Reviewing the Mission Impossible Franchise

It was a cold afternoon in Manchester and I mumbled something to myself about the supposed heatwave and zipped my jacket up to my neck. At the left luggage office I took out the key that had been given to me earlier and when I opened the compartment I found a small package inside. I took the package and walked the short distance to the square. I sat down on the hard wooden bench and opened it up. Inside was a small tape player and a set of earphones. I put on the earphones and pressed play. There was a short burst of static and then a voice spoke.

‘Good afternoon, Mr Higgins. In the 1970’s a television show called Mission Impossible was produced that became a minor cult TV classic. Many years later the franchise was revived with a series of feature films starring Tom Cruise. Your mission, should you decide to accept it, is to review the TV series and the subsequent films, look at the background to the films, try to understand why they have been successful and put together a blog post revealing your findings. The blog post must be ready for publication by Saturday at 10am.

This tape will self-destruct in 5 seconds.’

I put down the earphones and placed them and the tape player back in the package, moments later the package disintegrated and I dropped the remains into a rubbish bin and walked away.

The TV series 1966 to 1973

The TV show was created by producer Bruce Geller and concerned a team of special agents known as the Impossible Missions Force. They are a US government agency which takes on hostile foreign governments, South American dictatorships and criminal organisations.

In the first series the team is led by Dan Briggs played by Steven Hill but he was replaced for season 2 by Peter Graves in the part of Jim Phelps. Other regular team members were Leonard Nimoy, Martin Laudau and his wife Barbara Bain, Greg Morris and Lesley Anne Warren. Each played a team member with a particular skill, for instance Laudau and Nimoy played agents with a talent for impersonation and disguise, Greg Morris played an electronics expert and so on.

Mission Impossible ran for 7 seasons and was cancelled because, according to Wikipedia, the producers at Paramount found they could make more money by syndicating the existing series rather than making new ones.

A revival series was made in the 1980’s also starring Peter Graves. To save money the series was not filmed in Hollywood but in Australia but it only lasted two seasons and was largely unsuccessful.

A great feature of the series was the opening title sequence which involved a match being struck and then lighting a fuse shown over quick clips of the upcoming episode to the sound of the iconic theme tune written by Lalo Schifrin. Next would be Jim Phelps listening to his tape recorded instructions which after being played would then self-destruct. Phelps would then look through his agents’ files complete with photos and choose who he wanted for the mission. Sometimes a guest star would play one of the agents who would be introduced by Jim checking out his dossier. A team briefing would then take place and the mission would get under way.

The IMF used a great deal of gadgets to accomplish their missions, secret listening devices and other electronic hardware as well as incredible masks and make up to impersonate people. One particular episode that I remember was when the team had to retrieve some stolen gold from a South American dictator’s safe. They did it by drilling a small hole in the safe, heating it until the gold melted and ran out down the small hole then a little gadget sprayed the interior of the empty safe to cover the hole. Mission Impossible was staple viewing in our household in the late 1960’s.

Mission Impossible 1996

Paramount Studios had plans to make a movie version of the series but the plans never seemed to come to fruition until Tom Cruise expressed an interest. He had been a fan of the TV series and hoped to make the film version the first project for his own production company, Cruise/Wagner Productions. The project began with Sydney Pollack as director but Cruise later decided he wanted Brian De Palma. De Palma designed most of the action sequences in the film and the final script was written around these. It just so happens that recently Channel 4 in the UK decided to run all the Mission Impossible films on consecutive nights so that came in pretty handy to refresh my memory on these films.

I enjoyed Mission Impossible much more on this recent viewing than when I had first seen it. The film uses the fabulous TV theme and opens in a similar way to the TV series.

Cruise plays agent Ethan Hunt with John Voight playing Jim Phelps. Hunt is sent to stop the theft of a list of agents kept inside the American Embassy in Prague. The mission fails and Jim Phelps, the agent in charge, is wounded and all of his team are killed except for Ethan Hunt. There is clearly a double agent or mole at work and various things happen until we find out the mole was Jim Phelps which was just a little bit sneaky because all of us who watched the 1960’s TV series knew that Jim Phelps was a character in that show and therefore could not possibly be the mole. The fact that he was made me feel a little cheated by this film because they used my nerdy TV knowledge against me.

I read recently that Peter Graves was asked to play Phelps in the film but declined after seeing his character was the traitor. Other stars from the TV series weren’t happy either.

Mission Impossible II 2000

This second instalment of the franchise was directed by John Woo. It’s about a biological weapon called Chimera. Rogue agent Sean Ambrose steals the virus from its inventor by impersonating Ethan Hunt. He destroys the aircraft on which the inventor is travelling and parachutes to safety. Hunt was played once again by Tom Cruise and his mission is to regain the virus. The opening sequence sees Cruise doing some daring rock climbing which the studio wasn’t happy about. Cruise didn’t have a safety net but did apparently wear a harness. I didn’t like the heavy metal style version of the classic theme and as a matter of fact, I lost interest in the film early on.

Mission Impossible III 2006

This third instalment was directed by JJ Abrams and for the first time the writers decided to show a little of the background to the Ethan Hunt character. He has retired from the IMF and has become a trainer for new agents but is asked to take on a new mission. He is about to get married but his fiancée knows nothing of his espionage work. The IMF team kidnap villain Owen Davian who escapes but decides to take revenge on Ethan. The film is filled with high powered action sequences and although a little implausible, I kind of liked it.

Mission Impossible Ghost Protocol 2011

The IMF are tasked to stop a man only known as ‘Cobalt’ who is trying to initiate a war between the USA and Russia. Tom Cruise as Ethan, infiltrates a Moscow prison to get to a man who has links to Cobalt. Things go wrong and the IMF is closed down by the US government when Cobalt blows up the Kremlin. The IMF team however stay on the hunt for Cobalt and follow him to various parts of the world including Dubai, where Tom Cruise has to climb up the outside of the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa. Cruise does all his own stunts but for a long time I just assumed that all the stuff on the outside of the Khalifa was done in a studio with a green screen and the background digitally inserted. Nope, Cruise actually swung on hidden cables outside the skyscraper. Why he should choose to risk his life in that fashion is beyond me but there it is. A good film full of action and adventure with numerous shootings and explosions.

Mission Impossible Rogue Nation 2015

This next instalment of Mission Impossible is pretty similar to the previous one. The CIA director (Alex Baldwin) asks a government committee to close down the IMF and incorporate them into the CIA which they decide to do. Ethan Hunt escapes from a criminal organisation known as the Syndicate with the help of British double agent Ilse Faust. Various exciting adventures ensue including a highly dangerous motorcycle chase and a deep underwater dive without oxygen. The IMF manage to capture the head of the Syndicate in the end. A government committee decide it would be best to reform the IMF. It’s all a little fantastic but not bad for a Saturday night on TV with a couple of beers and a pizza.

Mission Impossible Fallout 2018

After a week of watching the Mission Impossible films I’m sorry to say I missed this one which is a pity because according to the reviews it’s the best in the series. Still, sometimes it’s important to move one’s lazy behind off the couch, switch off the TV and go out and enjoy oneself. Pity there weren’t a few Mission Impossible questions in the pub quiz that night. After all this research I think I might have done pretty well.

Update

It just so happened that my brother has Fallout on DVD so he brought it round and we gave it a watch. The plot is something about plutonium and atomic bombs and the IMF guys have to swap the captured head of the Syndicate for the plutonium. The plutonium gets put into 2 atomic bombs which cannot be defused but after some highly implausible action-packed chases including a helicopter chase with both helicopters crashing, rolling down a cliff and being suspended on the edge, things finally get sorted. I reckon this would have been a good one to watch in the cinema.

Conclusion

It’s not easy to reboot a successful TV series whether it’s for the small screen or the big one but the producers of the Mission Impossible films have actually done a pretty good job. The films do have something of a link to the old TV series. They have different characters and different actors but the films have kept that opening element from the TV show with the match lighting the fuse.  They have also kept that fabulous theme tune. Then again, could they have really made Mission Impossible without the Mission Impossible theme? I don’t think so.

I did read that some of the TV actors from the original series weren’t happy with the films. Greg Morris apparently walked out of a screening when it was revealed that Jim Phelps was the traitor which was exactly why Peter Graves, the original Jim Phelps declined to reprise his old role as I mentioned earlier.

Personally, with the exception of MI2 I’ve enjoyed all the films and I look forward to the next instalment in the franchise which I believe has already been filmed.

Please step away from this blog post. It will self-destruct in 5 seconds . . .


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The Old, the New, Covid and 2022

My first post of 2022 was just a review of 2021 so this one is really my first proper 2022 post. I was due to be working on New Year’s Eve but that scourge of our modern times, Covid 19, stepped in and I had to call in sick.

Covid.

Both Liz and I had been suffering with bad colds and hers was getting worse with a bad headache and a loss of taste and smell. We did Covid tests and Liz was positive. My test was negative which was a surprise but then I haven’t had the headache or the loss of taste. I’m not sure when Liz was exposed to Covid, after all we haven’t been out much lately apart from some last minute shopping and a visit to quiz night at a local pub, the Lord Derby. Anyway, we were of course condemned to a minimum seven day lockdown so that meant no work on New Year’s Eve and no going out either.

