Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Jane Asher in Rumpole of the Bailey, 1978

Screencaps of Jane's guest appearance in the Rumpole of the Bailey episode, Rumpole and the Alternative Society, first broadcast on 10th April, 1978. The episode sees Rumpole journey to the west of England to defend Jane's character, Kathy Trelawney, a hippy schoolteacher who is charged with selling cannabis to a police agent provocateur. Like her appearance in the debut episode of Hazell also that year - shown just three months earlier in fact - Jane's role came relatively early in what was the second episode in what was the first ever series of Rumpole. It shows that Jane was quite a pull at the time, a star name that ITV felt would be able to attract viewers to their new productions.

I especially liked her court outfit seen in the last few pics. That, combined with how she wore her hair, made her look rather Pre-Raphaelite. Lizzie Siddal would have been proud!

Kinky Boots : Caroline Munro

Theme Time : Harry South - The Chinese Detective

Following the end of The Sweeney, celebrated scriptwriter Ian Kennedy Martin moved to the BBC and created two further - but totally different - police drama series; Juliet Bravo (1980-1985) and The Chinese Detective (1981-1982)

The show ran for two series and made a star of Liverpudlian Chinese actor David Yip who took the central role of the quirky yet sensitive maverick DS John Ho of Limehouse nick. A very atmospheric series, the show now has great nostalgic value in seeing a London that no longer exists as much of the series was shot in and around the derelict docklands before the developers took hold and gentrified these surroundings.

Kennedy Martin cites his intention for the programme as primarily to offer something more than the police procedural at that time.This approach I think can be seen in both his BBC crime dramas following The Sweeney; Juliet Bravo centred on a female inspector at a time when the force was predominantly male and certainly so in the higher ranks, whilst this drama focuses on the ethnic minorities both within the force and in the diverse London community which featured regularly and allowed actors of Chinese, Asian, African, West Indian, Polish and Jewish origins a chance to shine. Sadly, though it's thirty-three years since the credits rolled for the last time on The Chinese Detective, I don't think television has actually capitalised on its cultural diversity offering as it does scant opportunity for ethnic minorities to lead dramas or even feature in them in supporting roles all that much. As a result, The Chinese Detective still feels fresh and important - the racism Ho feels from his superior DCI Berwick (played brilliantly by Derek Martin, pictured below with Yip) may be less in your face these days, but the lack of inclusion is sadly still all too real.

Kennedy Martin claims his inspiration for the series was two real life incidents; the first being the one and only Chinese detective within London's Met at that time who was mainly used as an interpreter and translator rather than an actual investigating officer, and the other was the story of a Chinese girl whose father owned a restaurant which was beginning to struggle. He was expected to pay protection money to the local police each week and, when this became impossible because of the businesses dwindling income, the officers raided his home and planted drugs. Upon 'finding' them, they arrested the girl's father as a dealer and he subsequently served a prison term. It is this that forms the backbone and backstory of the first series of The Chinese Detective as we learn that Ho joined the Met to investigate a crooked cop, now retired, who purposefully got his father sent to gaol for possession of drugs which he planted on the old man. In the final episode, when Ho confronts his nemesis, David Yip is crying real tears as he explains his families plight, because he knew it was a true story for some poor family out there.  

The character of Johnny Ho is an intriguing one; an eternal loner, too clever for his own good, not in the least bit physical (no impressive and cliched kung fu heroics here!) he does not exist or think in the straight lines his fellow officers do. This gets him results, but it does not get him respect. If anything it gets him more aggravation. He's also rather adrift from his own community as, despite his Hamlet like guilt, his father isn't pleased he joined the force to exact revenge and overall, the Chinese community view him as a traitor as they do not traditionally believe in the police. Ho also refers to himself as a Londoner or British rather than Chinese as everyone around him - specifically the white people - does, which is interesting as neither the white community accept him nor the Chinese (though distractingly Yip's natural Scouse sometimes shines through in his accent) There's also the occasional and very subtle suggestion that the sensitive and sympathetic Ho may be bisexual; he develops a close relationship with a Chinese doctor in series 2 and has a rather homoerotic poster of the Japanese writer Yukio Mishima on his wall. No two ways about it, Ho is a unique character for a police drama.

