Friday, 17 November 2017

The Wall (2017)

Thankfully not a film about Trump’s intentions regarding the US/Mexico border, The Wall is, in fact, a tense, psychological war movie from director Doug Liman.

It’s surprising that the 52-year-old director of such big hitters as The Bourne Identity, Edge of Tomorrow and the recent American Made is responsible for The Wall because (and I don’t mean this as a criticism) this feels like the work of a young film school graduate, an extension perhaps of his graduation project. There’s something intrinsically low key about The Wall‘s intimate set-up, and something independently minded about its overall desire to subvert audience expectations that makes it a surprise move from an established action director like Liman. The film’s inherent youthfulness actually stems from Afro-American playwright Dwain Worrell, who was teaching English in China when he sold his screenplay on spec to Amazon Studios in 2014

Read my full review at The Geek Show

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Out On Blue Six: Jim Diamond

Last week on BBC4, the repeats of Top of the Pops had reached the last week in November 1984 when Jim Diamond, the little Scotsman with the big voice, knocked Chaka Khan off the number one spot with his single I Should Have Known Better

The former PhD vocalist's memorable ballad enjoyed just one week at the top of the charts, its brief stay largely down to Diamond himself who - perhaps at the frustration of his record company - spent the week publically requesting fans bought Band Aid's recently recorded charitable venture Do They Know It's Christmas? rather than his own single; "I'm delighted to be at number one, but next week I don't want people to buy my record; I want them to buy Band Aid instead"

It was actually Frankie Goes To Hollywood's The Power of Love that took the following week's number one spot, but Band Aid had their moment taking number one and holding the position for five weeks, becoming the much prized Christmas number one that year. Diamond's hit didn't lose out - it scored the Ivor Novello award that year and the signer's selfless act has been recalled fondly ever since.

End Transmission

RIP Keith Barron

Sad to hear of the death of TV stalwart Keith Barron at the age of 83.

For over fifty years the Mexborough-born Barron was a mainstay of the box in the corner of your living room, cornering the market in those slightly posh northerner roles, often caught in the midst of a moral crisis. His most famous role was probably as David, the adulterous holidaymaker in the 1980s ITV sitcom Duty Free but he first shot to fame in the 1960s playing Detective Sergeant Swift in Granada's The Odd Man and its follow up, It's Cold Outside, and as Dennis Potter's semi-autobiographical hero Nigel Barton in two ground breaking Wednesday Play's Stand Up, Nigel Barton and Vote, Vote, Vote for Nigel Barton.

In 1989 he played cab driver Tom in Tony Marchant's memorable TV drama Take Me Home before starring opposite Nigel Havers in the ITV adventure series The Good Guys. He also starred in two further sitcoms in the '90s, the historical comedy Haggard opposite Sam Kelly and Reece Dinsdale for ITV and the less-than-successful All Night Long for the BBC in 1994, a series that only I seem to remember in which he played an ex-con who ran an all-night bakery. Other work included roles in Upstairs, Downstairs, Telford's Change, A Family At War, Jackanory, The New Avengers, Doctor Who (memorably playing space-age yachtsman Striker in the Peter Davison serial Enlightenment), Room at the Bottom, Where the Heart Is, Dead Man Weds, Dalziel and Pascoe, The Chase, Casualty, Holby City, Lapland, Being Eileen and DCI Banks. He also starred on the big screen in films such as Baby Love, The Man Who Had Power Over Woman, Nothing But The Night, The Land That Time Forgot, At The Earth's Core and Voyage of the Damned.


Tuesday, 14 November 2017

On a Scale of 1 to 10, How Insensitive are the Tories on Grenfell?

Can you believe the Tories are asking Kensington residents, on a scale of 1 to 10, how important the tragedy of Grenfell tower is to them?

Just how insensitive can you get? And this from a Tory government that claims they have learnt from Hillsborough. They are making the same mistakes all over again.

If you agree that this is unacceptable and want to ensure the government do not shirk their responsibilities to the victims of Grenfell and everyone currently living in a residence without sufficient protection at next week's Budget, then please sign this petition

These Dangerous Years (1957)

I watched this one primarily for Carole Lesley (*sighs*) When one character is shown a photo of her, he sniffs 'there's dozens like her in Liverpool' Believe me, there ain't! Worst luck.

The lovely Lesley (a blonde bombshell of many a '50s and '60s British movie, who sadly died of a drug overdose at the age of 38 in 1974 when fame proved elusive) plays the love interest to Frankie Vaughan and These Dangerous Years is definitely a vehicle for the then popular Liverpudlian crooner. The plot tells the story of Dave Wyman, a young delinquent played by Vaughan, and his gang of 'Dingle boys' whose territory is the south Mersey foreshore known as the 'Cassy' (the Cast Iron Shore); the rust-red sands at Dingle Point, which has now been redeveloped as Otterspool Promenade.  This being the late '50s, England still has its National Service and it isn't long before Dave is conscripted into the forces to do his bit. 

Can the army tame this bad boy?

Well initially it seems like they can, as Dave defies all expectations and proves himself a natural soldier, despite his refusal to have his teddy boy haircut shaved off. He's soon promoted to the rank of Lance Corporal, much to the chagrin of Michael Ripper's barrack room bully who sets out to discredit Dave, with tragically fatal consequences. Facing court martial and possibly even the hangman's noose, Dave flees camp and returns to Liverpool, relying on his girl (Lesley) and his fellow tearaways (including Eddie Byrne and Kenneth Cope) for help or maybe even hindrance. But can the regimental Padre (George Baker), who believes in Dave, catch up with him and persuade him to face the music and prove his innocence? 

