Wednesday, 30 November 2016

The Man on the Eiffel Tower (1949)

If you live in the UK and possess a television you can't have failed to notice that rubbery featured funny man Rowan Atkinson is going to have a second crack at the whip of playing Georges Simonen's celebrated detective Jules Maigret this Christmas, as the trailers have been shown in between a succession of z-list celebrities chewing their way through camel's anus (I'm a Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here!) every night for the past fortnight. Unfortunately, Atkinson's previous stab was a very dull affair indeed so I can't seeing this Christmas present being a particularly treat, though I'm happy to be pleasantly surprised. Anyway, the constant plugging for it encouraged me to venture back in time to seek out other Maigret adaptations and this 1949 rarity has recently been screened on Talking Pictures TV.

The Man on the Eiffel Tower is an adaptation of Simenon's 5th Maigret novel which is largely known in the English language as either A Battle of Nerves or A Man's Head. The film is, barring a set-piece finale that the title alludes to, a fairly faithful account of the novel and the plot goes a little like this; the hapless, short sighted Joseph Heurtin (Burgess Meredith) stumbles one evening upon a vicious murder scene - the brutal stabbing of a wealthy American Mrs Henderson and her maid - and catches the murderer, Radek (Franchot Tone) in the act. Terrified and sworn to secrecy, Heurtin flees - but he leaves both his glasses and his bloody fingerprints and boot prints behind, making him prime suspect. Maigret (Charles Laughton) however, is not convinced. He believes that Heurtin has neither a motive for the killing nor the necessary callous nature. In his usual, inimitable way, Maigret engineers Heurtin's escape from custody - an unorthodox measure which he hopes will lead him to the real culprit. 

One of the film's star Franchot Tone and legendary US movie producer Irving Allen set up this Franco-American co-production and shot on location in post-war Paris (the film even credits the French capital as a star of the film in its own right, receiving billing after Laughton, Tone and Meredith) Allen was originally slated to direct, but behind the scenes ructions between him and Laughton regarding his competency to direct such a film meant that Burgess Meredith took on the directing duties. It is said that Meredith directed all the scenes that he did not have to act in, with Laughton actually directing those whilst, for the instances in which Laughton and Meredith have scenes together, Tone was elected to direct. With those facts in mind, the shoot was clearly a real co-operative affair, but its perhaps inevitable that such practices behind the scenes would effect the film overall and its fair to say it never really comes together and is pretty much of curio value only now. Laughton delivers an interesting performance of Maigret though whilst he certainly fits the physicality of Simonen's detective better than the pipe-cleaner frame of Atkinson,  he perhaps has a tendency to find the humour in the character a little too broadly to be an accurate portrayal. Tone and Meredith are equally enjoyable in their respective roles also.

For many years The Man on the Eiffel Tower was believed lost but it was eventually restored by the UCLA Film and Television Archive using two worn projection prints. The print remains poor however on account of the film being shot on Ansco Reversal film, an early single strip colour process that no longer exists, which means the colours are rather washed out, but it is the only print available to watch.

Wordless Wednesday: Work & Play

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

The Promised Land (Ziemia Obiecana) 1975

Based on an 1897 novel by Wladyslaw Reymont, Andrzej Wajda's The Promised Land is an epic period drama that is reminiscent of Dickens or Zola and is a savagely incisive indictment of the rampant industrialisation of the 19th century and capitalist greed. 

Three friends, one Polish, one Jewish and one German (played by Daniel Olbrychski, Wojciech Pszoniak and Andrzej Seweryn respectively) hatch a plan to enter the textile industry in the expanding milltown of Lodz for their ruthless pursuit of fortune. Wajda's location work in Lodz - an area still largely unchanged from the days of the industrial boom - is stunning, lending the piece an impressive, weighty and expensive looking air that probably belies the budget they were actually working with. Working with a team of three cinematographers (Witold Sobocinski, Edward Klosinski and Waclow Dybowski) Lodz itself becomes a character within the film in its own right; the imposing smoking chimney stacks and the smoking ruins of factories burnt by their bankrupt proprietors for the insurance, the worker's shantytowns and their unrelenting poverty, is all captured through a wide-angle, hand-held camerawork that places the viewer into a realistic, near documentarian record of a thunderous metropolis, scored by the driving motif of Wojciech Kilar's score. 

