Friday, 15 June 2018

RIP Leslie Grantham

EastEnders legend Leslie Grantham has died at the age of 71 following a short illness.

I must admit this one's knocked me a bit. As a child of the '80s, Leslie Grantham was huge - both for his success at creating arguably the finest character in EastEnders history, Den Watts, and for his own personal notoriety of being a convicted for murder before he became an actor - and he was something of a favourite of mine; a laconic hardman who seemingly always overcame the odds. When I was fifteen years old in 1995, I entered an arts competition in The S*n 'newspaper' that was celebrating EastEnders' 10th anniversary by asking for drawings and paintings of some of its iconic characters; my drawing of Grantham was published and I won £50. I subsequently wrote my first 'fan letter' to Grantham, including my artwork and received a signed photo I still have to this day.

Many tributes today will mention Grantham's best remembered role of the Queen Vic landlord 'Dirty' Den, but for me his best role was that of the South London criminal kingpin and family man Danny Kane in Murray Smith's brilliantly quirky The Paradise Club. The show ran for two series in 1989 and 1990, with Grantham starring alongside Don Henderson as his brother, the priest-in-crisis, Father Frank Kane. When UK Gold repeated the series in 1997 I was utterly hooked. I wanted to drink in The Paradise Club, rubbing shoulders with these good guy villains. For Grantham, Dirty Den was history and he spent the '90s starring in the aforementioned The Paradise Club, as undercover cop Mick Raynor in 99-1 and as an alien invader living in the body of a police officer in the sci-fi thriller The Uninvited, written by Peter Bowker from an original idea of Grantham's own, The Stretch, which reunited him with Anita Dobson, as well as many guest appearances on various shows. But despite how good these series and his performances were, Grantham could never really escape the shadow of Den Watts, a character he had intended to firmly kill off the year The Paradise Club made its debut, when he could beat the odds no longer and ended up face to face with a silencer pistol hidden behind a bunch of flowers on a canal towpath. Newspapers and the general public were always asking would he ever return, seemingly from beyond the grave, to the show and they got their answer in 2003 when Grantham accepted a reported £500,000 a year contract to play Den Watts once more. Over 17 million viewers tuned in to see his return, where it was explained Den cheated death and fled to Spain where he had lived in hiding for fourteen years. The Queen Vic had its king once more it seemed...

A year later however and Grantham was the victim of a sting set up by the News of the World. He had been conducting internet webcam sessions with an undercover reporter known as 'Amanda' and the paper claimed he had masturbated before her and insulted many of his co-stars on the soap. Grantham immediately apologised and donated a sum to charity but the scandal proved too much and his time of the show was over. Dirty Den was emphatically killed off for good in February 2005, watched by over 16 million. 

I always found it strange myself how the public, the BBC and the press at large could accept Grantham as a murderer, but not as someone who pleasured himself. It was a clear case of the media building someone up only to knock them down and Grantham's career never really recovered. In last thirteen years that have followed, Grantham's marriage failed and he had attempted suicide a number of times. He wrote his autobiography and, more recently, a children's fantasy novel, but his acting career mainly consisted of a few stage tours and straight to DVD films - including a forthcoming Krays biopic in which he plays detective Nipper Read. His only major role was in the Bulgarian drama, The English Neighbour, which Grantham claimed reinvigorated his love for performing. He also found a love for Bulgaria too, and resided there until this week when a so far undisclosed medical condition saw him return to the UK.  Grantham passed away this morning with family and friends at his bedside.


Monday, 11 June 2018

The Mercy (2017)

Faced with the task of reviewing The Mercy for The Geek Show, I was tempted to just pretend I’d watched it and then posted a review  on here that was so wildly falsified that my inactivity would become apparent to all before leaving the review incomplete…

I feel it is what Donald Crowhurst would have wanted.

Thankfully, I didn't: I watched it all and I really enjoyed it.

