F1 2019 and the Sky TV Era

The start of a new formula one racing season is always an exciting time. Drivers have settled into their teams, the testing of the new cars is over, the journalists are busy making their predictions and we, the fans and viewers, can finally settle down to watch the first race.

Photo by Ajeet Mestry on Unsplash

Great, but this year is the start of a new era in television. Live F1 has vanished from terrestrial TV and if you want to see the races and their qualifying sessions live you must now cough up £10 per month to subscribe to F1 on Sky and that’s on top of the charge for the basic Sky TV service. Just to rub that fact in, the very first advertisement shown on the first ad break on the qually show on terrestrial TV’s Channel 4 was an ad for Sky TV’s F1 coverage!

Today we are in a sort of elitist TV age where those willing to spend a great deal of money can see all the latest and trendiest TV shows whilst the rest of us have to make do with whatever the BBC, ITV, Channel Four and all the other Freeview channels can offer.

I have heard that Game if Thrones is something pretty exciting, in fact the other day one of my work colleagues told me she was ‘obsessed’ by the show. As far as I know it’s some kind of sci fi fantasy show with a liberal handful of sex thrown in but sadly, as it’s not available on terrestrial TV, I am not one of the lucky few who can watch it.

In a few years’ time we might get a rerun on the BBC but by then all the fuss and excitement will be over and some new show will be in the limelight. I can just imagine perhaps turning to that same work colleague and saying something about a Game of Thrones and her replying, ‘Game of what?’

Ah, the fickle nature of TV. Anyway, back to the F1 season and you might perhaps be thinking if this guy is so keen on F1 why not cough up the dough and subscribe to Sky? Subscribe? Pay for TV that traditionally has been free? My generation can of course remember the days of black and white TV, the days of only two or even one channel. TV to us is like free school milk, the NHS, the number 17 bus. TV is something one takes for granted and as for actually paying for it, surely that’s undemocratic, unBritish and simply unacceptable!

So what is happening then in the world of F1? Are Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton still at the top? Are Ferrari still challenging? Of course they are. The big story for me was the ninth place qualifying spot of Lando Norris in the McLaren. McLaren were once one of the giants of the sport but in the last few years they have slid down towards the back of the grid. Their relationship with Honda fizzled out but when they strapped a Renault engine to the back of their car they still found themselves under performing and that excuse of blaming the Honda engine was no longer acceptable. Either way, it was enough for star driver Fernando Alonso to throw in the towel and say ‘I’m off!’

Hopefully McLaren have started down the road which may one day return them to the winners circle. Another once great team, Williams are not looking good either. Paddy Lowe who contributed so much to the success at Mercedes has not been able to work the same technical magic at Williams and they have found fundamental issues with their new car, so much so that Paddy has had to take a break from the team for ‘personal reasons’.

Only Ferrari seem to have been able to keep their team viable across the changing vista of Formula one. Lotus, Brabham and many others have come and gone. Will Williams and McLaren be able to carry on? Only time will tell. Neither team finished in the points in Australia but at least the performance of McLaren was encouraging. Williams though were not looking good. During the interviews from the paddock the shouts of the fans praising F1 returnee Robert Kubica were quite evident. Kubica’s story is one of those great F1 success stories. Kubica, a rising star and Grand Prix winner had turned to rallying prior to the beginning of the 2011 season but was involved in a terrible crash in which his right arm was partially severed. Surgeons were able to sew the arm back on but the terrible injuries left Robert with reduced mobility in his hand. Now, many years later, Kubica is back on the F1 grid and with a few adjustments to his Williams steering wheel, he is back racing once again. Sadly, he is driving a car not worthy of his talents but with his feedback and the talents of the Williams engineers, maybe things can be turned around. Everyone loves a comeback story.

Valtteri Bottas took Mercedes back to the winners’ circle once again and brought home an extra point for fastest lap. That single point incidentally is something new for 2019, a point for the fastest lap. So, we might find that no longer will drivers decide to rest their engines on the final laps, in fact they will be putting the hammer down in an effort to bag that one extra point for fastest lap.

Getting back to Valtteri, the Finnish driver didn’t have such a good season last year so this win was exactly what he needed. The Ferrari’s took fourth spot for Sebastian Vettel and he didn’t look too happy about it but things could have been a lot worse.

The Red Bull team came home in third place with a great drive from Verstappen in their new Honda powered car. It looks as though Honda might be finally getting things together.

Yes, I may moan about Formula One and pay per view TV but I did manage to get to the 2pm Channel Four broadcast time without finding out who the winner was. I had steered clear of the Internet, no mean feat for cyber geek like me. I didn’t even look at my emails because that could have given rise to the possibility of seeing an e-mail about the event. I subscribe to a number of F1 web sites and their e-mail newsletters always have the winner’s name in the subject so e-mails and Internet were a no-no. TV news? No, kept well away from that too.

Yes, I managed to stay well away from the media and as a result the race was almost as enjoyable as watching it live.

Well, almost but not quite.


Floating in Space is a novel by author Steve Higgins set in Manchester, 1977. Click the links at the top of the page to buy or for more information.

Star Wars, Remakes and Dealing with Man-Flu

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

A Completely Inaccurate and Unreliable History of TV and Film Time Travel!

I think I’ll start this post with that fabulous time travel film Back to the Future. If you have never seen it, (shame on you) the film concerns young Marty McFly who helps his friend Doc Brown with a time travel experiment. The time machine is a 1985 DeLorean sports car which morphs through time when it reaches the magical speed of 88 mph. The experiment goes horribly wrong when a gang of Libyan terrorists whom the Doc has double crossed in order to get some vital nuclear supplies for his car/time machine arrive and shoot the Doc apparently dead.

Marty escapes in the DeLorean, accidentally hits the time travel switch (the flux capacitor) and zooms back to 1955 when he speeds up to 88 mph.
There Marty has to enlist the help of Doc Brown’s younger self, get his parents’ romance back on course after accidentally knocking that off target, and get himself back to 1985 in time to prevent the Doc being murdered by terrorists.

In Back to the Future 2, Crispin Glover, who played Marty’s dad, failed to agree terms with the producers so was not in films 2 or 3. Instead a look-alike actor was used prompting Glover to sue the production company. His legal challenge failed but next time you watch 2 and 3, that’s why Marty’s dad isn’t in the film much!