The performances are excessive and some of the set pieces uniquely graphic. The Promised Land offers a visceral depiction of the harshness and horrors of industrialisation and the unfeeling nature of big business as best evinced by bloody and gruesome scenes of human flesh and limbs being ripped apart by machinery in workplace accidents. Morality is a commodity revered far less than materials and profit and, as such, it is easy to see why Wajda's anti-capitalist film found much favour with the Communist regime that ruled in his native Poland at the time. This also explains why the performances and Wajda's direction revel in the grotesqueness of the characters greed and ambition, with one scene set on a train featuring Olbrychski and his voluptuous mistress (played by Kalina Jedrusik) sating themselves on both a rich banquet and their bodies, reminiscent of Ken Russell whilst another, which sees Pszoniak, exhausted from gazumping a former ally in business, break the fourth wall by leering and gesturing at the camera, remains as shocking and surprising as it is sly and ugly. 

By nailing its colours so firmly to the mast of anti-capitalism, Wajda rewrote the original novel's somewhat positive ending for his adaptation, to close instead on a bleak coda set some years on which sees our central trio give the command to the local militia to shoot upon their striking workforce. This powerful conclusion enhanced his reputation with a Soviet establishment who had previously viewed his output with some suspicion and would go on to do so again before their rule came to an end.

What remains however is the fact that a tale which features the opportunistic greed and triumph of a trio who have nothing but their names, reputation and have no scruples in regards to undertaking acts of industrial espionage or duplicity continues to be deeply relevant to this very day. It may be 163 minutes in length, but I for one found the running time more or less flew by, so absorbing was the tale.

Monday, 28 November 2016

I Am Not A Serial Killer (2016)

Based on a 2009 ‘Young Adult’ novel by Dan Wells (the first in a trilogy I believe) I Am Not a Serial Killer is a British/Irish co-production set and shot in the chilly Midwestern state of Minnesota. It is directed by Billy O’Brien and stars the seventeen-year-old Max Records, Laura Fraser and Christopher Lloyd.

Records plays John Cleaver, a fifteen-year old who has just been diagnosed by his child psychologist as a sociopath with an unhealthy obsession with serial killers and dead bodies. This facet of his character is perhaps unsurprising when you consider that he just so happens to live above a mortuary owned by his mother (Fraser) and helps out there. Aware of the terrible impulses that constantly tempt him, Cleaver tries to keep himself “good” and “normal”. However, when a spate of grisly murders occur in town and bodies show up missing various limbs and organs, it becomes increasingly difficult for Cleaver to stick to his rules and ignore his morbid fascination for serial killing. When it appears that the elderly neighbour across the street (Lloyd) may have a part to play in the gruesome violence that erupts across town from Halloween to Christmas, Cleaver realises he may just have to let his dark side out in order to stop the carnage. But, in giving over to his impulses, could Cleaver be more dangerous than the monster he attempts to hunt down?

Read my full review at The Geek Show and the film is released in selected cinemas from Dec 9th.

Out On Blue Six : Colonel Abrams, RIP

Another death from the entertainment industry - Colonel Abrams has died at the age of 67.

His song Trapped reached number 3 in the UK charts back in 1985 but last year it was revealed that Abrams was homeless and friends raised money to ensure he had vital diabetes medication.


End Transmission

Sunday, 27 November 2016

RIP Ken Grieve

The TV director Ken Grieve has passed away, aged 74.

Edinburgh born Grieve trained initially as a cameraman before moving into TV directing, and had a string of impressive credits in a thirty-five year career that concluded with his retirement in 2009. These credits included the 1979 Doctor Who serial Destiny of the Daleks which reintroduced the Timelord's deadliest foes after a four-year absence from the show,episodes of Murray Smith's The XYY Man and its subsequent spin-offs Strangers and Bulman starring Don Henderson, two episodes of Bergerac, the adaptation of Len Deighton's Game, Set and Match series of novels, episodes of The Bill, Peak Practice, and The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, the Terence Stamp series Chessgame, and five episodes of the first series of Bugs. But Grieve's most famous, evergreen credit lies in his first job in 1975, directing episodes of Coronation Street along with the location footage that would make up the opening titles for the long-running soap

These titles introduced the show for fourteen years from 1976 to 1990 and made a legend out of Frisky the cat, who stalks his way along the gutters and rooftops of those familiar terraced houses.