See my full review at The Geek Show

Out On Blue Six: The Beautiful South

Because we all know one...

It now reminds me of this book cover I recently shared

End Transmission

Saturday, 9 June 2018

RIP Eunice Gayson

Eunice Gayson, who played the first James Bond girl, has died at the age of 90.

The actress portrayed Sylvia Trench in the first two Bond films, Doctor No and From Russia With Love, opposite Sean Connery. In both films, her voice was dubbed by voice over artist Nikki van der Zyl as was the then common practice for all the actresses in those early Bond films. Away from the Bond franchise, Gayson appeared the classic Hammer horror, The Revenge of Frankenstein, along with many cult TV shows in the 1960s including Danger Man, The Avengers and The Saint. On the London stage, Gayson starred for several years as Frau Schrader in The Sound of Music at the Palace Theatre. 


RIP Glynn Edwards

Sad to hear of the death of Glynn Edwards, an actor who will perhaps forever be known as Dave the barman of The Winchester Club in Minder, at the age of 87 on May 23rd.

As the lugubrious and dependable Dave, he pulled pints at the Winchester Club and served Arthur Daley his favourite tipple of VAT (Vodka and Tonic) performing as both a confident and stooge to many of George Cole's pearls of wisdom from 1979 to 1994, becoming a familiar and much loved face in households up and down the land. Away from Minder, it's probably easier to say what Edwards hadn't been in rather than what he had, so extensive is his CV. He appeared in the Michael Caine films Zulu, The Ipcress File and Get Carter, getting on the wrong side of Caine's knife in the backyard of a bookies in the latter, starred as Hare opposite Derren Nesbitt in the 1972 film Burke and Hare (which also starred his ex wife Yootha Joyce) and had credits in several other films including Shaft In Africa, The Bofors Guns, All Coppers Are..., Under Milk Wood and Robbery.

His television work was just as extensive, appearing in all the classics of the 1960s including The Saint, The Avengers, Z Cars and Dixon of Dock Green. He was forever at the end of his tether as Mr Lewis in Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em, and appeared in several other sitcoms including The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin, Please Sir and Steptoe and Son.

Edwards was born in Malaya in 1931, the son of a rubber planter. His mother passed away shortly after his birth leaving Edwards to first be raised by his grandparents in Southsea and then by his father and stepmother, a publican, in Salisbury until his father's death in 1946. After a stint in the Caribbean working as a sugar farmer, Edwards returned to the UK and trained at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, before joining Joan Littlewood's celebrated Theatre Workshop. He was married three times, firstly to George and Mildred star Yootha Joyce from 1956 to 1968, then to Benny Hill starlet Christine Pilgrim and from the 1980s onwards to Valerie Edwards. When they called time on Minder, Edwards retired from acting and spent his time in Spain and Edinburgh, where he passed away at the end of last month at the age of 87.


Double X: The Name of the Game (1992)

"An underrated British crime thriller with a superb cast and a car chase that actuals thrills. Made on a shoestring budget but with good production values. Entertaining. Great value for money"

Not my words you understand (the spelling mistake isn't mine either) but the words of a glowing five star review of the film on Amazon that is written by none other than...

Shani Grewal - the film's writer, producer and director. 

Hmm. You could have at least used an alias mate?

In reality, Double X: The Name of the Game feels like the kind of film a classroom full of eight year olds might come up with if you'd shown them The Long Good Friday and asked them to have a go at making something similar. But, because it has a rather unlikely star in the shape of comedian Norman Wisdom, it's a film that has a certain attraction for anyone of a certain age and British (or perhaps Albanian, given he was huge there). Yes, that's right little Norman Pipkin has gone deadly serious in his old age, playing the timid employee and criminal brains of a gangland empire known as 'The Organisation' who wants out after seeing how deadly the muscle around him is. 