We lit the fire, got the red wine on the hearth and settled down while we waited for our curry takeaway to be delivered.

The New.

Just lately I’ve been watching a whole lot of TV. Some of it new and some of it old. I mentioned a few weeks ago about watching And Just Like That, a new series of Sex and the City. Happily, it wasn’t on some subscription TV channel but on normal TV so I was able to watch it. I gave it another try the other day but I wasn’t impressed. Carrie had some hip surgery and Miranda got involved with a lesbian comedian. All pretty routine stuff for modern New Yorkers I suppose but it really wasn’t for me. Another new series was the latest four part JFK documentary by director Oliver Stone. I’ve been interested in the JFK assassination since I was a child and although I didn’t quite expect any new revelations in this new documentary series, I was surprised to find there were.

The so called magic bullet was given a severe bashing by various experts and so was the actual provenance of the bullet. The chain of evidence regarding the bullet was shown to be completely compromised as various new records released by the JFK Assassinations Records Review Board were shown to be either false or incorrect by the hard work of various investigators. The ARRB came into effect after the outcry from Oliver Stone’s 1991 film JFK and the documentary was fascinating but a little disjointed as instead of covering each issue in full, the films returned to the same subjects again in later episodes. Apart from that it was very convincing despite the poor review I read in the Guardian recently.

The Old.

There were the usual films shown over the Christmas period. Many films like Ghost for instance look pretty modern but it was technology that betrayed how old they were.

In Ghost banker Patrick Swayze was using one of those old computers with green text while Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan in the film You’ve Got Mail were still using dial up to get online and pick up their email messages. You’ve Got Mail was released in 1998 and Ghost in1990 making it 32 years old this year, would you believe it! Another film I saw that was also dated by technology was The Net with Sandra Bullock. The Net was a thriller about a computer programmer who gets involved in a conspiracy by a computer security company to mine and manipulate information. Made in 1995, dial up internet and green text were evident and there must have been many young people watching and wondering what exactly a floppy disc was.

Making Bread.

One thing that I really love and could never give up is bread. Yes, some may say it’s fattening and full of calories but it’s a food that has nurtured mankind for many centuries and anyone who tries to keep me away from a ham salad on granary is risking their life. When a bread shortage began to rear its ugly head here in Liz’s kitchen a state of panic began to mount. We were self-isolating so I couldn’t go to the shops, what could be done?

The obvious answer was to bring down my bread maker from the dusty shelf where it had lain for the past god knows how many years and to wipe it down and crank it up. I suppose I’ve had that bread maker for about twenty years. Once I got pretty interested in bread making. I had a few recipe books, I bought flour and yeast and started baking. I had a number of disasters along the way but eventually I managed to make some reasonable bread. Then, some new gadget caught my interest and the bread maker was left on the shelf. Why on earth did I stop making bread when I love it so much?

A quick search in the cupboard produced some flour and some packets of yeast and it was time to start up my bread maker once again. The thing is, making bread takes time. First the machine has to mix the ingredients then the mixture has to prove and rise. Then it gets another mix and finally the gizmo starts to bake. I waited patiently looking forward to warm fresh bread and then, many hours later when a huge rock hard inedible blob emerged I finally remembered why the bread maker had been lying on the shelf for so long.

More Old.

The Net was by no means a great film but Ghost was. I remember seeing it at the cinema back in the 1990s and it was one of those word-of-mouth films where the word was, this is a pretty good film, make sure you watch it. Patrick Swayze plays Sam Wheat, a banker who gets murdered. When his spirit is about to be pulled upward into the next world he looks back towards his girlfriend Demi Moore who is shattered and cradling his dead body and Sam realises it is not time for him to go yet. The ghostly Swayze later finds that his killer is stalking Demi. Frustrated and not knowing what to do, Sam wanders New York and finds a medium played by Whoopi Goldberg with whom he can communicate. Whoopi tells Demi about the stalker and Sam’s best friend Carl goes to find out what is happening. Sam is shocked to see that the murderer and stalker is actually acting on the orders of Carl. Maybe Ghost is a little too sentimental in parts but what the heck, I’ve always enjoyed it.

More New.

One new film (well new to me anyway) I did watch was The Time of Their Lives. It was a 2017 film starring Joan Collins and Pauline Collins. It was on in the background while I was tapping away on my laptop. I didn’t catch much of the beginning but Joan Collins is a faded movie star living in a home who decides to go to the funeral of her film director ex-lover in the hope of somehow breaking back into the film business. The funeral is in France and she somehow persuades Pauline Collins to go with her on the trip so it becomes a sort of French road trip. Over in France they meet an Italian artist played by Franco Nero, the one time spaghetti western star. Joan Collins is wonderful in the part of the former film star and I ended up putting my laptop down and giving the film my full attention. Very enjoyable it was too.

2022.

Most years I make the same New Year resolutions. They usually go something like this; finish my new book. Finish my latest screenplay. Write more poetry. Make better videos. This year I decided not to make any resolutions. I thought why not make 2022 a pressure free year? After all, I never make good on any of those resolutions anyway.

Have a great 2022 and by the way, did you make any resolutions?


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The Post Holiday Blues and Other Ramblings

Returning home after a holiday is always a let down, even more so when you return to the cold and wet UK after the temperate climate of Lanzarote. One morning I woke to beautiful sunshine streaming in through the window and then went outside to sit in the sun by the pool while I waited for the kettle to boil. The next morning, I woke in a cold house with the wind battering at the window and made my way shivering into the kitchen to once again boil the kettle. In one of the James Bond books 007 calls tea ‘mud’ and claims it was the cause of the downfall of the British Empire. Nothing could be further from the truth because tea, at least for me, is one of the great wonders of British life and whether I am in the cold of a British winter or the warmth of the Canary Islands, I really cannot start my day without a cup of tea.

I had a pretty lazy holiday in Lanzarote. I spent it, like I spend most of my holidays, reading books on my sun lounger, swimming in the pool, having barbecues and enjoying drinks and meals down in the nearby marina.

I did mean, as usual, to work on my writing and as usual, I didn’t. I did manage to write my weekly blog while I was there though. In fact, despite my lacking in the work ethic department, I have managed to produce a post every Saturday for as long as I have been a blogger and this epic you now find before you is my 489th blog post.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about my childhood. I had quite a few stories to add to that particular post but I always try to keep to about 2000 words or less and here’s one story that didn’t make the final draft.

I wrote about my bike in that childhood post. I loved my bike and I spent a lot of time on it exploring the Cheshire countryside as well as the country lanes that surrounded Manchester Airport where my friends and I would meet by an old WWII pillbox, slurp dandelion and burdock and watch the aircraft come and go.

Back in the 1970’s, the classic, iconic bike of the times was the chopper bike. It had a low slung frame with a seat and handlebars that rose up to the proper level. Back then I had no chance of getting a chopper bike but one thing I could do was get a chopper seat. I saved up and bought one and fitted it to my conventional bike. It looked a bit odd I suppose but I liked it, especially the tall hoop on the back of the seat.

By Raleigh-Chopper – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org

One day my dad, who cycled to work every day come rain or come shine, had a problem with his bike. My uncle came round to help him fix it but nothing could be done. It was a Thursday I think and so all dad could do was ask mum to take the bike down to the cycle shop and to borrow my bike to get to work. I did think about telling him about the new seat but I wasn’t sure how to go about it. The next morning, he went out to the outhouse to get my bike and a few minutes later he was back. ‘What’s happened to your bike? Where’s the proper seat?’

The old seat was there in the outhouse but it wasn’t a quick fix. The chopper seat had two arms that came down and were screwed to the back wheel so poor old dad had to tootle off to work with the bike as it was. Mum and I watched him ride away. She turned to me and asked ‘why didn’t you tell him last night so he could have put the old seat on?’

‘I don’t know’ I said. Then again, it was my bike and I didn’t want the old seat back.

I loved that bike but one day I lost it forever. My brother and I were always swapping things; toys, models, books but mostly records. Our musical likes in those days were pretty fleeting. He’d play something that I realised I had to have and after paying his extortionate demands or swapping whatever possession of mine that he wanted, sometimes I’d find a week later that that record really wasn’t the all time classic I thought it was and so we’d either swap back or I’d wait until he wanted something of mine and then I’d insist he take back the record I’d never really wanted in the first place. Sometimes I’d swap my most treasured possession, my bike. The thing was, my brother Colin couldn’t ride a bike so it was a win win situation for me as sooner or later he’d want to get rid of the bike back to me. One day he really got one over on me.

We’d done a swap for something and he had taken my bike. I was going out for a ride but the bike wasn’t in the outhouse. Where was it? What had happened? Had it been stolen?

‘The bike?’ Colin 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.

I had taken my video camera to Lanzarote with the vague idea of shooting something, a vlog or a tour of the resort, I wasn’t sure what. Perhaps I could have hired a bike and done a Lanzarote cycling video. I noticed there were electric scooters for hire but at 20 Euros for 2 hours, that wasn’t for me.

In the end I decided to take my camera and my trusty selfie stick and chat away to the camera while taking a walking tour of the marina.

On holiday I don’t watch much TV but back home on a cold December evening I tend to head straight for the TV remote. One show I wanted to watch this week was And Just Like That, a new version of Sex and The City. Now Sex and the City has always been one of my favourite shows. Season 4 was the absolute highlight of the series but the later ones were good too. The first feature film was good but the second one was poor. That’s it I thought, it’s finally finished and rightly so after all, all things must come to an end sooner or later.

