Resignations, Old Friends and Green for Danger!

I don’t know if you remember that old British movie, Green for Danger? I’ve not seen it myself for a while but this week I’ve been thinking about it and even done a search through my old VHS video tapes to find my copy.

If you’ve not seen it, the film is a murder mystery set in World War 2, and Inspector Cockrill, who is sent by Scotland Yard to investigate, is played by none other than one of my favourite actors, Alastair Sim. Although the film is a serious one, as usual Alastair Sim adds just the right amount of whimsical humour to make it just a shade lighter than perhaps it might have been. In one scene Sim crouches down expecting the crash of a German Doodlebug only to find a tractor passing by. A number of great British actors are also in the movie, Trevor Howard and Leo Genn to name but two.

The film is narrated by Sim in the form of a letter of resignation to his superiors after the case is finally resolved although not in quite the way he would have liked.

This week, I too have written my letter of resignation. It has not been a great week for me at work. I’m a deputy manager but deputising in my organisation is slightly different. I work in an emergency control room and most of the time I am just an operator, just like my colleagues. When my boss is not around, either off sick or on leave then it is me, as his deputy, who steps up and manages the shift. When he comes back I must once again step down and join my colleagues on the shop- sorry, control room- floor.

Still, it’s not a bad arrangement you might think, surely a step up the corporate ladder? Wrong. Maybe in an organisation that takes notice of its staff perhaps, maybe in a company where senior management are actually aware of the performance of the lower echelons and the efforts they make, yes, but here in a place where anonymous panels judge staff by their form filling abilities, it’s not a great situation.

Anyway, a while ago the management undertook a ‘refreshment’ -to use their word- of the deputy management situation. In basic terms, anyone who was a deputy had to re-apply in order to stay on as a deputy and now I find after six years I have not made the cut and I am no longer able to call myself a deputy manager.

Perhaps I am not that good at my job you might think, perhaps I am no longer up to the task of managing. Well, after six years of deputising I am older and wiser and although I have more backache than I used to have, I can still run the control room as well as I have always done. I wonder if I skimmed over the application too quickly; approached it too flippantly? Surely though, with six years worth of experience under my belt I must be better, more knowledgeable, more experienced than before. Does that matter? Apparently not. Am I a bad form filler? Perhaps yes.

All this started me thinking about a much simpler time many years ago when I became a bus conductor at the tender age of nineteen. I had returned from hitch hiking around Europe, sunburned and penniless and my Dad was not at all happy that I moped about the house all day winding up his electric bills by playing music constantly. That’s where the bus conducting job offered a solution. Well paid work while I looked for a proper job.

My driver was a guy called Jimmy. He was older than me and became a sort of, not a father figure but more an older brother figure to me. He mentored me in the arts of bus conducting and people management and laughed at my timid efforts to chat up the girls on our bus. Jimmy was a big speedway fan and quite a few times I joined him at Belle Vue and other venues watching the sport. At the time Jimmy had a three-wheel Reliant van and we chugged our way about the country to various speedway venues and after a late shift Jimmy would drop me off at home to save me from waiting on the grumpy staff bus drivers’ pleasure.

In return, I once gave Jimmy this big Lego set that my brother and I had. It had been a joint Christmas present to us years before; a great assortment of Lego bricks in a big wooden box that over time my brother and I added to with more bricks and bits and pieces and gradually built it up into a pretty big Lego set. It was no longer used and my Mum had suggested I give it to Jimmy for his children.

Jimmy was over the moon with the Lego and told me several times how his kids loved it.

One day I had the call from the chief inspector and he told me it was time for me to go in the driving school to become a driver. I wasn’t keen on leaving Jimmy and asked if I could defer driver training for a while. He agreed and Jimmy and I carried on our teamwork up and down the roads of south Manchester. Not long afterwards Jimmy had the call too, only he was called to become a one man operator. One man operators were paid much more money than conventional bus crews and being a fellow with a wife, children and a mortgage, it was not something Jimmy could refuse.

On our last shift together, we had arranged to have a fish and chip treat to mark the occasion. We were on the 148 route from Manchester to Woodford where we had a long layover at the terminus. I think we had a twenty-minute drop back but as we had so much extra running time at the far end of the route we could easily put our foot down and extend that to twenty-five minutes. We stopped in Cheadle Hulme, I nipped out and bought the chips and then we raced up to Woodford. Just as we arrived a man was running for our bus, waving his hands presumably as he thought we were about to drive off and leave him behind. We pulled up in the layby and set ourselves up at the back of the bus. Jimmy poured us a brew but the guy was knocking on the window. I eventually let him in and he was glad he had seen us because he was in a rush to get to Bramhall, a place about ten minutes down the road. We told him that he had a long time to wait and that we weren’t due to leave for another twenty minutes but he sat down a couple of seats from us at the back, watching us eating our chips and looking at his watch, all the while carrying on a moan about buses and timetables and public transport in general. He completely ruined that last fish and chip supper on our final day of working together. We left on time and dropped our one passenger off at a place which was hardly a five-minute walk from where he had boarded our bus.

Jimmy settled down as a one-man bus driver but I left and came back to the company quite a few times as well as transferring to other depots and other rotas. On another occasion I took a job working in the coaching unit and then got a position in the bus control room. In those days I was always on the look out for something new and doing the same old thing bored me very quickly.

Years later I bumped into Jimmy and we had a long natter and a brew at the bus canteen in Stockport. I’d not seen him for many years and I was so pleased to see him again. ‘Listen my mate,’ he said, he always called me ‘my mate’. ‘I need to see you again, why don’t you meet me back here tomorrow?’

I met him in the car park the next day and he opened up the boot of his car with a big smile and there was the old Lego set. His kids had grown up and he was returning the Lego set to me for my kids.

Sadly, I never did have any children and the Lego set was lost, probably left forgotten in the attic on one of numerous house moves. Jimmy and I lost touch and I never saw him again.

I remember once sitting with Jimmy at some nameless bus terminus and he turned to me and told me how much he loved his job and how he knew he would stay as a bus driver until he retired. That’s the same feeling I used to have here at my present job; that this was the place where I would finish my working career. Yes, used to have: until they demoted me.

