Ace vocalist Paul Carrack who went on to work with other bands like Mike and the Mechanics and later become a solo artist. Paul’s other great songs include ‘The Living Years’ and ‘Over My Shoulder.’

The Way It Is by Bruce Hornsby and the Range.
A great eighties track dating from 1986. Bruce Hornsby was an American singer and songwriter. I’m not sure if Bruce had any other hits but this one is a great piano driven rock song that I’ve always loved.

Gonna make you a star by David Essex.
This was a hit in 1974 and I have written a post already about David and his white suit and the impact it had on me. Read more about it here. One quick word of advice though, don’t travel on a grimy old bus wearing a white suit!

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

MASH and the Emotional Leap Indicator

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

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

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

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

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

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


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