Silent Sunday: Riding Pillion

Saturday, 26 November 2016

Theme Time : Matumbi - Empire Road

The BBC has done much across its channels to mark Black History Month this November with a wealth of programming, but it's a real shame that it didn't find space in its schedules to raid the BBC archive for long unseen programmes made specifically by or for black audiences. I'm thinking specifically of course of Empire Road which ran for two series on BBC2 from 1978 to 1979.

Created by Michael Abbensetts, the show depicted the life of Afro-Caribbean, East Indian and South Asian residents of a street in Birmingham. Ostensibly a drama in the soap opera tradition, Empire Road was written, acted and directed predominantly by artists who identified with being part of the ethnic minority within the UK. As such, this enabled the series to tell things totally and accurately from the perspective of the multicultural communities of the country. 

It starred future Desmond's star Norman Beaton as Everton Bennett, a West Indian who had arrived in the UK and built a business as a residential property landlord and the owner of a minimart. Bennett was seen as the neighbourhood's 'Godfather' figure, and if you had a problem, Everton Bennett was the man to go to, using his wisdom, experience and common sense to resolve matters. This is perhaps best exemplified in a storyline featuring Rudolph Walker (Love Thy Neighbour, EastEnders) as a Rachman-style slum landlord, Sebastian Moses, with his eye on buying property in Empire Road. Seeing both his patch and his neighbours potentially threatened, Bennett sets about a series of stings that publicly humiliate Moses, and a feud between the two men develops.

Made by the BBC's legendary Pebble Mill studios and with location work in the Handsworth district of Birmingham, Empire Road starred a host of talented actors including the aforementioned Beaton and Walker, along with Corinne Skinner-Carter, Joseph Marcell, Wayne Laryea and a young Julie Walters. The series theme tune was by reggae group Matumbi who were well known in the Rock Against Racism movement. It was released as a single in 1978 and went on to become the title of a best of collection for the band in 2001.

EDITED TO ADD: Sadly news reaches me today that Empire Road's creator, Michael Abbensetts passed away on 24th November, just two days before I made this post. Read his Guardian obituary here RIP

Fidel Castro

And so at the age of 90, Castro has breathed his last and an era effectively comes to a close.

It's going to be quite amusing now to watch the world media and world leaders try and work out whether to depict Castro as a good or bad figure. 


Thursday, 24 November 2016

Rapid Reviews: Sailing Close To The Wind by Dennis Skinner, MP

Labour MP for Bolsover since 1970, Dennis Skinner finally succumbed to demand and wrote his reminiscences of a life in politics in 2014. It wasn't something he wanted to do, believing he is a more skillful communicator with the spoken word via public oration, and admits that it was hard to write; "I hope it turns out alright" he says in the acknowledgements. Well, I can assure him and you that it most certainly has turned out alright - the humour, passion and dedicated commitment of the man shines through on every page. At a time when politics seem to be dominated by right wing nutjobs and centre-ground squatting squirts who are simply careerists, it's good to know that Skinner still fights for what he believes, for the rights of the working class men and women of his constituency and, in turn, his country.

I've read many political memoirs in my time, but this has to be one of the funniest and warmest. It reads like a barroom chat with and old friend you hold in the greatest regard and respect. Here's one of the funniest passages;

'Norman Tebbit was an uppity backbencher before Thatcher stuck him in the Cabinet. Tommy Swain, a fellow ex-miner from Derbyshire, was sitting opposite Tebbit (in the House of Commons) who was muttering away. I didn't catch precisely what Tebbit said but, looking at Tommy, he'd said something like "The old man's turned up for once" in a clear dig. 

"What did he say?" asked Tommy

"He called you a bastard," I answered to wind up Tommy. He cursed Tebbit, then a few moments later I heard: 

"Tebbit's said something else - what was it?"

