Sunday, 31 January 2016

Theme Time : Holiday - Various Artists

Long before those channels found in the high hundreds on your cable or satellite's TV guide came into life, if you wanted to see a bit of the world from the comfort of your armchair and considered booking yourself a holiday, there was only one place to go; BBC1's Holiday programme.

Like the recently blogged about Tomorrow's World, Holiday was a pinnacle of what the BBC would call magazine programming, something they don't really do any more. Starting in 1969 it ran until 2007 and became the world's longest running travel review show. Like that other behemoth of BBC magazine programming Film... (which is still running to this day as Film 2016) Holiday began life as Holiday 69 and the title would change each year accordingly until the programme ultimately dispensed with that title style. It was fronted by Cliff Michelmore from 1969 until 1986 and over the years it featured a range of hosts and travel guides including Jill Dando, Frank Bough, Des Lynam, Anneka Rice, Ginny Buckley, Carol Smilie and Craig Doyle. 

Holiday enjoyed several themes tunes in its 38 year history. The first theme tune was The Castle by Love

In the mid-70s this was replaced by Hugo Montenegro's arrangement of Lalo Schifrin's theme from the 1968 film The Fox, and by Jean Michel Jarre's Equinoxe Part 1

Most famously in 1978 the programme selected Gordon Giltrap's tune Heartsong, which remained as its theme until 1985 and is fondly remembered 

In 1985, the programme chose a specially commissioned piece by EastEnders and Howards Way composer Simon May entitled The Holiday Suite but this proved unpopular and was removed shortly after for a return of Giltrap's Heartsong

Until finally in 1988 Holiday turned to Paul Hardcastle of 19 fame for his piece entitled Voyager, a great theme which remained as the show's theme throughout the '90s and until the show's final episode in 2007.

And if that hasn't shook you out of these winter blues and had you thinking of sun sea and sand then I don't know what else will.

RIP Frank Finlay

Further proof that Janurary has been the shittest month - Frank Finlay, one of my favourite actors, has passed away at the age of 89.

Bolton born Finlay (a dead ringer for my late Uncle Harold) was an accomplished veteran of the stage and both the big and small screen since the mid '50s. A silver fox with a dark, handsome demeanour, Finlay played a memorable green eyed Iago in 1965's Othello opposite Olivier, and played older than his years (as was often the case) as a memorable Van Helsing in the 1977 BBC adaptation of Dracula. He also appeared as Inspector Lestrade on two occasions, Study In Terror and Murder By Decree aiding each films respective Holmes on the hunt for Jack The Ripper and played the Dutch detective Van Der Valk for West German television. Roles in Robbery, Sitting Target, The Deadly Bees, Cromwell, The Molly Maguires, The Wild Geese and Shaft in Africa kept him busy throughout the 1960s and 1970s, with roles in The Pianist. Common as Muck, The Sins, Eroica, Life Begins, Prime Suspect and Johnny and The Bomb keeping him active in recent years. But he is perhaps best known for three key roles in the 1970s; firsly as Casanova in Dennis Potter's TV drama of the same name, as Porthos in Richard Lester's definitive and wonderful Musketeers films - The Three Musketeers, The Four Musketeers and The Return of the Musketeers - and as a father whose relationship was a touch too close to his daughter in the excellent, scandalous TV adaptation of Andrea Newman's novel A Bouquet of Barbed Wire.  I will also remember him for his marvellous turn in that supremely underrated sitcom How Do You Want Me? playing Dylan Moran's father in law from hell in what was effectively, Straw Dogs as a sitcom!


RIP Terry Wogan

This month is now officially the worst. So many celebrity deaths and now we've lost Sir Terry Wogan.

A national treasure, an institution and a firm fixture in our house; Sir Terry Wogan has passed away following a short battle with cancer aged 77. Wogan meant so much to me; growing up with his eponymous chat show, watching him host every year two of the BBC's biggest events, Children in Need and the Eurovision Song Contest, which he blessed with his wonderful dry wit for almost four decades. But it was perhaps his Radio 2 breakfast show, Wake Up To Wogan, that I really got to like him and appreciate his warmth and talent. It takes a real gift to entertain at that time of day and set someone up for what lay ahead but Wogan did it effortlessly, with some wonderful banter and some great tunes.


Friday, 29 January 2016

Fighting Back : Petitions to Sign

Cameron and his Tory cronies think they can get away with the tax dodging deal they've secured with Google. They're paying just 3%, a pittance in tax, and Cameron is hoping he can ride out the media storm by pulling his usual trick; comparing his efforts with that of a government last in power 6 years ago.

