Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Raskin On The Road

All this week afternoon television has become a little ray of sunshine thanks to the delightful antique expert Natasha Raskin appearing on BBC1's Antiques Road Trip

The beautiful glossy haired Scot is often a regular on the same channel's Bargain Hunt, but it's a real bonus to see her appear every day on TV. She's glossy haired, gloriously goofy, always smiling or laughing and - like fellow expert Christina Trevanion - shows that antiques can be quite sexy!

Natasha will be appearing on the Road Trip battling Philip Serrell for bargains every day until Friday at 4:30pm.

The Black and Blue Lamp (1988)

I've wanted to (re)watch this for years. As a nine year old kid in 1988, I had already seen The Blue Lamp and my father, who was brought up on Dixon of Dock Green, was keen to watch this BBC2 single play in the Screenplay strand, The Black and Blue Lamp. Much of what followed I can only imagine went completely over my infant head, but  abstract memories of scenes have remained with me for years, increasing in understanding as I matured. 

In The Black and Blue Lamp, playwright Arthur Ellis (who had previously written Christine, directed and condensed to its main points by Alan Clarke, and would go on to write the 1990 Screen One drama The Police) explores the changing landscape both of British society and of television, challenging the changing views on, and representations of, law and order across four decades. A curious mixture of satire, black comedy, telefantasy and police drama, the play transplants the 1949 coshboy Tom Riley (made famous by Dirk Bogarde in the classic Basil Dearden film The Blue Lamp) and PC 'Taffy' Hughes (Meredith Edwards in the film) into the then present day setting of 1988 with a breed of copper more familiar from the world of GF Newman (Law and Order, the Terry Sneed novels such as Sir, You Bastard - indeed one supporting character is named after this anti-hero) The Sweeney and The Bill. Aware that the last twenty years or so the media had entirely changed the perceptions our society had of the police force, Ellis brings both the current and the past depictions head on in a glorious, entertaining and thought provoking fashion.  What's incredible is that such a groundbreaking, fresh and - as we will come to see -  Screenplay's producer Brenda Reid had an hour's studio filming slot that required filling. By this stage, studio-only recorded plays were on their way out and becoming trickier to cater for, but Ellis leapt upon it and completed his script in around a month. 

The play picks up immediately after the concluding action of the Basil Dearden film. It's opening moments are shot in monochrome black and white and features the stiff, fast talking acting style of the late 40s, with Sean Chapman (previously the lead in Alan Clarke's Contact; the first ever Screen Two play) and Karl Johnson convincingly adopting the mannerisms of Bogarde's Riley and Edwards' Hughes. Awaiting an interview from CID and the promise of a cup of tea and a jam bun ("They used to give you that for giving blood," Hughes sadly observes. "Now they give you it for taking blood") the action suddenly, and inexplicably, switches from black and white to colour and Riley and Hughes end up in a 1980s police station, complete with strange (to them) markers such as graffiti on the walls, a radiator, flickering strip lighting, and the sound of telephones and screams. At one point Hughes, concerned with the knock to his head he suffered upon arresting Riley, reveals to the police surgeon that, since he returned back to the station, he's been hearing "rude words" - how far we have come, indeed.

Indeed, the period banter of both Riley and Hughes is given short shrift when CID eventually turn up in the shape of Kenneth Cranham's Superintendent Cherry;  “You’re gonna put your hands up to this one, son, or I’ll take your bollocks off with a Stanley knife” he snaps and another title sequence kicks in, this time a tongue-in-cheek affair for an imaginary 1980s police series The Filth.

