Thursday, 31 March 2016

Theme Time : Alan Tew - The Two Ronnies and The Hanged Man

Given this is the day we've lost Ronnie Corbett I thought I'd share a particularly memorable TV theme that is associated with The Two Ronnies

Composed by Alan Tew, 'The Detectives' is perhaps best known as the theme for one of the popular character serials that featured across the series of The Two Ronnies, namely those featuring the detective duo of Charley Farley and Piggy Malone.

Tew's theme was a multi-purpose one, as it actually appeared as the theme for Yorkshire Television's 1975 thriller series The Hanged Man which starred Colin Blakely as successful construction business mogul Lew Burnett who, having survived attempts on his life, decides to 'play dead' and go undercover to find those responsible. It was so successful that a spin-off series appeared in 1979 entitled Turtle's Progress, and Tew's theme was released on vinyl, played by 'Bullet'

The Charley Farley and Piggy Malone sketches on The Two Ronnies were 1972's Done To Death, starring Sue Lloyd it concerned a mystery about a murdered family, 1975's Death Can Be Fatal which sees the duo searching for the formula of the Clumsy Drug alongside Cyd Hayman, Stop You're Killing Me which ran for the 1977-1978 series and featured the murders of Devon yokels and guest starred Kate O'Mara as a gypsy temptress, and 1981-'82's Band of Slaves which saw an all girl orchestra sold into white slavery by a deranged Chinaman - well, it was the '80s, the Ronnies didn't really do PC, alas!

Tew is a well regarded composer of oft-used library music that went on to be used for several TV shows and films. His theme 'Bond Street Parade' became the theme for Doctor In The House, whilst 'The Big One' was the theme for US TV's The People's Court and was also used in an episode of Van Der Valk. His music also appears in The Sweeney, And Mother Makes Three and the 2009 Blaxploitation spoof Black Dynamite.

RIP Ronnie Corbett

As I've said before, it seems like we are losing people who are culturally significant each week now and today brings the sad news that Ronnie Corbett has passed away surrounded by his family at the age of 85

Anyone who grew up or was around in the 70s and 80s will have fond memories of Corbett, as one half of The Two Ronnies alongside Ronnie Barker, or for his sitcom Sorry! He also starred in such films as No Sex Please, We're British and Casino Royale. He was small in stature, but proved to be a giant of British comedy.


Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Fighting Back : Steel Special - Please Sign

After the terrible news from Port Talbot today, please join Labour in their call on the government to be recalled from their Easter holidays (!) and take immediate action to save our steel industry. Sign here

DVD Review: Dixon of Dock Green Collection One

Dixon of Dock Green was a mainstay of BBC drama for a staggeringly successful twenty-one years, starting in 1955 and coming to a close in 1976. A spin-off of the classic British crime film The Blue Lamp, the Ted Willis-devised show brought Jack Warner's helpful old school beat bobby PC George Dixon back from the dead (he was gunned down by a young Dirk Bogarde twenty minutes into the film) and saw Warner portray the character until his 80th year, well past police retirement age! 

Sadly much of Dixon of Dock Green has been wiped from the BBC archives and so, Acorn DVD's three releases (available both individually and as a boxset) have concentrated on the available colour episodes from 1970-1976 which saw the 70-odd year old Warner portray Dixon as the Sergeant of the Dock Green parish alongside his son-in-law Andy Crawford (Peter Byrne) now a detective in CID and other characters such as Nicholas Donnelly's strapping uniformed Sergeant Johnny Wills who would understandably undertake much of the legwork and action-orientated scenes at this stage in the show's history.

Not that there's all that much action in Dixon of Dock Green. Those expecting a '70s cop show like The Sweeney will be somewhat disappointed by the lack of grit, street vernacular and squealing tyres that marked out that series, but it's actually a popular misconception that, by this era, Dixon was an outdated and redundant relic that was out of touch with reality and long surpassed by the antics of the aforementioned Flying Squad and the BBC's own Z Cars. For a start, it still pulled in extremely healthy viewing figures suggesting there was great affection and a demand for the series, and secondly, going off the six episodes in this volume, it was still a remarkably solid drama that didn't shy away from the bleak and gritty aspects of crime and the subsequent investigations made by the police force. In my view and on the evidence laid out here, Dixon was still in good health in the early '70s and far better than Z Cars from the same period which Acorn has also released to DVD and which frankly, with a few exceptions outstanding, pretty much bored me to tears with its humdrum low-risk and uneventful mundanity.