There are some great little touches to the film too, some you may not even have noticed, for instance, when Marty leaves 1985 and goes back to the past, he departs from the Twin Pines Mall. There, in 1955 he hits a pine tree and later arrives back in 1985 at the Lone Pine Mall!

In the final film Doc Brown gets accidentally flipped back to 1885 and Marty has to time travel back there to save the Doc. How does he know the Doc is in 1885? Well, the Doc arranges for a courier service to deliver a message to Marty at the exact time and spot where he disappears and flips back to 1885. Of course as Marty rescued him and brought him back to the future, then he wouldn’t have been there to write the message for the courier, well wouldn’t he? Maybe he wrote the message before departing!

Funnily enough, that is a similar situation in one of my favourite of the rebooted Doctor Who episodes, Blink. The doctor, played by David Tennant, gets stuck in the past courtesy of the Weeping Angels, aliens who appear frozen when watched but otherwise move in the blink of an eye. However he manages to add some special video links to a future DVD so people in the present can pick up his messages and help him.

Blink is possibly the most beloved episode of the modern Doctor Who era, with an oddball mystery that is intriguing and a slightly off beat approach to the show’s usual format, focusing mainly on a new character named Sally Sparrow instead of David Tennant’s Doctor. Sally is played by the now famous Carey Mulligan, and her portrayal of a normal young woman who has to solve a crazy time mystery when her friend is transported to the past by a living angel statue won her plenty of fans among the Doctor Who faithful.

Really though, the best Doctor Who episodes were back in the 1980’s with Tom Baker as the Doctor and Elizabeth Sladen as assistant Sarah Jane Smith. A great episode was Pyramids of Mars, which combines sci- fi with the mystery of Egyptian tombs and artefacts. The Tardis materialises back at Unit headquarters in the UK. (UNIT by the way, is a military organisation the Doctor worked with in the 1980’s.) However, they are not at the current time period but have arrived earlier, in 1911. A great country house is there and it appears that a mysterious Egyptian has taken over the late Professor Scarman’s estate and there are many strange goings on. Later the Doctor finds that an ancient alien called Sutekh, imprisoned thousands of years ago by another alien, Horus is trying to escape captivity and wreak death and destruction on the universe. The Doctor, naturally, foils his plans.

Doctor Who is the world’s longest running sci-fi show having been first broadcast on the 22nd November 1963. Not many people watched the show that day as most people were desperate to find out about the Kennedy assassination and so it was repeated again the following week. William Hartnell, the original doctor, left the show in 1966 and the role passed to Patrick Troughton. The producers came up with the ingenious idea of having the doctor, an alien from the planet Gallifrey, regenerating into another body making it easy to reboot the series every time the lead actor left.

Star Trek, although not really a time travel programme actually had quite a few episodes which involved time travel. The fans’ firm favourite, an episode voted the best ever Star Trek episode, was City on the Edge of Forever. The crew of the Enterprise arrive at a distant planet searching for the source of some time displacement. The source is a time portal, left among the ruins of an ancient civilisation which although abandoned, still emits waves of time displacement. In the meantime, Doctor McCoy is suffering from paranoia brought on by an accidental overdose of the wonder drug cordrazine which any Star Trek fan will tell you can cure any known Galactic ailment. McCoy in his crazed state bumbles through the time portal, back to 1930’s America (handy for that old 1930’s set on the Paramount back lot) and changes history. Kirk and Spock are forced to also go back in time, stop McCoy from changing history and restore things to as they were. Joan Collins plays a charity worker at the core of events; does she have to die in order to restore things to as they were?

In the Star Trek movie world there was another great time travel film, Star Trek 4 in which earth is threatened by a space vehicle causing havoc with the world’s weather. It turns out that the aliens are sending signals in whale-speak so the crew travel back to the 1980’s in order to find a hump back whale which can respond to the aliens. Sounds a bit mad when I put it like that but actually Star Trek 4 was one of the best Trek films. Highlights included Mr Spock diving into a giant pool and mind melding with a whale and later asking a punk rocker to turn down his ghetto blaster.

I must of course mention the sixties show the Time Tunnel the Irwin Allen show about two American scientists ‘lost in the swirling maze of past and future ages, during the first experiments on America’s greatest and most secret project, the Time Tunnel. Tony Newman and Doug Phillips now tumble helplessly toward a new fantastic adventure, somewhere along the infinite corridors of time’ as the opening blurb used to go.

The Time Tunnel starts off with a Congressman coming to investigate the growing budget of the time tunnel complex and threatens to close things down unless he sees results. Scientist Tony Newman decides he must therefore travel back in time to prove that the tunnel really works and save the project. Tony ends up on the ill-fated liner Titanic. His colleague Doug follows him back to 1912 and the control room struggle to shift the two in time before the ship sinks. Unable to return the duo to the present,  the technicians struggle every week to shift the duo to somewhere new just in the nick of time. One episode that I particularly remember was when the pair land in Pearl Harbour, just before the Japanese attack in 1941. Tony meets himself as a young boy and finally solves the mystery of the disappearance of his father in the attack.

I’m at the point of running out of time travel TV shows but here is one great time travel movie, 12 Monkeys. I didn’t like it the first time I saw it then some time later I saw part of the film again and thought, hey, maybe this film isn’t so bad. The third time I saw it all the way through and did enjoy it although it can be a little hard to follow. 12 Monkeys was inspired by the French short film La Jetée made in 1962 and it goes something like this; Bruce Willis plays prisoner James Cole who lives in a post apocalyptic society in the year 2035 where people are forced to live underground after a deadly virus was released in 1996 which wiped out most of humanity. The virus was released by a group known only as the 12 Monkeys and Cole is selected to be sent back into the past to try and find the original virus so scientists can perfect a cure. Cole is plagued by a vision which constantly returns to him in which a man is shot dead on a railway station and as the film reaches its final moments, this tragic vision is finally explained.

I’ve tried to keep this post pretty much research free so no doubt numerous errors and omissions will be evident. What was your favourite time travel film or TV episode?


Floating in Space is a novel set in Manchester 1977. Click the links at the top of the page to buy or for more information.