Riley and Hughes have, without explanation from Ellis, replaced 1980s versions of Riley and Hughes, after the murder of an 80s version of Dixon; a character a world away, it is revealed, from the cosy patrician in blue of Jack Warner. This Dixon was being investigated by A10 for his part in a paedophile ring, a grubby secret that would destroy, as John Woodvine's Superintendent informs Cherry, the good PR his slaying could achieve among society and in terms of recruitment intake; “The training schools’ll be having them in and out quicker than a pork sword in a knocking shop", a sly reference to the alleged recruitment spike The Blue Lamp afforded the constabulary after its release in 1949. Equally, the criminality of the 1940s is depicted as far cosier too, with Riley bewildered and helpless at the rough questioning style and beatings Cherry and his faithful sidekick George (Ralph Brown, who had not long left The Bill where he played a hard nosed, sadistic and racist uniformed constable who had gleefully done his duty on the picket lines in the miners strike of '84 - something you could never imagine Dixon having done) dole out to him during his 'interview'.

But The Black and Blue Lamp is more than just a jet black parody of the world of George Dixon, Tom Riley and Taffy Hughes. It's also a canny and intelligent inversion of that source material. Hopelessly adrift in this alien, modern world P.C. Hughes succumbs to a violent breakdown which culminates in him confronting Riley with a gun. The ensuing scene directly lifts the action from The Blue Lamp in which Riley shoots Dixon, but this time it is Riley who is trying to talk down the policeman. Ellis utilises the original dialogue here, and when Riley is shot, Sean Chapman captures Jack Warner’s facial expression with great accuracy. Corrupted by the modern world he finds himself in, with the routine backhanders, planting of evidence and deaths in custody occurring throughout, it is Hughes who commits the very worst offence in the play - shooting an unarmed man. Just as it was in The Blue Lamp.  

The play closes with Cherry wondering just who they had under arrest all along and whether he could really have been, as he claimed, a coshboy of the late 40s. If that were the case, he ponders, and if somehow he had taken the place of the 1980s Riley they had been keen to question, then where has their Riley actually gone? The credits - a sombre Sweeney-like homage - conclude to reveal a brilliant coda, inverting the rest of the play by now showing the modern-day Riley and Hughes in the world of The Blue Lamp. "The detective will want to grill you" a bobby informs Riley. “What’s he think I am," he yells defiantly "a fucking sausage?” 

A brilliantly inventive single drama, it's easy to draw a line from the strangeness of The Black and Blue Lamp to Life On Mars and Ashes To Ashes in the 00s which took equal delight in supplanting a heroic cop figure into a different world, to explore the perceived representations of that day.  But Life On Mars and its sequel Ashes To Ashes were primetime, populist TV drama rather than the stuff of 'highbrow' single act TV plays and as such we can, once again - just as The Black and Blue Lamp did in 1988, consider the changing landscape of television in the intervening years. 

Staggeringly, The Black and Blue Lamp has remained unrepeated and unreleased to DVD or VHS. It is however available to view on YouTube. To get the BBC to consider repeating some of these classic plays please sign the petition I started here

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Prime Cut (1972)

Prime Cut is a prime cut of pulp fiction served with a large side order of American Gothic. 

Directed by Michael Ritchie, it has a great, mouth watering trio in Lee Marvin, Gene Hackman and - in her screen debut - Sissy Spacek, who each invest strong performances in the ensuing hard boiled weirdness.

Marvin stars as Nick Devlin, a hard as nails enforcer for the Chicago mob who is given the mission to go to Kansas City and bring back half a million dollars in mob money that cocksure slaughterhouse kingpin Mary Ann (Hackman) has been creaming off for himself, arrogantly believing Chicago to be a town of old men and kids and therefore now no longer a threat to his private enterprise. Indeed so arrogant is he that he has sent back previous enforcers the mob sent his way - ground up into sausages. Yuck.

Undeterred, Devlin and his men arrive at Mary Ann’s ranch in the middle of a livestock auction like no other - groups of well dressed men survey the pens full of young, doped naked girls, sourced from local orphanages and runaways. The repugnant Mary Ann, and his even more loathsome brother Weenie (Gregory Walcott), have got themselves a white slavery racket to run alongside the legitimate ranch business. One of the girls is Poppy (Spacek), who Marvin rescues, before giving Mary Ann an ultimatum to meet him the next day to pay the debt back in full. 