The theme was provided by the great Harry South (The Sweeney, Fox, Big Deal etc) and is a wonderfully evocative tune. The opening credits arrangement shared below is a great one for telling you what lies in store; from its haunting melody at the start as the camera pans across the dawn or dusk lit docklands to its sudden jazzier kickstart... 

I also really love the arrangement for the closing credits; slower more reflective (as South had previously done with The Sweeney) and with opening bars that put me in mind of a John Barry-esque James Bond theme and its mournful saxophone...


YouTube also chucks up this version, which is a further different arrangement. It commences in a manner like the opening theme, but is longer in some places and is played by different instruments - more synth. 

Speaking of synth; Intriguingly it seems Vince Clarke of Yazoo (and latterly of Depeche Mode and Erasure) was a fan of the show and produced an instrumental, 'remake'/homage/alternative of the theme tune, although I believe it was never officially released or recorded, and simply played during Yazoo's Guided Tour in '82.

I've been working my way through the boxset of The Chinese Detective this past month having never really seen it before and I must say I enjoyed it. I believe it was my late nanna's favourite show back in the 80s - she had good taste, my nan! The show only lasted two seasons which I think is a shame specifically because as I say it offered actors of different ethnicities a chance to appear on mainstream prime time TV each week which is still a rarity today. Kennedy Martin believes the reason for its axeing was twofold; because it was put up against ITV's Shine On Harvey Moon on Sunday nights, 9pm and because the powers that be did not like the low class multi racial cast. Yip went on to star in both Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and the James Bond film A View to a Kill whilst Derek Martin returned to play cops for Ian Kennedy Martin in a similar short lived opposites attract serial for ITV, King and Castle alongside Nigel Planer.

Here's Yip discussing The Chinese Detective at the Thinking Chinese Conference this year at the UCL - very interesting listen.

Monday, 27 July 2015

Rapid Reviews : How To Build A Girl

It goes without saying that Caitlin Moran's novel is an hilarious laugh out loud charming joy of a read that I have thoroughly enjoyed reading these past few days.

So what I am going to do with this review is highlight the moments where the wonderful Miss Moran must do better, and either doublecheck her work or hire an editor who can research her book properly to spot the following mistakes;

  1. Nick Owen never presented Crimewatch. It was Nick Ross
  2. The Bee Gees did not provide the soundtrack to Grease. They did however provide the soundtrack to Saturday Night Fever.
  3. Marion tends to Indy's wounds post fight in Raiders of the Lost Ark, not Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.
Other than that, this was bostin' and I'll forgive your errors Caitlin!

Cars & Girls

Deneuve & Dorleac

Young Soul Rebels (1991)

Artist and filmmaker Isaac Julien's first commercial, narrative feature film Young Soul Rebels was borne from a desire to depict the various youth movements around the Queen's Silver Jubilee of 1977, a time of great jingoistic pride, belligerent chauvinism and the counter narrative regarding the confusion for many young people, specifically ethnic minorities, regarding national identity and where their place in this anniversary celebrating Britain actually was.

Received wisdom is of course that the only counter narrative that mattered at that time was punk but Julien, who was there, knows differently and manages to place the spotlight specifically on black popular culture of that time and the underground movement of soul and funk music, as well as the gay scene at that time and shatters the myth that disco or dance music was a redundant white capitalist invention that punk would have you believe. 

The film focuses on two soul boys and lifelong friends, straight mixed race Chris (Valentine Nonyela) and gay black Caz (Mo Sesay) who run a pirate radio station from a friend's garage and are keen to get ahead and introduce their mixture of soul and funk to more and more people in the London area - an area which is reaching boiling point thanks to the forthcoming Jubilee celebrations and the murder of a local gay black man (and mutual friend of Chris and Caz) out on the heath and its subsequent bullish police investigation. 

On its release Young Soul Rebels was compared favourably to Spike Lee's Do The Right Thing, though in the long run one suspects this did more damage than good. It's certainly true that Julien shares some of Lee's traits and talents, but he also has a touch of Hanif Kureishi about him too, and he is - like Kureishi - specifically a vibrant and vital storyteller of a culturally and ethnically diverse London. It's a beautifully directed film too, capturing the period and the summery vibe well (though its just as nostalgic now for an audience for the 1991 it was filmed in) and recreating the varying youth movements (punk, racist skinheads, soul boys, the gay scene) all jostling for street space with a variety of astute costume choices and social sentiments within the script.