These Dangerous Years is quite a bit of fun to be honest, and if you're a fan of Vaughan's musical career I imagine it would be even more fun. I'm not really, so I may have fast forwarded through at least one of his shoehorned numbers, but the story surrounding it stands up rather well - indeed, they could have removed all the opportunities to showcase Vaughan's singing and it would have worked fine. The juvenile delinquency storyline is wonderfully evocative of the 1950s (all greased back quiffs, leather jackets, chain smoking and coffee bars) and is one that probably meant a lot to Vaughan who, as a kid, did run around with gangs in Liverpool before finding an outlet in the local boys' club and music. His commitment to ensuring others had the same escape as he did saw him establish the Easterhouse Project in Glasgow in the late '60s in an attempt to secure peace between the warring juvenile gangs of the Scottish city. 

Vaughan's acting may not be award winning, but he equips himself rather well in carrying the film and he's ably supported by the aforementioned Lesley and George Baker, who he shares top billing with, as well as Jocelyn 'Jackie' Lane (once touted as Britain's Brigitte Bardot, she went on to star opposite Elvis in Tickle Me, before retiring from acting in 1973 to marry Prince Alfonso of Hohenlohe-Langenburg), John Le Mesurier, Katherine Kath and, all too briefly, Thora Hird.

Monday, 13 November 2017

Out On Blue Six: London Grammar

London Grammar's haunting stripped back version of Chris Isaak's 1989 hit Wicked Game has been used to great effect in the BBC's trailer for the forthcoming fourth series of Peaky Blinders, which commences this week. I cannot wait to be back with the Shelby Clan, but for now, here's London Grammar...

End Transmission

A Clockwork Orange (1971)

I guess A Clockwork Orange is something akin to a movie buff’s ‘Where were you when Kennedy was shot?’ moment. Every self-respecting film devotee from the UK is likely to recall the first time they watched Stanley Kubrick’s controversial masterpiece and, if you’re of a certain age, chances are you were breaking the law when you did. Which seems kind of apt when watching this vivid study of a young man who not only likes Beethoven and milk, but a bit of the old ultra-violence too.

Let me explain. If you hail from the UK and you’ve purchased this beautiful, extras packed Warner Bros Premium Collection DVD/Blu-ray/Digital download of A Clockwork Orange or, if you’ve seen it for the first time any time in the last seventeen years (perhaps you saw it on ITV2? The grandmother of Northern comedian Peter Kay did, who claims she famously uttered the maloprop “did you see Stanley Kubrick’s A Chocolate Orange on TV last night?”) you’re not familiar with how surreal that seems to a generation of moviegoers who have gone before you. Kubrick, like Baron Frankenstein fearful of the Monster he gave life to, withdrew his creation from general release within the UK indefinitely in early 1974 as a direct reaction to a growing number of so-called copy-cat crimes and protests from councillors, politicians, the clergy, Mary Whitehouse of the National Viewers and Listeners Association, and, most damning of all, the press. A Clockwork Orange became, to all intents and purposes, a dangerous cult movie.

See my full review at The Geek Show

Sunday, 12 November 2017

Nigel Farage Thinks His Followers Are Idiots

I'm currently reading Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. In it, there's a line of dialogue that goes something like this: "'Intellectual' became the swear word it deserved to be" and that's a quote that immediately springs to mind when I think of the kind of world Nigel Farage, Donald Trump and the Alt Right are trying to create.

This week the World Health Organisation welcomed the decision to ban cigarette sales in the Vatican as of next year, reminding us all that, as tobacco kills 7 million people per year, this is a wise move.

Nigel Farage, a survivor of testicular cancer himself, took to twitter to say this in response:

"The World Health Organisation is just another club of 'clever people' who want to bully us and tell us what to do. Ignore"

For a long time now I've spoken on this blog about 'the rise of the idiots' (a reference to the Chris Morris/Charlie Brooker sitcom Nathan Barley) and I believe it really is coming to fruition with the rise of the alt right, because they are hell bent on making 'intellectual' a swear word; something to discredit, something to hold in utter contempt. They're creating a fairytale world where anyone who doesn't share their world view is a middle class, nanny-state loving, PC-gone-mad snowflake whose read far too many books and never done a decent day's work in their life - it's you against them in a fight for our 'freedoms'. But just what is it that has made them spin intelligence and expertise as a negative, whilst the possession of criticism and contempt for it is a positive trait to any character?

And just why do their followers accept this constant reinforcement of an idea that they are barely educated everymen facing off against 'clever' bullies? Do you have to be an idiot to be a UKIP voter? Nigel Farage seems to think so, and yet consistently calling these voters 'idiots' doesn't actually turn anyone away. In that regard, they really must be idiots then. Either that or people who just don't mind being considered as such.

The catch 22 of all this of course is that the more insulting and absurdly, wilfully ignorant comments Farage et al makes the more those of us on the left react by pointing out how stupid they are being. And the more we point this out, the more ammo the alt right have in claiming we're part of a 'clever club' who believe they have the power to tell people what to do and think.

It's a vicious circle. But please, if you have ever felt that the politics of Farage and the like personally offer something to you, take a moment to consider how it feels to be basically called an idiot by the man you're giving your vote to. 