And what an odd organisation it is; firstly there's Bernard Hill, chewing the scenery as a crippled Oirish sadist called Iggy Smith. Hill clearly knows full well he's a world away not only from Boys From The Blackstuff but also the last big screen crime thriller he was involved in, Bellman and True, and sets about treating the material with the disrespect it deserves. Then there's Simon Ward on oily form as the organisation's Mr Big, who harbours ambitions to become a politician - thereby entering a more nefarious occupation than the one he currently holds, obviously. Lastly there's Leon Herbert as a henchman - he has 'previous', having had at that point recently starred as one of Leslie Grantham's minders in the crime series The Paradise Club.

It's odd to see Wisdom in such an environment - though he was no stranger to straight drama, having a straight(ish) role in The Night They Raided Minsky's and having already played an old con in an episode of Bergerac in the '80s - and, despite it being a little disconcerting to see him wielding a gun or performing in a couple of action sequences (look out for a scene where he has to slap his duplicitous, backstabbing girlfriend, played by Gemma Craven; it's the weakest slap in cinema history - though Craven flies across the room like she's been hit by Ricky Hatton!) and his daughter, played by future Red Dwarf star ChloĆ« Annett, is clearly young enough to actually be his granddaughter, there's nevertheless something mildly charming about seeing him branch out in such fare so late in the game. Plus of course, there's the residual affection we feel just because it is Norman Wisdom after all. 

The film is all over the shop structurally, opening with William Katt as a former cop with the Chicago PD vacationing in Scotland before we get Wisdom's convoluted backstory. Initially it feels like both actors are jostling for star position. Katt is clearly there to attract the US market but, given that around this time he was perhaps best known for being Perry Mason's assistant on TV, he's hardly the Hollywood A-lister parachuted in to raise this low budget British thriller into the big league. It also doesn't help that he's as wooden as hell, providing the film with a voice over that has all the energy of a bile bean - although, given a twist down the line that might be intentional? (No, I'm being way too kind here I think!). Pretty much immediately after the opening credits, Katt checks in at a hotel and stumbles upon the assassination attempt of fellow guest Norman Wisdom and comes to his rescue with a nifty car chase. With our leads fleeing the scene, we then flashback to some three years earlier and, narrated now by the more wide-awake Wisdom, we learn just how he came to be in this mess in the first place. You see, his old gangland colleagues aren't happy with him just going on the run like that and now they want him dead. Plot twists quickly follow and, inbetween the odd explosion and hail if machine gun bullets, it soon becomes clear that you can't trust anyone in this particular game - whatever it's bloody name is! Unfortunately, the whole thing is so poorly put together and misjudged that it's really hard to care all that much about what's going on, despite the twists and turns or the occasional bit of good stuntwork. 

Double X: The Name of the Game isn't the worst British gangster movie out there (that's probably still the ultra-cheapo Shadow Run, starring Michael Caine and James Fox) but it runs close. It may have been made in 1992, but it already seems dated for then, feeling more like a mid '80s production with its jazzy score and neon blue hued credits. It's one to watch for a certain nostalgia I guess, as there are brief roles for Derren Nesbitt and Vladek Sheybal in his final film role, but overall it's the kind of film that reminds you - aside from the odd hit from Handmade and the reliability of Merchant Ivory - just how low the British film industry had sunk by the 1980s and early '90s and how little money it was actually expected to make films on. If you're a glutton for punishment this might serve as a 'good' double bill with Tank Malling.

When he's not writing Amazon reviews about his own films, Shani Grewal directs television dramas such as the daytime soap Doctors and the Saturday evening stalwart that is Casualty. It's probably more on his level.

Thursday, 7 June 2018

On Chesil Beach (2017)

Reasons why OAP's are the real nuisances in the cinema and not kids #73: 

During the scene in which Edward vents his frustration at being unable to work the zip on Florence's dress, the old man sat in front of me in the Liverpool Odeon leaned over to his wife and said, in a loud voice, "And I bet he can't get an hard on either!" 