You could argue, with that latter statement, that Julien and his writing partners Paul Hallam and Derrick Saldaan McClintock are perhaps too guilty of using these characters to make political points but I think, on the whole, they do it authentically and naturalistically rather than place their creations upon soapboxes to instruct and inform its audience. For example, a scene where Chris' Radio PR girlfriend Tracy, played by Sophie Okonedo, chastises and challenges Caz's punk white boyfriend Billibud (Jason Durr) for his belief that the dance music of soul, funk and disco is a capitalist distraction by pointing out that paying twenty pounds for the infamous Westwood designed Cowboys T-Shirt he is wearing is making him more of a capitalist puppet than her is particularly amusing and astute. 

It is true to say though that the murder mystery subplot, based on an episode from Saldaan McClintock's life and included at the behest of by head of production Colin McCabe to give the film more story, isn't wholly successful and with its almost Blow-Out style investigation on Chris' part,  occasionally distracts from the rest of the narrative and what Julien really wants to say. You also don't need to be Sherlock Holmes to work out the mystery itself, as its evident pretty much immediately. Where it does impress is in highlighting the racist and homophobic tensions created by the subsequent police investigation and its impact on minority communities.

For me, it's a shame that the production didn't see the real story playing out before their eyes, namely that of Chris' love for Tracy coming between him and Caz. It's clear, specifically from Mo Sesay's beautifully layered performance, that Caz is trying to come to terms with that fact that his friend and soul partner is straight and therefore not the love he has perhaps harboured even since their childhood. There's a coming-of-age plot here begging to be fleshed out in the great traditions of those 'nothing could be the same again after this summer' dramas, and it would have been great to explore just why this apolitical gay soul boy falls for a white Socialist Worker selling punk in Billibud - is it a rebound thing or are his feelings much deeper? - but Julien all too often muffs it, leaving it tragically sidelined. 

Nevertheless this is a great little film somewhat overlooked now which adequately explores this time in British culture and, with a genuine thought provoking style, asks some important questions. It also has, naturally, a sublime soundtrack featuring the likes of the great Roy Ayers, Funkadelic, Sylvester, Junior Marvin and X-Ray Specs. 

Erotic, vibrant, political and great fun, it goes straight into my best first watched of 2015 - even though I vaguely and hazily recall snippets of it on TV some time in the 90s.



Out On Blue Six : Roy Ayers

End Transmission

Thursday, 23 July 2015

We Still Kill The Old Way (2014)

Let me make this plain, I knew this was going to be bad, but I probably only really realised how dire it would be when the opening credits proclaimed a 'special guest appearance' by Adele Silva.

Excuse me?

Anyway, once the eye rolling and chuckling from that subsided (the former soap star with the face like a slapped arse has just the one scene in the first few minutes by the way, being terrorised on some council estate) I settled down to see if this could legitimately find its way into the 'so bad it's good' territory.

It doesn't.

We Still Kill The Old Way is a Daily Mail reader's dream. The demonisation of this countries youth continues in the same vein as the more enjoyable Harry Brown, depicting a feral gang of drug dealing, raping juveniles who, if they bore the mark 666 upon their bodies and drank the fresh blood of slain virgins during the proceedings, you wouldn't be at all surprised. The philosophy of We Still Kill The Old Way is plain for all to see; the country is fucked, the young are morally lacking, ruthless villains with no respect for anyone whatsoever, especially women or their elders, and the only response to this blight is for these elders to be harder and more violent than them. This is a film for every boneheaded prat who ever uttered the phrase 'The streets were a safer place when The Krays were around', as stupid a comment as 'Say what you want about Mussolini, but at least he got the trains running on time'. The film seems determined to explain there's a difference between the murdering thugs of the 1960s and those who terrorise the film's estates today, but as far as I can see the only difference is the former wear suits and the latter, hoodies. The scene with Adele Silva, that oh so special guest star, depicts the hoodies threatening to throw her baby off the top of the tower block. This, we're lead to believe, is not what the old school would do. Well, wrong. I actually used to go out with a girl whose father used to do a bit of business for a person I shan't name back in the 1970s (but whose biographies will feature in many a true crime section at your local Waterstones) My ex's dad walked away from the game when he was told to throw a rival's infant child off a tower block. Not threaten to, throw. Actually throw.