"He's called you a bastard again, Tommy"

Tommy wasn't happy.Tommy shouted at Tebbit that he wanted a word and Tebbit, the silly sod, got up to speak to him. I was thinking what a fool Tebbit was when Tommy pounced at the back of the chamber. I can see the pair now: Tommy holding Tebbit by the tie with one hand, Tommy's other hand screwed into a menacing fist in Tebbit's face. The two of them were near the heavy double doors into the Member's Lobby so beyond what's known  as the bar of the House and officially out of chamber. The Speaker was unable to save Tebbit from a pasting if Tommy wasn't appeased. Bernard Weatherill, then a Tory whip and later himself a Speaker, saw what was going on and rushed over. Tommy complained that Tebbit was bad-mouthing him and Weatherill told Tebbit to apologise. I saw Tommy later with a piece of paper in his hand. It was a letter of apology from Tebbit!  I don't know what Tebbit said exactly but I must have been nearer the truth than I imagined'

Two things strike me about that particular anecdote; one, is that it's the kind of thing my late grandfather (who bore a passing resemblance to Skinner and was an ex-miner himself) would have done. He enjoyed a good leg pull. And the second is that it really couldn't have happened to a nicer person than Norman Tebbit, a loathsome hard hearted man who enjoyed his role as Thatcher's hatchet man, destroying the lives of millions of Britons throughout the 1980s and remains unrepentant to this day. I'd have loved to have been a fly on the wall for that moment; Tommy Swain might have been over 60 by that stage but as a miner and a former fairground boxer, he could have done Tebbit some serious damage!

Dennis Skinner remains one of a kind, and in many ways that's a great shame. However, we can be grateful that he continues to fight the good fight against the likes of the Tories and UKIP at 84. Long may he continue.

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Is Paris Burning? (1966)

Based on the non-fiction book of the same name by Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre concerning the liberation of Paris, René Clément's 1966 production of Is Paris Burning? boasts a script from Gore Vidal and Francis Ford Coppola and is a stirring, war epic in the vein of The Longest Day and A Bridge Too Far (films that were based on the factual books by Cornelius Ryan) with an internationally star studded cast including Alain Delon as Jacques Chaban-Delmas the future Gaullist politician and Prime Minister, Jean-Paul Belmondo, Jean-Pierre Cassel, Leslie Caron, Yves Montand, Simone Signoret and Charles Boyer representing France, Glenn Ford, Kirk Douglas as Patton, Robert Stack, Anthony Perkins and George Chakiris representing America, Gert Fröbe as von Choltitz, the sympathetic commander of Nazi-occupied France who disobeyed Hitler's orders to raise Paris to the ground, Gunther Meisner and Wolfgang Preiss representing Germany, and Orson Welles standing alone as the Swedish diplomat Nordling who desperately tried to minimise bloodshed through negotiation. Weirdly, despite this raft of star names Claude Rich plays two parts! He's General Leclerc, with a moustache, and Lt Pierre de la Fouchardière, without a moustache! Surely there was another French actor knocking about?

Unfortunately, whilst Clément's film is certainly ambitious and conscientious, it isn't in the same league as the likes of A Bridge Too Far and The Longest Day and great swathes of the film are stiflingly dull and rather sprawling. It's a real shame as when the film does ignite (excuse the pun) its really satisfying; the battle scenes on the streets of Paris as the Americans and French allied forces take back the city are impressive enough to stand alongside any other war epic of the period and allow Jean-Pierre Cassel in particular a moment to shine, whilst the role of Anthony Perkins is predictable right from the off. The tense, sweaty performances of the film's big men (in every meaning of the word) Welles and Fröbe also suggest a more interesting film struggling to get out from under the weight of cameos, plodding scenes and historical accuracy. Make no mistake, this isn't Welles at the top of his game, but his inherent gravitas is suitably fitting to the role of the beleaguered Swedish Consul. 