Some episodes in this set wouldn't actually look that out of place plot-wise on The Sweeney; episodes like Eye Witness, Harry's Back and Firearms Were Issued are all set in roughly the same ballpark as the crimes and characters depicted in ITV's swaggering, rough and ready rival, and feature such cases as a young woman who witnesses a gangland slaying being taken into police protection; Crawford's dogged efforts to prove that a roguish charmer is in fact a ruthless and deadly villain; and an internal inquiry into the fatal shooting by the police of an unarmed criminal fleeing his hideout respectively.

Unfortunately no matter how much these episodes want to come to terms with the contemporary styles of that era, the elephant in the room remains Jack Warner himself, looking faintly ridiculous as a still-serving police officer. There's an air of 'what am I still doing here?' that lingers around his reliable, comforting presence in a manner which I imagine dogs the 67-year-old Derek Thompson's performance as nurse Charlie Fairhead now in that other BBC Saturday night perennial, Casualty. It's not just Warner's age (given that back then most men in their '60s looked by today's standards to be a good 15-20 years older, it's worth pointing out that Warner actually doesn't look half bad for his age) it's also the fact that he's clearly increasingly unsteady on his pins thanks to crippling arthritis of the hip and, on one occasion (the episode Sounds on this disc) seems to be reading all of his lines from various places around the set. These frailties saw the character become increasingly sidelined, content to open and close each episode with his trademark and now classic monologue to camera and later restrict himself to studio scenes only. But if you can suspend your disbelief it's really worth it because no one but the extremely hard-hearted would want to see Dixon completely removed from the programme. After all, he was the programme.

This set opens with what was the debut episode in the show's 17th series from November 1970. Entitled Waste-Land it marks a change in the show's format thanks to new producer Joe Waters who claims that his intentions were to make it less a show about the police and more about the people who got involved with the police. His decision to move the action onto the streets of East London using hand-held cameras means this episode has aged remarkably well and its easy to see why it garnered very good reviews way back in 1970 - dramas shot completely on film and on location were very rare for the BBC at that time. Watching it now, Waste-Land has a curio appeal, capturing as it does a disappearing and admittedly bleak and decrepit looking London on the cusp of change before the crumbling, decaying docklands were earmarked for redevelopment.

It's also a big step away from the preconceptions that the world of Dixon of Dock Green was a cosy one; the disturbing and grimy 16mm POV shot that opens proceedings suggesting someone disorientated, wandering around the derelict docks, with the unseen character's unnerving laboured breathing playing out upon the soundtrack, joined in by the voice of a woman describing the actions of someone who is clearly deeply, mentally troubled is far from what one expects.

It turns out the unseen character is one PC Norman, and the voice belongs to his long suffering wife. Norman is an officer plagued by an assault against him earlier in his career and we quickly learn that he is AWOL from duty with his Panda car turning up abandoned by the dock's waste-land. The team set out to locate their colleague, going from door to door speaking to the kind of community that, like the London of this time, has also now long gone. The kind of community we see replicated in Call The Midwife these days. They presume Norman was out looking for a suspect but, as Dixon talks to his wife, it becomes clear other, stranger possibilities may be near the mark. It's a bleak narrative that remains ever out of reach concluding with an open ending in which Dixon has to admit we can never truly know or understand a person, even if they live or work alongside us day to day.

Like the black and white episodes of the 50s and 60s, the rest of series 17 was wiped by the BBC meaning that the next episode on the disc is Jigsaw from a year later. Unfortunately, Jigsaw suffers from a slight case of repetition being, through no fault of it's own, similar to Waste-Land in terms of its exclusive location shoot around the unkempt abandoned areas of East London, its documentarian film style approach and the unnerving nature of the crime at its heart. The setting this time around is a derelict gasworks, and the case involves a missing wife rather than a husband. The programme boasts a strong guest cast including Windsor Davies, Glyn Edwards and Victor Maddern.

Eye Witness dates from 1973 and is an episode from Dixon's 20th series. This one, as mentioned earlier, feels very much like it's in The Sweeney's domain, apart from one major plot device that ultimately scuppers it and beggars belief. We open with Gwyneth Powell (later to become Grange Hill's Mrs McCluskey and Greg Davies' mum in Man Down) as Anne, the sole witness to a gangland shooting. She's a hardbitten, cynical young woman who is immediately taken into police protection, which she treats with utter disdain and contempt. And it's kind of easy to see why. You've just watched your boyfriend get gunned down by the likes of Stephen Grief (Citizen Smith's Harry Fenning) and Euro hood Steve Plytas (the drunk chef from the Fawlty Towers episode Gourmet Night) and had an attempt made on your own life - so I ask you, would you be happy to guarded by the 78-year-old Dixon and an ineffectual WPC on an island off the coast of Bristol?!