Anyway, back to the letter of resignation. What was it Alastair Sim said at the end of the film?

In view of my failure — correction, comparative failure — I feel that I have no alternative but to offer you, sir, my resignation, in the sincere hope that you will not accept it.

Yes, I think I’ll put my resignation on hold, for now!


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Schoolday Memories

The other day I was watching one of my favourite movies from my favourite director: Woody Allen’s Radio Days. In case you haven’t seen it, it’s about Woody Allen looking back at his young self and how he lived his life through the radio shows of the day. It pretty much reminded me of myself, and how I was obsessed with TV when I was a child. Personally, I wouldn’t have said obsessed but that’s what my Mum and Dad used to say. They used to tell me I watched that much TV I would grow up with ‘square eyes’.

Anyway, that movie got me thinking about my schooldays, but as I started to put pen to paper, I remembered an essay I had written years ago about my schooldays. I scoured my notebooks and old laptop archives and finally, after a long search, here it is, suitably updated.

My first school memory is of infant school, in fact I can remember my very first day there I remember being taken there by my Mum. She stayed for a while and watched me take my first tentative steps into the classroom. Once I was happy and started playing with the other kids she then slipped discreetly away. I remember playing with these large wooden bricks, like household bricks but wooden and light. I made a car with them, or a plane; some sort of vehicle that you could actually sit in and pretend to drive or fly.

On the next day a new climbing frame arrived at the school. It was made of wood, painted blue with a sort of platform at the top if you were good enough a climber to get there. It was much better than the old climbing frame which was just a series of wooden poles interlocked together. If you got to the top you could only pop your head out and look around. I much prefered the blue one, it gave you a goal: getting to the platform at the top.

The memory of Christmas at infant school still lingers fondly. I played one of the three kings in the nativity play. I can still remember the excitement of getting changed in the makeshift dressing room, actually the headmistress’ office. The backstage nerves, most of all I recall the feeling of being part of things, not just an observer.

In junior school I was a member of the choir and there was that same excitement: The rehearsals. Missing normal lessons to be in the hall for all the rehearsals and the big one, the dress rehearsal, then the even bigger one, the real thing.

One day, while in the choir practice, the music teacher stopped in front of me. After some thought she put her ear directly to my mouth, listened intently to my singing then banished me from the choir, from backstage, from everything that mattered. My voice clearly wasn’t good enough. Then I was once again just a spectator. Not really part of anything.

One exciting part of the Christmas events was the setting up of Mr Todd’s 16 mm projector and the watching of his films in the main hall. They were mostly cartoons like Woody Woodpecker but I also remember seeing those Walt Disney true-life films. I can still hear now the clicketty-click of the projector and feel the excitement of the lights going down just as the show began. When Mr Todd retired, the projector, which must have been his personally, retired also and the film sessions went with him.

In that same hall I danced with my childhood crush, Jacqueline Stonehouse. In junior school we used to have dance lessons and she was my regular partner.  One day after being off sick for a while, I returned to find she was dancing with Luke White, the class hard man. I was devastated.

When I walked home at lunchtime I used to save a biscuit from the tuck shop to give a to a dog that I had made friends with. He waited behind his gate on my way home for this usual treat. The dog was always there and always waited. One day at playtime Luke White demanded a biscuit and I refused. As I walked home he and his big brother chased me and took away my biscuit. The biscuit and Jacqueline Stonehouse. I don’t know which crime I hated him for the most.

The Christmas slide in the junior school playground is another memory; this was a dangerous slide, big and long and fast. Only for the biggest lads, only for the most skilled of sliders. You had to be skilful and quick because a split second behind you was the next man. No time for hesitancy, no time for time wasters. Go quickly, feel the ice, the slippery smoothness, the danger, keep your balance and enjoy the exhilaration of a great slide!

Then there was the Christmas party. I cannot remember enjoying any party more, even some fifty years later. Pass the parcel. Jelly and cream. Paper hats. I must have been happy all the time at junior school. I had all the important things in life; my bike, my friends and my favourite TV programmes: Star Trek, Stingray, Time Tunnel, Doctor Who and a hundred others, and not a worry in the world.

The move to ‘big’ school, comprehensive school, was a hard one. Leaving behind the familiarity and warmth of my old school and its teachers was hard. Not only that; I had been one of the big boys. I was among the oldest in the school and now I would be among the youngest again.  All I had heard about the new school was how the big lads would be after us. Don’t let them get you alone in the toilets because they would grab you and push your head into the toilet bowl and flush! The fear comes back to me again, deep in the stomach along with the smell and feel of my new green blazer, my brown leather briefcase, my gym kit and my hated football boots. I remember the thrill of going to school in my new long trousers. The feel of being a grown up.

Just like young Joe, the young Woody Allen character in Radio Days who was mad about radio, I was mad about television. I loved my TV programmes then and looked forward to my regular dose of Blue Peter, How, Magpie, and Crackerjack. One firm favourite was the Magic Boomerang. It was set in the outback of Australia and was about a young boy who has, yes, a magic boomerang. Whenever he throws it, time stand still for everyone except the boy. A little bit like those quick quid adverts today!

My absolute favourites though, were the puppet shows of Gerry Anderson. Four Feather Falls was about a sheriff with magic guns set in the wild west but then came Supercar, a show set a hundred years into the future. Supercar was a small craft that could fly up into the atmosphere or under the sea and was developed by professor Popkiss, Doctor Beaker and test pilot Mike Mercury.

Supercar was followed by Fireball Xl5, the adventures of a space patrol and its crew. Then came Stingray, a submarine operated by WASP, the World Aquanaut Security Patrol with Captain Troy Tempest and Marina, the mute girl from under the sea. I always loved the opening titles for Stingray; the fabulous theme tune, the battle stations at Marineville (WASP headquarters) and finally the launch of Stingray into the ocean. The best bit was always Commander Shore speaking into the tannoy and saying ‘anything can happen in the next half hour!’