We can change this.

It's not just Corbyn who want to take Cameron to task over this insulting deal. It's also the European Commission. The woman in charge of big business has said she would investigate the deal with Google and overrule them - but only if someone complains.

Sign this petition and kick-start this much needed investigation.

Out On Blue Six : Freeez

Another almost forgotten gem getting an airing on TOTP on BBC4 tonight...

End Transmission

Thursday, 28 January 2016

Child 44 (2015)

A husband and wife are on the trail of a murderer in Stalinist Russia, where the totalitarian regime decrees that 'there are no murders in paradise'

It's hardly a Soviet Hart to Hart!

In fact this is Child 44, a film based on Tom Rob Smith's soar-away bestseller which in turn was loosely based on the crimes of Andrei Chikatilo, the 'Citizen X' of Russia responsible for the deaths of over 50 women and children from 1978 to 1990. Like the novel, the film places the events much earlier in history to the post-war years of the 1950s when Stalin still ruled the lands behind the Iron Curtain with an equally hard, iron fist.

When I first saw that a film was being made of Child 44, my appetite was immediately whetted. When I heard the cast would feature Tom Hardy, Gary Oldman, Noomi Rapace and Paddy Considine, I expected nothing short of a blockbuster. But it was not to be, and the reviews that came in upon its release suggested a complete and utter flop.

Were they fair?

Well, yes and no. This is a plodding and overlong, unrelentingly grim affair from Swedish director Daniel Espinosa, but it's not atrocious - just average. I think the real problem it has is that it lacks a heart to invest an audience's interest. In the central role of Leo Demidov, Tom Hardy flounders, principally because the only attempt to introduce him to us is two deeply inferior scenes that establish his backstory; we first meet him as an orphan taken under the wing of a kindly soldier (Welsh actor Mark Lewis Jones - a favourite of mine) and then we're immediately transported 10 years to the end of WWII when, following a momentous final push that looks like it is filmed through a thick veneer of brown soup, Leo becomes a national hero when he is picked to wave the Soviet flag for the famous photo atop the Reichstag in 1945. The crux of the rivalry between him and his fellow MGB officer, the cold hearted Nikitin (Joel Kinnaman) is shown here....albeit with just one brief and slightly jealous look. From this, we're meant to appreciate everything that follows between the pair!

It's the simple fact that Richard Price's screenplay hasn't put in the groundwork that leaves Child 44 stumbling into 'so what?' territory. The central theme of the cruelty, both singular and institutionalised, against Russia's children is all too often muffed and little is made of Leo's own experiences beyond some meaningful glances and the soundtrack reminding you that THIS IS IMPORTANT. OK, maybe it is, but how about you actually write something that convinces us of that fact?  It's a real shame that some great actors are utterly squandered by the material too; the aforementioned Lewis Jones, Lorraine Ashbourne, Vincent Cassell, Tara Fitzgerald, Charles Dance and Jason Clarke all pop up for something like 5 minutes at the most. But the film doesn't offer all that much for its stars either. Hardy brings his usual robust screen persona to the proceedings but there's an element of auto-pilot accompanying it here, which is a world away from his recent performance in Legend, or even Mad Max: Fury Road. Gary Oldman is effortlessly brilliant with a rather minor role that the film seems to forget about in the final third, whilst Considine seems surprisingly toothless. Noomi Rapace at least delivers some heart, with the ability to convey a range of emotions that are utterly affecting with just the simplest of glances.

I'd probably recommend Citizen X, the HBO movie featuring Stephen Rea and Donald Sutherland over this, but the production and costume design here is very good - if you can see through the murkiness that is. 

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

"A Bunch of Migrants" - Cameron's True Colours

I like to think I'm rather cynical and don't expect anything from the government that unfortunately run my country, but even my jaw dropped this afternoon watching the PMQ feed in which David Cameron (the cunt) lambasted Jeremy Corbyn for visiting Calais and meeting with "a bunch of migrants"

This kind of comment I expect from Farage and UKIP - but seriously, our PM?

Firstly, Cameron, they're refugees fleeing their country. Secondly they're far more than a "bunch" - not a "swarm", may I remind you - but a number representative of the very real crisis that is occurring on the global stage - a crisis you claimed was so important when seeking the agreement to bomb Syria before Christmas, so why trivialise it now? And thirdly, to say something so flippantly offensive on Holocaust Memorial Day just about sums up your blatant, shameful ignorance and callous disregard for the suffering of others.