It's a major stretch of credibility and the episode never recovers from it, least of all when we're treated to a less than exhilarating 30mph chase across an unfinished stretch of West Country motorway to a private airfield where Dixon, clad in his civvies of sports jacket and vivid red poloneck (mmmm, nice) and accompanied by the irritating and wooden young hotelier, announces to the base staff that he's a policeman and averts the murderers plane from taking off. By that point it doesn't matter that we've seen Plytas handle business from the phone offered to him poolside by a delectable dollybird in the South of France (a very Sweeney like touch) or that Grief gives as ever a great account of himself as a tough heavy, the damage is pretty irreparable. That said, we're witness to yet another unhappy ending in which the villains get away with it (another Sweeney like touch - and remember, The Sweeney hadn't appeared on our screens by this stage) the headstrong Anne deciding to take the hush money offered to her by Plytas who, Dixon reveals, was the victim of a fatal traffic accident in France not long after - the only crumb of comfort in terms of justice this storyline offers us. Again, it's a world away from the notion of the show being a cosy, unrealistic representation of the police and criminals. The good guys in Dixon don't always win, just like they don't in reality.

Another face worth pointing out in this episode is that of a very young John Salthouse, appearing here as one of the criminals who kidnap Anne from her hotel hideaway. He would later go on to play the brilliant DI Roy Galloway in the first 3 series of The Bill.

Harry's Back is probably my favourite episode in the set. Again it's plot is very familiar to fans of The Sweeney and crime drama in general, indeed it's something of a mainstay. It concerns a seemingly untouchable villain, the kind of charmer who has everyone in the local community hoodwinked as to his true nature - family, fiance, friends, neighbours and even the police....except for Dixon's son-in-law Andy Crawford, who is determined to finally bring Harry Simpson (Lee Montague, brilliant with the aspects of largesse in his character but always tipping the viewer off to his real nature, which Andy suspects - it's worth mentioning too that Montague played the villain in Regan, the TV movie that started The Sweeney) to justice.

Harry is a typical stereotype of the East End villain; the kind one imagines is good to his mother and helps old dears across the road, is always in the chair at the pub and always has a good word or a fistful of fivers if you're on your uppers. Dock Green police know he's not as legit as he seems, but they can't prove it. Dixon takes the view that a criminal like Harry will one day trip up and that, in the meantime, it is best just to tolerate him. His son-in-law and former protege, disagrees. Andy wants to keep very close tabs on Harry, and its an action that leads to Harry - at his most cunning - report Andy for harassment to his superior officer, who just happens to belong to Harry's local golf club.

Written by NJ Crisp, a veteran scriptwriter on the show, Harry's Back is a strong episode which is only let down by its refusal to offer up another 'unlucky this time' finale - the kind of finale The Sweeney would have given us. Instead, through a series of slightly improbable events, Harry is ultimately brought to book by Andy. Though pleasingingly, in Dixon's closing monologue, it is revealed that Harry's friends, family and neighbours refuse to hear a bad word said about him and believe him to be framed by Andy.

So far, all the episodes in this set have been shot on film and on location. That's about to change with the next episode, 1974's Sounds

By 1974, it's rather clear Jack Warner was too ill to endure long location shoots. Transferring the character to the duties of desk sergeant meant that Warner was only required for studio scenes, which this time were shot on videotape. It's also clear - as I said earlier - that Warner is reading his lines from hidden cues around the set here.

Sounds is an interesting episode. There's a touch of Coppola's The Conversation on display in the team's efforts to make sense of the various background noises in a woman's call to the station which is abruptly cut off, suggesting foul play. The rather attractive Jacqueline Stanbury stars as WPC Hawkins, the young officer who takes the call and raised the alarm. She has heard the woman on the line ask for the police, before a choking sound is heard on the line and the woman's infant daughter picks up the phone to announce that mummy seems to have 'fallen asleep'. The race is on to save this potentially injured woman and her child who could still very well be in danger. Aiding the investigation is Dave (David Wood, who would go on to become Stanbury's husband a year later) a sound technician who examines the recording of the telephone call. He's gloriously '70s with his long hair and groovy clobber, a stark and somewhat jarring contrast to the staid old timer Dixon which reminds viewers there's a different world going on out there beyond the confines of Television Centre's Dock Green set, one which the show naively fails to understand or depict.

The plot develops rather nicely with the team locating where the call was made from, but finding no one at home. This leads to a representative from a security firm - the number of which was written alongside Dock Green's telephone number at the woman's address - played with an oily sickening charm by Michael Graham Cox. The police, and the audience, smell a rat instantly; this guy is too eager to help locate the woman and child and it isn't long before it becomes clear that he is the missing woman's husband and has ferreted her sway after a bout of domestic violence. When she is finally located, she refuses to press charges despite everyone's best efforts. Her husband, who believes he is utterly untouchable, is proven to be so and swaggers out of the station full of nauseating confidence as we know he will continue to abuse his wife.