The great thing about Gerry Anderson’s work was that it all linked together and never looked down on the children who watched it. It was all serious stuff. His next show was the highly successful Thunderbirds which I have to say was never really one of my favourites. I mean come on, who serviced all those craft at the underground base on Tracy island? Brains? By himself? I don’t think so and don’t get me started on the launch of Thunderbird 3 because the round house would have been totally incinerated when Thunderbird 3 launched and as for Alan Tracy’s launch procedure, well that’s a whole other blog post!

Gerry Anderson’s futuristic world was incorporated into a comic called Tv21 which I bought every week and just like the young Woody Allen character who longed for a Masked Avenger ring, I was desperate for an Identicode with which I finally sent numerous coded messages to friends.

One last school memory to finish with. As time moved on my friends and I settled into the new routine. We all seemed to grow up at pretty much the same pace and as time went on we all naturally became taller. All except for Luke White that is.

Once the class hard man, Luke had stayed pretty much the same size as he was in junior school. One day he approached myself, and some others, demanding money or sweets, I can’t remember which but I do remember hearing his voice and having to look down to see him. The others looked down on Luke like the pygmy he was and some one, I can’t remember who it was, but I heard a voice say firmly and with some disgust, ‘piss off White!’ Luke looked at us and quietly shuffled away.

His days as the class tough guy were over.

Finally, yesterday, as you read this, was my last night shift for a while as next week Liz and I are off on our travels again to France. Leaving work I pulled onto the M6 to travel home and switched on Radio 2. Chris Evans had just started his morning show and started on a long monologue about the morning’s highlights. What was that playing in the background though?

Yes, I remember it well; the theme from Thunderbirds!


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More about James Bond 007, and Me.

I spoke briefly about James Bond in a previous blog and thought I might write a little more about the UK’s most famous secret agent.

I started reading the Bond books when I was a schoolboy and unfortunately the very first one I read was the only one they had in our local library: ‘The Man With The Golden Gun’, one of writer Ian Fleming’s worst Bond books. Fleming used to write his initial drafts of the novels and then write a second one, adding in all the details which make the Bond books so interesting. Things like details of Bond’s clothes, (the Sea Island cotton shirts) his food, (Bond always had scrambled eggs for breakfast) his cars, his cigarettes (the special handmade ones with the triple gold band) and all that sort of stuff. ‘The Man with the Golden Gun’ was published after Fleming had died and sadly he had not revised his original draft. I persevered though, did some research, found the proper order of the books and began to read ‘Casino Royale’, the first in the series. I have loved the books, and the films ever since.

004I didn’t see the Bond films until 1969 when I saw probably my favourite Bond film ever, ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’, at the cinema. It was everything I had imagined it would be and what I liked about George Lazenby, who played 007 in the film, was that he looked pretty much as I had imagined Bond. He had the authentic ‘comma of black hair’ as Fleming had always described Bond having and not only that, Diana Rigg was probably my favourite Bond girl too.

The Bond films were not then a staple of UK TV but there was always a Bond documentary, usually on TV at Christmas time which built up, as it was supposed to do, the public interest in Bond. It certainly built up mine. There was one documentary I remember which showed the viewer how Ian Fleming suffered with back pain and was sent to recuperate at a rest home where they put him on a back stretching machine which he later incorporated into ‘Thunderball’. Aha, I thought, this is how writers think!

Sean Connery was the first movie Bond and he did a great job in setting out the 007 ‘stall.’ The Bond movies are as much about Bond’s colleagues as they are about Bond and in the original films we had some great supporting actors, Miss Moneypenny, played by Lois Maxwell, ‘M’ played by Bernard Lee, and the long serving ‘Q’, played by Desmond Llewellyn. CIA man Felix Leiter was always played by a different actor in each of the movies, which never ceases to surprise me. A good Leiter would have been a pretty good idea for US cinema goers, surely.

George Lazenby was selected to play Bond when Connery tired of the role. However, he was new to the industry and advisers told him that the Bond movies were on the way out. Friction occurred with his movie bosses when he grew his hair long and sported a beard and eventually Lazenby was sacked. Connery returned to the Bond role in ‘Diamonds are Forever’. With Lazenby that would have been such a good movie but Connery played a tired and lacklustre Bond and after the serious and fast moving ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’, ‘Diamonds’ perhaps appears a little tame. Worse was to follow however when Roger Moore was selected to play Bond. Moore plays Bond as a sort of smooth talking fashion icon and some dreadful Bond films were produced in the 1980s.

Timothy Dalton took over for two movies, ‘The Living Daylights’ and ‘License To Kill,’ and after that the film franchise was in limbo until it re started with ‘Goldeneye,’ which after OHMSS is my favourite Bond movie. Brosnan doesn’t overdo the comedy unlike Connery and Moore. He seems like a pretty tough customer yet looks good in a finely tailored suit and, like Sean Connery, he has a wonderful troupe of supporting actors to help him. Judi Dench plays a female ‘M,’ Samantha Bond plays the faithful Miss Moneypenny, and Desmond Lewellyn once again plays ‘Q.’

I was sorry to see Peirce Brosnan go because I can’t really say I’m keen on the latest Bond films although I have seen them all at the cinema except for the latest offering. The aim of the producers was to re-introduce Bond to 21st century moviegoers and to show Bond as the hard man he must really be. My feeling is that they have succeeded too well and the films have a hard edge that I don’t really care for. Let’s have another villain like Goldfinger or Doctor No. Not trying to take over the world perhaps but with a really clever criminal scheme for Bond to sort out. And give me some good espionage gadgets, please! Yes, I’m sorry to say that Daniel Craig isn’t my idea of James Bond. Fleming himself reckoned that Hoagy Carmichael was how he imagined Bond and he wanted David Niven to play the part, which he did although it was in the spoof version of Casino Royale back in 1967. And it’s my considered opinon that Bond was based on one man, yes, none other than Commander Ian Fleming of Naval Intelligence in World war II.

Anyway, it was nice to see that in ‘Skyfall’, a good set of supporting actors was established and instead of one actor departing and being replaced, the introduction of the new ‘M’ was handled well and an interesting element was the story giving some background to the Moneypenny character.