Needless to say, the money exchange doesn’t go down as planned leaving Devlin with no option but to take Mary Ann’s organisation apart piece by piece. Well, it's what you expect from Lee Marvin really isn't it? But the tone of what occurs is perhaps not as you'd expected, because Prime Cut is a surreal, distinctive and quirky little thriller. 

American cinema of the 1970s seemed to have a gleeful phobia about the rural areas of their country; Deliverance, Southern Comfort etc. In Prime Cut, Kansas gets more or less the same treatment. It's more the American Nightmare rather than the American Dream; a corrupt cabal which sees Mary Ann scratch the back of, and in turn have his back scratched, similar sweaty stetson wearing Republicans each with denim dungaree clad corn fed blond haired, blue eyed farm boys to do their bidding, lethal shotguns in hand. The county fairs and turkey shoots on display here take a peculiar, disturbing and bizarre aspect, and pose a great threat to Marvin and his fellow Chicago interlopers who make no concessions for their environment, dressed in their city suits and cruising through town in a sleek black Cadillac as if they were a small recon platoon of an occupying force looking to crush the locals under their expensive boot heels. 

Of course this peculiarity leads to several 'WTF' moments, most notably in one of the film's crucial set pieces which sees Marvin and Spacek fleeing a menacing combine harvester through a vast wheat field much like Cary Grant escaping the crop duster in North By Northwest. It looks impressive, but - like the film in general - it has no relation to reality. For a start who tipped off the fat farmboy at the wheel of the harvester to attack? Why does Marvin continue to hold Spacek's hand as they desperately try to evade its impending assault? Surely splitting up could help them to run faster and even evade the peril altogether? The scene ends with the Cadillac, driven by Marvin's faithful chauffeur, smashing head on into the harvester - which promptly digests it!  

It's the cast that really make Prime Cut worth watching. There's nothing new here from Marvin but then there really doesn't need to be; this is the kind of role he can do in his sleep and, on occasions here, it looks like that's exactly what he's doing. Laconic, wryly humourous and authentically tough, his Devlin is never less than convincing. For what was her first major screen role, Spacek - one of my favourite actresses - is straight out of the traps here as Poppy. She performs the doe eyed, troubled ingĂ©nue to perfection and there's a wonderful asexual relationship between her and Marvin, her avenging angel. My favourite scene with the pair has to be the one where they dine in  a posh Kansas City restaurant. Poppy's young naivety means she has elected to dress in something she thinks is pretty rather than something respectful and suitable, and so they arrive with her clad in a see through, figure hugging green evening dress (and Spacek certainly looks a knockout here!)

The rest of the clientele, the refined Kansas townsfolk (as opposed to Mary Ann's set) look on and judge internally, but one dead-eyed look from Marvin soon has them turning their heads! Poppy recounts the story of her time at the orphanage and her closest girlfriend there (who is at this point in the clutches of Mary Ann's brother, the brawny man-child Weenie) with the inevitable confession of a flirtation into naive lesbianism. But what could have been a moment of leering sexuality and nudge nudgery for the audience is  respectfully kept away from what is essentially a respectful almost father and daughter like relationship between Marvin and the considerably younger girl. In the wake of several truths coming to light over on this side of the pond regarding care homes in the 1970s, the plot here about the orphanage literally handing over their charges to Mary Ann to sell as sex slaves gives the film a chilling resonance.

It goes without saying that Gene Hackman is just as good here as his co-stars. A year on from The French Connection and he greedily accepts the challenge of playing the bad guy this time around. (Interestingly, Eddie Egan, his co-star from The French Connection and the real life cop who inspired the role of Popeye Doyle, appears in the film's opening scene as the mob boss who orders Marvin down to Kansas) Hackman's a repulsive sight to behold here, whether its cheerfully feasting on offal in his debut scene or reverting to infancy - and reaching levels of homoeroticism - to tussle around on the carpet with his brother whilst the moneymen organise the accounts, he holds your attention brilliantly proving he's more than a match for Marvin's screen presence.