It was Philip Larkin, in his poem Annus Mirabilis, who said; "Sexual intercourse began. In nineteen sixty-three (which was rather late for me) - Between the end of the Chatterley ban and the Beatles first LP" On Chesil Beach, based on the (much more satisfying) novella of the same name by Ian McEwan, is rather pointedly set in 1962; a year before sex began and therefore 'rather late' for newlyweds Edward (Billy Howle) and Florence (Saoirse Ronan) whose repression plays out across the film, from the fumbling horror of their wedding night to their relationship in flashback. 

I read On Chesil Beach a few years ago. It was slight but I recall enjoying it. I sympathised with the notion of that almost lost generation of the 1950s, forced to endure the halfway house of the inhibited, button up post war years and the loose morals of the swinging sixties. The awkward, naive handling of love and sex that Florence and Edward experience was endemic of society as a whole. Unfortunately, in his cinematic directorial debut, Dominic Cooke doesn't really convey these sympathies and Edward and Florence just come across as incredibly wet individuals. Their individual, long smothered reasons for their frigidity (both are, of course, their respective families and upbringings; his experiences with a brain damaged mother, her suffering at the hands of a sexually abusive father) are clear though satisfyingly understated, but there isn't the same sense of, or sympathy for, the era that McEwan so skilfully addressed on the page, and the later sequences set in the 1970s and in 2007 feel equally false (not helped by the heavy 'aged' prosthetics foisted upon Ronan and Howle in the latter) and empty; I just felt acutely aware I was watching a movie rather than dropping into pivotal moments of the lives of these characters. Ultimately, I didn't find I believed in, or could feel enough for our central pairing and that's a terrible error for what is a deeply, instrinsically sympathetic situation. Basically, the story was lost in translation from novel to screen.

That said, Cooke can frame a shot and his ably assisted by his cinematographer Sean Bobbitt who creates a look that is typically Heritage movie, but possesses an chilly austerity that is wholly fitting for a film about stifled emotions and the inability to express or appreciate love with those you care about the most. 

As for the elderly couple in front of me at the screening; their regular comments throughout the film infuriated me at first but then deeply amused me; it was like having my own private Gogglebox. The fact that it took the old man a full hour or so before he realised the characters in the flashbacks where the characters on their wedding night was hilariously incredible, but the fact that he didn't twig they were man and wife on their wedding night at all until the pivotal scene on the beach where Edward proclaims 'You're my wife!' just about trumped it.

Tuesday, 5 June 2018

Killed By My Debt (2018)

Another sobering film from BBC3's Murdered By My...strand, Killed By My Debt stars Chance Perdomo in the real life story of Jerome Rogers, a twenty-year-old who was driven to suicide by the extreme escalation of two parking fines and the stresses of working on a zero hours contract.

Out of all the Murdered By My...films, Killed By My Debt was perhaps the one that got under my skin on a personal level. As a production, it may not have been as strong as Murdered By My Boyfriend or Murdered By My Father (though I must point out that I still haven't seen Murdered For Being Different, because the Sophie Lancaster case is one that really upsets me as it is) but unlike those two examples, this explored an area I could easily see myself falling into. As a white heterosexual male, I am not going to be killed by an abusive boyfriend, nor am I going to be a victim of an 'honour' killing, but I know that I can be in a position where I am just a step away from debt. As such, Killed By My Debt was close to home. 

Unfortunately, I don't think Killed By My Debt punched upwards though. I appreciate that Jerome's family are, quite rightly, alligning themselves with debt charities in a campaign to reform bailiff agency practices and the debt collection industry as a whole, but in supporting this overall message the drama here lets the real culprits off scot-free. This needed to be more politically motivated to strike home accurately. 