Cary Grant, Peter Sellers and Home Movies.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Peter Sellers Story: As He Filmed It.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Part One

Part Two

Part Three


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

Ally Mcbeal, Eddie the Eagle and my TV Hard Drive

Looking back at some of my previous posts I see that back in April I was waxing lyrical about the onset of spring, the lengthening of the days and how nice it was to finish a night shift and find myself greeted by daylight as I left my workplace.

This week I was back on the night shift again but as I climbed into my car I had to crank up the heater for the first time in many months. I always think that September going into October is a sad time of the year. The days get shorter, the weather is colder and it is time to start wearing my fleece to work.

Being back home after three weeks in France is frankly, something of a let-down. The washer is humming away cleaning our holiday gear. I’m thinking about where I can put all that unnecessary stuff I bought at the brocantes and vide greniers we visited. The prospect of returning to work is no longer looming on the horizon, the moment is actually here. There was a time, I remember sadly, when I actually loved my job and looked forward to going back to work. Alas, those days are gone.

My car, my trusty Renault Megane convertible is a veritable hive of CDs. The glove compartment is full of them as are the pockets in the driver and passenger doors. Down in the passenger footwell there is a box of CDs which is interchangeable with one in the boot. When I get fed up with the selection I swap them round and the box I am tired of goes in the boot and the other one comes into the front. When I am tired of both boxes, I take them back home and make up a new selection.

Today, going back into work I had a good search through them for something new to listen to. Radio adverts are just not on my agenda. TV adverts, OK I can live with them, you can pop into the kitchen and make a cup of tea, yes, OK but radio ads: Not on my watch as they say. Anyway, the CD I decided to listen to was an album of songs from the TV show Ally McBeal, mostly by Vonda Shepard but with a sprinkling of guest singers. Ally McBeal was a comedy drama that aired back in the nineties and it’s surprising that it hasn’t turned up on some random Freeview TV channel yet. Ally McBeal played by Calista Flockhart was a Boston Lawyer and the show focussed on the antics of Ally and her colleagues not only in the courtroom but also in the local bar, which is where the music comes in. There were a heck of a lot of songs sung in that bar.

Music played a major part in the show and Vonda Shepard covered some classic pop tunes all slotted in carefully with lyrics that corresponded to the storyline of the show. One of my absolute favourites was Vonda’s cover of Gilbert O’Sullivan’s ‘Alone Again (Naturally)’ a hit single for O’Sullivan from 1972.

Gilbert O’Sullivan featured regularly in the music charts until the 1980’s when he began a legal battle with his music publisher Dick James regarding royalties and the ensuing legal contest stopped him from releasing his music.

In Ally McBeal, John Cage and Richard Fish were the co-owners of the law firm where Ally works. Cage was an oddball attorney nicknamed ‘the biscuit’. I loved his odd ways, his ‘taking a moment’, his antics in the communal toilet area and his invocation of the spirit of Barry White when he needed a confidence boost. Richard Fish was another oddball lawyer and also part of the firm was Billy, Ally’s former boyfriend and his new wife Georgia. Legal cases were up there in the foreground, actually the background and in the background, actually the foreground, if you see what I mean, were the loves and lives of the cast.

One thing that was important on returning home from holiday was checking the hard drive on my TV recorder and finding out just what was lurking there. What had recorded and what had failed.

There was of course three weeks of our favourite soap, Coronation Street lying in wait so we decided to have a duvet day, actually two duvet days of non-stop soap action. In some ways Corrie is best watched just like that. Fast forward through the adverts and no waiting between Friday night’s cliff hanger episode and the Monday night follow-up.

Some things seem to sort of leap out when you watch a soap in that fashion. One storyline involved Sean Tully, one of the Street’s gay characters. Sean packed his job in at the local factory in favour of a new job and new flat in the city centre. It turned out though that his job had fallen through, then he returned to live with friends who had to give him notice due to some new arrangements. Then it was revealed Sean had lost his job and now was actually homeless. Sean endured a few weeks of living rough in a tent and trying to conceal the shame of his new position from friends but suddenly, the way it is in soaps, his old friend Billy offered him a room at his house, he got his old job back and hey presto, all is well again.

It was nice that the soap tried to show a little of what life is like for the homeless but couldn’t they have carried the storyline on a little longer, like things are in, you know, real life?

Then again there was the storyline when poor old Rita started losing her memory and was diagnosed with dementia. Luckily there was that quick lifesaving operation and Rita’s brain power and memory were restored just like it never happens in real life. And there was the one about young Simon who had become violent towards his mother. Luckily, he quickly grew out of that phase. Oh well, that’s soaps for you.

Also there on my hard drive were two formula one Grands Prix. The Belgian Grand Prix from the impressive and historic Spa Francorchamps and the Italian race from the equally historic Monza. There was a time too when I would have hungered to watch those races. As it is, Formula One still has its moments and I do still love the sport but not like the days when I bought a shed load of racing magazines every week and hungered for every snippet of racing information I could find.

While in France I subscribed to Radio Five Live’s F1 podcasts. Now the podcasts are not quite what I had thought they were going to be. I thought they might be an audio version of the race highlights with the commentators breathlessly describing the race track action in the way Murray Walker used to do in the old days. (Murray, for those of you who have never heard of him, was a BBC commentator who was once described as a man who talks like his trousers are on fire -in his quieter moments!)

No, the podcasts were not like that. They start off, unlike the TV highlights show on Channel 4, by telling you the results, and just how they came about. Then there are 30 to 50 minutes of driver interviews and endless discussion about what happened, why it happened and why didn’t something that didn’t happen, not happen. Yes, interesting but maybe the production team assumed we listeners had watched the race on TV. Actually we hadn’t, or at least I hadn’t, which is why I was listening to the podcast in the first place.

There were some exciting elements to those races, Hamilton and Vettel colliding at the first corner at Monza and Hamilton hunting down Raikkonen’s Ferrari and just pipping him for the win. Still, watching those races a few weeks after they had happened just wasn’t my cup of tea.

Anyway, soon it was time to go back to work but before that we sat down one evening after our tea looking for something to watch. Nothing was on TV (naturally) so once again I scanned through the hard drive and came across a film I had recorded about Eddie the Eagle.

In 1988, Eddie became the first skier to represent Britain in Olympic Ski jumping since 1928. The film describes Eddie’s life as an Olympic obsessed youngster and his progression to ski jumper. He self-trains in Germany where the seasoned skiers belittle him. However by grit and determination, Eddie qualifies for the Olympics in Calgary despite resistance by the Olympic team for his amateur and uncouth appearance. Eddie turns the tables on everyone by his determination and humour and in fact becomes the star of the Olympics, feted by the world’s press.