Monday, 28 September 2015

The Organization (1971)

It's actually a real shame that the first sequel that put In The Heat of the Night's fish out of water detective Virgil Tibbs back into the water was the insipid They Call Me Mr Tibbs! as this concluding chapter in the loose trilogy of films, The Organization, is a much stronger piece that actually feels more in keeping with the Tibbs character of the original film.

Sidney Poitier's Virgil Tibbs is back in San Francisco for this second sequel but crucially he's back in fine maverick form, determined to bring down an international narcotics ring supplying drugs into the Bay Area through a dummy company called Century Furniture, and he's not particularly bothered about bending a few laws and keeping his colleagues in the police department in the dark either. In a briskly efficient audacious heist in the opening scene, we see a gang of activists (including a Charles Manson look-a-like preacher, a Japanese member of a girl's track team, a pole vaulter and a young Raul Julia) break into Century Furniture, with its kidnapped CEO and make off with an enormous $4 million shipment of heroin from the companies vaults. It's an impressive opening to the movie which has no dialogue (indeed, no sound at all beyond footsteps and grunts) until a little over seven minutes in when Raul Julia utters the film's first line and Gill Melle's score (an improvement on Quincy Jones' offering for They Call Me Mister Tibbs!) kicks in.

Immediately after the heist and the opening credits fade, the plot kicks in and things start to get complex. Our activist gang make their getaway determined to break the heroin supply chain in the city, but when Tibbs and the team show up they find the CEO they left behind full of bullets. Someone else - representatives of the shadowy eponymous 'Organization' - arrived after their robbery and executed the guy as punishment. Terrified that they have a murder rap hanging over their heads, the gang contact Tibbs and let them in on their secret, telling them their part in the robbery.  From there Tibbs agrees to investigate 'The Organization', whilst keeping the activists names out of it - but, 'The Organization' are out for revenge and it isn't long before they start picking off the gang one by one.

The only real issue with The Organization is that it is unnecessarily complicated. Even now after watching I'm still not totally sure where all the jigsaw pieces fitted, but overall it's an efficient runaround featuring an unflappable Poitier as Tibbs and, thankfully, much less of his domestic life away from the job. The real joy here is seeing his loyalty being divided between cops and the gang who turn to become his informers and if you can follow all the red herrings being thrown into the mix then I'm sure there's much to enjoy in this rattling cop drama. It's no French Connection (what is?) but it's streets ahead of They Call Me Mister Tibbs! and is an overlooked entry in the solid crime thrillers of 70s cinema.

Look out too for one Danny Travanty as Tibbs' driver - he would go on to become Daniel J Travanti and star as Lt Frank Furrilo in Hill Street Blues in the subsequent decade.

Fighting Back : Justice For Cherry

This week marks the thirtieth anniversary of the shooting of innocent mother of five Cherry Groce by the Metropolitan Police - an incident which sparked the Brixton riots.

Regular readers may recall last year's petition which I shared. That petition secured its aim in getting legal aid for Cherry's family and in finally receiving an apology from Scotland Yard at the hearing which proved that the injuries she sustained from that shooting contributed to her premature death. But despite suffering PTSD and the struggle Cherry went through from the day she was shot until her death four years ago, the police have never taken full and sufficient responsibility for what happened, despite assurances after the hearing from Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe that he would sit down with the family to do so. They have heard nothing from him since March - when he instructed his lawyers to tell Cherry's family that he was no longer willing to work with them on this matter.

Please sign here

Happy Birthday Dita Von Teese

The former Miss Heather Renee Sweet and Mrs Marilyn Mansun is 43 today!



That last piccie has confirmed that, for me, there's just something very hot about a beautiful woman in male clothing! To say nothing, of course, of the Red Army uniform piccies!

Sunday, 27 September 2015

They Call Mister Tibbs! (1970)

"They call me MISTER Tibbs!"