Again, a desperately bleak tale in stark contrast to the twee reputation the series has. In conclusion, Dixon offers up only the tiniest sliver of hope in his monologue when he states that one day he hopes the battered woman will have the courage to report her husband to the police, if only for her daughter's sake. It's worth noting how far the show had progressed by this stage in terms of its stance on domestic violence - a previous episode from the 1950s suggested Dixon saw little harm in what went on between man and wife behind closed doors ;"if I arrested every bloke who clocked his wife, I'd be working overtime" An offensive attitude yes, but sadly one all too indicative of the times. Twenty years is a long time in television, and Dixon clearly rode the seas of change to move with the times thankfully.

The last episode in this DVD set is another which features a plot that could conceivably come straight from The Sweeney and is one that is especially interesting to watch as a comparison piece to Line of Duty currently on its blisteringly good third series on BBC2. Entitled Firearms Were Issued it dates from 1974 and features a nighttime raid on a house a gang of bank robbers are holed up in by armed police officers led by Andy Crawford. Andy has received a tip-off regarding the gang's whereabouts and was told they would be armed. He believes this tip because the gang are wanted for an armed robbery and so it falls to Dixon to issue guns to Dock Green officers Crawford, Wills, Cox and Dewar, reminding them firmly and precisely of the procedures they must adhere to whilst in possession of a lethal weapon.

Needles to say the raid is a disaster. It's the dead of night, which means a disorientating experience and, when Andy Crawford tumbles to the ground whilst giving chase, his colleagues believe he has been shot and 'return' fire on what is soon to be revealed as an unarmed, fleeing man. 

What follows is an atmospherically captured long dark night of the soul for the regular characters as they are each confined to the station to come under the scrutiny of no-nonsense A10 officer Donovan played by veteran actor Percy Herbert who interrogates them intensely one by one. Both Dewar and Wills believe themselves responsible for the death of the unarmed man as they both fired off shots alongside the shot Andy inadvertently fired as he took his tumble - the shot they believed came from their man. Wills is a reliable, dependable type who, having been with the show since 1961, is understandably familiar to the viewers. He's also referred to in the episode as an excellent marksman, cool under crisis. Dewar, on the other hand, is an unknown quantity, younger and clearly greener. However the episode pulls the rug from under us by revealing at the close that it was in fact Wills who delivered the fatal bullet. 

It's a rather cracking, atmospheric 'night shift' episode but unfortunately it's one that is likely to support anyone's idea that Dixon was not very realistic and prone to wrapping things up in a happy-ever-after style. We know from the other episodes in this set that that was not the case, but Firearms Were Issued does rather let the side down. In the closing monologue it is revealed by Dixon that an inquest into Wills' actions returned a verdict of justifiable homicide, with Dixon admitting he would likely have made the same mistake in Wills and Dewar's situation.

All very well George, but the fact remains that an unarmed was fatally shot whilst running away. It's an astounding conclusion, but given the miscarriages of justice involved in cases against police officers down the years (and as I type this post the family of Juan Charles de Menezes have just been told they have lost their human rights challenge over the decision not to charge any police officer for the unlawful shooting of their son in London's Stockwell Tube in 2005) it's perhaps one that is more likely than we'd care to admit.

Just like the character of DS Steve Arnott says in Line of Duty; "easiest way to get away with killing someone? Be a police officer"

Same as it ever was.

Well, that's your lot for this first volume of Dixon releases. The extras on this DVD are rather non-existent, just a filmography of the actors involved in the production.

If you've enjoyed my ramblings on this show, I may review the other two DVDs in the boxset once I get round to viewing them.

Evening all.

Maigret Sets A Trap (2016)

Maigret Sets A Trap was ITV's big draw for the Easter Monday schedules and much was made of it being Rowan Atkinson's first straight dramatic role, but actually that's incorrect as anyone who recalls his turn as the real life 1920s racing driver Sir Henry 'Tim' Birkin in 1995's Full Throttle will tell you.

But it is fair to say that the comic chameleon's decision to return to drama twenty-one years later by way of stepping into the shoes of Georges Simenon's intrepid Parisian detective, Maigret, was a surprising one. For a start, Atkinson is no one's idea of the avuncular, pipe-smoking, barrel-chested Chief Inspector. He's naturally stringy, with a reedy thin voice to accompany those famed rubbery features. Normally, this would only really matter to those of us - myself included - who has picked up one or two of Simenon's 75 novels, but the shadows of Rupert Davies and Michael Gambon, previous actors to portray the character, loom large over this effort. And that's just the British adaptations (I'm choosing to ignore Richard Harris' scarecrow turn from 1988 and you'll be wise to do so too) Simenon's native France have been treated to no less than Jean Gabin and (my own favourite) Bruno Cremer undertaking the role.