Dramas like this need to challenge the fact that it is the government's fault that zero hour contracts are allowed to exist, placing 4.5 million people in the UK in insecure work, and that their austerity measures are ensuring that 3.3 million are in severe debt. It is the government and political class whose callousness is the issue here. Jerome may have come into contact with faceless debt agency call centre operatives and the bailiff (played here by Craig Parkinson) charged with seizing his bike, but these are the front line of an institutionalised problem - unable to be blamed for causing the problem (indeed, the coroner in Jerome's case found that the bailiff acted lawfully) and unable to solve the problem either. Drama unfortunately portrays things in black and white, and Parkinson's bailiff, singing 'Every Breath You Take' under his breath as he enters the scene was an all too obvious cipher to hang the black hat upon amidst a series of sequences that showed ethernet cables and ominous council computers acting as judge, jury and executioner on Jerome's case. It's a shame to be so hands-off - the real culprits appear daily on the TV news.

Killed By My Debt is currently available to watch on the BBC3 iPlayer.

Monday, 4 June 2018

Smoking Hot

A rather dashing shot of Tom Meeten, that fantastic blackly comic actor and star of The Ghoul

Saturday, 2 June 2018

Jake Speed (1986)

This is just a heads up/plug to say that the new Blu-Ray from Arrow Films of the 1986 action movie Jake Speed will be released this Monday (4th June) with a booklet featuring a new critical essay on the film written by yours truly.

Friday, 1 June 2018

Out On Blue Six: Tracey Ullman

Today's Out On Blue Six is Tracey Ullman's 1983 cover of Move Over Darling...

While we're here, can we address the fact that Tracey Ullman has become a thing again on British TV? 

She buggered off to America in the '80s where, we're told, she did very well for herself indeed. But in the past couple of years she's back here and a new series of her satirical sketch show, Tracey Breaks The News, starts tonight despite no one I know ever watching it, or much attention anywhere. I thought the BBC recommissioned series based on ratings and popularity?

In fact, the only attention it does seem to get in the twittersphere is criticism. Because, let's face it, her impressions are terrible. The current trailers have her kitted out as Jeremy Corbyn and Michael Gove. In each guise, she explains who she's supposed to be within the opening sentence (not exactly inspiring confidence is it? I mean, surely a top mimic doesn't need to do that?) before telling us to tune in to her show in a vocal delivery that sounds nothing like Messrs Corbyn and Gove. In fact, her Corbyn sounds more like Bill Oddie on 60 ciggies a day! 

I'm sorry, I am very sure Ullman is a lovely person, but we don't owe her a living.

End Transmission

Thursday, 31 May 2018

Someone Else (2006)

Someone Else is a 2006 modern day London romcom from writer/director Col Spector. 

A few years back I caught another film of Spector's, Honeymooneron BBC2 late one night and enjoyed it, despite the Radio Times trashing it with a one star rating that I felt was deeply unfair. Spector's style owes a debt to Woody Allen, with London standing in for the controversial auteur's beloved New York, but I don't think that emulation - which could easily be seen as pretentious in itself - is what actually irritates his critics. I think they're more concerned with the fact that he depicts a certain type of selfish, middle class, trendy creative types in his films. These are characters who, in reality, aren't really likeable and who, as the critics seem to address, aren't really likeable on screen either. But that kind of misses the point and anyway, aren't Allen's characters more or less these kind of people too? Is it a case of the critics knowing too many London types to relate to Spector's protagonists, as opposed to the free pass they give Allen because they don't personally know the same kind of New Yorkers?

Certainly Stephen Mangan's central character of David here is meant to be a bit of a berk and the sort of selfish self pitying character he excels in, so the criticism doesn't really hold much water. I guess it just depends on how much you can stomach not entirely sympathetic leads. He's the kind of bloke who believes that, as the strapline says, 'the grass is always greener on the other side of the bed'. To that end, he throws over his lovely, sensible girlfriend Lisa (Susan Lynch) for a flighty, younger model called Nina (Lara Belmont), but soon finds cause to regret it when Nina reveals she wants nothing to do with him because she's now seeing someone else - a married man. The film then concerns itself with David attempting to get back into the dating scene, but realising his mistake with Lisa far too late. 