The producers thought differently though and minus Samantha, as actress Kim Catrall declined to take part, Sex and the City has returned, thinly disguised as And Just Like That.

A long time ago one of my favourite TV shows was also rebooted for a TV movie special. It was called The Return of the Man From Uncle and despite having stars David McCallum and Robert Vaughn recreate their roles as super cool spies Napoleon Solo and Ilya Kuryakin, the film was dreadful. The slightly tongue in cheek attitude was gone, the music was different, the super cool way they used to cut to the next scene with a whip pan effect, gone also. The producers cut out everything that made the original good.

In And Just Like That the original cast were all there, just a little older, actually, not just older but old, seriously old. Miranda mentioned she was 55 at one point although I had already got her down as being about 65. Charlotte played by Kristin Thomas was reeling from either far too much botox or a seriously bad facelift and only Carrie herself seemed to have aged gracefully. Nothing in episode one, and I do mean nothing, was anything I could relate to despite my undying love of the previous series. One of my favourite characters died at the end of episode 1 so I had to watch episode 2. This featured a non-religious funeral ceremony in some sterile and unwelcoming New York funeral home.

Will I be watching episode 3? Maybe . .

Another TV event this last week was the finale to the F1 world championship. Lewis Hamilton the 7 times world champ was hoping to extend his record breaking run to 8 championships although bad boy Max Verstappen was giving him a good run for his money. The two were tied on points going into this last race and it was pretty clear that the winner would be taking home the 2021 champ’s trophy. The race was pretty exciting but a late race crash brought out the safety car. Max dived into the pits for new tyres but Lewis stayed out, confident that the race would not have the time to restart.

Restart it did though as the race director decided that it might be best for this race to end on a proper racing lap rather than a safety car. So, in came the safety car a lap early and Lewis and Max commenced battle, Max with new tyres, Lewis with old ones and the result naturally was Max taking the win and the World Championship.

It was a poorly mismanaged end to the season, a season that had been one of the most exciting for a very long time. Max and Lewis had fought it out on the race circuits of the world. Max has shown himself to be a talented and very fast driver but one who doesn’t seem to care for any form of driver etiquette. He lunges into the inside of a corner and gives his opponent the choice of either giving way or crashing. Lewis has had the maturity to avoid a crash mostly although the two have had their moments together.

In some ways I’m glad Max has won. It’s been a bit boring when Lewis has won everything and a new World Champion should shake the sport up a little.

Back to the present and after having my Covid booster yesterday I don’t feel particularly well. I feel slightly sick and I’ve got a mild headache. What should I do today then, Christmas shopping? Wrap presents? Slide back under the covers?

Let me see . . .


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Thoughts and Reflections from Lanzarote

As I write this we are on our 5th day in Lanzarote. I do love it here and it was nice to go to our favourite bar and see all our favourite bar staff there. The manager Juan was pleased to see us and greeted us in his usual fashion, calling out good morning as he does, no matter whether it is morning, afternoon or evening.

I’m not sure that Juan’s English is as good as he makes it out to be because sometimes I can see a little confusion on his face when we talk about something other than the usual greetings and ‘how are you?’. Still, he is the consummate professional waiter, always focussed on who is coming in, who needs attention and even as we chat I could see he had spotted a table that required attention and he was soon off to take their order.

I do love being in a warm climate. There are so many things that once here we take for granted. How easy is it to rinse out a pair of socks or under garments and hang them outside to quickly dry? So easy. Come to think of it, why I have brought three pairs of socks over from England I do not know. I only tend to wear socks when I go out in the evening. During the day I am either barefoot or wearing my sandals without socks. Come to think of it, I didn’t need all those undies either as most of the time I wander about in my swimming trunks.

The villa we have rented is not one that I’ve stayed in before. We came across it just out walking back in 2020 and decided to book it for this year. Actually, we booked it for January but Covid 19 put paid to our travel plans. I have brought my laptop and iPad over and brought an array of electrical plug converters in order to keep everything fully charged. The thing is, this place has built in USB ports, so we didn’t need all those adapters after all. Next year I must seriously review my packing.

Another problem I’ve encountered is this one. Earlier this year a routine check up showed that I was suffering with type 2 diabetes. The doc gave me three months to cut out sugary stuff and get my sugar levels down before recommending medication. So I’ve tried to cut down on my nightly nibbles of chocolate and biscuits. No more sugar in my tea and no more choccy bar in my lunch box and happily I found that on my last check up I was back to normal. Great news but I’ve noticed that a lot of my trousers don’t seem to be fitting me as well as they did and I’ve had to cut an extra notch in my belt to tighten it up.

Before flying out from the UK I duly ironed my favourite shorts that I’ve had for a couple of years but they were way too big so they were jettisoned in favour of an older pair. My favourite trousers are feeling a little big too so I may have to look at buying some new clothes soon, especially with all the swimming and walking I’m doing.

Talking of new clothes. I usually make my Holiday Book Bag posts into a video for my YouTube page. Looking at the video from 2017, I’m wearing my favourite T shirt as I talk to the camera, the same one I’m wearing today. Note to the video wardrobe department. Make sure I’m wearing something different for this year’s video!

The other night we went to one of Liz’s favourite restaurants, Casa Carlos. Carlos is a big guy and always remembers us. He always takes the orders in his restaurant and usually comes and fills us in with the delights of the numerous fishy dishes that are on offer. He generally gives me a pretty black look when I order the pizza but sorry Carlos, I don’t like fish! This year the restaurant has relocated to the centre of the Marina Rubicon. When we arrived, Carlos was not in evidence but the waiter began to talk us through various fishy specials. I tried to look interested but probably failed dismally. We haven’t had a menu yet I told him. It turned out that Casa Carlos has gone hi-tech – on each table is a card with a QR code. You scan the code with your phone and a pdf version of the menu is instantly downloaded. Sorry Carlos, but I prefer an old-fashioned physical menu.

Carlos soon appeared and as usual remembered us and was pleased to see us. Liz ordered some fisherman’s soup and I went for the tomato variety. For the main course I couldn’t seem to find the pizza section but it seemed they just don’t do pizza anymore. I’m not sure if Carlos thought that he’d got me and I would be compelled to order something fishy. He did seem to have a bit of a smile on his face which crumbled a little when I ordered Spaghetti Bolognese. Yes, I know, a rather uninspired choice but the menu just wasn’t my cup of tea. We only go there so Liz is able to eat some exotic fish.

I tasted some of her fish soup and believe it or not, it wasn’t vile. In fact, it was really nice. Of course, I’m full of a holiday cold at the moment so perhaps my taste buds weren’t functioning as they should be.

One of our holiday rules has always been no TV. We’ve stayed at plenty of places with impressive TV and satellite combos but we’ve never been tempted. This year as I’ve suddenly developed the cold and sore throat that Liz has recently got rid of and also because she is suffering greatly with a sore hip, we haven’t done much walking down to our usual restaurants. Well, at least not as much as usual. It’s November and it goes dark early here so we have relented and turned the TV on to watch I’m a Celebrity; Get Me out of Here!

Yes, I know it’s a load of old tosh with plenty of non-celebrity celebrities competing to be King or Queen of the jungle. I’m really not that interested but I think Liz likes it when I squirm at the bug eating antics of the show’s cast. This year the show is not in Australia it is in some castle in Wales. It looks pretty cold as the contestants are wearing numerous layers of coats and body warmers. They consist of a music producer I’ve never heard of, a TV presenter I’ve never heard of, a DJ I’ve never heard of and some others whose fame has just passed me by apart from Richard Madeley, once a presenter on some daytime TV magazine show. There is also a lady from BBC news and two late entrants, two stars of UK TV soaps, Eastenders and Coronation St, so to me that makes a total of four genuine selebrities.

The first episode was last Sunday and by chance the TV set was already tuned to Channel Four and the Qatar Grand Prix highlights were just starting. I’ve not written much about F1 this year but it has been a cracking season with some great battles between Max Verstappen and 7 times champ Lewis Hamilton. In recent years Hamilton has really rendered the sport rather boring by virtue of just winning almost everything but this year he has had to fight to keep up with Verstappen. Lewis won the Qatar Grand Prix so now has an outside chance of overtaking Max’s superior points score. I hope he does because it will be a long time before we see an 8 times champion again.

These last couple of days have been a little dull and much cooler. We mentioned this to our host Carlos the other night but he just dismissed our moan with a laugh. ‘What is it like back home in England?’ he asked. Infinitely worse than where we are now of course. ‘It will soon be warm and sunny again’ added Carlos, ‘don’t worry.’

I think that is really what I like about Lanzarote, the chilled-out outlook and the optimism of its people. If it isn’t sunny today, it will be tomorrow.


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Advertising, Comedy Writers and Patricia Cornwell

Advertisements do get on my nerves. They’re perhaps not so bad when reading a magazine, you don’t even have to look at them but TV commercials, well they are just a pain in the neck. Occasionally, if you are watching terrestrial TV and a commercial break comes on, sometimes you think OK, I’ll put the kettle on or go for a quick bathroom visit then you can sit down and you haven’t missed much. I’ve noticed lately however, that on some of the more commercial channels like ITV2 and 5USA for instance, the commercial breaks seem to go on for ever and sometimes it’s easier to just record the film or whatever you are watching and watch it later, when you can fast forward through the advertising.