The film is an enjoyable and affectionate portrait. I’m not sure just how accurate or true it is but I enjoyed every minute of it and if I had been there at the Olympics, I would have been cheering for Eddie myself.

Well, that first night shift was hard. Not actually hard in itself just hard to endure, sitting there wishing I was back in my rented villa tapping away on my laptop trying to finish a new blog post so that I could hurry out for a dip in the pool, after decanting some vin rouge to breathe, of course.

When I finished at 6 am it was still dark and rather cold. As I pulled away from the car park I turned up the heat and switched on the CD player. Vonda Shepard was singing another of my favourite songs, a cover of the Dusty Springfield’s hit, I Only Want to be With You . .


Floating in Space is a novel by Steve Higgins set in Manchester, 1977. Click the links at the top of the page to buy or for more information.

 

10 Famous and Not So famous Cars!

The Batmobile.

No, I’m not thinking of the one that locks up in a sort of caterpillar way, although I’d love to have a car that does that. Nor am I thinking of the one that resembles a tank. Just in case I’ve lost you here I’m talking about the comic strip hero Batman and his motor car, the Batmobile. Batman has progressed from comic strip to TV to the big screen but my favourite Batmobile is the one from the 1960’s TV series starring Adam West as the Caped Crusader and Burt Ward as Robin, the Boy Wonder. The dynamic duo regularly leapt over the doors into the car ready for a quick getaway in their pursuit of the dastardly villains of the 1960’s such as the Penguin, the Joker and so on. I used to have a Corgi model version if I remember correctly.

John Steed’s car

Patrick MacNee played the debonair John Steed in TV’s the Avengers and his car throughout much of the series life was a vintage Bentley. Steed, just like the dynamic duo, had a habit of leaping over his car doors. Must have scuffed those leather seats with his shoes though, I wouldn’t be happy about that. If you have ever read the original James Bond novels, you’ll know that Bond’s personal car was a Bentley, although it can’t have looked too good after Hugo Drax forced him to crash in Ian Fleming’s novel Moonraker. If you are thinking well, I saw the film and I don’t remember that bit, I think it’s fair to say that the books are usually pretty different to the films!

The Saint’s Volvo.

Simon Templar alias the Saint, played by Roger Moore, drove a white Volvo P1800 with the registration plate, ST1, which by my reckoning, if that was a real plate, would be worth quite a few bob today. In fact, if I had that few bob I might be tempted to buy it for myself. ST1, yes, that’d look pretty good on my old Renault Megane!

James Bond’s Aston Martin.

One of the memes I use frequently on Twitter is one of Sean Connery, exclaiming ‘ejector seat? You’re joking!’ to his technical colleague Q in the James Bond film Goldfinger. Bond’s Aston Martin DB11 had a variety of gadgets ranging from the aforementioned ejector seat to rotating number plates, forward facing machine guns (just the job to deal with road rage issues) and oil and smokescreen ejectors to fend off any following bad guys. In a later Bond film, Die Another Day, Bond, this time played by Pierce Brosnan, had an invisible car. Pity Brosnan didn’t reprise the ‘you’re joking’ line in that film which was Brosnan’s last outing as 007.

Steve McQueen’s Car.

The movie Bullitt was a classic cop film. OK, the plot was a little complicated but the car chase was the classic movie car chase of all time. McQueen drove a Ford Mustang 390 GT. Its 6.4 litre engine making a throaty roar as McQueen gunned his car in pursuit of the bad guys. I used to think his car was a Ford Cougar which is why I got all excited when I once used a hire car and was told over the phone it was a Ford Cougar. It turned out to be a different car altogether, a Ford Kuga!

‘Back to the Future’ 1981 DeLorean DMC-12

In the Back to the Future time travel trilogy, Marty McFly ends up back in the 1950’s courtesy of the time machine installed in the car by wacky inventor Dr Emmett Brown. The car warps into the past, or future, whenever the car’s time circuits are activated and the car hit 88mph. That of course happens to Marty McFly early on in the movie and he ends up back in 1955. There he meets a younger version of Doc Brown and he agrees to help Marty return Back to the Future. A great film and a pretty nice looking motor for the mid 1980’s. I particularly liked the gull wing doors.

‘Smokey and the Bandit’ 1977 Pontiac Trans Am

Still on the subject of films, ‘Smokey and the Bandit’ was the second highest grossing movie of 1977, second only to Star Wars. It’s about a trucker known as ‘the Bandit’ who is paid a large amount of dollars to get 400 cases of Coors beer across the state boundary from Texas into Georgia. I don’t exactly know much about US State boundaries or whether it was illegal or not but anyway, Burt Reynolds plays the ‘Bandit’, who recruits fellow trucker ‘the Snowman’, to drive the beer truck while the Bandit himself drives a Pontiac Trans-Am to lure any ‘smokies’ or police, away from the beer laden truck. Along the way the Bandit picks up the lovely Sally Field and finds himself being pursued by Texas Sheriff Buford T. Justice. Sounds pretty simple doesn’t it? A Guy, a fast car, a lovely girl and a whole load of fun filled action packed car chases. It’s a great film and that Pontiac is a great looking motor car.

Number Six’s Lotus 7.

Remember The Prisoner from the late 60’s? Well if you don’t, it was a sci-fi fantasy-espionage TV show starring Patrick McGoohan. McGoohan stars as ‘Number 6’, a British agent who resigns and is kidnapped from his home, waking up in in the mysterious ‘village’ where the man in charge, Number 2, wants information. The opening sequence shows McGoohan driving around London in the rather lovely Lotus 7 and then back to his London flat where his mysterious abductors pounce. I’ve always rather fancied a Lotus 7, although I do like my creature comforts such as my CD player and my air con. Doesn’t look like there is much room in the Lotus for all my CD’s either!

Starsky and Hutch  Ford Gran Torino

Cast your mind back to the year 1975. Remember the TV cop show Starsky and Hutch? Well if you don’t then maybe you caught the movie version released in 2004. I say movie ‘version’ because the film is a sort of tongue in cheek comedy version of the TV show. Actually, neither the film nor the TV show were that great in my opinion but I did like their car which was a Ford Gran Torino in a rather lovely shade of red with white flashes down the side. Not sure if the car was much use during covert shadowing operations but hey, it looked fantastic!