Silent Sunday: Remembrance

Saturday, 11 November 2017

RIP John Hillerman

The Texan actor John Hillerman, famous for playing the stuffy former British officer Johnathan Higgins in Magnum PI, has died at the age of 84.

Higgins was the manager of the Hawaiian estate that housed Tom Selleck's laidback PI and became Hillerman's most famous and acclaimed role, bagging five Golden Globe nominations (and one win) alongside four EMMY nominations (and one win). He become something of an honorary Brit, and would go on to play British characters several times (including playing Dr Watson opposite Edward Woodward's Sherlock Holmes in the TV movie Hands of a Murderer) to the extent that he received one fan letter from an Englishwoman who praised him as 'a credit to the empire', he wrote back informing her he was actually 'a hick from Texas'. 

Other roles included the radio show 'tec Simon Brimmer on Ellery Queen and The Betty White Show, whilst he also appeared in films such as Peter Bogdanovich's The Last Picture Show and What's Up Doc? Mel Brooks' Blazing Saddles, Roman Polanski's Chinatown and Clint Eastwood's High Plains Drifter

Hillerman retired seventeen years ago setting up home once more in his native Texas and had been in ill health for some time.


Friday, 10 November 2017

Jodie's Doctor Costume Revealed

I just came.

She looks adorable in cropped teal culottes, yellow braces, striped top (anyone else thinking Mork & Mindy or is that just me?), swishy trench coat, blue stripey socks and boots. Oh and earrings too - a first for the Doctor!

Gig Review: Lefty Scum @ Liverpool Everyman, 9/11/17

Having seen and greatly enjoyed Josie Long's stand up in March this year, the minute she announced she was returning to Liverpool to perform at the Everyman, I booked tickets, bagging myself a front row seat. But I didn't just get a night of entertainment from Josie Long, I also got entertainment from the musical comic duo Jonny & the Baptists and the folk protest singer Grace Petrie.

Just what brings these talented performers together? A desire to deliver comedy, music and revolutionary socialism to empower their audiences and make them feel less alone. This was a show that really did prove that we were all in this together. This was Lefty Scum.

It was like Red Wedge, but with laughs and thankfully without Spandau Ballet.

I came to the Everyman last night as a big fan of Josie Long, and I left as a big fan of Grace Petrie and Jonny and the Baptists - artistes whose talents simply blew me away. 

Jonny & the Baptists deliver side-achingly, howlingly hilarious songs about revolutionary swans, UKIP supporting fathers and the joy of Thatcher's death combined with the disappointment that, like Roy Wood's Christmas, it's not something we can celebrate everyday. Bearded, delightfully rambling between songs, and giving their performance great gusto, they're like Tenacious D....but funny and talented, obviously.

Grace Petrie took the stage to point out that she was not actually a comedian, although that didn't stop her having the audience laughing pretty much from that moment on. She blends her charismatic, quippy stage presence with some truly striking, impassioned and honest lyrics that really make you sit up and listen as they detail everything from the insane hang-up our society has with royalty, the Spanish Civil War, her disgust at UKIP and Tory homophobia to the more homegrown nature of the birth of her niece and the issues arising from dating a vegan. These are songs that provoke thought and also amuse, much like Billy Bragg at his best. Petrie delivered a bravura performance, despite her apologies that she was coming down with a cold, her impressive voice booming to the rafters as a clarion call, not to arms as she says in one track, but to give a helping hand. 

And in between these startling talents is Josie Long. Since I last saw her in March, Long has had a tough few months at the hands of some extremely right wing commentators online. She touches upon this situation and how it has affected her in her performance, but she remains an inspiring, confident figure who really is, as her material touches upon, growing in stature. These neo-Nazi alt right hate preachers (and I may have shouted out that they're 'pricks' at this point, oops) have done their best to try and silence Long and many on the left, but she remains unbeaten and unbowed and, if anything, Lefty Scum was a night that told us we are not alone. It was a night that told us that yes, things can be disappointing and disheartening, things can looks scary, unequal and unfair as people are exploited and prejudiced against on a daily basis. But we are not alone. Liverpool, like other gigs along this tour, was sold out; theatres packed with like minded souls who all believe that the world should be a fairer, better place and more, that it can be too. 

Lefty Scum is a show I would heartily recommend you catch - only trouble is, last night's gig was the end of the tour; a triumphant conclusion that the gang should all be incredibly proud of. I only hope that Lefty Scum can become an annual event, to inspire more and more people.

Take heart though, you can catch Grace Petrie on tour with her Lefty Christmas show (gig list at her site here) whilst Jonny & the Baptists are at London's Diorama Theatre throughout December with their Thirty Christmases show, before a short tour commencing in Feb 2018 (gig list at their site here)

I'm off now to listen to the Grace Petrie and Jonny & the Baptists albums I purchases during last night's interval and hoping they all come round again soon!

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

Out On Blue Six: Until The Ribbon Breaks

For the past four weeks or so now, I've been watching a show called X Company on the History Channel.

The series follows the adventures of five OSS agents who have completed their training at the titular Canadian based Camp X and are now working behind enemy lines in Occupied France during WWII. It's a Canadian show which made its debut in 2015 but has only just reached these shores. It stars a range of Canadian/British/French actors including Évelyne Brochu, Jack Laskey, Connor Price, Dustin Milligan and Warrington's own Warren Brown.