Spectre is the latest Bond movie. It was released in 2016 and although I always try to see the new Bond at the cinema, I somehow managed to miss this one. I have not seen it until now as I recently managed to pick up a cheap second hand DVD version for a few pounds. It’s a very well made glossy movie although it is a little lacking in the story department. Yes, the fights scenes are great, as are the car chases although in recent years the Bond films have stepped away from reality slightly. In one scene Bond and a young lady are having dinner on a train. A Spectre assassin comes to assault Bond and a frantic fight scene ensues in which a great deal of the dining car is destroyed. Bond eventually gets the upper hand but the next morning, Bond and his companion are dropped off at the station as if nothing has happened.

One good thing was the return of Ernst Stavro Bolfeld who comes complete with a backstory linking him to Bond’s earlier life. I suspect somehow that Blofeld will return in another Bond but will Daniel Craig?

One annoying thing about Spectre was I felt that the scriptwriters had somehow confused Bond with the character Jack Bauer from the TV show 24. As you will know, if you’ve ever watched the TV show, Bauer is a sort of maverick agent who disregards any instruction or advice from his superiors, even the President, his commander in chief. He always goes off at a tangent and is a complete loose cannon. That is exactly how Bond starts out at the beginning of this film, he is at odds with ‘M’ the head of the secret service but, just like Jack Bauer, he disappears going completely his own way and later he gets colleagues within the service, like Miss Moneypenny and Q, to follow him just as Chloe O’Brian was an insider for Jack.

Hello, Bond scriptwriter! Just remember who you are writing about, it’s Bond, former English naval officer turned secret agent and not Jack Bauer!

Final result: Enjoyable, good in parts but the next Bond would benefit from a more tangible back story.

 


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My Dad, Fletcher Christian and John Lennon

My Dad.

I can’t remember which year my Dad retired from Manchester Corporation. He died in 2000 and he was 72 so I suppose it must have been 1993 or earlier.

Every day prior to that he rose for work. He had porridge for breakfast, mounted his battered old bike and taking his shoulder bag with his box of sandwiches my mother had made for him and his brew can, he left for the ride to work. He did that every day of his working life and, come rain, snow or sunshine, he rode his bike work. In the mid seventies we moved to a new Manchester overspill estate and the result was a much longer journey for him.

He was a fit man, much fitter than me but sadly he and I wasted such a lot of time when we were younger, not getting on together. One day something tragic happened to me. Perhaps tragic is not the right word although it seemed so at the time. Anyway, I knew I would have to tell Mum and Dad. I couldn’t face Mum so I told Dad. Instead of getting the negative response I expected, my Dad was full of support and from that day on our friendship never looked back.

When he died, those wasted years always seemed to haunt me, but then, we were people from such different generations. Young people and their parents are so much closer these days in terms of cultural identity but for me and my Dad things were not like that. He came from a background where he was given an apple and an orange for Christmas whereas my brother and I, who received a sackful of presents on Christmas Day, were part of a new youth culture involving music, television and film that he struggled to understand.

Dad had served in the South Staffordshire regiment and I remember once my brother did some research and found the regiment had been merged with the North Staffordshire regiment in 1959 and later with other regiments to become the Mercian regiment. He told me that when he had called the regiment to enquire what kind of records were kept, they had asked him various questions. When my brother replied that Dad had done his national service as a private they said rather coldly that records of enlisted men were not kept!

Perhaps then it is only officers that matter to the record keepers of the army. I don’t know why but whenever I think of that phrase ‘enlisted men’, I tend to think of that old film with Clark Gable, Mutiny on the Bounty’ where press gangs roamed Portsmouth to press unwitting men into service with Her Majesty’s Navy.

DadHowever they were enlisted, they served and did their duty, just like my dad who was proud of his army service. He served in Northern Ireland, Germany and Hong Kong, and told me many stories about his army life. In fact not long ago when I posted a picture of him at work for the council highways department, one of his old work mates replied mentioning the stories he used to tell his workmates about his army sergeant major.

Fletcher Christian.

There have been so many versions of Mutiny on the Bounty but the one my Dad and I loved was the Clark Gable version. He saw it first time round at the cinema and I saw it on television. If you haven’t seen it, and I can’t for  moment believe you haven’t, it is the supposedly true story of Captain Bligh who so ill-treated his crew that they mutinied and set Bligh adrift on the high seas in a long-boat. They took the ship back to Tahiti, together with some natives and came across Pitcairn island. The island had been marked incorrectly on the British naval maps of the time so they decided to settle there. The ship, the HMS Bounty, was stripped of everything possible and then burned, stranding the mutineers on the island.

The settlement descended into conflict and jealousy with disputes between the mutineers and the natives. The natives resented being treated like slaves and there were further arguments involving the small group of women on the island. Fletcher Christian was reportedly murdered but there were constant rumours he had somehow returned to England.

Whether events happened as they have been portrayed in films is anyone’s guess. Was Bligh’s conduct of his men so poor that they were compelled to mutiny? Or was the truth that the pleasures shown to them on the Pacific island of Tahiti were too good to leave? I have to say that if I had been one of the mutineers, the thought of spending my days on a distant deserted island would have not appealed to me and the burning of the Bounty would have been a disaster, stranding the mutineers on Pitcairn. Fletcher Christian came from Cockermouth in Cumbria and thoughts of returning there must have plagued him or at least arisen in times of quiet consideration.

Sometimes, now I have reached the status of the semi retired, I have wondered about living abroad. France appeals to me greatly. I like the relaxed lifestyle, the wine, the approach to food and restaurants and the cheap property prices. However, my French is very much the French of my schooldays and I often wonder whether I would pine for a pint of Guinness or a Wetherspoons meal on curry night. Similar thoughts arise when I have considered Spain or Lanzarote. My Spanish consists of a few phrases, Buenos dios and la cuenta, por favor (may I have the bill please.) On the flip side many brits live happily in foreign climes and in some places, especially Spain and Lanzarote, English is freely spoken.

John Lennon.