I've watched the news since with interest and at first, little was said about it at all. The BBC - a left wing bastion, as many right wingers would have you believe, but frankly the most collaborative impartial broadcaster since Orwell's 1984 - preferred to focus on the cut and thrust of the debate regarding Google's ridiculous 3% tax deal; Corbyn and the European Parliament think it nowhere near enough, but the BBC preferred to ignore the objections of the European Parliament and spin the story as another example of Corbyn struggling to take the PM to task, whilst Cameron defended his deal and verbally beat the Labour leader. The comment was just part of a very brisk news package - shown, but not commented upon.

When the BBC touched upon the slur in this evening's news, their political correspondent suggested that the Tories have defended their leader's comment arguing that this was just the kind of language he used when his dander is up in the House. Oh, so that's OK then is it? If he turned around and directed a racially offensive comment at Diane Abbot or Chuka Ummuna during such a debate, we're supposed to forgive him because he's just 'pumped up'?

Cameron's comment came in a rant that suggested Corbyn would never stand up for the British people. Tell me, Dave, exactly how is proposing to slash £30 of benefit from the very poorest and sickest of our nation is an example of you standing up for them? 

Now more than ever is it clear that Cameron and his cronies do not give two hoots about anyone other than themselves. The whole world can go to hell in a handcart and he would barely bat an eye - after all, this is a man whose wife, appearing on The Great British Bake Off tonight, freely admitted he told her he was nervous for her 'showstopper bake'. Nice to know the most important man in the UK has his full and undivided attention where it matters eh? 

Out On Blue Six : Thea Gilmore

Ah I well remember this music video - thirteen years ago already? Uploaded to Thea Gilmore's YT channel earlier today, she notes it was filmed at Crewe's Virgin Megastore on their security cameras, costing around £38 to make.

Cracking song.

End Transmission

Mean Machine (2001)

A somewhat ill advised remake of Robert Aldrich's The Longest Yard, 2001's Mean Machine takes the plot (and much of the dialogue) across the pond to our own shores here in the UK, with former footballer turned actor Vinnie Jones as Danny Meehan, an ex-England football international who, after his career goes tits up, finds himself in gaol for a drunken assault on two police officers. Determined to keep his head down and do his time, Danny soon finds this impossible as he is pressurised into assembling and coaching a prisoners' football team by the corrupt governor - played by David Hemmings and his spectacular eyebrows - to play against his team of prison warders.

Being both a prison movie and a sports movie this is quite literally a film of two halves. The prison aspect sees every cliche under the sun thrown at it; wily old lag with pearls of wisdom (David Kelly, virtually reprising the same role he played in Greenfingers around the same time, opposite Danny Dyer and Adam Fogerty who also pop up here) the racist thuggish screws, the naive green prisoner our hero must take under his wing (Dyer) etc etc, whilst the football aspect suffers from the usual inability to translate the beautiful game across to the big screen.

It's very much a film of its time, coming off the back of Lock Stock and the like which revitalised British cinema in the late 90s, and I well remember going to the cinema at the time and enjoying it for what it was, a slightly naff but enjoyable bit of entertainment. Unfortunately it isn't a production that is improving with age and its tin eared script, stilted gor blimey acting, heavy cliches and poor pacing (complete with irritating screenwipe to move us from one scene to the next) is certainly ensuring its reputation as something of a miss-fire. Most disappointing of all is how little the stakes are in terms of the story and that boils down to the film's awkward transition from the US setting to the UK. In the old Burt Reynolds actioneer, you can believe the thuggish, thick armed Deep South violence and feel the threat of the gun toting prison warders, which is totally alien and absent to the UK. Everything's just a bit too safe - there's really not that much to play for.

That said, there's still a fair bit to enjoy here if you look beyond the limitations of its star, Jones who may have proved himself above the usual sports stars before a film camera in Lock Stock but who struggles to carry a film solo. Its the supporting cast who actually make this movie and who show up the lead for the amateur he clearly is whenever they share the screen with him, so step forward the likes of Hemmings, Kelly, Ralph Brown, John Forgeham, Stephen Walters and Jason Statham, because you steal the film. 

The final score; a likeable effort but not one that comes away lifting the trophy. Think Escape To Victory meets Porridge.