So, why am I talking about a TV show in an Out On Blue Six post? Well it's because the closing moments of the first episode featured an unusual and really good cover version of the Blondie classic One Way or Another by British band Until The Ribbon Breaks. I'd never heard it before and I was immediately bowled over. So, by way of a public service, here's a good new show for you to discover and a track you may not have heard before too.

End Transmission

Monday, 6 November 2017

Last Night's Tele: Sheridan, ITV

An old fashioned variety showcase for Sheridan Smith, the Doncaster girl who has come a long way from her days as the star of BBC3 sitcom Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps. Having wowed the nation with her straight acting roles in must-see dramas such as Mrs Biggs, Cilla, The C-Word and The Moorside, Smith became a West End star when she took the lead role of Fanny Brice in Funny Girl. A singer since she was a child, it was only natural that an album deal would come beckoning and this one off special was certainly designed to showcase this latest venture from the national treasure.

The elephant in the room of course is that runaway success has come at a price. Last year was a particularly turbulent time for Smith thanks to the death of her much loved musician father from cancer. A hiatus from Funny Girl occurred, as did a spell in rehab. This special could arguably have been the opportunity to show that she has come back stronger and better, but I'm not convinced. Twitter, being the domain of complete and utter bastards, delighted in ridiculing Sheridan's appearance. It's true that she has gained weight (a natural physical reaction to anti-depressants that she may very well have been taking at the time the special was recorded) and it is equally true that she has committed to a lot of tattoos recently and that the make-up and costume department possibly didn't serve her well in the show, but the reaction online made for grim insensitive reading and given that we're talking about someone who is openly admitting to vulnerability after tragic circumstances, it seemed especially cruel. 

And yet, I must tactfully suggest that there was something undeniably uncomfortable about Sheridan here. The interviews between the songs (from a deeply complimentary, gentle Alexander Armstrong) revealed that Sheridan had turned down several offers to make a record previously to the disappointment of her father. Now that he has passed, she confessed it felt the right time to do so and to dedicate the album to him. It's an understandable reaction to the loss she has suffered, but I couldn't escape the sense that this project may just be too much, too soon. Perhaps the clearest answer to this concern is in Sheridan's music; a striking, stripped-down version of And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going sees Smith openly weeping as she performs - it's not an act, it's coming from a very real place.

As for the show itself, your enjoyment depends not so much on whether you're a Sheridan Smith fan but on whether you can stomach the kind of show that essentially sees its star sing a medley of musical numbers, classic ballads and chart hits. It's a cheesy affair, the kind of 'extravaganza' that was very much at home in the '70s and '80s. I do wonder if a more An Audience With... format would have suited Sheridan better and I did find it strange that Armstrong's skip through Sheridan's TV career didn't touch upon the show that effectively made her a household name: Two Pints. I know it was a marmite show and that it is probably very out of favour now, but to completely ignore it just seemed wrong.

The highlight of the special has to be the moment when Sheridan, during filming for Cilla, had a night off and brought her friends back to her hotel room for a drunken game of Blind Date complete with the prop department 'Cilla' teeth!

RIP Dudley Simpson

Sad to hear that the talented TV theme tune composer Dudley Simpson has died at the age of 95.

Born in Australia in 1922, Simpson studied at the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music and worked at the Borovansky Ballet Company (now the Australian Ballet) before moving to the UK where he became the principal conductor of the Royal Opera House Orchestra. In 1961 he turned his talents to TV, composing themes and scores for several dramas before catching the eye (or ears) of Doctor Who's Mervyn Pinfield who recruited him to score the music for the William Hartnell serial Planet of the Giants. From there, a 15 year association with the programme commenced which saw Simpson become the most prolific composer attached to the popular series, culminating in arguably my most favourite of his work, the An American In Paris inspired piano suite for Tom Baker's 1979 Parisian shot serial City of Death

Simpson's association with the series came to an end that year when new producer John Nathan Turner announced he wanted a new sound for the 1980s, but Simpson continued to be a familiar name in the credits of many a TV show, providing the scores or theme tunes to a plethora of shows including Blake's 7, The Tomorrow People, The Brothers, Moonbase 3, Paul Temple, Target, The Ascent of Man, Super Gran, and many of the plays in the BBC Shakespeare season.

Simpson returned to Australia in the 1990s and lived out the rest of his retirement there until his death yesterday.


Sunday, 5 November 2017

The Last Last Post

Tonight on BBC1 sees the last episode of Peter Moffat's Aden-set drama The Last Post which has been really enjoyable, chiefly for Jessica Raine's balls-to-the-wall performance as the glam tragic lush Alison.

Watching Raine generally behaving in a (permanently tipsy) manner unbecoming of an officer's wife; knocking back the booze, chain smoking and even finding babies boring, is a far cry from her time on that other Sunday night BBC staple Call The Midwife and, much like my Percy Herbert post yesterday, this is a performance that puts me in mind of a stand up routine. Years ago Bill Bailey used to do a bit about how he liked to turn up at parties and get drunk, telling all and sundry that he was in fact "Aled Jones. It's all gone wrong for me". Raine is a step away from going "Yeah I used to be that lovely midwife lady, it's all gone wrong for me. Yeah babies, babies blah blah boring blaaaah" and it's a delight!

Saturday, 4 November 2017

50s Dad - Percy Herbert

There's a very funny routine in one of Ricky Gervais' stand up shows where 'the chubby funster' likens the Old Testament depiction of God to '50s Dad' someone with little patience and who is quick to use his belt.