Liz and I have a Sky subscription. It’s only the basic one, we don’t get sport or the movies channels, or the Formula 1 racing for that matter but we do hand over a sum of money to Sky every month in return for various TV channels. It almost seems then, that we are actually paying to see advertisements which really gets me so mad as I am paying for something which is annoying!

Still, I suppose the TV channels have to find a way to maximise their profits; they don’t put out TV shows for free of course, they do it to make money. I sometimes wonder how the world of broadcasting would have evolved without advertising; it would be so much better. Imagine all TV stations like the BBC, devoid of adverts and showing just the things we want to see. I remember once seeing an interview with Galton and Simpson, the famous comedy writers. They wrote for Tony Hancock and they wrote sitcoms like the classic Steptoe and Son. They said that sitcoms on commercial TV were essentially two 12-minute acts, with the remaining 6 minutes taken up by advertising. Writing for the BBC they said gave them an extra 6 minutes to play with. ‘Integrity time’ I think they called it.

Ray Galton and Alan Simpson met at a tuberculosis clinic in 1948 when they were both recuperating from the disease. They went on to write scripts for various radio shows before beginning a collaboration with Tony Hancock for the Hancock’s Half Hour radio show and for the later TV series. When Hancock ended their relationship, the two writers wrote a series called Comedy Playhouse. One particular episode was very popular and from this the two created Steptoe and Son, the classic BBC comedy.

Another writing partnership that I have always been fond of is Ian La Frenais and Dick Clement. They wrote the TV series The Likely Lads in the 1960’s and its 1970’s follow up Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads. I’ve always loved the Likely Lads, in particular that latter follow up series. Rodney Bewes and James Bolam played the eponymous lads and the series was set in the Newcastle upon Tyne area of north east England.  The later series was funny but also had a poignant quality as the two lamented the way things had changed since the days of the 1960’s. In the film version the two take time to attend the last moments of their favourite pub, the Fat Ox, soon to be knocked down by developers. All around them they can see change as back-to-back terraced houses are knocked down in favour of new housing estates. The feature film captures all the elements of the show and there were plans for a revival of the series but the two actors, Bolam and Bewes, apparently had a falling out and Bolam declined to appear again as his character Terry. After Bewes passed away, Bolam maintained that there never was a feud but that unlike Bewes, he was not interested in doing more Likely Lads.

La Frenais and Clement wrote a pilot script for Ronnie Barker in 1973 which later became the hit comedy series Porridge. It ran for three series and was also made into a feature film. The series starred Barker and Richard Beckinsdale as two inmates of Slade prison. Barker plays Fletcher, a prisoner who knows the prison ropes and is described in the opening titles by the judge as he is handing down a prison sentence (actually a voice over by Barker himself) as an ‘habitual criminal’. Beckinsdale plays Godber, an inmate serving his first term in prison who Fletcher takes under his wing and tries to educate in the ways of prison life.

Richard Beckinsdale who sadly passed away from an undiagnosed heart problem in 1979, was one of the bright new comedy actors of his time and would surely have gone on to greater things. He also starred in the TV comedy Rising Damp, about a seedy landlord played by Leonard Rossiter with three regular guests played by Beckinsdale, Frances De La tour and Don Warrington. The classic series even now enjoys many re runs on TV.

Another of my favourite comedy writers is Spike Milligan. He wrote most of the episodes of the classic radio comedy The Goon Show which starred Peter Sellers, Harry Secombe and Milligan. The Goon show was a revolution in radio comedy and featured a sort of surreal humour allied to numerous comedy voices, mostly supplied by Sellers, and many outlandish sound effects.

The show debuted in 1951 but the pressure of continually having to produce a new script weighed heavy on Milligan who suffered a nervous breakdown towards the end of 1952. Other writers were drafted in to help with scripts including Jimmy Grafton, (who ran a London pub where the cast originally met) Michael Bentine and others. The members of Monty Python’s Flying Circus all credit Milligan with inspiring them to work in comedy.

Milligan was a prolific writer, creating many radio and TV scripts as well as a play, The Bed Sitting Room which was also made into a film.

Back to Advertising.

I seem to have drifted off my original subject which was TV advertising. All TV adverts are not bad I suppose. Some that come to mind were the Cinzano ads featuring Leonard Rossiter and Joan Collins. Together, they made a very funny series of ads back in the 70’s. Here’s the one I think is the funniest . .

Also I have to admit liking those ones featuring the Meerkats. There’s a great one where one of the meerkats, Sergei, (sad isn’t it when you watch the TV ads that much you even know the names of the meerkats) has been left alone for a while and he is really sad. When his pal finally returns and asks did you miss me? Sergei replies Miss you? I didn’t even notice you’d gone!

Remember the one about JR Hartley? I couldn’t even remember what they were actually advertising but after a quick look on Google I see it was yellow pages. An old chap is looking for a book, Fly Fishing by JR Hartley. He finds a copy using the yellow pages but who is the guy? It’s the author himself, Mr JR Hartley!

A personal favourite was one advertising a new Ford car using Steve McQueen. McQueen’s image was pulled from the movie Bullit and digitally inserted into the ad for a new Ford Puma.

Patricia Cornwell.

Patricia Cornwell is an American writer of mystery novels mainly featuring her heroine, Kay Scarpetta. Scarpetta is a medical examiner in the US state of Virginia and solves many murder cases using forensic methods and technology. Many credit Cornwell with inspiring the rash of CSI TV shows and other books and films that feature hi tech forensics.

I have a lot of respect for Patricia and any writer who can produce numerous high-quality novels. As for me, I’m still here labouring (sometimes) on the sequel to Floating in Space so my output is just a pale shadow compared to Patricia’s. Over on Twitter where I knock out a few Tweets every day in hope of attracting some attention to my blogs and books I have a shedload of followers but not a lot of interaction. Often my Tweets go off into cyberspace sometimes without anyone even noticing. The highlight of my week therefore was not only Patricia Cornwell following me on Twitter but also liking one of my Tweets. Pity she couldn’t have given me a retweet but heck, I’ll settle for a like. Thanks Patricia!


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Prisons and Prisoners in TV, Books and Film

As usual on this blog I’ll be talking about books, films and TV and what started me off on this theme of prisons and prisoners was watching my box set of the 60’s TV series the Prisoner. Anyway, I’ll get to that shortly but first let me start with a book. It’s one I reviewed earlier in the year

Papillon by Henri Charrière

Papillon is a book by Frenchman Henri Charrière. It is an autobiographical novel about Charrière’s imprisonment in the French penal colony of French Guiana and covers a period of about fifteen years. The original novel was written on a series of exercise books and is presented in just that way. Charrière describes his experience of imprisonment as a terrible one. He escaped and was recaptured many times and ended up in solitary imprisonment twice. The first time was for two years and he was kept in solitary for 24 hours a day. In his second bout of solitary a new officer takes over the running of the area and prisoners are let out for exercise every day. At one point in his escape Charrière encounters a tribe of Indians and joins them for many months, even marrying one of the Indian girls but despite finding this apparent paradise, he leaves and is imprisoned again. He eventually escapes from Devil’s Island by jumping into the sea aboard a sack filled with coconuts. The book is an incredible read and I found it one I just couldn’t put down. It is filled with action and adventure but also with thoughtful observations about the human condition and there are many moments when simple acts of kindness stand out to the author against a background of cruelty and inhumanity.

The book was an instant hit when it was published in France in 1969 and the author, Henri Charrière, nicknamed Papillon because of a tattoo of a butterfly on his chest, became a French celebrity. He died in 1973 but always maintained the book was true and based on his own recollections despite claims to the contrary. Whatever its origins the book is a true classic adventure story.

Papillon was made into a film in 1973 and on paper this should have been a brilliant film; Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman star, there was a screenplay by Dalton Trumbo and the author acted as an advisor. Actually it’s pretty poor, I’m not sure why but McQueen was not suited for the role and the writers tried to cram in all the events of a pretty hefty book into a film when there really wasn’t room. Forget the film, read the book.

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch by Alexander Solzhenitsyn

It’s a long time since I read this book and I couldn’t seem to dig my copy out so I don’t think I can be too critical. According to Wikipedia it was first published in a Soviet magazine and was only later published in book form. It’s the story of a single day in the life of a prisoner in a Soviet labour camp seen through the eyes of a man called Ivan. It’s a pretty bleak book as I remember and unlike the book by Henri Charrière, it’s not a hopeful book and there is no feeling that Ivan will ever escape or would even try to escape. It is a book about survival rather than escape. The book was first published during the Khrushchev years when the new Premier Nikita Khrushchev attempted a degree of openness after the repressive years of Stalin’s rule. Author Solzhenitsyn won the Nobel prize for Literature in 1970.

The Prisoner TV Series.