My Car

If you are a big fan of film noir, you’ll have probably noticed that a lot of Los Angeles based detectives and their New York counterparts too, have a habit of parking up and leaving their cars with windows open and without any attempt at putting the roof down or locking up. If I left my car like that when I visit the council estate where I used to live I’d be lucky if my car was still there when I returned. Or if it was still there, then I’d be lucky to see the wheels still attached. TV detectives like Simon Templar for instance, also rarely lock their cars or even carry any keys for that matter. Anyway, as I’ve mentioned my car I might as well tell you more. My car is a Renault Megane convertible. I’ve always wanted a convertible and so in a way, this car is a lifelong dream. I probably would have preferred a Porsche or a Chevrolet but what the heck, I love my Renault. It’s nice to drive, supremely comfortable, well, for me anyway. Liz hates it as because of her back problems she needs a more sit up straight seat; for me, the slightly reclining position is perfect. One negative comment about the Megane: I always feel slightly embarrassed when a bulb blows because I have to take it to the garage to have another fitted. Why is fitting a light bulb so difficult in cars these days?

Just recently the weather in late April in the UK has warmed up and the other day it was time to take a drive with the ‘hood down’ as they say in American films. I do love the process of dropping the roof, hearing the smooth whine of the electric motor as the windows drop and the roof folds away into the boot. Whenever I do that I always hear the theme tune to Thunderbirds in my head and feel just a little like Scott Tracy as he slides his way from the lounge on Tracy Island over to Thunderbird 1. One interesting observation came to me today on the way to work. It was a lovely sunny afternoon and I motored along serenely with my hair ruffling ever so slightly in the breeze, the sun was warm on my head and shadows flickered lightly across my tinted lenses. I noticed a number of convertibles out on the road, some slightly more glamorous vehicles than mine, others not quite up to scratch. One thing they all seemed to have in common was that in all cases the driver was a middle aged follically challenged man wearing tinted lenses or sunglasses. Some would say that is a description that rather resembles me; surely not! Then again, perhaps certain people of a certain age and certain disposition lean towards a certain motorcar of the more open to the elements type. Oh well. . .

Now, I’m a little stuck for a video here but I did find this one, a sort of test video with my then new camera!


 Floating in Space is a novel set in Manchester, 1977. To find out more click the links at the top of the page or click here to go straight to Amazon.

 

 

Two DVD’s, a TV Movie and a VHS Tape

To Rome with Love.

I do love getting a new DVD, especially when it’s one from eBay and only cost a couple of pounds. My latest buy was this one from Woody Allen. It’s quite a significant one really because it marks the first on-screen appearance of Woody in one of his own films since the 2006 film Scoop. It’s a lovely gentle relaxing film, with no car chases, shootings, murders or explosions. There are a number of intercut stories in the film, none of which ever converge together or are even related, except that they all occur in Rome. Woody plays a retired classical music producer who tries to record his daughter’s new father in law who happens to have great singing voice when he’s in the shower. Unfortunately, singing out of the shower doesn’t work for him. Another story is that of a local Roman who suddenly becomes famous and is mobbed by the media every time he appears. Beautiful women pass him their numbers, paparazzi photograph him constantly, TV crews ask him questions whenever he steps outside. One day the press attention disappears and passes to someone else. At first the fellow thinks great, I’ve got my life back. Later he starts to miss the attention. The disappointing thing is that no reason is given for this attention. Clearly the director is making a point about fame but if it was my film I think I’d have tried to explain things more, maybe the guy is interviewed on TV and becomes popular or something. Still, I doubt if Woody Allen needs advice from me!

There are two other intercut stories, one involving a young girl who gets involved with an Italian movie star while her boyfriend is waiting to introduce her, his future bride, to his parents. While that is going on a prostitute mistakenly enters the boyfriend’s hotel room and the parents mistake her for the future bride. Another story is a love triangle with a female friend moving in with a couple and the boyfriend gets the hots for her.

A great deal of the dialogue is in Italian with English subtitles which gives the film a real continental feeling. All in all, an excellent film that has its faults but I loved it all the same.

Midnight in Paris.

I’m not a great fan of Owen Wilson but this is the first film of his I’ve ever seen where I have actually started to like him. Wilson plays Gil Pender, a writer who is trying to finish his novel. He comes to Paris with his wife and the in-laws who he doesn’t particularly care for. They also bump into his wife’s friend Paul, a know-it-all character who Gil dislikes. Gil wanders away from the others at midnight and finds himself in the Paris of the 1920’s, meeting Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Hemingway and other past literary figures. The encounters with past figures continue and they help Gil to sort out both his book and his love life.

Wilson is excellent in the film and actually reminds me a lot of Woody Allen himself, playing a part that Woody would perhaps have played had the movie been made back in the 70s or 80s. All in all, a lovely film and another cheap addition to my DVD collection thanks to eBay.

Four Weddings and a Funeral

I’ve not seen this film for a while so it was great to see it pop up on my TV screen recently. I sometimes think of Four Weddings as a sort of modern Ealing Comedy, if Ealing were still making movies of course. There are a couple of elements that stop it from being perfect. One is the use of the F word. Why make a gentle comedy and then throw in a few gratuitous F words? I really don’t get it. The other thing is this, Hugh Grant plays a character who falls in love with a girl played by Andie McDowell. Andie McDowell, I’m sorry to say, doesn’t do it for me at all. She’s not, to me, that great looking and has a particularly irritating voice, all of which makes it a little difficult for me to identify with the Hugh Grant character, who, as I mentioned, has the hots for her.

In many ways I have a similar problem with the Steve Martin film LA Story. Steve’s character has the hots for a girl played by Victoria Tennant who is very pleasant, very nice but sadly, she doesn’t do it for me either. Happily, I can honestly say that in Casablanca I can fully identify with the Humphrey Bogart character, although whether I would have put Ingrid Bergman on the plane and stayed behind with Claude Rains, well that’s another matter.

Four Weddings and a Funeral is the movie that brought fame to writer Richard Curtis and actor Hugh Grant, as the announcer on Film 4 mentioned. Strangely, he didn’t mention Mike Newell, who directed the film. Funny how the credit from a successful film doesn’t always get spread equally around.