I wonder if Gervais was thinking of Percy Herbert's role as the father of Andrew Ray and Cliff Richard (in his debut film role) in the 1959 film Serious Charge

I've previously blogged about this curio here and it's recently popped up on (where else but) Talking Pictures. It's a strange little offering that still feels pretty daring with its accusation of child molestation against an innocent clergyman, yet is somewhat uneven in tone whenever it attempts to showcase Cliff's singing talents. But Herbert is very striking in his supporting role and the character truly is 50s Dad; a man who believes every situation is to be resolved with a flogging from his belt. He removes it threateningly twice in the film, uttering the immortal line "You know the taste of this, boy"

In a fortnight in which there have been calls for a UK wide ban on smacking children, following Scotland's pioneering ban, it's good to think that '50s Dad is really becoming a thing of the past.

Out On Blue Six: Bryan Adams

Bryan Adams appeared on The One Show last night and delivered a beautiful acoustic version of his '80s hit Run To You. His voice is still on point

Apologies that the word 'Tory' appears in the bottom left hand corner throughout this vid. It's the only upload I could find on YouTube!

Here's the original version as comparison, the video stars British actress Lysette Anthony (I think she appeared in a couple of Bryan's early videos?) who has recently come out as another of Harvey Weinstein's victims with an alleged historic assault dating back to the early '90s.

End Transmission

Thursday, 2 November 2017

Wish Me Luck, Series Three Review

The third series of Wish Me Luck (you can find reviews of series one and two also on this blog) brought the exploits of our brave SOE agents behind enemy lines to a close in early 1990. The series feels rather different from the previous two and for a number of reasons.

Firstly, this series is set in the summer of 1944 around the point that the war was finally coming to a head. There's much talk of the allied invasion of France and there's a sense of desperation from the Nazi occupiers this time around. Not that such mood makes them any less ruthless - if anything, it makes them more so. The agents are bedded in with an intrepid and courageous band of Maquis resistance fighters in the fictional plateau of 'Le Crest' and the village of Couermont near the Swiss border. Their mission this time is to aid the resistance in the planned uprising against the Germans, and this is very much based on the real-life incident which saw the Maquis du Vercors' stand in making Vasssieux-en-Vercors a free republic; an act that was brutally suppressed by the Nazis.

The location for this series affords us with another welcome difference; some splendid summery location shooting at the foot of the Alps. Whilst this series continues the trend of mixing exterior with interior filming, I have a feeling series three has far more exterior scenes than any of the previous two series of Wish Me Luck and it really helps to give the drama some air and room to breathe. Granted things are still shot on videotape rather than film, but this is just a minor grumble this time around because it's hard to fault the location on offer in any guise.  

The crucial difference this time around frankly pulled the rug right from under my feet. I had always presumed that once Suzanna Hamilton left the show at the end of series one, her fellow leading co-star Kate Buffery was the star of each series. So imagine my surprise when series three commences without Buffery's character Liz Grainger! I was really worried about this at first, but there are enough new characters and enough examples of strong storytelling and high drama to lessen this potential blow to the series. Nevertheless, I was really pleased to see Liz return for the final two episodes (after penning one episode earlier on in the series with her co-star Michael J Jackson) as it was only fitting that she brought the drama to a close. 

Also AWOL for this third and final series is another crucial regular, Julian Glover's Colonel James 'Cad' Cadogan, whose absence is explained away with the information that he has now joined Eisenhower's staff. This means that Faith Ashley, his dutiful assistant played by Jane Asher, now fronts the show. This is both a blessing and a curse; a blessing in that it strengthens the show's feminist angle, but it doesn't feel all that believable to have Cad leave and not be replaced by someone of a similar military standing. Nevertheless, given how shoddy the SOE is treated this series, it's quite fitting that Faith is in charge as it makes the snooty powers-that-be's damning decision to ignore her requests that little bit more credible. But it's a shame that the character development of Cad in series two (which saw him rocked to his very foundations following the death of his son, an incident that really did occur to the SOE's chief Colin Gubbins) is so cruelly curtailed - audiences deserved to see the next step in that particular journey. Joining Asher in the corridors of Whitehall is Gordon Stewart (Stuart McGugan) who was last seen 'in the field' in series two, before  a Nazi bullet meant he had to be whisked back to England. This is a much better fit for McGugan to be fair, and his constant exasperation at the red tape he finds himself having to battle through feels suitably authentic. Also appearing this series is the Gaullist Colonel Max Dubois played by Damien Thomas whose friendship (and perhaps potentially something more?) with Asher's Faith feels palpable.

Returning for this final series are the wireless operator Emily played by Jane Snowden and resistance fighter Luc Ferrier played by Mark Anstee. Both characters spend much of the series in a seemingly endless lovers tiff, exacerbated by Luc's belief that the British are leaving the Maquis forces on the ground high and dry. Their relationship is further put to the test with the arrival of Nicole, a young French girl who is determined to prove herself to the resistance, but whom Luc has his suspicions about. Nicole is played by Felicity Montagu who later found fame as the long suffering, meek and mild PA Lynn in I'm Alan Partridge. I don't think I've ever seen her perform in a straight drama before and, without wishing to criticise her performance which is perfectly fine, she does seem to have found her natural home in comedy. 