Actor Patrick McGoohan was the man behind this exceptional TV series made at the end of the 1960’s. McGoohan had become a TV star with a series called Danger Man about a secret agent called John Drake and the actor had become fascinated with what would happen to a spy or agent when they decided to retire. Would their spymasters be happy to let someone with highly classified secret information emigrate for instance? On Danger Man, McGoohan met writer George Markstein and the two discussed McGoohan’s ideas. Markstein hinted that he might have had connections to the secret service in the past and told McGoohan about a top secret establishment called Inverlair Lodge in Inverness, Scotland where during the Second World War ‘recalcitrant agents were housed.’ McGoohan and producer David Tomblin, also from the Danger Man series, started their own production company, later called Everyman Films to produce a new TV series based on these ideas. McGoohan asked Tomblin and Markstein to write the script for the first episode into which he later incorporated some of his own ideas.

The basic idea was that a secret agent resigns and he is kidnapped and taken to an unknown place known only as the village. The agent was possibly John Drake from the Danger Man series but this could never be said publicly because of copyright reasons. In the village there are no names, only numbers. McGoohan plays Number Six and the chairman of the village is Number Two, played by a different actor every week. Will Number Six reveal why he has resigned? Who is running the village? Is it our side or the enemy?

McGoohan, then a hugely popular TV star went to Lew Grade, the head of the ITV network and told him he wasn’t keen on a new Danger Man series but had an idea called the Prisoner. Grade apparently said ‘you know it’s so crazy, it just might work’, and production went ahead.

In the first episode we see McGoohan driving into London in his Lotus 7 and slapping down his resignation letter on the desk of some unknown person. The man at the desk was in fact George Markstein who became the story editor of the series. McGoohan returns home to pack but then his house fills with gas rendering him unconscious. When he awakes, he is not at home but in the village.

Confused and disorientated he attempts to find out where he is and soon meets Number Two. Number Two explains that he wants to know why McGoohan resigned and that there is no escape from the village. The exteriors of the village were filmed in the Welsh village of Portmerion but the interiors, especially Number Two’s office, had a very futuristic, hi-tech feel.

Lew Grade had expected various seasons of The Prisoner but Patrick realised early on that the format was not something that could be sustained for multiple seasons so eventually he and Lew Grade agreed on making 17 episodes in order to realise a product that could be marketed to other countries, particularly the USA.

The 17 episodes all had either a mystery, sci-fi, espionage appeal or leaned towards McGoogan’s vision of an avant-garde allegory about the individual and freedom. In the first episode, Arrival, the prisoner who we come to know only as Number Six wakes up in the mysterious village. What is it all about? Why is here?

Number Two comes straight to the point, ‘why did you resign?’ he asks.

Number Six looks down at his file and observes the time of his birth is missing.

‘Let’s bring it up to date’ replies Number Two.

‘4:30 am, 19th March, 1928’ answers Six. ‘I’ve nothing more to say’ he adds slapping the file shut.

4:30am, 19th March 1928 just happens to be Patrick McGoohan’s date and time of birth so we can see just how personal The Prisoner was to him. The file photo of number Six used throughout the series was McGoohan’s own actual publicity picture.

The final episode where viewers expected everything to be explained and for Number Six to escape and find out who was Number One was a controversial episode and many viewers jammed the network in the UK complaining about the crazy ending in which a mock trial descends into a psychedelic montage of 1960’s music and imagery.

McGoohan defended himself by describing The Prisoner as an allegory when the viewers were still expecting something similar to The Saint or Man in a Suitcase, the action/ adventure and espionage series that were being filmed at the time. Today over 50 years later the Prisoner is a TV show with cult status.

The Truman Show

The Truman show is a film starring Jim Carrey. Carrey plays Truman who lives in a small town but does not realise that he is in fact the star of a reality TV show. Secret cameras film everything he does and all those around him, including his mother, his wife and best friend who are all actors in on the secret. The TV show is the brainchild of Christof, a producer/director played by Ed Harris. As the film unfolds we gradually realise that Truman is becoming aware of things that are not right; a spotlight that falls from the sky, people who approach him and want to talk but are hustled away by strange people, an office building where no one is working and his wife who seems to announce the benefits of various products as if she is in a TV advert.

The film is based on an episode of the Twilight Zone. A man getting ready for work finds a camera in his bathroom and realises he is being secretly filmed. It turns out that unknown to him, he is the star of a reality TV show. The producers take him aside and explain what a hit the show is and how much money he could be making. Why not carry on as if he never found out the truth they ask. Keep the show running. No one would ever know.

The man decides to just carry on with his life and allow the filming and the money to continue. In some ways I think that might even be a better storyline than the Truman show. Either way, this film is a really interesting look at the current reality TV genre and flips the whole concept on its head. Carrey is great in what is really his first dramatic role too. The most telling moment comes at the end when the whole world has been glued to the last episode. When it has finished one of the enthralled TV viewers asks ‘what’s on now?’

So, are we all prisoners then, prisoners trying to break free from either the bars of our cell or from the restrictions imposed on us by modern living, the media or society itself?

As they say in The Prisoner, ‘be seeing you!’


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TV, Westerns and The Outlaw

Once upon a time Howard Hughes was the richest man in the world. In today’s society being the richest man requires some serious wealth and Howard Hughes ticked all the financial boxes you can think of. He inherited his father’s tool company when he was very young. Too young in fact to take control but he found a law that said if he could prove he was capable of running the company then he could take control. He proved he could and did just that, took control. His father had designed a tool bit that was essential to America’s oil industry but instead of selling the drill bit he patented it and then rented it out. Howard Hughes though had other ambitions which did not involve oil or drilling but the profits from the Hughes Tool Company were vital for his ambitions in aviation and film making.

Hughes combined those two interests in making the WW1 movie ‘Hell’s Angels’ about fighter pilots and for the shoot he assembled the largest private air force in the world. Towards the end of the shooting, sound pictures made their appearance so what did Howard do? He reshot the entire film with sound equipment!

The_Outlaw-poster-trimAnother movie Hughes made that is famous, or perhaps infamous, was the 1943 Movie ‘Outlaw’ starring Jane Russell. Hughes appeared to be obsessed with Jane’s breasts, even to the extent of designing a new bra for her and reshooting a famous close up of her time after time. Hughes clearly had some psychological issues; he was a compulsive, obsessive man. He usually had the same meal when he went out with one of the many starlets he courted. Jane Greer recounted in a TV interview how Hughes would eat things in the same order; the peas first, then the potatoes and finally the meat. Once when they dined Hughes came back to the table and Jane noticed that his shirt was wet. Hughes had spilt something onto his shirt so he had washed the shirt in the men’s room, rinsed and squeezed it out, then put it back on.

As his mental health deteriorated, Hughes retreated into a world of blacked out penthouse suites and midnight telephone calls to his army of assistants, some of whom were private investigators keeping close tabs on anyone Hughes had an interest in, particularly starlets he had signed to personal contracts and his girlfriends like Katharine Hepburn or Jean Peters whom he later married.

Anyway, this isn’t a post about Hughes, it’s about TV and looking through my old posts I noticed a couple that caught my attention. One was about Hughes and I have to confess, I pinched the text above from that post, and another was about my life as a couch potato and avid TV viewer. A few days ago, staying at my mother’s house I once again had a few couch potato days. On the first one I was tapping away on my laptop with the TV on but no sound. On Mum’s old TV you can go through the on screen menu and choose programmes you want to watch and the TV will flip to that channel at the appointed time. It was Saturday afternoon and even though that Saturday’s post had just been published, as usual I was already worrying about the next one.

As I looked up from my laptop I could see a new film had started. I switched on the volume and was surprised to find it was The Outlaw, the Hughes film I mentioned above. I had never seen the film and everything I knew about it came from either books, documentaries or films like the Aviator, the Martin Scorsese film about Hughes himself. Hughes filmed The Outlaw in 1941 but had trouble with the film censors of the time. He had to cut half a minute from the film where the camera had lingered for too long on Jane Russell’s ample bosom. 20th Century Fox however decided not to release the film thinking perhaps it was too hot to handle. Hughes decided to build his publicity on that very idea. The film was released for a quick showing and then Hughes put the film under wraps for the next few years while his publicity people whipped up controversy and hysteria, meaning that when it opened in 1946, released finally by RKO, the film was a huge hit.

Even over half a century later people like me are still liable to be caught up in the controversy because I always thought the film was about Rio, the character played by Jane Russell and was of a risqué nature, or at least as risqué as films could get in 1941. I have to admit I missed the beginning of the film the other day and the famous scene of Jane Russell in the hay must have occurred either before I looked up from my laptop or when I was in the kitchen making a brew.

Hughes seemed to be obsessed with Jane’s breasts and wasn’t happy with the way they looked on screen, so much so he designed a new cantilevered bra for her, perhaps the first push up bra ever made. Russell later claimed that the bra was a nightmare to wear so she simply used her own but padded the cups with tissue, which apparently achieved the effect that Hughes wanted.

The action, such as it was, seemed to revolve around the friendship which blossomed between Billy the Kid and Doc Holliday which seems to make Pat Garrett very jealous as he considered himself a better friend to the Doc than Billy. It was actually a quirky sort of film. Walter Huston, father of film director John, played the part of Doc Holliday and Jack Buetel, an actor I don’t think I’ve heard of before, played Billy.

Billy the Kid has been portrayed a number of times in films, as have Pat Garrett and Doc Holliday. Paul Newman played Billy in The Left Handed Gun, a part originally earmarked for James Dean until Dean was killed in a car crash. In the 1970’s Sam Peckinpah directed Pat Garret and Billy The Kid starring James Coburn as Pat Garret and Kris Kristofferson as Billy. Bob Dylan also had a small part as well as writing the music for the film including the hit single Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door.