Likewise Fröbe remains the film's best performed and best written character; a complex character study of a professional soldier who has realised the orders he receives from on high are from the mind of a madman. His weary expression, when finding himself suddenly alone in a restaurant as the bells of Paris break their four year silence to proclaim the Allies' arrival, speaks louder than the peal itself. Ultimately, when he surrenders to Cassel's Lt. Karcher and he faces the angry jeers of newly liberated Parisian crowds, it's hard not to feel some sympathy towards him knowing that what he did to save the city, disobeying his command, will not be immediately recognised. 

All too often however the film gets bogged down in vignettes whose prime intention seems to be to showcase whatever A-lister is in the vicinity at the time. Whilst it's really great to see the likes of Delon, Montand, Belmondo and Boyer et al, the real interest and meat of the story rests with less showy French actors such as Bruno Cremer (who went on to play the definitive - to my mind - Maigret) as Communist resistance leader Colonel Rol-Tanguy and Pierre Vaneck (looking not unlike a Iain Glen here) as Maj. Roger Gallois. That said, much of Rol-Tanguy's efforts are ignored by the film including his personal acceptance of von Cholitz's surrender, at least Gallois' cross-country mission to appeal to the US forces and Gen. Patton himself for help is given some prominence. 

Despite its many flaws, Is Paris Burning? proved to be a box office hit in France but proved significantly less successful elsewhere as witnessed by the fact that it doesn't get shown on TV or mentioned much at all in comparison to other WWII epics. Some cite the decision to film in black and white as a major mistake (reputedly, it was a decision forced on the film maker's by the French government, who refused to allow them to fly red and black Nazi flags over the city for fear it would bring back painful memories - grey and black however, were deemed OK enough to be permitted) but I actually think it works to the film's advantage especially when you consider how seamless the archive footage is subsequently incorporated alongside Marcel Grignon's cinematography. 

Personally I think the real stumbling block is in relying on dubbing; all the sequences featuring French and German actors were filmed in their native languages, which was then dubbed - in a rather hit and miss fashion - into English, while all the sequences with the American actors were filmed in English. Given that the cast is predominantly made up of non-native English speakers, it would have made far more sense to use subtitles. Granted, a majority foreign-language film may have still proved unsuccessful at the box office in English-language territories, but it would have ensured the film stood the test of time far better. As it is, this is a film that hints at being a classic but ultimately falls short too many times.

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Man of Marble (Człowiek z marmuru) 1977

Taking Orson Welles' Citizen Kane as inspiration, Andrzej Wajda managed to produce not only what is arguably his finest film, but also what many believe to be the definitive Polish masterpiece in 1977's Man of Marble

The film has two parallel storylines; the first follows Mateusz Birkut, a bricklayer who rises up from the masses, ascending to the idolatry role of State-promoted 'Worker's Hero' in the Stalinist 1950s when, rebuilding Poland following WWII, he and his team breaks a record for laying 30,000 bricks during an eight-hour shift. Whilst the second, set in the present day of 1976, sees Agnieszka, a young and independent Polish woman, directing a film about Birkut for her diploma, obsessively pursuing every one who knew the man for every step of his tale, including his highly secretive fall from grace into obscurity.

Wajda's film seeks to expose the very real nature of human beings beneath the myths and legends of a media construct and the falsities inherent in Soviet propaganda. But whilst Wajda is keen to acknowledge Stalinism for the cruel disaster it so clearly was, he is more sympathetic to the idealism born from the ordinary men and women who were determined to make the dream work. It's this approach which makes the ultimate betrayals and disillusionment all the more affecting and crushing. 

In lead actor Jerzy Radziwiłowicz, Wajda finds the perfect canvas to display all the complex traits he requires in the story. There's a down-to-earth nobility to Radziwiłowicz that is vital for Birkut to convince. The actor doesn't play the hero, he instead plays just the ordinary man who was picked out from the rank and file. He's good-natured, polite and a little green, but the strength of virtue he clearly possesses, which is subsequently mined by the Communist overlords as the ideal for the cause, is one which is simply a quality of humanity in general. 