There was nothing chivalrous about the gangland of yesteryear, let me tell you.

The film even has a character whose sole role is to specifically spout this kind of crap about 'the good old days'. She's played by '80s glamour puss Lysette Anthony though frankly I'd double check; she looks like Bambi's dead mum, albeit Bambi's dead mum having been dug up and - in the spirit of this ugly film - shot once again. I'm not sure if this is one of the worst performances I have ever seen or one of the best; her character looks, acts and sounds like one of the panel from TV's Loose Women whose been at the gin and got on to talking crime and politics. She seems to always be a shallow breath away from explaining why she's voting UKIP next time around. It's irritating, stupid but sadly all too convincing.

Anthony's not the only one whose glamour has sadly faded since their heyday. Alison Doody from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, A View To A Kill and Taffin appears as the world's least believable cop looking like she's perpetually trapped in a wind tunnel. And if you think I'm being unfair and sexist here by concentrating on the looks of the female cast then take a look at that poster at the top of this review - those faces actually belong to, from left to right, Chris Ellison, Ian Ogilvy, James Cosmo and some bloke off The Football Factory (I'm pretty sure even his agent calls him that. Hell, I'm willing to bet his next of kin calls him that too) they are not, as one could be forgiven for thinking, a selection of rubbery latex masks and monkey gland injections. 

Actually to be fair Ogilvy looks OK for 71, which is just as well as the former 'Get me Roger Moore-what, he wants how much?-Get me Ian Ogilvy' still can't really act. His inability to convince beyond the 'Tonight Matthew, I'm going to be Roger Moore' style is a major issue for a film in which he's expected to carry, or at least it would be if the film in question wasn't already sunk. Mind you, he isn't given anything approaching a character beyond having OCD and the half arsed motivation of avenging his brother's death at the hands of these 'chavs' (I hate that word by the way) The brother in question is played by Steven Berkoff who delivers this small cameo with his customary scene chewing aplomb that its actually a shame he's offed so soon as he at least enlivens the proceedings.

The script is terrible, littered with cliches it could be written by anyone who has never experienced life for themselves. In fact, if you were to tell me that the people who wrote this script (I think there's four guilty suspects responsible for this garbage) have never left their homes because they live in fear of what they read in the Daily Mail I would believe you completely, because that would explain a lot. It's disgraceful that a film in this day and age treats the act of gang rape as nothing more than a plot point to get the narrative going. This is the fate that befalls a character played by Dani Dyer, daughter of the illustriously awful Danny Dyer, yet there is nothing in her performance (which is poor, obviously) or the script (which is worse, obviously) that suggests she has suffered either physically or mentally from this ordeal. Indeed, she spends the rest of the film falling for the one guy in the gang who held off from sexually assaulting her. Aw, that's true love right there hun. And don't even start me on the final shoot out which takes place in a hospital like its the ultimate jumping-the-shark episode of Casualty, except the script suspiciously forgets the fact that most British NHS hospitals have things like staff and patients in them.

The direction by Sacha Bennett (who also had a hand in the script) is just as bad. There's a scene in a pub, at Berkoff's wake, where Doody and Ogilvy share a scene in which Bennett does nothing but spin the camera around them. I'm not sure what he was trying to do here, beyond inducing dizzy spells in its audience or allowing Ogilvy to show off his impressive full head of hair.

All in all no one comes out of We Still Kill The Old Way smelling of roses. James Cosmo comes close as a knuckleheaded old enforcer whose hoarse cackling at every element of torture and violence they impose at least suggests gangsters have always been psychotic cunts, but it's not much really. The film even manages to sully the memory of a favourite of mine, The Italian Job, by suggesting it was Berkoff, Ogilvy et al who had it off with some gold from Turin in '69 in the film's closing scene which also ends on the line "I've got a great idea" And sure enough, they do have an idea - to bring them back (minus Cosmo, who perhaps saw sense) for a sequel, We Still Steal The Old Way, next year. Fuck knows why.

Hanging On The Telephone

Debbie Harry

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Give The BBC a Future

The government have a beef with the BBC as it presently stands. Please take a moment to complete this Online Survey to say why you feel that the BBC should remain independent from the government and that the licence fee isn't all that bad! It only takes a few minutes and it could help protect something we should all hold dear.