Billy the Kid was killed in 1881 by Pat Garrett. There were rumours however that Pat staged Billy’s death so that he would be free of pursuit by the law. That scenario was used in the end of The Outlaw, although in the film it was Doc Holliday who gets the bullet but it was Billy’s name on the gravestone.

One of my favourite cowboy/outlaw films has to be Jesse James, the 1939 film starring Tyrone Power as Jesse and Henry Fonda as his brother. The film was so successful that they made a sequel, The Return of Frank James starring Henry Fonda as Frank on track to find his brother’s killer.

Two more outlaws whose fame has lasted right down to the present day were Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid and the two were played by Paul Newman and Robert Redford in a film called just that: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. I saw a film programme a while back on the BBC where Paul Newman explained that screenwriter William Goldman had approached him about making the film and starring as Butch. Various people were suggested for the Sundance Kid and Newman even met with Steve McQueen about the part but eventually it was Robert Redford who won the role.

The film was released in 1969 but has a very 1970’s feel about it. There is even a musical interlude in the film where Paul Newman tries out a new fangled bicycle with Sundance’s girlfriend Etta to the tune of Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on my Head.

My two favourite westerns both star John Wayne, the quintessential cowboy hero. Wayne starred in The Searchers, directed by John Ford. Wayne stars as a civil war veteran whose niece has been kidnapped by a band of warlike Commanches. Ethan Edwards takes his adoptive nephew on a long search for the kidnapped girl until they finally rescue her.

My other favourite is The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. Lee Marvin plays a brilliant part in that of Liberty Valance, a mean, no good bully who terrorises a western town until lawyer James Stewart manages to shoot him dead, or so we think. Later, when Stewart decides he is unwilling to base his career on being the man who shot Valance, John Wayne reveals what really happened.

Back in the fifties and sixties was probably the heyday of cowboy films and TV shows. Today it seems that the western is a genre that has been almost forgotten. As a schoolkid I was an avid watcher of The Lone Ranger, Branded, The Virginian, Bonanza, Casey Jones and many others. One of my favourites was Alias Smith and Jones, a series about two outlaws, Kid Curry and Hannibal Hayes who are on the run but have been offered an amnesty on the condition that they give up crime and go straight. They adopt new identities, that of Smith and Jones and try to live law abiding lives. It was a great series with some excellent episodes but in December 1971, Pete Duel, the actor who had played Hannibal Hayes committed suicide. Another actor was substituted in the role but the series was never as popular afterwards.

Another great western was Kung Fu. Kung Fu was an oddball western in many ways; it was about a half Chinese, half American called Kwai Chang Caine played by David Carradine. Caine becomes a Shaolin monk after he has been taken in by the monastery as an orphan. Caine has been tutored in the Buddhist religion and martial arts by master Po. When Po is murdered by the Emperor’s son, Caine retaliates and kills him. Now with a price on his head Caine flees to the USA. In the USA of the old west, Caine encounters many situations which then cause him to reflect on his own upbringing and tutoring in China, shown in many flashback sequences. Caine defends himself in many situations with his mastery of Kung Fu and the series became not only a great success but the forerunner in a world wide Kung Fu craze with many Hong Kong martial arts films also becoming popular.

The western film and TV shows seemed to have all fizzled out by the end of the 1970’s. Perhaps these days audiences prefer sci fi series like Star Wars and Star Trek. Tastes change of course and one day perhaps audiences will once again want more westerns. For now I think I’ll settle down after a busy shift, pour myself a glass of wine and wind down with my copy of John Ford’s The Searchers.


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Star Trek: The Blog Post

On many of the posts in this blog you will find references to Star Trek. I’ve been a big fan of Star Trek for many years and even though I’m not an actual ‘Trekkie’, visiting conventions and dressing up as a Klingon and so on, I do love a good episode of Star Trek so it’s high time I put all my Trek thoughts into one handy blog post.

Star Trek the Original series.

Here is something that may be a revelation to you; if you don’t know it already it will vastly improve your understanding of Star Trek. It’s a simple truth and here it is, Star Trek is about three guys, Captain Kirk, Mr Spock and Doctor McCoy. Sometimes there are four, we can maybe throw in Scotty but that’s it, that’s the essential truth about Star Trek and that’s why things like the Next Generation and Deep Space 9 will never come up to scratch, simply because Kirk, Spock and McCoy are not involved. Even the Star Trek people themselves understand this, which is why Star Trek has been reinvented (re-imagined to use movie speak) with new actors playing Kirk and his crew in the latest Trek movies.

The first series of Star Trek starred William Shatner as Captain James T Kirk. Forget Captain pointy head Picard, Kirk is a proper Captain and after a good twenty minutes of any episode he will usually have blasted a number of aliens with his phaser (a sort of ray gun) and done some pretty serious kissing of any beautiful girl, alien, android or otherwise, within a 100 yard area. Mr Spock was played by Leonard Nimoy. He is the ship’s science officer and as a Vulcan rarely displays emotion, logic being his primary motivation. Doctor McCoy played by DeForest Kelley is a doctor of the old school and he and Spock frequently get into verbal confrontations. Together they are the chief officers of the starship Enterprise on its five year mission to go where no man has gone before.

william_shatnerAs a schoolboy I wrote to Desilu studios where I believed Star Trek was made, based on credits shown at the end of the show. After a while I received a set of glossy pictures of the show’s stars. They were all signed by the various actors, Shatner, Nimoy and so on but the signatures, I have long suspected, were made by a machine.

The original Star Trek, like many TV programmes of the sixties was shot on film and today it looks pretty sharp compared to shows from the 80’s that were shot straight to video. It was given a digital makeover a few years back with digital effects and new CGI spacecraft and is looking pretty good these days. Which was my favourite episode? Well I’d have to say it was the one that fans voted the best Star Trek episode ever; 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 the way they were. Joan Collins plays a charity worker at the core of events; does she have to die in order to restore normality?

Star Trek the Motion Picture

After three series the show was cancelled but was remade a few years later as a TV cartoon. The huge fan base of the series caused the producers to think again and in 1977 they decided to make a big screen version of the show to cash in on the huge success of Star Wars. Star Trek the Motion Picture was released in 1979 and was directed by Robert Wise who was one of the editors on the film classic, Citizen Kane. I enjoyed the film very much although I feel the story was a little lacking. An entity called Vega is on the way to destroy the earth and the only starship in interception range is the recently refurbished Enterprise. All the favourites from the TV series make their return with a few additions. It was a good film but not a great one.

The Next Generation

The success of the film made the producers think about a new TV series, not with Kirk, Spock and McCoy but with a new crew. The Next Generation is set further into the future than the original series. Patrick Stewart plays the Captain and Jonathan Frakes is the first officer. There is no Vulcan science officer like Mr Spock but Brent Spiner plays a similar character; Data, an android.

The Next Generation is something I have always found rather lacking. I wasn’t keen on Mr Pointy-head Captain Picard and the cocktail lounge style bridge on his version of the starship Enterprise. Why on earth does he have to run every decision by his first officer, his councillor and everyone else on the bridge when Kirk would have just sorted that situation out like a shot, fired off a few photon torpedos and would even have found a pretty girl to flirt with too? The series was filmed on video and doesn’t look as good today when compared to the pin sharp original series.

Deep Space 9.

What can I say about this series? My knee jerk reaction was that it’s a load of old tosh might sound a bit mean to die hard Trek fans, but it was never my cup of tea. The only episode I ever enjoyed was an episode in which the crew of Deep Space 9 return to the past and get involved in the old original series episode ‘The Trouble with Tribbles’ using some pretty nifty special effects.

Star Trek Voyager.

I wasn’t so keen on Voyager at first, but I have to say I do like the later episodes when Captain Janeway finally got rid of her early weird hair styles and the drippy alien Kes got the bullet from the show.

Captain Janeway was the Star Trek world’s first female captain and as she began to look more normal as far as her hair, the writers decided to shake things up with the new and pretty sexy Seven of Nine character. She was rescued from the Borg, an alien race whose catchphrase is you will be assimilated. Seven was given a very appealing tight fitting catsuit to wear instead of the Space Federation regulation uniform. Catsuits are OK and maybe they are pretty popular in the 24th century but they never seem to have any pockets. What Seven does with her handkerchiefs, lip gloss, mobile phone and purse I really don’t know. In the future people must prefer looking sexy rather than worrying about their stuff, at least they do in the eyes of the Star Trek writers.

Seven is the nucleus of some great episodes especially one where we go back and see how young Annika Hanson (Seven as a young girl), and her family were assimilated by the Borg. The Borg are a race of aliens who assimilate other species into their own and at their centre is the Borg Queen who really likes the idea of Seven coming back to her ‘collective’.

Star Trek Enterprise.

This is supposed to be a prequel to the original series. I can’t say I’ve ever got through a complete episode. My only observations are that the crew go around in overalls and the Captain is played by the guy who used to be in the time travel show Quantum Leap.

Star Trek Discovery.

The latest series in the franchise is Star Trek Discovery, which is rather like watching a very fast music video, I gave it a good 15 minutes and then had to switch off. Sorry, it’s just not my cup of sci-fi.