Admittedly it's a big ask, and it took me a while to block out my expectations of seeing Atkinson indulge in his Mr Bean burblings and accept instead his rather still, meditative and mournful performance. Like the BBC's version of Wallander (which they infuriatingly insisted on pronouncing with a W rather than a V and a stress on syllables) this adaptation seemed to believe foreign meant brooding and melancholic. It's a real shame they didn't dare draw on the wonderful dry and gentle humour to be found within Simenon's novels - especially given the casting of a comedian in the lead role. Clearly, Atkinson wanted to give us his tears of a clown instead.

Maigret Sets A Trap is the first of two ITV movies (with Maigret's Dead Man to follow later in the year) It's a straightforward tale which sees Maigret on the back foot, trying to catch a serial killer who is already responsible for the deaths of four young brunette ladies before the credits have stopped rolling. Focusing on the psychology of homicide, the story explores the notion of men who are controlled by their animalistic passions with women as figures of torment. Sex simmers on the streets of '50s Paris, from the jazz dens and smoky cafes to the whore houses and strip clubs, with Maigret our decent guardian beyond reproach. The period is well captured, with Budapest standing in for Paris, and some lovely costumes and set design, making this a clear challenger to the channel's illustrious Poirot and Foyle's War (both now concluded) but it remains to be seen whether the public will take to Maigret enough to want more than these first two cases.

Atkinson with the ever-glamourous Lucy Cohu as Madame Maigret, the detective's loving wife

Going off this one, I'd say it may be unlikely. There's slow-burning and there's just plain boring and lifeless and sadly this adaptation veers more towards the latter. It may look good and we may find ourselves rooting for Atkinson to impress but the production needs to fully embrace all that Simenon can offer and up the stakes in terms of entertainment to make this a new jewel in ITV's crown. For the time being, Atkinson has a long way to go before he can join his old Blackadder co-star Hugh Laurie as a dramatic force to be reckoned with (the recent adaptation of The Night Manager being a peerless joy with Laurie's villainous Roper being suitably skin crawlingly good) but he's already usurped fellow funny man David Walliams' woeful and offensive attempt to play it straight in the adaptation of Agatha Christie's Partners In Crime.

Wordless Wednesday : I Fought The Law

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Theme Time : Dark Dark Dark - Thirteen

Ivy Moxam has just escaped from the cellar where she was held prisoner for the last 13 years. After the police confirm her identity, she is reunited with her family and the hunt for Ivy's kidnapper begins in earnest. However, the two detectives on the case stare to find flaws in Ivy's story

So begins Thirteen, the new drama from the online BBC3 and one of the most satisfying new dramas in recent memory. 


Because writer Marnie Dickens had the sense to tell a story with a beginning, a middle and an end in the five episode series, rather than leave so many loose ends hanging in the hope that the show would get recommissioned for a second series, which of course can never be guaranteed nowadays.

If you've been watching via iPlayer or online new episodes of Thirteen have been available to view every Sunday evening and concluded at the weekend. If you're watching the BBC2 screenings however, the series will conclude next Sunday night at 10pm.

Thirteen starred Doctor Foster's Jodie Comer as Ivy, a brilliant performance, alongside Aneurin Barnard, Richard Rankin, Valene Kane, Natasha Little, Stuart Graham, Katherine Rose Morley (last seen in Channel 4's excellent The Mill which committed the error of concluding series 2 on a cliffhanger, only to be cancelled last year) Nicholas Farrell, Eleanor Wyld and Peter McDonald. The theme tune, the insanely catchy In Your Dreams, is by the American indie folk band Dark Dark Dark and featured on their 2010 album Wild Go.

If you haven't been watching Thirteen catch it now on iPlayer while you can, it's worth watching. And if you have been watching and want to know more about the show, this article from Radio Times is worth a read.

I believe the writer Dickens is set to pen a drama about a girl gang in the 1920s, a sort of female Peaky Blinders, next, along with a Regency set drama starring Rebekah Staton and Suranne Jones as sisters on the make. Meanwhile Jodie Comer will be starring in Rillington Place alongside Tim Roth and Samantha Morton, a series based on the crimes of notorious serial killer John Christie.

Definitely ones to watch!

Smoking Hot

Romola Garai

Sunday, 27 March 2016

Silent Sunday : The Boat Race

Stewart Lee - What Would Judas Do?

Seeing as it's Easter, I thought I'd share Stew's excellent show What Would Judas Do?