In contrast, Agnieszka is very much a product of her own time, one which refuses to fall for establishment lies and looks to the future and the distant glimmer of glasnost on the horizon. The irony of this forward-thinking is of course that it is perhaps the hard work that has already been undertaken by the previous generation of Birkut has granted her such freedom and defiance. But there's also gender politics at play here as it's worth remembering just how groundbreaking a character like Agnieszka was for Polish cinema at the tail end of the 1970s and how she is a world away from the basic cipher of the journalist character from Citizen Kane. Portrayed by Krystyna Janda, Agnieszka  is a sexy as hell, chain-smoking, long limbed blonde who carries a sailor bag around containing all her worldy possessions, though her real possessions are the fierce intelligence, stubborn persistence and dogged determination she displays when it comes to discovering the truth. It's a strong independent depiction of a modern, professional woman and Wajda, together with Janda rewrites Polish cinema's depiction of women in the same way he created an iconic poster boy in Cybulski on Ashes and Diamonds in the 1950s. 

Ultimately, both Agnieszka and Birkut are pawns in a bigger game, tolerated for as long as they are politically useful. The difference is that Birkut ultimately had nothing to counteract this realisation with and faded away (his actual fate would be revealed in the sequel Man of Iron) whereas Agnieszka knew that the story doesn't end simply because the means are taken away from her.

Wajda's masterpiece came about because of a brief blossoming in Polish cinema in the mid 70s that saw the Ministry of Culture request more focus be made in tackling contemporary social realities, as opposed to historical period costume drama (they were seemingly blind to the fact that  period pieces allowed political filmmakers like Wajda to get their message across by drawing veiled parallels between the past and the present) Coined 'the cinema of moral anxiety', it proved to be a very short, but wonderful bloom as by 1981 Martial Law was instigated, stifling such creativity, criticism and freedom of speech, casting a nation once more into the oppressive gloom as the USSR played its last hand of bluff.

Out On Blue Six : Inspiral Carpets, RIP Craig Gill

Another day, news of another sad passing. Inspiral Carpets drummer and founder member Craig Gill has died aged just 44.

No details of the cause of death has been announced so far, but this is shocking and devastating news. 


End Transmission

Monday, 21 November 2016

RIP William Trevor

William Trevor, the Irish novelist, short story writer and playwright, has passed away at the age of 88

Trevor was shortlisted four times for the Man Booker Prize and won the Whitbread Prize in 1994 for his novel Felicia's Journey. I read this in the summer and was absolutely blown away by how good it was. It was subsequently adapted for cinema in 1999, starring Bob Hoskins and Elaine Cassidy. It's a good film, but it's nothing compared to the book. Other novels such as The Children of Dynmouth and Fools of Fortune were also adapted for the screen.

It's sad to hear he has passed away, but I know I've a lot of his work to catch up on.


Bathing Beauty

Fiona Richmond and Crystal Palace manager Malcolm Allison in the player's bath

Sunday, 20 November 2016

Fighting Back: Petitions to Sign, Make the Royals Pay For Palace Renovation

There is a national housing crisis, the NHS is in ruins and on the precipice of privatisation, austerity is forcing desperate cuts in many front line services, hard working families are forced to use food banks and thousands of homeless people sleep on the streets of our towns and cities. But the Royal Family expect us to dig deep for the refurbishment of Buckingham Palace. The crown's wealth is inestimable, they could finance this upkeep easily by themselves yet it is the public coffers of this Breadline Britain that is expected to foot the bill. There are over 700 bedrooms in Buck House, enough to house many of the homeless and most vulnerable in our society. If the Queen really cares about her 'loyal subjects' shouldn't she realise that this is an utterly outrageous ask and that her government are destroying this country?

If you agree that this is an extremely distasteful, ignorant and dangerous move then please sign this petition I'm not a big royalist - as you can tell - though I've nothing against them individually per se. I just think that they, and the lackeys around them who expect us to pay, need to wake up to what is really happening in this country they rule over. After all, weren't we supposed to be 'in this together'?