One man who chose to leave his home and live abroad was John Lennon. Lennon, suffocated by the incredible fame of the Beatles, decided to relocate to New York. New Yorkers were not overwhelmed by his celebrity status and he found himself a large apartment in the impressive Dakota Building on the corner of Central Park West and 72nd Street. Lennon lived there from 1973 to 1980 when he was shot to death by a disturbed fan called Mark Chapman. Lennon lived with his wife Yoko Ono and son Sean and retired from public life during his son’s early years. His comeback album Double Fantasy was released in 1980 and Lennon even autographed a copy for his would be assassin just hours before Chapman shot him.

The last vinyl album I ever bought, and the last one that John Lennon made. Double Fantasy. £2.99, what a bargain.

I can imagine Lennon in his room in the Dakota, looking down on New York and reflecting how far he had come. Did he ever think of his home in Liverpool? I am sure he did. He corresponded regularly with his Aunt Mimi who brought him up at their home, Mendips, in Liverpool.

Years ago when I used to work in Liverpool I visited his childhood home. I had always imagined Lennon came from a rough council house background but his former home is in Woolton, a pleasant leafy suburb of Liverpool with semi detached private houses and some rather nice pubs and shops. Not quite what I had expected.

One of the reasons that John Lennon came to mind for the end of this post is that over on Twitter where I spend a lot of time plugging this blog and my book, I’ve been running out of ideas for Tweets. Then I started tweeting a lot of ‘quote’ Tweets, you know the sort of thing I mean, a picture of some celebrity alongside a famous quote from them. I started with writers and various famous people like Einstein and Churchill, then I moved onto musicians like Bob Dylan and eventually John Lennon. Lennon appeared to be a popular choice and his quotes got a high percentage of likes and retweets bringing the words of John Lennon (and my web page) to new readers. My favourite was this one, one I hadn’t even heard of before but I liked it so much I’m thinking of having it as my motto.

Everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.


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Adventures with a Hard Drive TV Recorder

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

Rising Damp Forever

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Secret life of Bob Monkhouse.

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

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

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

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

The Magic Box

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

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

The Persuaders.

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

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

The Invaders.

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

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

The Man From Uncle

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

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

Press that pause button, time for another cuppa!


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The Soundtrack to my Life

The soundtrack to my life? What’s that all about? Well, quite simply it’s music. I don’t know about you but I’ve been a music fan all my life and I have always bought records of one sort or another. Vinyl singles and albums, cassette tapes, CDs and yes, even the occasional download.

picmonkey-imageMy Christmas present in 1972, my shared present I might add, which I shared with my brother, was a record player. I don’t actually remember getting any records to play on it though but a few days afterwards I bought a collection of TV and film themes by John Barry in the post Christmas sales.. Barry scored the early Bond films and wrote the theme from the Persuaders, the 70’s TV show starring Roger Moore and Tony Curtis. So much is that record built into my memory that whenever I hear the tune from the Persuaders, it’s not Curtis and Moore that comes to mind but that small portable record player that spent much of its life in the bedroom that my brother and I shared many years ago.

31436280925_c1d7ff01eb_oThe first single I ever bought was by my childhood heart-throb Olivia Newton-John. I actually bought two singles together, The Banks of the Ohio and What is life. A single back in 1973 cost thirty-eight pence if I remember correctly and as both those singles had dropped out of the charts I was able to get the two singles for half price, nineteen pence each. Olivia Newton-John started out as a country/folk singer but found greater fame as John Travolta’s co-star in the hit movie Grease. Sorry Olivia but Grease just didn’t do it for me.

Olivia Newton-JohnI’ve never been one for albums, I’m much more of a singles man but in the 1970s I was very fond of Elton John’s music. When I first heard his records I just assumed he was an American so I was pretty surprised to find he was English and hailed from Pinner in Middlesex. His first hit single was ‘Your Song’ from his second album, Elton John but the first album I bought was ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’. Elton worked closely with lyricist Bernie Taupin to produce some memorable songs. Taupin wrote the lyrics in the fashion of poems, passed them over to Elton who worked them into a song, which is the way they work together today some five decades later. I still have all my Elton John albums but after Elton made Rock Of The Westies I lost interest in his music a little. In the CD era I picked up some of my favourites of his music on CD and I have found some of his newer work that I really like, in particular Made In England which must count to me as one of his best ever albums.

img_0142Back in my single buying days a work colleague lent me his copy of Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds. I didn’t really fancy it but my friend was insistent that I would love it and he was right. The idea of a whole album telling a single story including snippets of dialogue and sound effects is brilliant. I copied the album onto cassette tape and today I have two CD versions, one for in the home and one for my car.

It seems to me sometimes that back in the 70’s buying music was so easy. Hear a record on the radio, go out to the record shop and buy it; job done. Nowadays when I sometimes watch music videos channels like the Box, I hear something I like but there are no music stores to visit to buy the recording. Not only that, when and if you find one, they’ve never heard of the track that you noted down! Actually its much easier to just go online and search for the music you want and then its just a few clicks to download. However, I’m not convinced a download is what  I really want. I want something physical, something I can pick up and look at, something with sleeve notes and inserts, that’s what I used to love about vinyl albums.

The last vinyl album I ever bouht, and the last one that John lennon made. Double Fantasy. £2.99, what a bargain.

The last vinyl album I ever bought, and the last one that John Lennon made. Double Fantasy. £2.99, what a bargain.

So, back to the present. The other week I was watching a programme on BBC 4 about Kate Bush. It was all pretty interesting and seemed to portray a Kate Bush that was a whole world apart from babooshka babooshka and Kath-ee,  let me in at your window, the slightly scary Kate Bush that I remember from the seventies and eighties.

I did an online search and on e-Bay I found myself three fairly cheap CDs. 1: The Sensual World. (Sorry Kate, this didn’t do it for me at all.) 2: The Red Shoes. (Pretty good, nice album.)  3: Aerial. Now this was more like it. A cracking double CD. Actually more chill out than the Kate Bush of the seventies I’m used to hearing. It has not been off my in-car stereo since I bought it. It’s a fabulous album full of exciting rhythms and sounds.

aerialSo, what music do you have on the soundtrack to your life?