The dating scene sequences are quite wryly amusing actually as we see just how inept and out of his depth David now is. Plus, there's room to see his best mate Matt (Chris Coghill, who also starred in Honeymooner) try his luck with the ladies too. Matt, a seemingly eternal singleton who is socially awkward with girls, is a much more sympathetic character and I'd be lying if I said I wasn't interested in seeing more of his story as opposed to David's. But then, I've always rather liked Coghill. 

Speaking of favourite actors, John Henshaw pops up in a small role here as a colleague of photographer David. Henshaw is the kind of old style Northern comic character actor who always raises a smile whenever he appears to the extent that I personally believe that any movie is instantly improved when there's a role for him. He needs to be in more movies.

Wednesday, 30 May 2018

As Heard On Wynsors World of Shoes...

"Bring your sunshine to me...whoa-oh-hoo"

Anyone who pays attention to the ads on TV will now what I'm talking about there. It's the lyrics you hear from a snatch of music currently gracing the adverts for Wynsors World of Shoes. It's such an upbeat and catchy ear worm that I had to seek the full song out.

Turns out its just a session song, used on 'Pop Radio' for the game Farming Simulator as well as the advert in question. Entitled Bring Your Sunshine, it's written by Chris Bussey and Gareth Johnson 

Wordless Wednesday: Northern Lights

Monday, 28 May 2018


I love the covers of old paperback novels. The 60s and 70s were a golden age for jacket designs like this

This is the cover of the Fontana paperback of Reginald Hill's 1970 crime novel, A Clubbable Woman. This was Hill's debut, the first to introduce his chalk and cheese detectives Dalziel and Pascoe. As they attempt to solve the murder of a rugby player's wife, their investigations discover that she was just that little but too friendly with the rest of the squad.

In my teens I used to devour Hill's books, spurred on by the TV debut of his creations in 1996. A Clubbable Woman was the first book to be dramatised for the BBC in what proved to be a long running series starring Warren Clarke and Colin Buchanan. 

Saturday, 26 May 2018

RIP Peter Byrne

Sad to hear that Peter Byrne, who played Andy Crawford in Dixon of Dock Green for twenty years, died earlier this month at the age of 90.

Byrne first played the role of PC Andy Crawford in Ted Willis' stage adaptation of his film screenplay The Blue Lamp in 1952 and, when Willis brought Dixon of Dock Green to the BBC three years later, he resurrected the role to become a household name. In the twenty years Byrne starred in the series, his character progressed from a wet behind the ears rookie constable under the wing of the capable Dixon, as played by Jack Warner, to Dixon's son-in-law and later, superior within CID. With Warner's age, Byrne took on much of the legwork in later years and the series reflected the more cynical '70s, with Crawford's attitudes often shown at odds with that of his father-in-law and former mentor. In 1975, after twenty-one series, Byrne left the show and the series continued for just one more year before the doors of Dock Green nick closed for good in 1976. 

Away from the show that made his name, Byrne appeared in films such as The Large Rope, Reach For The Sky, Watch Your Stern and Carry On Cabby, and appeared in the West End in the '60s with lead roles in the farces Boeing Boeing and There's a Girl In My Soup. He directed and starred in several Agatha Christie plays and appeared in numerous pantomimes. Other TV credits included Derek, the widower who attempted to woo Nellie Boswell in the '80s sitcom Bread, and an ageing Tony Blair, roaming the war torn streets he was responsible for, in Armando Iannucci's futuristic satire Time Trumpet in 2006. His last TV appearance was in an episode of Holby City in 2012.