So said Sidney Poitier's visiting detective in the face of a less than hospitable Southern welcome in 1967's classic In The Heat of the Night. Three years later, and Poitier returned to the character with this, the first of two sequels, which directly references that line of dialogue in its title. 

Unfortunately, you take the character of Virgil Tibbs out of In The Heat of the Night and you're left with not very much. The film attempts to open his character out more, by giving him a private and domestic family life of marriage and parenthood away from his work, but this only serves to mystify the viewer - if he was a married father of two infant children, a boy and a girl, why no mention of this during his previous case in Sparta, Mississippi? You'd think him being waylaid up there would lead to calls home, right? The sequel also goes some way to further muddy the waters by placing Tibbs in San Francisco rather than Philadelphia, which was previously established. When his superior points out he's been with them twelve years and he explains he's known the Martin Landau character, one of the suspects in the murder case he's assigned, all his life then you know this is one big continuity mess.

Giving him a family doesn't help the matter of his character either; in slapping his infant son across the face several times, encouraging him to "puff, puff" on a giant cigar he gives him to smoke and giving him hard liqueur to drink, it's safe to say that this Mr Tibbs won't be winning Father of the Year any time soon! Seriously this scene is quite staggering now, I'm not sure how it looked in 1970, but it looks bad now.

The title may proclaim They Call Me Mister Tibbs! but really Poitier's character here could have been A.N Other, and the film goes the way of many sequels, walking the well trod path to mediocrity. Poitier tries but unlike In The Heat of the Night he has no one really to bounce off - Martin Landau and Anthony Zerbe, with respect, are no Rod Steiger and Warren Oates. The murder mystery is a dull, limp affair that is well signposted from the off to the audience but seems to prove elusive to the cops on screen who wade through it like it were made of treacle. These great swathes of slow, poor procedural action are interspersed with Tibbs' domestic problems which feel like things The Cosby Show might have considered a decade later. Director Gordon Douglas has an annoying habit of placing his actors directly in front of the camera to deliver their lines to the viewer and he also has terrible issues with pacing, with only Quincy Jones' dated funk kicking in signifying to us that Something Is About To Happen. When it does, it occasionally lifts this from the routine, but it quickly slumps back into inertia not long after. 

Trivia: the opening murder scene is scored by Jones' reworking of his own Something's Cookin', which he had previously used in his soundtrack to The Italian Job just a year earlier. It kind of sums They Call Me Mister Tibbs! up actually, trading off past glories.

Silent Sunday : Angel

Saturday, 26 September 2015

In The Heat Of The Night (1967)

Legend has it that producer Walter Mirisch was really up against it with In The Heat of the Night, having to try and prove to the money men at United Artists that a film featuring a black lead getting the better of a town full of rednecks could still make money, even if it never opened in any Southern cinemas! 

But there's more to In The Heat of the Night than the obvious and important issue of race. At its heart, it's a film about a culture clash - the metropolitan, sophisticated big city living of the North, and the uncultivated, preserved-in-aspic small town community living of the Bible-belt. The culture clash formula is still a worthy one to employ in crime drama; Coogan's Bluff, and latterly TV's McCloud, took the same idea but came at it from the opposite direction (small town to big city) and one need only look at two of UK TV's biggest successes of the previous decade, Life On Mars and Ashes to Ashes, to see how effective the trope still is. Indeed Sidney Poitier's Virgil Tibbs shares something of the modernity of the leads from that time travel cop drama because arriving in the town of Sparta, Mississippi really is like travelling back thirty or so years.

With that in mind, you could argue that In The Heat of the Night could just as easily have played out featuring a white detective from the North, finding himself assigned to solve a murder in Mississippi. It could have played out like that, but it would have been considerably less effective, less significant and not exactly groundbreaking.