Capricorn One

I think I’ve mentioned before about staying at my Mother’s house. Upstairs is my little bedroom, so very similar to the room I used to inhabit when I was a child. In there I have lots of my books, tapes, vinyl record albums and a stack of my old VHS tapes. For those of you who were not around in the VHS era, a standard VHS cassette lasted around three hours. You could get two-hour tapes or even four-hour ones but three hours was the standard. In recording terms that meant this: You could record a two-hour movie and a one hour show onto a three-hour standard tape, or even three one hour shows, six half hour shows or any combination in between. I don’t know why but I used to really hate having an hour of empty tape left after a movie so I was always trying to fit something in there so I’d be always finding room for a sixty minute documentary or something.

On one old tape I was came across, the label had been torn off so I popped it into my old TV/VHS recorder combo to see what had been recorded. I watched a half hour segment of a news report about buses in Manchester. All fairly interesting but as I fast-forwarded through the tape I came across that great movie Capricorn One. In case you don’t remember it, the film was about the first manned mission to Mars which is faked by NASA. The crew of the space probe are forced to go along with the deception but later change their minds. The film was, I think, inspired by those conspiracy theorists that think the Apollo 11 moon landing was faked. Anyway, I stopped the film, put it on pause, nipped quickly downstairs to make a cup of tea and a sandwich. Returning quickly back to my room I settled down with my snack, got myself all comfy and pressed play. About an hour later, Capricorn One had burned up in re-entry because of a heat shield malfunction and the crew who were never even onboard were trying to escape when there was a clunk and the playback stopped. Yes, back in 1987 or whenever, I had tried to record a two-hour film and a documentary on a two-hour tape! Three into two, as they say, does not go. Oh well, back to the search page on eBay!


Steve Higgins is the author of Floating in Space set in Manchester, 1977. Click the links at the top of the page for more information!

Soaps, Comedians and a DVD: This year’s Christmas TV

Now we are well into 2018 I thought I’d take a quick look back to the recent Christmas and New Year TV. I don’t know about you but for me it just wasn’t really up to standard, at least not on terrestrial TV or ‘proper’ TV as I call it. Christmas on proper TV was all about soaps, Doctor Who and old shows from the TV of yesteryear.

Coronation Street.

Eastenders has never been my cup of tea but I do like Coronation Street. What has been a little disappointing this year is that this soap, set in my home town of Manchester, has drifted away from a lot of the things I used to like about it. It’s not as ‘northern’ as it used to be, or as funny as in the Jack Duckworth and Hilda Ogden days and the current storyline about Pat Phelan which involves kidnapping and murder is just not what I want. I just wish Pat would go away and we could return to storylines about affairs, illicit relationships, and domestic issues with a large dose of tongue-in-cheek humour thrown in. In a recent Coronation Street special about Jean Alexander, who played the warbling Hilda, the many funny and amusing sides of her character were shown, including a very sad and touching  moment when she returns home after the death of her husband and opens a bag of his effects, clothes and spectacles and so on. The sight of these few simple items reduced Hilda to tears -and many viewers along with her. Those were the days when simple observations like that, some sad, some funny, took the series to ever higher dramatic standards.

Doctor Who.

Another Christmas broadcast that was pretty enjoyable was this year’s Doctor Who special which reunited the current doctor with the original, recreated by actor David Bradley and linked together their regenerations. Just to explain, Doctor Who is the UK’s longest running sci-fi show and one aspect that has helped it continue is that when the lead actor leaves the show, the doctor ‘regenerates’ into a new personality, and of course, a new actor. In this case, Peter Capaldi is leaving and Jodie Whittaker is the new and controversial female doctor. Sound a bit weird? Well, sounds very odd to me. It’s rather like those things you hear on the Internet where people call for a black or even a female James Bond. Bond of course is a white, upper class male and that is the only way to play him. A female Doctor Who? How that will work out is anybody’s guess but this year’s Doctor Who was a good episode, if a tad wordy which is the main problem for me with the modern version of Doctor Who.

Sarah Millican.

Sarah Millican, just for those who have never heard of her, is a Geordie comedian and on Christmas day Liz and I watched three of her stage performances back to back on one of the Freeview channels. Sarah isn’t for me a laugh out loud kind of comedian but she is amusing. She is one of those observational comedians, the ones who take nondescript things and make them into funny monologues. Think Peter Kaye and Garlic bread or Michael McIntyre and bad breath. I tend to prefer my comedians to just tell jokes the old-fashioned way but no, that’s not the way comics work these days. One of the funniest moments in Sarah’s routine was one in which she overheard three older ladies talking about what they would do if they became men for a day. One of the women answered, ‘knowing my luck I’d get a Tuesday –and what can you do on a Tuesday?’

As I watched these three performances, all pretty amusing, I started thinking how I could make some of my blogs into a comic routine. (They call them ‘stand up’ comedians these days so I wonder how they would class Dave Allen, the comedian who used to sit on a stool with a glass of whisky nearby?) Anyway, take one of my posts like The day the Cat War Started perhaps. That might make a reasonable comedy monologue. Introducing the neighbours, then the cats, then the confusion of the cats I was supposed to be feeding while my neighbours were away. Possible career change? Well, perhaps not!

There’s Something about Mary.

A great deal of this Christmas and New Year TV I haven’t watched ‘live’ as it were, I just pressed the record button and kept them for a quieter day so I have yet to see 50 years of Star Trek and a couple of Star Wars documentaries from BBC4 but I did watch ‘There’s Something about Mary‘ on New Year’s Eve as we declined to venture out in the face of a major rainstorm. We could have gone out later I suppose but by then the fire had been lit, the wine had been poured and the cheese was warming. The TV guide mentioned something about this film being a ‘movie classic’. Now to me, a movie classic is something like ‘All About Eve’ with Bette Davies which was shown on TV over Christmas but, sadly, I neglected to record, or ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ which I mentioned in a recent post. ‘Mary’ was mildly amusing with the occasional funny scene but was not, I must insist, a film which could now or ever be mentioned in connection with the phrase ‘movie classic’.