This live recording is a very funny and intelligent monologue which sees Lee take on the character of Judas and invites us to experience the last week of Christ's life from his point of view - a disappointed revolutionary who feels let down by Jesus; a charismatic man who engaged in a fight he had no exit strategy for with rhetoric he could not act upon.

Happy Easter

The Easter (Playboy) Bunny ~ Serena Sue Williams

Saturday, 26 March 2016

Theme Time : Graham De Wilde - Whicker's World

I've always loved this one, the bombastic theme Newsweek by Graham De Wilde, was the theme tune for the 1984 to 1992 BBC incarnation of Whicker's World, which saw suave and urbane Jersey based journalist Alan Whicker travel the globe reporting on stories of social and cultural significance. 

It was actually Top of the Pops on BBC4 this week that got me thinking of Whicker; that's because the June 1981 edition broadcast featured the wonderfully quirky Wikka Wrap by The Evasions which featured De Wilde doing a very good deadpan white rap impersonating the man himself. It was a song I'd completely forgotten about and probably hadn't even heard since my childhood when I seem to recall finding it very funny. Indeed, I found it amusing to see/hear it again now

It's weird to think that, just three years later, De Wilde was responsible for Whicker's theme tune. Even weirder if we're to believe TOTP's presenter Simon Bates' claim that De Wilde was unemployed before scoring this top 20 novelty hit.

PS, I'd almost forgot the Whicker's World boardgame - did anyone actually ever own/play this?

Fighting Back : Petitions to Sign

In a week which saw the horrendous terrorist attacks on Belgium and the UK on high alert it might surprise you to learn (if you're not a cynical so-and-so like me) that our Prime Minister is on holiday in Lanzarote. So hey, if we all die at least he'll be spared.

These two petitions are hilarious - they're asking that he banned from re-entering the UK. Sign here and here

On a more serious note, 14 year old Christine Mustapha has shown she has more maturity and respect than our chancellor by asking that he apologise for his laughing at the disabled and checking Michael Gove's phone in the House last week. Disgraceful behaviour that should bot go unpunished.

Lots of anger at Osborne actually, with many petitions demanding his resignation. Sign here, here, here and here

IDS resigning was probably the best news to come from the Tory party since Thatcher's death, but we need to remember that resignation is not justice - IDS has blood on his hands

This petition calls for Labour to table a vote of no confidence in the Tory government, a sentiment shared by Disabled UK in the light of their horrendous abhorrent policies against the weak and vulnerable with this petition here

And why should we have confidence when MP's are repeatedly shown to be fast asleep whilst 'at work' ? Sign here to get these dozing MP's fined

This asks that the reassessment of young people with lifelong disabilities from DLA to PIP be stopped

A petition calling for three hours feminist education to be introduced to the school curriculum annually. Sign here

Whilst this petition demands that a teacher who used the N word to a black pupil be dismissed.

This calls for the protection of disabled people at work

Save Short Break Services at Autism Together - sign here

Save Manchester's Brian Hore Unit, Alcohol and Mental Health service, from being closed - sign here

RIP Adrienne Corri

I've just learnt of the death of Adrienne Corri earlier this month. She was 84

In a career spanning over forty years on stage and screen, Glasgow born Corri worked with great auteurs like David Lean (Doctor Zhivago) Otto Preminger (Bunny Lake Is Missing and Rosebud) Jean Renoir (The River) and, perhaps most famously, Stanley Kubrick in A Clockwork Orange, where she played Mrs Alexander, the victim of a home invasion and rape at the hands of Malcolm McDowell's droogs.

Corri accepted the role after two other actresses withdrew from filming, protesting at Kubrick's insensitivity, demanding several takes of what was obviously a very difficult, emotionally draining scene. Corri appeared to have no such qualms (as the above between takes photo seems to indicate) joking with McDowell ("you're about to find out that I'm a real redhead") and developing a friendship with the director which saw her purchasing him a Christmas gift of red socks - a reference to the red socks she wore during her otherwise completely nude scene in the film.

Other films roles included Quo Vadis, Vampire Circus, Moon Zero Two, A Study In Terror and Revenge of the Pink Panther. TV roles included A Family At War and Mena in the excellent 1980 Doctor Who story The Leisure Hive, the first of Tom Baker's final season. On stage she appeared in works by Samuel Beckett, Joe Orton and John Osborne (famously telling the booing audience at the first night of his play The World of Paul Slickley to ''go fuck yourselves'')

She wrote the book The Search for Gainsborough, which related her attempts to establish the provenance of a painting of Garrick she believed to be by the young Thomas Gainsborough. She was briefly and tempestuously married to actor Daniel Massey in the '60s, with Massey referring to their relationship in the following terms "We were agonisingly incompatible, but we had an extraordinary physical attraction" 