Which brings us to that scene

Wealthy local plantation owner Eric Endicott is being questioned in his greenhouse about the murder by Detective Tibbs and a brilliantly on-form Rod Steiger as the local Police Chief, Gillespie. Naturally, Endicott isn't used to being questioned by anyone, least of all a black man, and he doesn't like it. Unable to stomach what he perceives to be the visiting detective's insolence a moment longer, Endicott reverts to type and slaps him across the face. 

But Tibbs isn't some 'houseboy' and, without warning, he immediately slaps him back. Harder. 

Endicott is both astonished and tearful. "There was a time, when I could have had you shot" he remarks, and it's not actually clear whether he's crying because of the pain and the embarrassment or if he's crying for those days he no doubt considers halycon. Probably a mixture of all three.

The important thing to remember about this pivotal scene is that the slap Tibbs retaliates with wasn't scripted. No one knew Poitier was going to do it. And when he does it, you feel it transcends acting, to personally tap into Poitier's own anger; a direct 'fuck you' response to every white authority figure who had ever humiliated or abused him up until that very moment. A retort to the Klansmen who followed his every move in North Carolina when he visited his friend, the actor and singer, Harry Belafonte. A stand against the rednecks who made the few days of location shooting in Tennessee so unbearable for him that he slept with a gun under his pillow all the time he was there.

In The Heat Of The Night - one of the finest, most important films of the twentieth century.

Theme Time : Bob James - Taxi

Yet another firm family favourite that I grew up with, Taxi was a US sitcom created by the team who would go on to make Cheers, which centred on the lives of the employees of the Sunshine Cab Company at the fleet garage in Manhattan. It starred Judd Hirsch, Marilu Henner, Danny DeVito, Tony Danza, Jeff Conaway, Andy Kaufman and Christopher Lloyd to name but a few. It ran from 1978 to 1983 and, if its on TV today, I still watch it.

Two time Grammy award winning jazz musician Bob James composed the memorable theme tune. Entitled Angela, it was only ever intended for a small sequence in the third ever episode entitled Blind Date which featured Judd Hirsch's seasoned cabbie Alex asking out a phone operator called Angela on a blind date, purely because of her sexy voice. When he meets her, he finds that she's an overweight woman who is used to being spurned because of her size. Nevertheless, they strike up a good friendship. It's a lovely bittersweet episode with a great performance from Suzanne Kent as Angela Matusa (who would return to the show a year later for another episode) and the theme suits it perfectly. So much so that the producers found this tune more to their liking than the up tempo number James had originally offered them for the show's theme tune. A switch was made, and the rest is history.

Thursday, 24 September 2015

Get Well Soon

This was a blast from the past - Get Well Soon, up and about again from the BBC vaults!

Get Well Soon was a BBC1 sitcom that I recall from Sunday evening in the winter of 1997. It was written by sitcom screenwriting legend Ray Galton and John Antrobus, a one time collaborator of Spike Milligan, and was based on the circumstances of how Galton met his long term scriptwriting partner Alan Simpson whilst patients at a tuberculosis sanatorium. From these beginnings Galton and Simpson would go on to write such sitcom greats as Hancock's Half Hour and Steptoe and Son.

Get Well Soon however does not reach these lofty heights, but it did deserve more than just one series.

This is a much gentler style of comedy than the likes of Steptoe and put me in mind of the 1962 film Twice Round The Daffodils which was also set in a TB sanatorium. Set in 1947, it focuses on the comic everyday lives of the mismatched group of patients, specifically Roy Osborne and Brian Clapton played by Matthew Cottle and Eddie Marsan respectively. The character of Osborne, naive and newly admitted to the ward, is based on Galton, whilst the scrounging old hand Clapton takes inspiration from Simpson. Poor Roy arrives at the sanatorium with his flirty, chain smoking mother played by ex-EastEnders star Anita Dobson thinking he'll only be there for a few weeks, but soon finds out from room mate Brian that it could be several months or even years before he can be considered fit enough to leave. The pair become firm friends an across the 6 episodes get up to various japes upon the ward.