Silent Sunday: Cafe Society

Saturday, 19 November 2016

Theme Time: Jay Gruska - Lois & Clark: New Adventures of Superman

With Doctor Who seemingly consigned to TV history, Saturday teatimes of the 1990s were all about a family friendly, fantasy action drama imported to the BBC from the US; The New Adventures of Superman

Entitled Lois & Clark in America, the series was devised for television by Deborah Joy LeVine as a modern, relationship-centric revision of the DC Comics legend, taking its cue from comic book writer and artist John Byrne who was charged with rejuvenating the superhero with a modern origins story that depicted Clark Kent as the true personality and Superman the disguise. The show starred Dean Cain as Clark and Superman, and Terri Hatcher as Lois Lane, making the previously unknown pair household names all over the world. And yes, I did crush on Hatcher - I was a teenage boy after all. The show ran from 1993 to 1997, spawning tie-in novels and a soundtrack CD from the composer Jay Gruska, including his stirring, wonderful theme tune...

Here in the UK, the series made its debut Saturday 8th January 1994 and became one of the regular building blocks of the Saturday night schedule alongside Noel's House Party, Casualty and later, the National Lottery. The BBC renamed the series The New Adventures of Superman and held the rights to the first three seasons, before Sky One stepped in to broadcast the fourth and final season first in the UK, with BBC1 playing catch up a few weeks later. Repeats were still being broadcast on the BBC as late as 2002 in the CBBC Saturday morning schedules and on BBC2 weekday teatimes.

Just hearing the theme gives me a huge nostalgia rush!

Friday, 18 November 2016

TV Review: The Undiscovered Peter Cook, BBC4 (16/11/16)

There have been many documentaries about the life of Peter Cook. As he's my ultimate comedic hero, their proclivity doesn't bother me in the slightest, the more the merrier I say, but Victor Lewis-Smith's The Undiscovered Peter Cook on BBC4 this week offered us something unique and previously unavailable from previous TV biographies - Cook's archive.

Following the Cook's death in 1995 aged just 57,  the great satirist's third and final wife Lin, refusing all requests for access by the media,  proceeded to put up the shutters of his Hampstead home and it's effectively been locked up ever since. Only Lewis-Smith's poignant 2000 film, Dudley Moore: After the Laughter, convinced Lin to do something by way of a lasting tribute to her husband and now, sixteen years on from that film, Lewis-Smith received unprecedented access to go - in the words of David Frost, who Cook once saved from drowning; his only regret in life - 'through the keyhole'  to sift through the plethora of rare photographs, files and paperwork, private audio and visual recordings, half-finished and long forgotten projects and associated clutter.  

For a Cook fan such as myself, this was manna from heaven; there was restored footage of long believed wiped/missing sketches from Not Only But Also (including one sketch with a corpsing Peter Sellers unearthed in the US Library of Congress no less) outtakes from the profane Derek and Clive sessions, and most excitingly, audio of Cook's notorious chat show Where Do I Sit?, along with home video material of Cook playing golf in the street, dancing around a hotel room with a fag on the go (of course), inventing the sport of 'Los Bollockos' during an all expenses paid (by John Cleese, basking in his A Fish Called Wanda glory) celebrity-laden cruise down the Nile, and of his memorial service.

Given that much of the material was audio based, the film was enlivened by deliberately crude animation making use of photos of Cook himself. Admittedly some of the material was consigned to oblivion for obvious reasons; the audio of an improvised sketch about the dangerous side-effects of eating too much marmalade was one such laughter-free zone, which made it all the more puzzling that the programme-makers chose to open with it and, whilst there's no denying that Cook was a genius and a brilliant renaissance man, one thing he most certainly could not turn his hand to was singing, so the inclusion of him attempting does - as Lewis-Smith says at one point - leave us to wonder why they bothered, but it does at least afford us an affectionate playful look at the man's private life and one of the more innocent ways in which he kept himself amused.    

It would be easy too to point the finger at the levels of impartiality in evidence in Lewis-Smith's film, given that it ignores Cook's children and his first two wives, Wendy Cook and Judy Huxtable, in favour of Lin, a complex and divisive figure among Cook fans with a reputation for alienating many figures from his past including family and former spouses, but given that she is the gatekeeper to the material on offer here it is perhaps unsurprising that the film chooses to pay some small tribute to her amidst the overall celebration of - as Stephen Fry put it - 'the funniest man to draw breath'.

EDITED TO ADD: And now (1st Dec, 2016) news has reached me that Lin Cook herself has passed away this week at the age of 71.