Star Trek Picard.

Picard airs on Netflix or Amazon or some such channel that I have no access to and have no intention of subscribing to, mainly because I am allergic to opening up my wallet. After watching a few clips of Picard on YouTube I actually found it quite appealing so I decided to search for a cheap DVD of the episodes on eBay. Picard, I have to say is a pretty amazing slice of sci-fi. It’s not perfect and in fact it is rather complicated but it’s about a mystery at the heart of Star Fleet and Admiral Picard, no longer a member of Star Fleet, is determined to find out. Along the way he meets Seven of Nine and various other favourites from the old TV shows. Some of the episodes have been a little slow and yes, I know I’ve slagged off Captain Picard before but for the most part this series has been pretty good and anyone wanting to buy my DVDs is welcome to make me an offer as soon as I have got through series one.

William Shatner has reached the venerable age of 90 this year so it was good to read in the media that he is still going strong. Wonder if there is any chance of him playing Kirk again just one last time? Star Trek Kirk sounds good to me.

More on the Star Trek Films.

Getting back to the Star Trek films; Paramount studios decided to have another go at filming Star Trek for the big screen. For the second film they decided to employ producer Harve Bennett to make a better and cheaper Star Trek film. He apparently watched all the episodes of the TV series and decided to bring back the character of Khan who had once attempted to take over the Enterprise and was later left on a distant planet to start a new life with his crew. In Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan Mr Chekhov finds that the planet Khan was abandoned on has become a desert and Kahn isn’t happy; he wants revenge on Kirk. Wrath of Khan is a really good film, much more like the original TV episodes than Motion Picture. The crew all sport some new natty uniforms and clearly it must be a little chilly on the Enterprise because all the staff seem to be wearing woolly jumpers and jackets. I don’t remember the Apollo astronauts ever wearing woolly jumpers but maybe astronauts in the 24th century are not made of such stern stuff. Of course it could be that they just have never thought about turning up the central heating.

Trek III was another excellent film. In this one we find that although Spock died in the previous film, his body has been regenerated by the Genesis project. In Star Trek IV the crew return to the 1980’s in order to bring a whale back to the future for reasons which I won’t even begin to get into. Watch out for the scene where Spock deals with a guy playing loud music on the bus; I loved it.

The character of Captain Kirk was actually killed off in the movie Generations which started off pretty well, combining the usual sci-fi elements of Star Trek with an intriguing mystery; who is the mysterious Soran and what is he up to? As it happened what he was up to wasn’t really that interesting, but the film marked the cinema handover from the original Star Trek cast to the new one. Pity really because as I mentioned above, I never really took to the Next Generation.

Just as I’d got to the end of this post I thought it might be an idea to actually watch some Star Trek again for some final opinions. After a quick scan through my DVDs I came across Star Trek III in which the crew of the Enterprise are grieving over the loss of Mr Spock in the previous film. Captain Kirk finds that Spock, who knew he was about to die, had left his Katra, his soul, in the mind of Dr McCoy and the crew undertake to take McCoy and Spock’s body back to the planet Vulcan, Spock’s home. A lot of stuff happens along the way and of course they finally succeed in reuniting Spock’s body with his Katra, although sadly, Kirk’s son is murdered by the Klingons along the way. It’s a great film, very reminiscent of the original episodes but a big factor in the film is the performance of William Shatner. He really is an outstanding actor and I think the success of Star Trek is in no small measure due to him. Shatner went on to play many other roles on TV so he can hardly claim to be type cast but I wonder if he hadn’t played Kirk, would he have gone on to a better career as a film actor.

Star Trek is ultimately about three people, Kirk, Spock and McCoy and the producers probably realised that which is why, in the latest Trek films, a new generation of actors have been asked to recreate the old characters meaning that Captain Kirk lives on again for a new generation of sci-fi fans.


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A Slice of my Locked Down Life

When I used to work a nine to five job, I always looked forward to a bank holiday. It meant only working four days instead of five. Nowadays when I work shifts, I sometimes end up working the bank holiday but when it comes down to it, I don’t really care. It’s actually nicer having a break when the holiday resorts and seaside destinations are not packed. This bank holiday I wasn’t working but the weather in the UK, at least in the northwest where I live, was dreadful. It was cold and did nothing but rain so I spent the day watching TV.

The lockdown is easing in the UK and pubs and restaurants are open but, and it’s a rather big but, for outdoors only. We went to our favourite restaurant the other week. It had been a pretty warm day but it was cooling quickly by the time our table was ready. Luckily they have those outside heaters which helped but not that much. I couldn’t help comparing the situation to eating out in Lanzarote in January 2020. The restaurants over there have much more effective patio heaters but either way, it was good to be out again.

Last week we tried eating out again. This time we went to the 54 bistro in St Annes. It describes itself as a Mediterranean restaurant and it serves mainly tapas. Liz always goes for the fish platter they serve there. For me, I went for bruschetta followed by spicy pasta and some cheesy flatbread. The restaurant was still pretty busy and various potential diners got turned away while we were eating as the small dining area was either full or waiting for diners who had booked a table. There were patio heaters but up at a high level and they were not particularly effective. Maybe no one had told them that heat rises. We were dining at about six and by seven it had gone a lot cooler. Towards the end of the meal, it was actually really cold and despite my thick cardigan I was really chilled.

For some mad reason we decided to have a quick pint, our first of 2021 sat outside Wetherspoons and by the time I had supped my beer I was frozen to the bone. Roll on summer!

I don’t know if you remember but a few years back an aircraft that had just taken off from New York had to ditch in the Hudson river. For some reason Clint Eastwood decided to make a film about it and they showed it last week on BBC1.

I’ve actually always wondered how could they make a whole film about that short event. The aircraft takes off, hits a flock of birds, the engines get jammed up and this being New York, a pretty densely populated place, there was nowhere to land except in the river.

The film which was called Sully, after the pilot’s nickname, shows the plane landing in the river quite a few times. Pilot Sully played by Tom Hanks calls his wife up after the rescue to say he is OK. OK she asks? OK how? What has happened? Turn on the TV he says and you’ll see. The film then goes on to show Sully as a young pilot and later as an air force jet pilot following a colleague with a problem aircraft back to base.

Sully then has an interview with his bosses from the airline who, rather than being pleased he saved all those lives, seem to think Sully could have got the aircraft back to the airfield and the rest of the film tends to focus on that. Sully becomes a bit of a New York celebrity but early investigation reports also seem to indicate that the pilots could have made it back to LaGuardia airport. Sully says they could not have done so as both engines failed but the aircraft telemetry suggested that one engine was OK.

At the investigation hearing, a flight simulation is shown where various pilots easily turn back to the airport. Simulations are fine but as Sully points out, a simulation is just that, a simulation not reality. How many tries did the simulator pilots have? The answer was 17! Sully and his co-pilot only got one chance and after adding 35 seconds on to the simulator, for decision time, the simulator pilots all crashed. Later when the aircraft engines are raised from the river bed and checked, it is confirmed that both engines failed, just as the pilots said.

I have to say although parts of the film were interesting, as a whole it didn’t work for me. I remember seeing a film years ago where an aircraft ran out of fuel. I think they may have just changed from imperial measurement to metric and there was some confusion. Anyway the plane ran out of fuel somewhere over the USA but happily the pilots were able to glide down to earth using an unused airfield that the pilot happened to know about. That as I remember was a very good film with a really exciting build up of tension.(After some quick research I found it was called Freefall: Flight 174.)

Getting back to Sully I read somewhere that the whole incident was a tonic to New York as the previous aircraft disaster in the city, the 9/11 disaster did not have a happy ending, unlike this one.

In my draft folder I’ve got a post started called The Best Worst films of All Time. You might be confused by that at first but just think for a moment, how many crap films are there that you actually enjoy and continue to watch again and again every time they pop up on your TV screen. One of the films on the list was a film I watched last week and I must have watched it fifty times at least. It’s called Uncle Buck. I know, it’s a complete load of old tosh but I just seem to be drawn to it like a moth to a flame. Never seen it? Really? OK it’s a sort of variant on the film Home Alone and in fact one of the characters is played by that kid from the Home Alone films, Macauley Culkin.

In this movie a couple have to leave home because the wife’s mother has suddenly passed away. Who can they get to babysit the three kids? No one is available so the no good bum of a brother in law is roped in, you guessed it, Uncle Buck. Uncle Buck is played by the late John Candy and he has to contend with kids he doesn’t even know including, as well as young Mr Culkin, two screen sisters, one of them a teenage girl with a big attitude problem. She is completely embarrassed by her uncouth uncle and his smoke screen producing old banger automobile and even though the film is just a notch above rubbish, it’s actually quite fun in parts.

Buck sorts out ‘Bug’, the teenage girl’s cheating boyfriend and in doing so finally makes friends with his teenage niece. Uncle Buck is a great film to watch when you’re tired and not really paying attention and I always get the feeling it was written by a sort of committee of writers. (Probably the same committee that wrote Home Alone and Three Men and a Baby and so on.) I remember once seeing a documentary about the US sitcom Friends. The show is not one of my favourite programmes but in the documentary they showed how Friends was recorded in front of a live audience. If a bit of business didn’t quite work out, the recording was stopped while a whole bunch of writers and producers had a chat about things. Then a new line or even a section of dialogue was inserted or some of the action was changed. That was then run past the live audience. If it still wasn’t quite right the laughter track was updated to fill in. Writing by committee, interesting.