Matthew Cottle is a great comic actor who came to prominence in the brilliant 90s sitcom Game On. This was his next big role after that BBC2 sitcom came to an end and it's a great shame that this was effectively the only breakout role his talents ultimately afforded him when you compare him to the steadily prominent and successful post Game On careers of his co-stars Samantha Womack (nee Janus), Ben Chaplin and Neil Stuke. I believe he is mainly known for stage work these days (Alan Ayckbourn) but he has popped up at a regular rate once more this past year with guest roles in shows as diverse as the daytime soap Doctors and the Greg Davies sitcom Man Down, as well as a regular role in BBC3 sitcom Fried. He's very good here as Roy, displaying the kind of laconic delivery Nicholas Lyndhurst was known for in Only Fools and Horses.

I'm a big fan of Eddie Marsan an actor who is know very much in demand in everything from roles in Hollywood blockbusters and US series like Ray Donovan to the films of Mike Leigh and other socially aware British indie projects. I think Get Well Soon was the first or one of the first things I ever saw him in and he's a lugubrious charm as cockney Brian, playing very well off Carry On legend Patsy Rowlands as his glum mother.

Other roles in the series are taken by Samantha Beckinsale (daughter of the late Richard Beckinsale) as an slightly older and very glamourous woman who sets her cap at young Roy when he takes the bed of her late husband, Three Up, Two Down's Neil Stacy as Roy's mother's latest love interest, Downton Abbey's Hugh Bonneville as Tucker, a posh know-all with unnervingly fascist leanings who shares a room with Roy and Brian much to his disgust, and Cold Feet and Toast of London star Robert Bathurst as a patient who is a former RAF officer and who still believes the war is on - he even has to an imaginary black labrador called, what else?, Blackie!

The series is made of six half hour episodes and whilst it's true you won't be rolling around the floor or laughing until you cry each episode has enough to raise a smile and even the odd chuckle. Like I say, it's light, gentle fare in keeping with the era it is set in. The nostalgia value is very good too and the production detail of the late 1940s is, as you expect with the BBC, superlative. Each episode is largely studio based, relying on just one or two sets (the boys' room and the odd corridor or two) but you do often get a glimpse of outside and the surrounding areas, especially in the very weird title sequence which consists of a patients dancing on the lawn, a revolving shelter and our two leads looking direct to camera, to the left and right, all to a catchy old time tune provided by former Snowman chorister Aled Jones. If you can make sense of that opening sequence, please write to me!

Disappointingly this DVD from Simply Media offers absolutely nothing in the way of extras which is a real shame given this brand new release currently retails at a stonking £18! The packaging is also rather misleading, placing Dobson and Stacy on the front cover alongside Marsan and Cottle and giving Dobson (and Beckinsale) star billing when, in actual fact, Dobson, Stacy and Beckinsale are only ever really frequent supporting players and don't even feature in all 6 episodes. You'd think Eddie Marsan's name would be enough of a draw these days to secure top billing for this DVD but the boys and girls at Simply Media don't seem to agree. Equally the back cover and the disc itself features two of the nursing staff, one of whom only features once and very briefly, whilst the other appears more frequently with a few sparse lines.

Overall I'd say if you enjoy traditional Sunday offerings from the BBC (everything from Last of the Summer Wine to Call The Midwife) then you'll likely as not enjoy Get Well Soon. It's a real shame it only lasted a single series as I think it certainly had potential to run for one or two more years. You got a real feeling it would have hit its stride if given another chance, but alas it was not to be.

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Wordless Wednesday : Girlfriends

Rapid Reviews: The DC Max Wolfe Series by Tony Parsons

Former rock music journalist turned novelist Tony Parsons has added a new string to his bow in the last year; turning out two full length crime novels featuring the cases of a tough West End Central DC, Max Wolfe.

These are what I call page turners. There nothing special in literary terms but they have enough about them to keep you interested and they're written by someone who clearly understands and appreciates punchy prose.