Harry Potter films and TV soaps seemed to be the main factor in this years TV schedule. I looked in vain to find a major new movie but the only one I could see was Spectre, the most recent James Bond film which was shown on New Year’s day. Pity really because I happened to be working then. Oh well, 50 Years of a Star Trek is still there on my hard drive so I look forward to the end of one of my late shifts when I might just start it up and relax with a glass of port.

The Intruder.

One final film, and it’s not one that you will find in the TV guide. The Intruder was a DVD that appeared in my Christmas stocking and is one of those classic British films starring the wonderful Jack Hawkins and a whole host of familiar faces from British films of yesteryear. Set in the 1950’s, former army Colonel Merton played by Jack Hawkins returns home to find he is being burgled by one of his own former wartime platoon members, Ginger, played by Michael Medwin. Ginger runs off when he thinks Colonel Merton has called the Police so the colonel decides to track the man down. He visits his former army comrades and they each tell a story in flashback that builds up a picture of Ginger, his life and that of his comrades. It must have been strange to have lived through the intensity of war and then to return home to rationing and shortages and the near normality of post war Britain. The film, directed by Guy Hamilton who also directed some of the early James Bond films, captures all that perfectly.

Despite the host of cable and satellite TV channels available these days, it’s a shame that sometimes you have to crank up the DVD player to find something worthwhile to watch.


Steve Higgins is the author of Floating in Space, a novel set in Manchester, 1977. The book is available in Kindle or paperback formats. Click the icon below to go straight to Amazon.

Floating in Space

Putting the O in Columbo

It’s hard to believe that after three years of weekly blogging, I have never written anything about my favourite TV detective, lieutenant Columbo. What made me think of Columbo for a blogging post was that the other day, after three gruelling shifts at work, I slipped seamlessly into couch potato mode and settled down for a lazy day of TV watching. Happily it was a Sunday and there are two particular TV channels in the UK that, on a Sunday, pay homage to the Los Angeles based detective; ITV3 and 5USA.

So here we go, bacon sarnie sorted and TV remote to hand, first on the list was ‘Lovely but Lethal’ starring Vera Miles as the guest murderer. Columbo, as you probably know, differs from other TV detective shows by showing the viewer exactly who the murderer is and how he, or she, did it. The whole point is not who did it, but how Columbo catches them. The essence then of a great episode comes in the clever way Columbo nails his man, or woman. Sometimes that moment is a bit of a non starter, other times it’s nothing short of brilliant. Sometimes, even if that final moment is not so great, it’s still been a great episode. ‘Lovely but Lethal’ was pretty good with great performances all round but it wasn’t quite up there in my top 10 episodes.

Mickey Spillane. Picture courtesy Wikipedia

Next up was ‘Publish or Perish’, a cracking episode with my all time favourite guest murderer, Jack Cassidy. Jack appeared in at least three Columbo episodes including one that is a contender for best Columbo ever, but more about that later. In this one, Cassidy plays a publisher who decides to bump off his top writer, played by real life writer Mickey Spillane, because he is about to jump ship to another publisher. Cassidy hires a crazy ex Vietnam veteran and explosives expert to do the job and arranges the perfect alibi; he gets drunk, has a drunken car crash at the exact time of the murder and even ends up in the local police drunk tank for the rest of the night. Of course, he makes several mistakes, including one crucial one which inevitably, lieutenant Columbo spots. A great episode and well worth looking out for.

The Columbo of the early series is an absent-minded quirky fellow although in later episodes, Peter Falk who plays the detective, seems to downplay that quirky element. The later episodes are still pretty good though and armed with a fresh brew and the opening of a McVities chocolate biscuit packet, it was time to turn over to ITV3 for a great episode entitled ‘Sex and the married detective ‘. This episode is one of the later ones, actually season eight from 1989, and it concerns a sex therapist who bumps off her boyfriend after she finds out he’s cheated on her. The episode features the usual great performances and the guest murderer is Lindsay Crouse who adopts the alter ego of Lisa, a lady dressed in black. She gets her boyfriend to meet up with Lisa as part of a role-playing fantasy. She shoots him and it’s the unknown Lisa who gets the blame. Columbo once again nabs his murderer, but with this episode being one of the later ones, it doesn’t feature the quirky Columbo I love but it’s still a great episode and it has a really good musical soundtrack with a lovely musical motif that is perfect for the ‘Lady in Black’.

That was my ‘Three Columbo Sunday’ which I was tempted to use as a title for this post except that my trusty (so far) laptop began playing up a little. The letter ‘o’ on my keyboard has always been a little sticky but as I began to write this one it gave up the ghost and ceased to work completely. I have always thought that ‘e’ was the most used letter in the English language but now I’m pretty certain it’s ‘o’, especially if you are writing about a man called Columbo. Anyway, it just so happens that because of this keyboard issue I am now pretty well acquainted with the windows ALT keyboard. In case you didn’t know, you press the ALT key on your keyboard coupled with 111 and hey presto, there’s an ‘o’. Great, except not great, especially when you’ve written C(ALT111)umb(ALT111) numerous times.

Picture credit: pixabay.com

Luckily, the Internet comes with a lot of help and over on YouTube I found an out of focus video by a semi literate computer nerd who guided me through the process of removing the keys, cleaning them and putting everything back together. OK so back to Columbo!

I thought I’d finish with my all time favourite episode, ‘Short Fuse’ from 1972. The episode stars Roddy McDowall as a spoilt young lad who plans to kill off his uncle in order to take over the family company. His uncle has the goods on Roddy and is about to use this information to force him out of the company. However, the uncle is blown up before he can show the goods to Roddy’s aunt. The murder weapon is a bomb hidden in a cigar box, timed to go off during a car ride to the Uncle’s mountain lodge. As Columbo is set in Los Angeles I can only assume that somewhere nearby is a mountainous holiday area where people have holiday cabins. Anyway, a nice film sequence shows the cigar box being opened, setting off a timer and then the bomb. Columbo has no real proof to nail the murderer but later, on a ride in a cable car, Columbo opens a bag with some new evidence provided by the local police. Yes, it’s the cigar box, apparently intact. Once again we see the taut little sequence of the cigar box and the timer and then we cut to Roddy as he scrabbles about looking for the explosive, realising too late that he has given himself away. The box, as Columbo explains to a colleague, is just another cigar box, made to look a little distressed as if it has been extricated from a car crash. This is one of those memorable endings that I so love in Columbo.