Anyway, that’s my draft post about great but crap films rendered completely useless even though I only had two other films on my list. Still by the time I finally finish it in about six months, this post will just be a distant memory for regular readers so maybe I can still use it after all.

Getting back to Sully, the actual plane crash (sorry, water landing as the pilots called it) happened on January 15th 2009. It was a freezing day and those passengers looked particularly cold when I checked out the newsreel video from back then. That was just how I felt shivering outside Wetherspoons last week. At least I was able to call a cab, rush back home and light the fire!


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Life but Not as We know it

 

lifeThis week the lockdown has eased a little here in the UK. Groups of six can now meet together in public places and soon we will be able to go to the pub once again, as long as we stay outside. No doubt pubs who don’t already have beer gardens or some sort of outside area will be scrambling to get one set up. It will be nice to go down to the pub or restaurant again and take another step towards normality.

Once again I’ve spent a few days at my mother’s house, checking that everything is ok, tidying the garden up and so on. As I am alone here this should be the perfect time to write. After all, what could be better for a writer; quiet, solitude and my trusty laptop? One other thing that is important is a writing routine and a few ideas. Of course, if I was a professional writer, let’s say a newspaper columnist for instance, my editor would surely be on my back asking for my next article.

I can just imagine a scene like something out of All the President’s Men, the 1976 movie about the reporters who broke the Watergate story at the Washington post. There’s a nice scene there that goes like this:

EDITOR: Bernstein! Is that story ready yet?

BERNSTEIN: Yes, I’ve finished it.

EDITOR: Let me have it then.

BERNSTEIN: I will. It just needs polishing.

I tried to find the video of that scene but failed. Here’s the trailer instead:

I do have a few articles or I should say blog post drafts, that need polishing. Fifteen actually. I think of them as my stand bys. Posts I work on when I just haven’t got any idea what to write about. Sometimes I will look at one, get an idea or an angle, a new way of looking at the subject and then I’m off and I actually finish, or get closer to finishing the post. Other times I just end up adding another draft that will probably never get finished.

This week I had a plan. I always seem to wake up at 7:30 no matter what. At home I usually just nod off back to sleep but here at my mother’s house I rarely seem able to do that. So, here’s the plan: wake at 7:30. A quick clean of my teeth and splash a little water on my face. Back to bed. Check my emails and social media. Then back to the bathroom for a shave and a proper wash, downstairs for breakfast and ready to get writing. Great, there is nothing like having a plan, now to put it into action.

Sunday. I wake up and check the time. It’s 8:30. 8:30? Wow, I’ve actually had a good sleep for a change. OK. Clean teeth and back to check out my emails. Now the big mistake there is that recently I’ve subscribed to Medium. It’s a story website and there is always some interesting story I want to read. There are numerous true crime stories that I like. In particular I do like reading about cold cases; old police murder cases that are now being solved by new DNA technology. It must be great for the families and the detectives to see crimes that were thought to be finished and unsolved, now being given a new lease of life by technology.

This week I watched a TV documentary about a famous cold case, the disapearance of Suzy Lamplugh. Suzy was an estate agent who left work to meet someone wanting to look at a property. The only clue was that Suzy had left a note in her diary that she was to meet a ‘Mr Kipper’ on the 28th July, 1986 in Fulham, London. She was due to meet Mr Kipper at a property at Shorrolds Rd at 12:45. She went to meet him and was never seen again. Her car was found half a mile away from the property at Stevenage Road, also in Fulham.

suzylamplugh

Picture courtesy Wikipedia

Witnesses saw Suzy with someone at the Shorrolds Road property; a smartly dressed man with a bottle of wine or champagne with a fancy wrapping. Later another witness saw Suzy in a BMW in Stevenage Road. Nothing was ever found and despite reinvestigation in 1998 and 2000, Suzy was never traced.

In 2000 it was suggested that convicted rapist and murderer John Cannan could have been the culprit. Cannan looks startlingly similar to a photofit picture produced by Police, of the man Suzy met at Shorrolds Road. Cannan denied being the murderer but he was staying in a hostel for released prisoners not far away at the time and others at the hostel said that Cannan used to leave at night through a window. Cannan visited pubs and restaurants in the area and could have seen Suzy there, in fact she had lost her checkbook and a local pub called Suzy to say they had found it the day she disappeared.

It was all rather shocking and the programme left me fairly convinced that Cannan was the villain although the man himself, still serving time on another murder charge, denies everything. Suzy’s parents sadly never lived to see the crime solved but they did establish the Suzy Lamplugh Trust that helps people with their personal safety and also runs the National Stalking Helpline.

Anyway, back to my personal writing plan. After that late start it was nearly 10 so I dragged my lazy behind out of bed and made it down to the kitchen. I hurriedly sorted out some egg and bacon ready to eat during Star Trek, the original series on the Horror channel. Star Trek however wasn’t on. It must have just finished because I realised just then that it’s Spring and we have now moved to BST, British Summer Time and it was actually eleven o’clock, not ten!

Come to think of it, they don’t show Star Trek on a Sunday, it’s just on Monday to Friday so there’s my whole blog post blown out of the water. Anyway using the power vested in me by WordPress what I think we’ll do is just fast forward to Monday at 10. There I was eating pretty much the same breakfast -OK, I’d thrown a sausage in and a few beans but what the heck, variety is the spice of life in these highly irregular Covid 19 times.

Let’s start again. There I was with substantially the same breakfast on Monday ready to eat and watch Star Trek.

I do love Star Trek, in particular the first episodes starring William Shatner as Captain James T Kirk. Forget Captain pointy head Picard, Kirk is a proper captain and by 10:30 he will usually have blasted a number of aliens with his phaser (a sort of ray gun) and done some pretty serious kissing of any beautiful girl, alien or otherwise, within a 100 yard area. In the episode I watched, Kirk decided that the only way to get free from a planet where androids had imprisoned him was to show the androids that there was more to life than working in an underground prison. He gave the tonsils of one android lady a good work out and lo and behold, that sent her into some serious confusion. She then encountered another android who clearly was in need of some snogging software as he wasn’t so keen on kissing, so she gave him a quick blast of her ray gun, enabling Kirk to once again take control and show everyone involved that messing with James T Kirk is not a good idea.

It just so happens that William Shatner has reached the venerable age of 90 this week so it was good to read in the media that he is still going strong. Wonder if there is any chance of him playing Kirk again just one last time?

Anyway, back to the plan. You know, the one I was talking about earlier, the writing plan, up early have breakfast and then write stuff. Well after Star Trek I thought I might just check to see if any more emails had landed on my virtual doorstep. One was a newsletter from the Guardian newspaper. I’ve signed up for a few newsletters from the Guardian; one for films and another about books. I get one every week and there are a whole list of bookish articles about various book related topics. Usually I have a quick scan and if there is nothing of any interest I just hit the delete button. This week there was a post about a lady called Vivian Gornick. I’ve never heard of the lady but apparently she is a journalist and memoirist and in the book section the Guardian hit her with their regular bunch of questions so I thought I’d just see if I could answer those questions myself.

What book am I currently reading?

Well just lately I’m really fascinated by the silent film era as you can see from my Book Bag post a few weeks back. I’m reading Charlie Chaplin and His Times by Kenneth S Lynn. It’s a really interesting read about Chaplin and the author, who happens to be a really great researcher, checks out all the various stories in Chaplin’s autobiography and compares them to actual records. All fascinating stuff about the early days of film making.

What book changed your life?

Not sure about that one. Did any book change my life? Well I’ll have to say David Copperfield by Charles Dickens. That changed my life in that it opened up my mind to how an author could take his reader on such an incredible journey and manage a story in such a way that the reader could experience it and feel almost as if he was living the narrative with the writer. You’ve guessed by now I just love that book.

What book do I think is most overrated?

That’s another tough question and I’d have to answer Wuthering Heights. I read something ages ago about 100 books I should read before I die so I picked a copy up in my local charity shop, back in the days when we could go into shops, and read it. I should say tried to read because I just thought it was a little dull. Sorry, I know it’s a classic but it just didn’t do it for me.

The last book that made me laugh.

I think it would have to be The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin. You might have seen the TV series with Leonard Rossiter playing the part of Reggie Perrin. I’m not sure which came first, the book or the TV show but it’s a really funny book.

The book I couldn’t finish.

This has to be Catch 22 the novel by Joseph Heller. One of my friends gave it me and said it was brilliant and I had to read it. I tried but I just couldn’t get into it.

I guess this must have taken me into lunchtime. I was feeling a little hungry round about then. I suppose that when you start working like a real writer with a writing plan you must need a little sustenance to keep you going. What I needed was a corned beef sandwich and a large cup of tea with maybe a chocolate biscuit on the side. I made my way into the kitchen to sort out that little feast but just then the phone rang and I’m guessing the call was from an alternate universe because it was my editor yelling down the phone:

EDITOR: Where the heck is that blog post you promised me?

ME: That blog post? Oh yes, I finished it.

EDITOR: Where the hell is it then?

ME: It’s just . . . er . . . I’m just . . polishing it!


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