Friday, 25 March 2016

Theme Time : Neal Hefti - The Odd Couple

I always associate the film of The Odd Couple with Good Friday. It's right there with salmon sandwiches, fish and chips, hot cross buns and the prospect of Easter eggs. Why? Well it's on account of me seeing it as a kid for the first time on BBC1 on a Good Friday evening, in either the late 80s or early 90s. Prior to that, my introduction to Neil Simon's glorious comedy was the reruns of the 1970-'75 sitcom starring Jack Klugman and Tony Randall which the BBC would often screen at all sorts of hours - daytime, evenings....whenever they had a spare half hour it seemed (nowadays it seems if the BBC has a spare half hour they chuck out the interminable A Question of Sport)

Who can forget the little narrative prologue that introduced all 114 episodes?

"On November 13, Felix Unger was asked to remove himself from his place of residence. The request came from his wife. Deep down, he knew she was right, but he also knew that someday, he would return to her. With noweher else to go, he appeared at the home of his childhood friend, Oscar Madison. Sometime earlier, Madison's wife had also thrown him out, requesting that he never return. Can two divorced men share an apartment without driving each other crazy?"

And cue one of the coolest theme tunes ever from Neal Hefti...

Neil Simon's play made its debut on Broadway in 1965 and has been revived several times over across the world ever since. Originally it starred Walter Matthau and Art Carney as the mismatched roommates Oscar and Felix and was directed by Mike Nicholls. It ran for just over two years and in that time the original cast was replaced by Jack Klugman and Pat Hingle, Eddie Bracken and Paul Dooley. Revivals have starred talents as diverse as Martin Short and Eugene Levy, Jamie Farr and William Christopher, Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane and, in Glasgow, Gerard Kelly and Craig Ferguson, and in Edinburgh, Bill Bailey and Alan Davies. For a long time, Mel Smith had harboured the desire to revive it for the London stage opposite his comic partner Griff Rhys Jones, but it never came to fruition.

In 1968, the play was adapted for the big screen with Matthau reprising his role as Oscar and Jack Lemmon starring as Felix. The film's score was provided by Neal Hefti and would later be reused for the TV series, becoming synonymous with Simon's comedy and its characters.

But The Odd Couple didn't just end with the series finale in 1975. In that same year, ABC presented a cartoon version featuring a cat and dog living together called Spiffy and Fleabag. In 1982, ABC rebooted the premise featuring a black cast. Called The New Odd Couple it starred Ron Glass as Felix and Desmond Wilson as Oscar. Despite being groundbreaking in its successful attempt at providing a platform for black actors at a time when roles for them were scarce or stereotypical on TV, it was not a success in terms of ratings and was cancelled in 1983 after 13 episodes. In 1985, Simon devised a female version for the stage called The Female Odd Couple with Sally Struthers and Rita Morenowhich also made its way across to London for a revival in 2001 with Paula Wilcox as Florence Unger and Jenny Seagrove as Olive Madison. In 1998 Matthau and Lemmon reprised their roles for the film sequel The Odd Couple II, whilst Tony Randall and Jack Klugman reprised their roles for the stage in London for three months in 1996. And in 2015, self-confessed Odd Couple fan and former Friends star Matthew Perry developed, executive produced and starred (as Oscar) in a new sitcom called The Odd Couple opposite Thomas Lennon as Felix, with a second season due to commence on US TV next month

Thursday, 24 March 2016

Fighting Back : Petitions to Sign

Two petitions against the cunt destroying the NHS

Sign to say you have No Confidence in Jeremy Hunt

Sign to demand Hunt resumes meaningful negotiations with the BMA

RIP Garry Shandling

It really does seem to be that every other day now we lose a great person. Today comes the shocking news that Garry Shandling has died at the age of 66.

It's said Shandling was transported to an LA hospital where he subsequently died following a medical emergency at home, but no details as to the cause of death have been released as yet. 

Desperately sad news; Shandling was a great innovator of comedy with programmes like It's Garry Shandling's Show and the sublime and oft-imitated The Larry Sanders Show inspiring comedians and writers to this very day, chief amongst them of course being Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, who were of that 90s British generation who felt like Sanders and Seinfeld were their own little secret thanks to the BBC's strange post midnight scheduling. I well remember felling the same with Sanders (my appreciation and love for Seinfeld came much much later) and enjoying the Bilko repeats they often put on after it.


Out On Blue Six : A Tribe Called Quest, RIP Phife Dawg

RIP to Malik Isaac Taylor aka Phife Dawg from A Tribe Called Quest. Dead at just 45 after struggling with diabetes and ill health for several years.