Wordless Wednesday : Graveyard Glamour

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Theme Time: Paul Hart - Tomorrow's World

It ran for 38 years, starting with a trial run of six programmes in the summer of 1965 and ending in 2003, but my era of Tomorrow's World was the late '80s when I was a kid a little bit fascinated with science -albeit the notion of the subject as seen through science fiction like my favourite show at the time, Doctor Who. Paul Hart's glorious theme tune would herald the arrival of presenters Maggie Philbin, Judith Hann, Howard Stableford and Peter Macann into our living rooms with their glimpse of the promised future

I'm still waiting for that floating bike....

But imagine my delight one Christmas when then Doctor Who Sylvester MCoy popped up for a festive quiz edition

Out On Blue Six : Black, RIP Colin Vearncombe

News of another tragic loss to the music industry - Colin Vearncombe, the Liverpudlian who also went by the name Black and scored a big hit in 1987 with Wonderful Life, has passed away today following a horrific car crash in Ireland a fortnight ago. He was just 53. 


End Transmission

Monday, 25 January 2016

Fighting Back : Petition To Sign

In less than 48 hours, the House of Lords will be voting on the government's proposal to cut ESA benefit - much needed vital support to the sick and disabled of this country. Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson is deeply concerned about these plans from the DWP and wishes to carry a petition into Wednesday's vote. Please sign it Here to stop IDS from taking £30 a week away from people too ill to work. Your voice matters. Sign the petition and you can sway the vote on Wednesday. You can make them vote the right way. Please.

Out On Blue Six : XTC

End Transmission


I'd rather stick pins in my eyes than watch This Morning but my attention was brought to the programme and the utter jamminess of Philip Schofield last Thursday - bringing a whole new meaning to waking up at the crack...

What I wouldn't give to have Holly's deliciously plump bum as a pillow! The stunt was a nod to their both partying a little too hard at the National Television Awards the previous night.

Of course, the former Broom Cupboard dwelling Pip has form as a butt botherer.... 

Sunday, 24 January 2016

Operation Daybreak (1975)

Based on the true life military operation Anthropoid (a less catchy title I guess, although a film is currently in the offing with that name starring Cillian Murphy) which sent British trained Czech paratroopers back to Prague to kill the notorious SS-Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich, Lewis Gilbert's Operation Daybreak is a diverting enough and well intentioned tribute to the bravery, pluck and ingenuity of the allies. 

If you're looking for a star studded 'Men on a Mission' war flick, Operation Daybreak isn't really it. It actually surprises me that someone like Gilbert didn't have more resources available to tell this tale, but there's no fault in the performances of what is mostly a TV stardom level cast. Anthony Andrews and Martin Shaw would go on to achieve fame for their wartime and action adventure heroism on the small screen in Danger UXB and The Professionals respectively (though, interestingly, Andrews was mooted to star in The Professionals too) whilst Nicola Pagett was famous for her role in Upstairs, Downstairs. Taking the lead role is Timothy Bottoms, most famous for The Last Picture Show four years earlier. Filling out the cast are the likes of Joss Ackland, Cyril Shaps, Diana Bless This House Coupland and Kika Markham, whilst in a very cheap move George Sewell appears twice in the film; firstly as Hitler and again as a German officer in the film's effective denouement. Taking the role of Heydrich is everyone's favourite Nazi (if such a thing is possible) Anton Diffring, who brings his usual urbane chilly menace to the SS uniform despite being a good twenty or so years older here than the real Heydrich was. 

Several reviews for this movie often cite the anachronistic soundtrack as an issue, but personally I rather like David Hentschel's synth score.  The only thing that does rather irk me about the film is the opening expository scene in England featuring Nigel Stock's top brass briefing Bottoms, Andrews and Shaw on their mission. It irks me because it blows open the choice of our three heroes speaking with their own accent. Don't get me wrong, I hate watching films with English people adopting a cod Eastern European accent to establish that they are not English, but when the clipped, RP tones of Stock's British officer are matched by Andrews and Shaw, it doesn't convince that they are Czech. Once they're actually in Prague with other members of the Resistance who also- in the main - speak with English accents, it's no longer an issue.

The film convinces most in its scenes of tension and in understanding the desperation facing its characters. Less convincing is the rather unnecessary and tacked on feel of the love affair between Bottoms and Pagett and the moral complexity inherent in Shaw's character - a better script would have made more of his character's dramatic journey. Nevertheless, atmospherically shot in a dank and chilly looking Prague, Operation Daybreak is a gritty and sombre 70s action flick that owes more to Gilbert's previous WWII films like Carve Her Name With Pride than it does his Bond films.