Joining the series are two new SOE operatives, the aristocratic Virginia Mitchell (code name 'Dominique') and the flamboyantly homosexual and former drag queen Lewis Lake (code name 'Antoine') played by Catherine Schell and Jeremy Nicholas. In keeping with previous series of Wish Me Luck, these characters are somewhat based in fact. The gay SOE agent and sometime theatrical Denis Rake is clearly the inspiration for the Lake character, whilst Virginia Mitchell owes a debt to both Polish aristocrat Christine Granville and the American Virginia Hall, to the extent that it's rather strange that the programme makers insist that the Hungarian born Schell play the role as an Englishwoman. Jeremy Nicholas brings some much needed light comic relief to the proceedings as the witty and charming 'Antoine', but (and this being the late '80s/early '90s) the programme seems a little shy of addressing his sexuality; in Catherine Shoard's 2010 restrospective article on the series for The Guardian she applauds the 'pioneering' manner of the series, incorrectly claiming that the character was a "bisexual operative (who) saved lives by coaxing secrets from SS officers on the pillow". Quite apart from Lewis clearly being gay rather than bi, the only example of him using his sexuality to gain secrets from the Nazis is in one scene where he befriends a lonely German soldier in a bar to elicit valuable information. If made today there would be so much more scope for the character of Lewis/'Antoine' that would arguably be fitting recreation of the real-life exploits of Denis Rake (who was briefly imprisoned after an affair with one German officer) but then Wish Me Luck never really explored the 'sleeping with the enemy' angle even with its female characters. If I had any complaint to make regarding Schell and Nicholas it's that, being both in their forties, they seem a little long in the tooth for the action.

Perhaps the most notable new characters this series are Trevor Peacock's tenacious Maquis leader Renard and the Jewish girl Sylvie, played by an incredibly young Shirley Henderson. Both characters have much to do with Michael J. Jackson's Kit Vanston; Renard is a fine comrade in arms and confident, almost replacing Liz in that respect, whilst Sylvie is essentially a surrogate daughter for the agent who lost his family in the blitz. When Kit describes what Sylvie means to him, that she represents the hope of something better if and when the war comes to an end, Jackson delivers the line with real conviction, reminding us that the whole notion of family could be a tragically precarious thing in times of conflict. It also serves to remind us that, as the war and the series progresses, Kit is getting older and wearier and, as such, it is understandable that he would place so much stock in someone who unequivocally represents youthful optimism. Henderson shows that she was a talented actress right from the start with her performance here, but it is Trevor Peacock who impressed me the most. To many, he is crusty old Jim in The Vicar of Dibley, but here he really convinces as a staunch socialist and French patriot, willing to sacrifice all for a free France.

The other significant newcomer in this series is the chief villain, the Nazi General Stuckler played by Terrence 'The Demon Headmaster' Hardiman. There's arguably a touch of déjà vu here as Hardiman had previously played a Nazi in the BBC's classic WWII resistance drama Secret Army in the 1970s, but his Stuckler is a worthy and unsettling adversary to our heroes by virtue of both Hardiman's icy portrayal and the more active role played by the Nazis in this series. Interestingly, the Teutonic accent previously dispensed with in the last series returns here with Hardiman's clipped, accented delivery. 

The tone of the series becomes progressively darker, and the desperation our heroes and heroines feel is really palpable. As previously alluded to, the plot of the series is based on the situation at Vasssieux-en-Vercors, so there's a real bedded-in feel to the series and equally a sense of being cut off and of characters trading in hopes and fears. The uprising at Vasssieux-en-Vercors was pivotal to the allied success at Normandy; the British using its stand as a tactical diversion which saw some 20,000 German soldiers busy quelling this lesser known third front made up of around 200 villagers, 600 Resistance fighters and a further 4,000 volunteer force soldiers. They were vastly outnumbered of course and the drama of this series plays on this frustration with Jane Asher and the powers-that-be in London repeatedly making promises of support that ultimately they fail to keep. As a dramatic tactic, this can get pretty tiring; it seems that every episode has London promising supplies, weapons and parachutists to the relief of the villagers on the ground, only for them to go back on their word at the last minute as one by one the British, American and French refuse to play ball, leaving them isolated and alone to face the music in the action packed final episodes.

On reflection, I'd argue that series three is probably better than series two and, in terms of quality, is on a par with the first series. The writing is good, although it is often prone to the dramatic (in inverted commas) soliloquy which rather dates it in terms of TV production. This is best exemplified by Bryan Pringle's warrior priest and his crisis of faith. Having been rescued by his comrades from a Nazi prison cell, he is horrified to learn that his freedom came at a price; as the village is hit by reprisals. Even more dated is the manner in which Sylvie's mother, played by Fiona Walker, is handled. Traumatised by the death of her husband at Nazis hands back in Vienna, Walker's character's mind is rapidly deteriorating which means she spends the series wandering aimlessly around burbling to herself. The intention is clearly to earn audience sympathy, but its so clumsily handled as to be rather irritating, almost as if Walker has literally walked in from a different show with a performance at odds with those around her. Nevertheless, this series provides Wish Me Luck with a fitting send off, and the icing on the cake is the return of Liz in the final pair of episodes. It would have been strange not to have her appear.

Sunday, 29 October 2017

Out On Blue Six: Chaka Khan

There was a bit of a switch-around in the schedules last week with Friday's 1984 Top of the Pops repeat on BBC4 being moved from 7:30 to 8:30 to make way for BBC1's new live music show Sounds Like Friday Night in the half 7 slot. The hour was worth the wait though; a solid line-up took part for the 18th October 1984 edition (day before my 5th birthday) including Spandau Ballet ('poncing about in their mum's curtains' as Billy Bragg once said), Paul McCartney, Julian Lennon, John Waite, Meatloaf, Ultravox, and Wham. But best of all was the gorgeous Chaka Khan with the eternally feelgood I Feel For You, written by Prince, with a rap by Melle Mel and harmonica from Stevie Wonder.