End Transmission

Smoking Hot

Milla Jovovich

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Out On Blue Six : Louis Prima

End Transmission

High-Rise (2016)

It's quite ironic that Elizabeth Moss understands High-Rise enough to take a role in it, yet fails to see the comparison with the 'faith' she belongs to; Scientology. Think about it, the fantastical vision of one prejudiced, difficult man that capitalises on the ambitions, aspirations and elitist yearnings of the public who immerse themselves so deeply into his dream that they fail to see how much the rot has set in. Genuinely, think about it, because she clearly didn't.


JG Ballard's 1975 book High-Rise is one of my favourite novels. Often described since its publication as unfilmable, it's seen a plethora of film makers express an interest in tackling it, including no less a figure than Nic Roeg. But it is Ben Wheatley who has finally brought it to the screen. Watching it today, given my appreciation of the source material, I really hoped Wheatley hadn't fucked it up.

And the good news is, he really hasn't.

Is this Wheatley's best film? Probably. Granted, for me, it's not as entertaining as Sightseers but, just like that film, it shows that he can work with an original idea that does not stem from himself or his wife and screenwriter Amy Jump. High-Rise proves that Wheatley is a director capable of bringing someone else's vision to the screen yet in a manner which allows him total control of his environment. High-Rise is most assuredly, a Ben Wheatley film - with the same pitch black ingredients that made films like Kill List and A Field In England so divisive yet so unmistakably unique and interesting  - but it's equally a very good and respectful adaptation. In short, this is a film-maker maturing. 

Set in the 1970s of Ballard's novel ("a future that has already taken place" as Tom Hiddleston's hero Dr Laing states) High-Rise opens in the very eye of the storm of apocalyptic squalor, with Laing's the prestigious apartment block now a disaster-area as Laing feasts on BBQ'd dog. Flashing back to three months earlier, we see the clean, retro-future brutalist interiors (production designer Mark Tildesley - take a bow) of an elite design for living that will ultimately go on to become a feral prospect.  The higher you go up the block, the wealthier the residents with the pinnacle being the penthouse belonging to the architect himself, Royal (Jeremy Irons - superb casting given his Cronenberg credentials) and his pampered, trophy wife played by Keeley Hawes. The “real families” as represented by Luke Evans's Wilder and the aforementioned Moss as his heavily pregnant wife, Helen, are confined to the apartments nearest the ground, where powercuts are rife and jobsworth regulations keep them at arms length from the dream they were clearly sold. In this micro society, class warfare rages and is handled both with a delicious satirical edge and with sobering prescience. 

As Laing, Tom Hiddleston is magnificent as the character who is "hiding in plain sight" drawing on the elusive complexity that the character has on the page. Currently impressing every Sunday night in The Night Manager on BBC1, Hiddleston brings a similar barely repressed, mercurial danger or past trauma to a performance that is as lean and taut as his physique. Evans was something I must admit I was initially hesitant about as Wilder (I expected someone bulkier, more akin to the rugger bugger styling suggested in the novel) but he actually quickly won me over and perfectly embodies the more base element his character both represents and sets about. Sienna Miller as Charlotte is her usual aloof yet charismatic self, exuding beauty and inhabiting the character so well in terms of her natural look and her playing that you can see why Laing is drawn to her. Lastly, I love that Wheatley cast some 'comic' actors in the mix too; Dan Renton Skinner, Reece Shearsmith, Graham Duff, Julia Deakin and, Wheatley regular, Tony Way, because whilst Ballard freely admitted that much of his work or indeed view of life was shaped by the horrors he endured as a child in a Japanese POW camp (where previously respectable, civilised, middle class human beings became feral scavengers to survive - and people claim his work is far-fetched?) it's worth remembering how darkly funny much of his writing could be. Sienna Guillory's ham glam actress Ann Sheridan proclaiming "Right! Which one of you bastards wants to fuck me up the arse?" is a comic highlight, as is Keeley Hawes coolly asking her hubby Irons to lead a delegation, not to NATO as he jokes, but to ''the supermarket'', where one of the wage slave cashiers (Stacy Martin) is now speaking perfect French after Laing leaves a book behind.

Wheatley's Kubrickian styling is perfectly complimented by Clint Mansell’s brilliant score which echoes much of the synth sounds of the late 70s and features a sublime cover of Abba's SOS by Portishead, used to disturbing effect.

Ending the film with Thatcher's speech on capitalism whilst the precocious young Gove look-a-like Toby, Charlotte's son and - it is said - the architect's 'bastard' - seems to take note is a superb touch too. Toby claims he can see the future through his toy kaleidoscope (a wonderful retro touch for any of us who grew up in the 70s and 80s) and, given the way Cameron's cabinet seems determined to be an 80s tribute government, I think he really can.