Thursday, 21 January 2016

The Invisible Woman (2013)

The Invisible Woman, the second directorial effort of Ralph Fiennes, is a beautifully polished tale of the private life of one of histories greatest writers Charles Dickens, played by Fiennes himself.

Based on a book by Claire Tomalin, Abi Morgan's screenplay concerns the author's infatuation and subsequent affair with Nelly Ternan, a much younger woman, impressively played by Felicity Jones. The story is largely seen in flashback - though thankfully it is not the intrusive, disorientating or irritating device it can often be here - from the perspective of the now married Nelly, who is tormented by the memories of her affair and still living in its shadow.

Morgan draws with great insight on the gender inequality both of the period and at the heart of the central character's love; namely that the progressive, pioneering 'freedom' from marriage that Dickens and his friend and contemporary Wilkie Collins (Tom Hollander) happily embrace is simply a liberty for men only. With this in mind, the film's title may allude to Nelly, whose role in Dickens life has never really been acknowledged and was certainly not by the man himself, but it can also be directed at Catherine, Dickens' long suffering wife played impeccably by Joanna Scanlan, an actress more familiar for her comedy roles in several TV and film projects.

The invisibility theme is further pushed by Jones' performance; expressing so much without saying a word. She's a fascinating screen presence whose subtle playing is the perfect foil for Fiennes restrained yet intricate direction. When she breaks into a smile near the end of the film, you feel your own heart lift as you understand she has reached, in modern parlance, some 'closure'.

Fiennes himself gives a splendid performance and uncannily looks like the image of Dickens we instantly bring to mind. Stepping away from his sometimes cold screen presence, he brings the warmth of a showman here whilst simultaneously tapping into the tortures of a great artist. 

An engrossing, solemn and handsome period biopic which benefits greatly from Maria Djurkovic's exceptional design.

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Amazing Grace (2006)

2006's Amazing Grace tells the story of William Wilberforce and his efforts to bring about the end of slavery. It is a very old fashioned historical biopic, the kind that Hollywood or Gainsborough here in the UK would regularly make from the '30s through to the early '50s. Indeed, it's so reminiscent of those stodgy black and white history lessons that you half expect to see Basil Rathbone and James Mason sitting on the Opposition bench in the House of Commons rather than Ciaran Hinds and Toby Jones.

Another thing it has in common with those older movies is the - at best -  quaint and - at worst - unforgiveable fact that a film about race has just one substantial role for a black actor: the former slave and writer Olaudah Equiano played here by Senegalese singer Youssou N’Dour. The focus of Steve Knight's script may be fixed firmly on how awful slavery is, but it is seen only through the experiences of white people.

It's predominantly white cast are thankfully very accomplished though, working in Amazing Grace's favour. At the helm here is not Robert Donat, but Ioan Gruffudd as William Wilberforce, the politician and leading figure of the abolition movement. Gruffudd shot to fame here in the UK with the TV series Hornblower and he remains - to me at least - linked to that character. Perhaps as such, he never seems to have reached the dizzying heights he was once tipped for and perhaps expected (indeed it's interesting to see a pre-stellar stardom Benedict Cumberbatch play second fiddle to him here as a convincing William Pitt) and this is perhaps due to him lacking some substance and gravitas required for such leading man status. Nevertheless, he is always rather agreeable and maintains that quality here, playing to his strengths when showing both the compassion and the quirks of Wilberforce's character.

The divine Romola Garai co-stars as Wilberforce's love interest Barbara Spooner (The Guardian describing her character delightfully as a ''right-on sugar-boycotting babe'') who meets Wilberforce when he is convalescing with friends following his campaign's first defeat. She gives what is essentially an expositional role masquerading as a romantic subplot some much needed spirit and scenes come alive when she appears even though they're simply there to serve the flashback narrative of the plot and Wilberforce is too ill to truly match her flirtations. 

Other actors who manage to lift the spirits of this earnest but rather dull political biopic are Albert Finney as the repenting, born again former slave trader John  Newton (the man who wrote the hymn 'Amazing Grace') and Michael Gambon who literally steals one scene from a huge ensemble whilst seated in a corner with his eyes closed! The aforementioned Hinds and Jones also serve the piece well as the boo-hiss villains, Tarleton (who served as the template for The Patriot's ridiculous pantomime villain Tavington) and The Duke of Clarence aka the future King William IV; both men were outspoken supporters and defenders of the slave trade, though in truth it was the latter rather than the former as depicted in the film who claimed slaves in Jamaica lived happily and safely and far better than some of the working classes in England at the time.