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(Almost) Unseen TV

tv documentaryIt’s interesting that on TV, the same movies come at us time after time. The Great Escape, wonderful film though it is, has been broadcast so many times I know the script off by heart. The Bond films are a staple of UK TV. They and the Die Hard films, the Carry on series and a hundred others–they are all constantly on British TV. Old TV shows are another staple of the new free view channels.

In fact, just lately a lot of my favourite shows from when I was a school boy are currently being shown on TV: The Saint, Land of the Giants, The Invaders and many more. (Wish they’d get around to showing the Time Tunnel though!) Some things that rarely, if ever, are repeated, are old TV documentaries and old made for TV movies. Here are three of my favourites, two documentaries and one made for TV movie, preserved for my viewing pleasure on trusty old VHS video tape.

The Peter Sellers Story: As He Filmed It.

The BBC Arena team made this film about Peter Sellers in 1995. It was created largely from cine film shot by Sellers himself, who was a lifelong camera enthusiast. The original documentary was made in 1995 and 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.

Sellers as Group Captain Mandrake in Dr Strangelove.

Sellers as Group Captain Mandrake in Dr Strangelove.

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.

Barry Sheene. Photo courtesy Wikipedia

Barry Sheene. Photo courtesy Wikipedia

Barry Sheene. Daytona 1975.

This is a film about the late motorcycle racer Barry Sheene. He was a star of the 1970’s motorcycle racing scene. A long-haired, chain-smoking racer who had Donald Duck on his crash helmet and who famously gave the V sign to one of his opponents, I think it was Kenny Roberts, at a race at Silverstone in 1979. In this film Sheene goes to Daytona and is flat-out testing his bike when the engine locks up. He yanks in the clutch but is still sent hurtling along the track breaking several bones in the process. The film follows him to hospital where he joked with colleagues, even saying to his team manager, ‘the staff really hurt me. I’m glad I didn’t tell them about that pain I’ve got in my shoulder.’ His manager looks confused for a moment and says, ‘well, don’t you think you should tell them?’

Sheene is pinned back together with various metal rods and is later seen hobbling away from the hospital but even so, later in the film, we see him back on his motorbike once again.

The film was produced and directed by Canadian documentary maker Frank Cvitanovich and is a fascinating insight into the world of Barry Sheene. It is clear he lived and breathed motorcycles. In later life he retired and became a sports commentator in Australia. He died of cancer at the age of only 52

Across the Lake.

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

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

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

Having written this post about three old films I watch now and again on my old TV with the built-in VHS cassette player, it was interesting to find, during research, that all three can be seen online.

The original three-part version of The Peter Sellers Story: As he filmed it can be see on vimeo. Click here to watch it.

Frank Cvitanovich’s Barry Sheene Daytona 1975 documentary is on you tube. Watch it here.

Across the Lake is also on youtube. Watch it here.

Perhaps those old films are not as unseen as I thought!


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Floating in Space

Have Movies Influenced your Music Choices?

classical music + moviesClassical Music and Three of my Movie Favourites

I’m not a great lover of classical music but the classical music I do know and love has come to me through the medium of film. Yes, movies have inspired almost all of my favourite classical music choices.

The Blue Danube

The Blue Danube is a waltz written by the composer Johann Strauss II. He was an Austrian composer known as the ‘Waltz King’ and was largely responsible for the popularity of the waltz in Vienna in the 19th century. I first heard the music in the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey, the memorable sci-fi movie directed by Stanley Kubrick. Kubrick used numerous classical pieces in the movie and the Blue Danube is used during the space station docking and lunar landing sequences.

I first saw the film in the summer of 1968. I was only 11 at the time and I remember my Mum being surprised I had spent hours at the cinema on a lovely hot day. I watched the film in the huge movie theatre in Northenden, now a Jehovah’s Witness assembly hall. There were only a few people in the picture house that day and it was wonderful having this huge place almost to myself and seeing this incredible film in 70mm on the big screen. I recall being somewhat confused by it all, especially the jump from neanderthal times to the future, until I bought the novel by Arthur C Clarke which explained things in a way the movie did not.

2001 is a particularly visual film. Kubrick cut out a lot of dialogue because he wanted the film to stand as “basically a visual, nonverbal experience” that “hits the viewer at an inner level of consciousness, just as music does, or painting.”

2001

Picture courtesy Flickr.com

According to Wikipedia, despite the few people in the cinema with me that day in 1968, the movie went on to become the highest grossing North American movie of that year.

2001 set the pace for the sci-fi movie with its depiction of spacecraft drifting slowly and silently through space. The first Star Trek movie was heavily influenced by 2001 which made it look a little dated when the movie Star Wars was released and did the opposite thing, showing spacecraft whooshing across the screen at incredible speeds.

2001 is a wonderful movie and as well as continual enjoyment, it has also given me a love of Johann Strauss.

March of Pomp and Circumstance.

The March of Pomp and Circumstance was written by Sir Edward Elgar and there are actually six marches altogether. The most famous is the ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ march which traditionally ends the last night at the proms. I first heard this classical piece in the movie ‘Young Winston.’

The music for the movie was written by Alfred Ralston and includes his original work as well as arrangements of Elgar’s music. I used to have the soundtrack to Young Winston on vinyl and on the back cover there were extensive notes by the producer. He rather pompously announced that neither he nor Richard Attenborough, the director, had any interest in making a film about the British Empire, which is rather sad because the British Empire, in my view, was something we British should be rightly proud of. Anyway, Churchill himself was certainly proud of the Empire and his part in it, and in making this film the producers therefore did what they say they didn’t want to do. The movie is based on Winston’s early life, indeed his autobiography of his early days was entitled just that: ‘My Early Life.’ It is a wonderful read and has been made into a lovely film.

One interesting feature of ‘Young Winston’ is that at the end of the film there is a rather poignant scene where Winston, in his later years, falls asleep in his study and has a dream about his late father, his relationship with whom, as we see in the movie, was not good. In the sequence his father, Randolph Churchill, returns to him; he and Winston discuss life and finally part with a sort of understanding nod to each other. I have always thought that it finished the film off rather nicely but whenever I see Young Winston on TV, that scene has been cut. Years ago I bought the video version and the scene had been cut on the video too, so if I ever decide to buy the DVD version, I’ll be checking the running time before I buy!