They also feel like they desperately want to be made into feature films or, at the very least, a TV series; The Murder Bag - the first in the series - especially so. Because Parsons doesn't deal in realism or authenticity, he places his hero in a converted loft apartment above Smithfield Market; a very des res affair above a plainclothes constable's wages I would presume, but perfect visually for the screen. I'm reminded a little of those '80s Hollywood fantasies of Simpson and Bruckheimer, who produced Flashdance, the rags to riches story of a female welder and part time erotic dancer who dreamt of making it big away from the daily grind to become a professional dancer...but lived in a plush loft apartment!  

Wolfe is a lone parent to his five year old daughter Scout (yes, as in To Kill A Mockingbird) and, in an attempt to become a normal family unit they possess a King Charles Spaniel called Stan. Normalcy is something the Wolfe's strive for, because it's bad enough being a single parent family, but when your job is as dangerous as Max's it's even worse.

Max Wolfe is a maverick cop y'see. The kind of cop who risks his life solving the crimes that cross his desk. Again authenticity is a bit of an issue here as you do wonder just how much responsibility a DC has on a case when there are superior officers around such as a DS and a DI, and when said superiors seem to be deferring to Wolfe, it really does start to go a bit silly. Why Parsons just didn't make him a DI or a DS I do not know.

The Murder Bag is the lesser of the two novels, bearing all the hallmarks of a debut in a series. It has many good ideas but a lot of poor choices too and I have to confess I didn't find the central mystery - someone is cutting the throats of a group of rich and elite establishment figures for something they did back in their privileged private school days - all that involving. I only read it last month but already I'm struggling to recall all that much about it. What I do remember however is the regular characters, largely because Parsons is quite a repetitive writer when it comes to scenarios and descriptions - I lost count of how many times he transports Wolfe to Scotland Yard's Black Museum in Room 101, a training facility run by tea drinking Sergeant John Caine, and how many times he explains what the facility is all about. It's something he goes on to do in the following book... 

The Slaughter Man however is a vast improvement. Parsons seems to have calmed down on the 'please adapt me for the screen!' front and shows some careful consideration and concentration on the narrative at hand. The central conceit is also much more engaging; a wealthy family is found slaughtered and the youngest child has been stolen away. The murder weapon was a cattle gun, the MO of a killer who murdered three people thirty years ago. Could he be killing again or are they looking at a copycat? Parsons weaves his tale effectively from the exclusive gated communities of North London to the capital's travellers camps, where no one talks to the police and the law is an abstract concept. 

If I had one quibble this time around its that he shows a penchant for too much violence and a flair for the melodramatic threat to his good guys is never far from his mind. This is a double edged sword because on the one hand he's good at the pulpy narration of action and violence but on the other hand it can feel a bit OTT. I know it's expected nowadays to open any murder mystery with the crime to grip the reader from the opening page, but in The Slaughter Man Parsons describes the threat and the murders in great detail before moving the action on to a shoot out involving Wolfe and his colleagues, which sees one character die - yet the background of this moment is never revealed, and Parsons doesn't dwell on the shocking and tragic result at all. 

Overall, if you're looking for a new series of crime novels I'd say give these a try. A third novel entitled The Hanging Club is set for release next year and I'll be picking it up at the library or in the charity shops. I can also say that I imagine Parsons will get his dream to come true and they will be adapted at some point. Here's hoping whatever comes out of them will be an improvement on recent cinematic British police thrillers such as Welcome to the Punch and Blitz. For what it's worth, I tried conjuring up Tom Hardy whenever I was reading.

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Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Out On Blue Six : Prefab Sprout/Jimmy Nail

One song, two versions today. Cowboy Dreams was penned by Prefab Sprout's Paddy McAloon but was released not by the band but by Jimmy Nail who adopted it for his phenomenal TV series and soundtrack album hit Crocodile Shoes in 1994. Prefab Sprout finally got around to releasing it in 2001 on the album The Gunman and Other Stories

End Transmission