As for Sounds Like Friday Night, the BBC's much anticipated reworking of Top of the Pops format? I didn't watch it!

End Transmission

Mosquito Squadron (1969)

If you're looking for one word to sum up Mosquito Squadron it would be 'derivative'.

This 1969 effort from Boris Sagal is hanging on to the coat tails of 633 Squadron (which itself was hanging on to the coat tails of The Dam Busters) to the extent that it even re-uses footage from that film along with a pre-titles sequence that is lifted from Operation Crossbow. Indeed, so closely and similarly does this film follow 633 Squadron that many mistakenly believe it to be an official sequel. It isn't a sequel, but there is a direct reference to 633 taking part in this raid when, in reality, no such squadron existed - so we are definitely occupying the same world here. The earlier film wasn't exactly the starriest of productions to begin with, but Sagal certainly assembles a lower division team of players to breathe life into this tale. David McCallum, fresh off the back of TV's The Man From UNCLE returns to the RAF uniform he last wore in The Great Escape to deliver a rather subdued and uninvolving lead, which is a bit of an issue as he is clearly also the film's biggest name, playing a Royal Canadian Air Force officer (bizarrely, given that he's English and doesn't even attempt the accent) who finds himself torn between duty - both to his country and his friend - and love.

Based in part on the 1944 RAF/Maquis operation that was codenamed Jericho - a still highly secretive raid on Amiens gaol that helped liberate the French prisoners contained within - the film tells the tale of an RAF squadron whose mission is to destroy the Chateau de Charlon in Northern France where the Nazis are currently developing new weapons based on the V-1 programme. Their mission to attack and destroy the Chateau and the missile installation with Barnes Wallis' bouncing bomb is thrown into jeopardy when the Nazis get wind of the RAF's intentions and transport RAF POW's to the Chateau in an attempt to deter them from the raid. One of those POW's just happens to be the previously presumed dead Squadron Leader David 'Scotty' Scott (David Buck), the lifelong friend of Squadron Leader Quint Monroe (David McCallum) whose comfort of Scotty's 'widow' Beth (Suzanne Neve), has seen a romance develop between the pair.

Rounding out the cast are Nicky Henson, Dinsdale Landen, Bryan Marshall, Vladek Sheybal and David Dundas (pictured above), before he found fame as a musician with his 1976 hit single 'Jeans On' and composed the score to Withnail and I. Dundas, the son of the 3rd Marquess of Zetland, is now Lord Dundas and made a fortune from his jingle 'Fourscore' which was the music over Channel 4's ident from its launch in 1982. It is said that he earned £3.50 from every play, raking in approximately £1000 per week for the ten years it was used. I doubt he misses acting all that much! Charles Gray also pops up for an elongated and mellifluous cameo as a genial Air Commodore with a steely, determined glint to his eye. 

Mosquito Squadron might be a bit cheap, it might be derivative, but it still has enough stirring drama to keep you mildly entertained whenever it pops up in the TV schedules as it did this weekend. Worth a watch, but by no means a classic of the genre. McCallum would go on to wear the RAF uniform more convincingly and with greater success in TV's Colditz just three years later.

Saturday, 28 October 2017

633 Squadron (1964)

People take note: Behind every great man (or at least every Hollywood A-lister) stands Wee Shughie McFee. The diminutive Crossroads chef, played by Angus Lennie, was first there in 1963 to peer over Steve McQueen's shoulder in The Great Escape, and he's here again in 633 Squadron made the following year.

Actually 633 Squadron has more in common with another WWII classic, The Dam Busters. Indeed Walter Grauman's film is determined to replicate the beats of that stirring, daring tale of RAF derring do, but to do them with the determined intention of being much, much bigger. As a result, it's a bombastic movie that lacks the tense subtlety and focus of Michael Anderson's superior film, and feels more like a series of action setpieces searching for a plot. Despite the utterly commendable decision to forego the stereotypical 'chocks away' depiction of a fighter-bomber squadron to feature instead commonwealth and volunteer fliers of American, Australian and Indian nationality, the characters are a little one dimensional, sacrificed at the alter of action to such a degree that you would be forgiven for thinking you're watching Thunderbirds puppets instead of real-live actors. Of course, it doesn't help that some of these performers are miscast and wooden anyway - hello George Chakiris, the Greek-American star of West Side Story, cast here as an unlikely Norwegian Resistance fighter thanks to his contract with Mirisch.

Still, Chakiris does give the film one of its most memorable moments; captured by the Nazis he is interrogated by a strangely alluring female SS officer (played by an uncredited, but unforgettable Anne Ridley) who ultimately supervises some extreme genital torture! It's a weird moment in a film that is already reaching some odd places. For the kids who queued up at the cinema simply to see the Boys Own style heroics, this scene must have conjured up some curious feelings within them and helped to beckon them towards adulthood.