Manhattan

Manhattan is Woody Allen’s ode to New York. I have always loved that opening sequence with the monologue by Woody. He narrates the opening of his book and is not satisfied with it so starts the book over again. The dialogue goes something like this;

‘Chapter one. He adored New York City. He idolised it out of all proportion.

No, make that he romanticised it out of all proportion.

To him, no matter what the season was, it was a town that existed in black and white and pulsated to the great tunes of George Gershwyn.

Oh no, let me start this over.

Chapter one . . .’

When he finally gets the book opening he wants, then the music of Gershwin’s ‘Rhapsody In Blue’ roars into focus. Manhattan is a movie shot in black and white and is one of Woody Allen’s most famous and successful films. Allen plays a 42-year-old writer who is involved with a 17-year-old girl played by Mariel Hemingway. The photography is wonderful as is the movie. There is a lovely part played by Meryl Streep who plays the part of Allen’s ex-wife who has written a book about their former life together.

How have the movies influenced your music choices?


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Bicycles, Barry White, and a Man with a Chip on his Shoulder

Bicycles, Barry White and a Man with a Cjhip on his Shoulder!Digital memories are pretty easy to save these days. Take a picture with your camera or smartphone and press the save button. That’s your picture saved.

Later you can transfer the picture or video to a laptop or a hard drive for safekeeping. Years ago it wasn’t so easy but at least today you can scan those old photographs into your PC and save them as digital media. Even old videos and 8mm home movies can be digitised and saved if you have the right software.  Still, memories are not just pictures. There are all sorts of things that can trigger your thoughts and bring back some long forgotten moment or event, or just something you haven’t thought of for a while.

It could be a piece of music or passing some old haunt, some pub you used to go in when you were younger but haven’t visited for a long while.

Something that was a trigger for old memories for me was an old tape recording I made when I was in my teens.

I used to make lots of recordings when I was much younger. I saved up and bought a tape cassette recorder and apart from recording music –they call them mix tapes these days but I never heard that term years ago when I was making ‘mix’ tapes- I used to record little plays and sketches I had written. My brother was press ganged into helping with these enterprises and I used various techniques to get him involved:

  1. Bullying
  2. Threats and intimidation.
  3. Violence
  4. Bribery

Yes, they all worked to greater and lesser degrees. It’s funny to listen to the tapes now because I can tell pretty much by his attitude when he went along with me willingly or otherwise. One other inducement I used was swapping. He might want a particular record or something that I had so we would swap that and some weeks later usually swap back. Lots of times I used to swap a record for my bicycle and that’s where I felt I really had one over on Colin, my brother, because he couldn’t, and still can’t ride a bike! Yes, I was on to a winner there because I’d swap my bike for a record or book and I had full use of the item while he couldn’t use the bike because he couldn’t ride it!

One time he really got one over on me. We had swapped my bike for one of his records or something or other; I can’t really remember what. Anyway, one day I went to go out on my bike- OK, his bike- opened the shed and it was gone. What had happened? Had it been stolen, where was it?

‘The bike?’ he answered blithely; he had sold it to his friend because he wanted money to buy a new LP!

My Mother facilitated the removal of my hands from his throat with a firm whack to the back of my head and asked what was going on?

He sold my bike!’ I yelled.

‘Your bike?’ she replied. ‘Didn’t you swap it with him? Isn’t it his bike?’

Yes but, yes but,’ was all I could say.

The tapes were mostly comedy sketches on the lines of Spike Milligan who was then a hero of mine. One of them went like this;

CUE COWBOY MUSIC

ME: Hey Stewart, I’m gonna knock that chip right off your shoulder!

COLIN: That’s no chip –it’s a potato!

ME: King Edward’s?

COLIN: No, he can get his own, it’s one of mine!

(These are the jokes folks, as someone used to say!)

My brother wasn’t the only person I dragged into making tape recordings. My old school friend Steve was a music fan like me. Well, I say like me but his music knowledge was prodigious. Name any record and he would say with certainty- ‘that went to number 2 in July 1974’ or whenever.

There was a radio programme we both liked. It was My Top 12 on Radio 2 and it was something on the lines of ‘desert island discs’. Someone from the music world would be interviewed and would choose their top twelve records.

Anyway, Steve and I decided to make a version for each other. One weekend I interviewed him talking about his favourite music for which he provided full chart statistics, naturally. On another weekend we reversed roles and he interviewed me for which I provided limited chart stats, usually something like, ‘that one just nudged into the top twenty to which my friend would reply, ‘yes, actually number 23 was the highest chart placing in October 1975.’

We slagged off all the music we looked down on and praised all the music we loved. Poor old Barry White (the same Barry White whose Greatest Hits is sometimes played in my car) got something of a drubbing. Steve Harley and Cockney Rebel were praised as a musical discovery of the highest order. (Steve who? Was he the guy who did ‘Come up and See Me, make me smile?)

Through the magic of the digital age I recently processed that old tape and converted it into a CD which I played in my car on the way into work today and it was lovely to listen to my old friend again.

Steve was the inspiration for the character of Matty in my novel Floating In Space. He was a lovely guy although something of a music nerd. We had a parting of the ways years ago when his brother came to rent a room in my house. He proceeded to wind up my bills; gas, electric and telephone, to such an incredible volume I could no longer afford to have him living with me. Steve took his brother’s eviction personally and alas that was the end of our friendship.

I always assumed one day we would have a pint together and talk about music, sci-fi and cult TV once again, just like we used to back in the seventies and eighties. We did keep in touch through an intermediary, my brother Colin. We last had a long telephone chat in the early 1990’s and talked about a reunion. I never heard from him again and when I enquired about him to his sister, whom I located on social media, she revealed he had been taken ill with cancer and had passed away.