Wordless Wednesday : Toxteth, '81

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Hamlet (2015)

I fucking love Maxine Peake.

That statement alone could have been my entire review for her headline grabbing performance at Hamlet at Manchester's Royal Exchange last year, but I feel compelled to write more. After all, at just over three hours in length, this staging - recently broadcast on cinemas and on Sky Arts - deserves it.

What many of those headlines failed to grab last year was that in casting Peake to play 'the Dane', director Sarah Frankcom was doing nothing unusual. There are several precedents here, including of course Sarah Siddons who also took the role to Manchester in 1777 and Sarah Bernhardt who performed it for film in 1899 and declared the part should always be played by a woman, but what is worth recalling is the fact that this is the first female Hamlet on a major stage in 35 years, when Frances de la Tour took the role. What is truly groundbreaking her is the fact that Frankcom seems to single-handedly be creating a prominent wave of the most exciting, invigorating feminist theatre here in the UK and with Peake in particular, she has her most effective muse.

As my opening statement attests I am a huge fan of Maxine Peake. I find her talent staggering and her politics an inspiration. That said, I am more familiar with her work on TV, film and radio than I am on the stage so this was a real eye opener. Her Hamlet struck me as a most spell binding cross between David Bowie and Glenda Jackson; a trans prince who glides will-o'-the-wisp like through the court of Elsinore, exuding mercurial danger, uttering ribald lively humour with a reedy tone and possessing a bipolar spirit that is palpably intense. But it's not just Hamlet's mental state that can be considered erratic and fickle and Peake plays the role with fluid gender; "Hamlet was born a girl but very quickly didn’t feel that fitted. He very quickly took on a male mantle. Of course everyone in the court was shocked and divided...and that unspoken feeling serves as a backdrop for the production." Clearly this Hamlet was effectively a person to be tolerated long before succumbing to the grief which the death of his/her father caused and the bitter cynicism his/her mother's swift marriage brought about.

But the gender bending production does not stop at its central titular role and Frankcom offers us Claire Benedict as both the Player Queen (with an ensemble featuring thrash metal and the most cutest of children) and a 'Marcello' rather than Marcellus, a pair of scouse female gravediggers, tipping the wink to Manchester's nearest city and rival, played by Michelle Butterly - who incorporates the distinctly un-Shakespearean 'Ar-ey' - and Jodie McNee, the later of whom pops up as a hipsterish coke dealing Rosencrantz. But it's Gillian Bevan who takes the role of Polonius and brings us her Polonia who is perhaps the most noteworthy of gender changes after of course Hamlet.  Played as an officious, pompous buffoon in a neat dark business suit, forever cowing to the royals she obeys, she reminded me a little - perhaps intentionally, given that Salford is just down the road - of that self serving, needlessly orotund female in high office herself, Hazel Blears MP. It's an entertaining turn and gains much laughter from the skillful eking out of the play's humour, especially when floundering against the ferocity and crudity of Peake's Prince.

These reversals may initially surprise and unsettle, but the production is quick to put us at our ease and if anything the gender swap adds a greater resonance to Shakespeare's piece. Maybe Bernhardt was right?

Peake naturally and rightly gained all the plaudits, but this is far from a one woman show. I was especially impressed with Katie West's utterly sympathetic and heartbreaking performance of Ophelia, perhaps one of the finest Ophelia's I have seen in fact, whilst Barbara Marten and John Shrapnel provide a suitably impervious regal pair as Gertrude and Claudius. Shrapnel doubles up as Hamlet's slain father too and praise must also go to Amanda Stoodley’s design, heralding his ethereal arrival by the descent of what can only be described as the hanging vines of lightbulbs, glowing brightly one minute and fading the next to signify the waxing and waning of this apparition to Hamlet's eyes.  

Overall the staging is simple, characters wear modern dress with just an essence of retro aristocracy a'la Adam Ant for Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Peake's Hamlet adopts a Thin White Duke aura; a crisp white shirt beneath a uniform blue tunic that would not have looked out of place in Michael Radford's 1984. Nothing detracts the viewer from the speech which is as it should be; after all, 'the play's the thing'  as Hamlet indeed says.