Oh, and another thing. When it comes down to it, I’m not absolutely certain ‘ShortFuse’ was my all time favourite Columbo. In fact, it might really be ‘Murder by the Book‘, starring my favourite murderer, Jack Cassidy. In this 1971 episode, Jack plays a writer, actually part of a writing double act who together produce a series of novels about ‘Mrs Melville’ who is an amateur detective. The thing is, Jack’s partner wants to ditch the partnership but Jack is not happy about it. He is so unhappy he decides to, yes you guessed it, bump off his co-writer. He does it in a rather ingenious way which foxes Columbo but not for long and to cap it all, the episode is directed by none other than Steven Spielberg!

Just one more thing . . Then again, my favourite episode might really be this one with Robert Culp, another favourite murderer. In a 1973 episode called ‘Double Exposure’, Culp plays a motivation research specialist who uses a special technique of subliminal imaging to make his victim leave a film preview where Culp shoots him and returns to the preview where he has been reading the film narration to a small audience. Actually he had sneakily used a tape recording while he nipped out and murdered his victim.

The very last Columbo episode aired in 2003 entitled ‘Columbo likes the Nightlife’. Peter Falk himself, who played the crumpled detective, died in 2011 after a long battle with dementia. Still, if you like Columbo, check your TV guide for Sunday, there are plenty of episodes to be found there on UK TV.


Steve Higgins is the author of Floating in Space, a novel set in Manchester, 1977. The book is available in Kindle or paperback formats. Click the icon below to go straight to Amazon.

Floating in Space

 

The Men in White Suits

Alec Guiness.

In case you haven’t seen it, and I can’t imagine for a moment that you haven’t, The Man in the White Suit was a British comedy film made by Ealing Studios in 1951. The film starred Alec Guinness as Sydney Stratton, a scientist and researcher specialising in man-made fabrics. His dream is to discover an everlasting fibre that never wears out. He is dismissed from numerous jobs because of his demands for ever more expensive facilities. Circumstances occur where he becomes an unpaid researcher at the hi-tech Stratton Mill where he finally discovers his new fibre. Sydney is over the moon as he wears his prototype indestructible suit for the first time. His new cloth is about to be revealed to the world but panic sets in; will this mean the end of the industry? After all, surely there will only be one lot of cloth to be made as it never wears out? Both union and senior executives in the textile industry unite to prevent the fabric coming out to the public domain but mill owner’s daughter Daphne Birnley, played by the husky voiced Joan Greenwood, strives to help Sydney to pursue his dream.

At the end of the film an angry mob who have pursued Sydney are united in laughter when the fabric becomes unstable and Sydney’s white suit falls apart.

One of the highlights of the film is the sound effect we hear whenever Sydney’s research apparatus is revealed. It is a rhythmic burbling sing-song sound that becomes a sort of musical motif for Sydney Stratton. At the end of the film he goes on his way and looking at his notebook has a thought, has he realised what was wrong? The burbling sound fades in as Sydney walks away.

Paul Sinha. (Picture courtesy Daily Express)

Paul Sinha.

I don’t know about you but weekday afternoons just wouldn’t be the same without the Chase. The Chase is a TV quiz show where four contestants try to build up a prize fund then play against the ‘Chaser‘, a seasoned quizzer, to take home that fund in the Final Chase. Sometimes the contestants win, sometimes not. Mark Labbett is the perhaps the most well-known chaser. He is known as the ‘Beast’ and is a former schoolmaster who had a success on the TV show ‘Who Wants to be a Millionaire’. Anyway, my personal favourite is the Sinnerman, Paul Sinha. Paul began a stand up comedy career in London while he was a junior doctor. He has appeared on his own radio show and as a quizzer competed in University Challenge, Mastermind, and Brain of Britain. Paul joined the Chase in 2011 as the fourth Chaser. His nicknames include the ‘Sinnerman‘ and ‘Sarcasm in a Suit’. He is a smiling, witty and erudite competitor and always wears his trademark white suit.

David Essex.

David Essex was a performer who made his name in the early seventies although in his youth he had ideas of becoming a footballer. He played the lead in the stage musical Godspell and then went on to star in the film ‘That’ll be the Day’. I remember seeing his album in a record shop and thinking what a cool dude he looked in his white suit. The album was ‘Rock On’ and the single of the same name went to number 3 in the UK charts in 1973.

The next year David released one of my all-time favourite tracks ‘Gonna make you a Star’ which went all the way up to number 1. He also appeared on the double album ‘Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds’ and went on to star in the musical ‘Evita’. In 2011, he joined the cast of TV soap ‘EastEnders’.

 

Steve Higgins.

When I saw David Essex singing ‘Rock On’ wearing a white suit on ‘Top of the Pops’ for the first time, I thought he was the epitome of seventies cool and it occurred to me that one way to transform my gangling self-conscious self into something better might be to get that very same white suit. I couldn’t afford a suit at the time so I settled for a jacket, a white jacket, and I well remember admiring myself in the mirror before my first Saturday night out wearing it, sometime back in 1973.

The first problem I encountered with the jacket came on the bus into town. I sat on the back seat and in those days, the back seats of our local buses were a little notorious for being dusty and grimy as they were over the engine and absorbed all the engine fumes. Also there were people who put their feet up on the seats leaving marks to which people like me (the twerp in the white suit) were highly susceptible. Another thing is that all my life I have been cursed with being clumsy and once I had met up with my friends I somehow managed to spill beer all down my sleeve. Anyway, the night went on, more or less successfully. I certainly remember having a good time although the white jacket failed in its primary function; that of attracting gorgeous girls. Later on we stopped at the kebab shop and somehow a sizeable portion of chilli sauce managed to attach itself to my jacket. Rather than feeling like David Essex, I felt a little like Alec Guinness in the aforementioned ‘Man In The White Suit‘, wanting to get away from everyone! I never wore the stained jacket again and it lingered sadly in the back of my wardrobe smelling of kebab, chilli sauce, beer and diesel fumes until my Mum, on a major clean up splurge, decided to throw it out.

Of course, it could have been worse: I could have gone out wearing jeans, a white t-shirt and a red jacket and tried to look like James Dean! (Actually, that was another night!)


Floating in Space is a novel set in Manchester, 1977. Click the links at the top of the page for more information or click the picture below to order now from amazon!

Floating in Space