Steve, as well as being a great music fan was something of an aircraft anorak too. He stars in my second most watched video on you tube, a documentary we made in 1986 with Steve espousing his love of aircraft. I think he’d be thrilled to find that over 5,000 viewers have watched it.

One tip just to finish with. Hang on to the recordings you make with your iPad and iPhone and all the other modern day gadgets. Keep them safe; invest in a portable hard drive to store them.

Get ready to invest in new software which will convert the files to whatever new application we will be using in the future because in thirty years time you’ll want to look back at those memories and relive those earlier times.


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Terence Rattigan and my Movie Connections.

terence RattiganIt’s always a good feeling when you watch a movie you have really enjoyed. If you are like me then you will usually take a scan through the credits and look for familiar names. Sometimes you will see one that rings a bell; Hey, that director is the same guy who directed one of your real favourites or, that screen writer is the same writer who wrote another movie you enjoyed. That’s what I call a movie connection.

The Winslow Boy is one of my favourite old movies. It was written by Terence Rattigan and adapted from his own play. The original starred Robert Donat (who hailed from Withington in Manchester) playing the part of Sir Robert Morton and was directed by Antony Asquith. You may be more familiar with the recent version starring Jeremy Northam and Nigel Hawthorne which, all things considered, wasn’t a bad film. Anyway, the first time I saw the original movie I made a mental note of Terence Rattigan for future reference.

Here’s another movie: The VIPs, a film about various characters delayed at London Airport due to weather. It’s a lovely movie with great performances by Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor and Margaret Rutherford. It was a movie I really enjoyed so I checked the credits and what did I find? Screenplay by Terence Rattigan. Directed by Anthony Asquith. Yes, I thought, that rings a bell.

A great Sunday afternoon film is The Yellow Rolls Royce. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen it but it is three separate stories, all connected by the Yellow Rolls Royce. My favourite episode is one starring Shirley Maclaine. She is involved with gangster George C Scott and they are on holiday in Italy. When her gangster lover has to return to New York to sort out ‘some business,’ Shirley is left alone with young Italian Alain Delon. She falls in love with him but realises that when George returns, her new lover’s life expectancy will be very short. So, she tells him she doesn’t love him at all and returns to the USA with gangster George. Although he doesn’t realise it, Shirley has saved Alain’s life. As I watched the credits pass by, there were those names again, Anthony Asquith and Terence Rattigan.

rattiganAsquith was the son of the British Prime Minister Herbert Asquith. He was a great friend of Terence Rattigan and they collaborated on 10 films together but it’s Rattigan I want to write about here. Who who was he? Well, he was a playwright who wrote a number of west end hits, many of which were made into films. You may recognise some from this list; The Way to the Stars,  The Winslow Boy, The Browning Version, The Deep Blue Sea, The Price and the Showgirl, Separate Tables, The Sound Barrier and the Yellow Rolls Royce.
Wikipedia says Rattigan was a ‘troubled homosexual, who saw himself as an outsider, and that his plays ‘confronted issues of sexual frustration, failed relationships and adultery.’

He was born in 1911, had quite a privileged upbringing and was educated at Harrow. His first play was ‘French Without Tears’ about a crammer where English students go to learn French. Rattigan joined the Royal Air force at the outbreak of the Second World War and became an air gunner. He used his experiences to write a play called ‘Flare Path’ which eventually became the movie ‘The Way to the Stars’, also directed by Asquith, the DVD version of which resides happily on my DVD shelf.

Terrance RattiganRobert Donat relished the role of Sir Robert Morton in the Winslow Boy. Morton is an MP cum barrister who takes the British Admiralty to court over the sacking of Cadet Winslow. In my favourite scene, Sir Robert Morton questions Ronnie Winslow about the incident in question, that of the theft of a postal order. The questioning goes fairly gently until Sir Robert ups the ante when Ronnie, the Winslow Boy himself, mentions talking to another boy;

RONNIE I said, “Come down to the Post Office with me. I’m going to
cash a postal order.”

SIR ROBERT ‘Cash’ a postal order?

RONNIE I mean ‘get’.

SIR ROBERT You said ‘cash’. Why did you say ‘cash’ if you meant ‘get’?

RONNIE I don’t know.

SIR ROBERT I suggest ‘cash’ was the truth.

RONNIE No, no. It wasn’t, really. You’re muddling me.

SIR ROBERT You seem easily muddled. How many other lies have you told?

RONNIE None. Really, I haven’t.

SIR ROBERT I suggest your whole testimony is a lie.

RONNIE No, it’s the truth.

SIR ROBERT I suggest there is barely one single word of truth in anything you’ve said either to me or to the Judge Advocate or to the Commander. I suggest that you broke into Elliot’s locker, that you stole the postal order for five shillings belonging to Elliot, that you cashed it by means of forging his name.

RONNIE I didn’t. I didn’t.

SIR ROBERT
I suggest that by continuing to deny your guilt you’re causing great hardship to your own family and considerable annoyance to high and important persons in this country.

CATHERINE
That is a disgraceful thing to say.

SIR ROBERT
I suggest that the time has at last come for you to undo some of the misery you have caused by confessing to us all now that you are a forger, a liar, and a thief!

CATHERINE
How dare you!

RONNIE
I’m not. I’m not. I didn’t do it.

It looks like everything is all over then Sir Robert asks for all the available papers to be sent to him. ‘Is that necessary now?’ asks someone.

‘Of course’, replies Morton. ‘The boy is plainly innocent. I accept the brief.’

There is also a rather subtle flirtation between Catherine, Ronnie Winslow’s elder sister and Sir Robert. Catherine comments ‘how little you know about women’ to Sir Robert after an exchange between the two. He later replies to her when she doubts she will see him again, ‘How little you know about men, Miss Winslow!’

The Winslow Boy is a delightful film which captures perfectly that ‘upstairs, downstairs’ life in the early part of the twentieth century. Look out for excellent supporting performances from Jack Watling and Kathleen Harrison as well as those of the feature players, Robert Donat and Margaret Leighton. You may have to search ebay for the DVD version as the movie is not one of those we see often on terrestrial TV.

Remember, don’t forget to check the credits on a film. You may find a lot of familiar names on the movies you love!


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