The film was based on a 1956 novel by RAF veteran Frederick E. Smith (just one in a series of 633 novels the author published between then and 2007) which drew on many real life missions undertaken by the RAF, including 613 Squadron's successful 1944 attack on the Dutch Population Registry Building where Gestapo records were held, 617 Squadron's bombing of the German battleship Tirpitz in the Norwegian fjords, the 1942 Oslo Mosquito raid which attacked Gestapo HQ in the Norwegian capital and 139 Squadron's assault on the molybdenum mine in Knaben in southern Norway in 1943. The real highpoints of this adaptation are the splendid aerial battle scenes (which of course went on to heavily and unmistakably influence George Lucas for his 'trench run'  finale to the first Star Wars film) and Ron Goodwin's marvellous score. The filmmakers certainly knew they were onto a good thing with Goodwin and I have Al Murray to thank for this little, telling factoid: Eric Coates' memorable The Dam Busters March is used just three times in the 1955 movie, Goodwin's theme can be heard a staggering seventeen times throughout 633 Squadron, coming along once every six minutes.

Wednesday, 25 October 2017

Out On Blue Six: Fats Domino, RIP

News of another sad loss has come through today; the iconic Fats Domino has passed away at the age of 89. The man who outsold everyone in rock and roll in the 1950s, barring Elvis (who referred to Fat as 'The Real King of Rock and Roll') was a truly influential figure in music, a pioneer who inspired generations and seold 65 millions records, starting with the first, his debut single 'The Fat Man', which is often credited as the first ever rock and roll record.

Here's three tracks from Fats, the first one being a particular favourite of mine


End Transmission

RIP Rosemary Leach

The actress Rosemary Leach has died following a short illness at the age of 81.

A recognisable figure on British television for over fifty years, Leach was nominated for a TV BAFTA for Best Actress three times in the 1970s for her roles in The Roads to Freedom (1971), Cider with Rosie (1972) and Don Quixote (1974) and nominated as Best Supporting Actress in the BAFTA film awards, firstly for her role as David Essex's mother in 1974's That'll Be Day (earning her the double that year) and in Merchant Ivory's A Room With a View in 1987. In 1982 she won the Olivier award for her performance in 84 Charing Cross Road, having previously been nominated for one five years earlier. Notable TV appearances include her role as the mistress of Patrick Wymark's character in The Power Game, opposite Ronnie Corbett in the sitcoms No - That's Me Over Here! and The Prince of Denmark, with Bernard Hepton in Jack Rosenthal's sitcom Sadie, It's Cold Outside, and as Aunt Fenny in The Jewel In The Crown. Other appearances included parts in Disraeli, The Charmer, Growing Pains, The Tomorrow People, Summer's Lease, Across The Lake, An Ungentlemanly Act, The Hawk, Tender Loving Care, The Buccaneers, Down to Earth and My Family. In later life, Leach played Queen Elizabeth II three times; in 2002's Prince William, 2006's Tea With Betty and Margaret in 2009.


Monday, 23 October 2017

Theme Time: Robert Farnon - Colditz

Running for two series between 1972 and 1974, Colditz was an impeccable production and a jewel in the BBC's crown during that illustrious, prolific decade. Loosely based on former Oflag IV-C POW Major Pat Reid's 1952 memoir, The Colditz Story (which had been made into the film of the same name in 1955), the series - devised by Brian Degas and Gerard Glaister - Colditz told the story of the brave and plucky Allied POWs, including Captain Pat Grant (Edward Hardwicke, playing a thinly disguised Reid), Flight Lieutenant Phil Carrington (Robert Wagner), Flight Lieutenant Simon Carter (David McCallum), Lieutenant Dick Player (Christopher Neame) and the Senior British Officer, Lieutenant Colonel John Preston (Jack Hedley), who each pitted their wits against their German captors, the Kommandant (Bernard Hepton), Hauptmann Ulmann (Hans Meyer) and Major Mohn (Anthony Valentine) and dared to escape from the seemingly escape-proof Colditz Castle.

My own particular favourite from the cast was McCallum's Carter, a hot headed  RAF officer that was a world away from the usual 'chocks away' urbane charmer. Carter had a chip on his shoulder, and often found himself frustrated by the escape council and the formalities of captivity. As a result, this quick temper and a fervent passion to return home meant that he was more often than not found in solitary confinement or punished by the guards. As with many of the characters presented in the drama, Carter was based on a real person; Flight Lieutenant Dominic Bruce. Alongside the impressive regular cast the series boasted some fine guest performances from the likes of Patrick Troughton, Ian McCulloch, Jeremy Kemp, Geoffrey Palmer, and Willie Rushton. Most memorable of all however was Michael Bryant's BAFTA nominated turn as Wing Commander George Marsh who feigns insanity in a bid for freedom in the brilliant, unforgettable episode 'Tweedledum' by writer John Brason.

Unsurprisingly, Colditz was a huge hit for the BBC with a real cross generational appeal. Children were utterly transfixed by the brave exploits each week whilst their parents and grandparents, who experienced the war first hand, were equally as absorbed. The success led to numerous tie-in novelisations, an atmospheric effects album (Colditz Breakpoint) and even a popular board game, Escape from Colditz.

Robert Farnon's theme music was the perfect accompaniment to the series. Those bombastic doom laden and fear inducing opening chords immediately conjure to mind the perceived might of the Nazi foe and the confines of the imposing, legendary castle, before breaking into a more reassuring and familiar militaristic march that offers hope and the suggestion of escape and victory. 

Creators Degas and Glaister would go on to strike gold again at the BBC later that decade with Secret Army, their dramatisation of the experiences of the French Resistance that is just as highly regarded and shared many of the same cast.