On the whole this is handsomely mounted and historically accurate fare that holds a quaint afternoon matinee charm, but director Michael Apted and screenwriter Steve Knight must take the blame for producing something so lifeless.

Wordless Wednesday : My Beautiful Laundrette

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

The Rack Pack (2016)

When the BBC announced that they were axeing BBC4's original drama budget in 2013, we all presumed that that year's Burton and Taylor would be the last bijou biopic of the tumultuous lives of our homegrown stars.

However, with the arrival of this BBC iPlayer original drama - the first of its kind; a straight to the digital service free-to-download production - focusing on the glory days of snooker in the 1970s and 1980s, there may be a revival yet.

The Rack Pack, a comedy drama about the fierce rivalry between chalk and cheese snooker players Alex 'The Hurricane' Higgins and Steve Davis, is also possibly the first really good film about the sport - just beating that old cheap and cheerful Bob Geldof favourite Number One.

Luke Treadaway stars as Higgins, the hard drinking, chain smoking, trick shot taking Northern Irish braggart whose cavalier playing style revolutionised the game in the 1970s, dragging it out of the smoky back rooms of working men's clubs and a few idle spectators into the living rooms, hearts and minds of the general public, at its peak over 18 million to be precise. But just as Higgins so successfully rode the wave of one revolution, he badly underestimated or simply failed to see the wave that roared up in the '80s and has kept on to this very day - that of wheeler dealer promoter and manager Barry Hearn's businessification of the sport. The key proponent of that change was a young player from Romford called Steve Davis. 

Played uncannily by Will Merrick, Davis was everything that Alex Higgins wasn't; a gawky nerd, he preferred milk to alcohol and his personality was (initially at least) so non existent that the shrewd Hearn (played by comedian Kevin Bishop) chose to capitalise on what anyone else would call a flaw, proclaiming his boy to be 'The Robot' of the game, whose impenetrable, stony faced aura quickly got under the skin of his fellow players, chief amongst them Higgins, of course. 

Naturally it is Treadaway as Higgins who has the showier, more dramatic role. The Alex Higgins story is the story of a man whose talent was quickly submerged by his excesses, his wild temper and the inner demons that chipped away at him until eventually he had nothing left, not his game nor his wife played her by Nichola Burley. The problem with such a story of course is that it is one that is now very well known thanks to numerous documentaries and biographies on the man himself, as well as being a tale as old as time. Virtually every rock star and sport biopic (and virtually all of the BBC4 ones prior to this) follows this very same familiar path which means viewers are left with something akin to compassion fatigue towards Treadaway's fine performance of The Hurricane's downfall. No matter how great Treadaway is in the role - and he really is great, and this is despite having to adopt the Northern Irish accent and having to work extra hard to convince as a man he doesn't physically resemble - it's ultimately hard to get that involved in this well-worn, poignant scenario. It wasn't the only aspect of The Rack Pack that was familiar either; the heavy jukebox saturation of the film became quite irritating long before the first half was even up. I love my music, but did we really need the hits of ELO, Cream, Ian Dury and The Blockheads etc playing over every other scene?

The film is on much safer, more enjoyable ground with its lighter aspects which are delivered brilliantly by the almost Del Boy and Rodney like pairing of Merrick's Davis and Bishop's Hearn. It's also smart funny too and nicely avoids the usual knowing gags at the expense of the era it is set in. The script by Shaun Pye, Mark Chappell and Alan Connor plays for keeps and in the hands of these performers it's onto a winner, just as Hearn's Match Room was at the time, second guessing the corporate potential of snooker with its tie-in's to everything from aftershave and coffee to pop music and TV chat shows. Cast as the go-between from Higgins' world to that of Davis and the players of today is James Bailey as the young Jimmy White. As 'The Whirlwind', White was Higgins' protege but he rode the waves and managed the transition better than his mentor could. He's still hanging on in there now, playing alongside the younger 'stars' with their pasty expressions, prematurely balding hairlines and paunchy frames. But unfortunately, the game is nowhere near as lively as it was in Higgins and Davis' heyday.

"Remember this," a washed up Higgins says in the final scene, a teary eyed final confrontation between him and the smart and assured Davis "When I die I'll get the romantic obituaries, you can keep your fucking money"

When The Hurricane died in 2010, he was proved right. He got them in droves.

The Rack Pack is available to view on iPlayer.