Clowns (2008)

Daisy Asquith's 2008 documentary which sheds light on the world of children's entertainers is the kind of documentary I wish we made more of. It's intelligent, thoughtful, sensitive and sympathetic and offers no easy ins for audiences unfamiliar with the documentary as a genre (ie there's no voiceover from 'ooh what's he been in?' actors and no popular soundtrack laid over the scenes) It is resolutely Asquith's work, though it helps of course that she has some brilliant characters to observe at close quarters; Tommy Tickle, Potty the Pirate, Mr Pumpkin and, most tantalisingly of all and standing more or less on the periphery of the film, The Great Velcro. 

Understandably dominating the proceedings is the subversive and likeable figure of Tommy Tickle (no performer's real name is ever properly alluded to throughout the film), a bald headed and bespectacled man who works as a clown in West Sussex. Tommy is TV Gold; dressed in full clown gear, Asquith catches him downing two pints at once and smoking one of his 40 a day outside a pub, where he cheerily tells her that he embraces oblivion after the stresses of a working day filled with three or four children's parties. Although a family man himself, he has no rosy allusions about the kids of today; largely because his own estranged thirteen-year-old daughter is a problem child who has been expelled from school for attacking a teacher. He wears a cricket box to protect himself from children who find the humour in punching the clown in the balls and carries a baseball bat because, "it's better to have one than not have one". He is occasionally surprised to find his opinion of modern kids incorrect however - such as the moment when, outside the pub, he tries to cadge a light of some kids walking home from school; "None of you smoke? What's wrong with you, call yourself kids?" he chides, with his tongue firmly in cheek. Clowning is clearly just a job for Tommy, though it's one he is surprisingly very good at. He makes both the kids and adults alike laugh with his jokes about Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe's name being 'Ee By Gum Trebor' backwards for instance. 

Potty the Pirate is a God fearing bachelor who entertains children with his sea shanties and general tomfoolery across Brighton. He loves children, but he sometimes feels they aren't paying enough attention to his act and will stop on such occasions to instruct they do or simply to change tack. This utter attention to detail and perfection carries across to his domestic life too; a cleanliness freak, he achieved his high standards working on the cruise ships rather than on a pirate's galleon. Now he's ashore, this true romantic he wants to find love, but he's afraid that most women today don't take love seriously enough and are only interested in sex. His mother, who he calls 'a religious nut', would dearly like to see him settle down, but  the truth of his bachelorhood may lie in the scars of a childhood dominated by a severely alcoholic father. For now, Potty gives himself 100% to his work and to such an extent that one lady friend is convinced that he is unable to divorce himself from his job role; "He makes pirate noises at inappropriate times" she confides to camera after a date at a burlesque club is cut short by Potty's desire not to appear hungover for the children in the morning. Standing just a few feet away, Potty cannot understand the criticism, answering that Potty is him. For him, it's only natural then that any facet of his clown should appear in any given situation.

Mr Pumpkin is a children's entertainer of great sensitivity. He doesn't wear the traditional clown make-up that the likes of Tommy wear because, as he says, some of the smaller children can get upset and scared by it. It's an unusual step for a man who spent most of the 1980s singing in a band dressed up in 'full on gay' make-up and attire like Julian Clary, which saw him attract the attentions of many male admirers despite being happily married to 'Mrs Pumpkin' whom more often than not, helped him with his stage costume. This lack of a clown 'disguise' does mean that he is instantly recognisable outside of work hours and he must confess to the pitfalls and suspicious glances gained from children greeting him as an old friend when out shopping. It's hardly surprising they are so warm to him though; he's been a clown for twelve years and, as one adult is heard to remark during his Bodger and Badger style performance for the kids, "he earns every penny". The sensitivity he possesses is a mark of the man himself; as Asquith shadows him, she discovers that his beloved mum is in a home suffering with Alzheimer's and may not have long left. Understandably, the tears of a clown are routinely caught by the eye of her camera.

All three clowns know that their working environment is a pressure cooker, all three understand the importance of professionalism, and all three are acutely aware of what happens when you let the stress get to you. They each speak darkly of a fourth protagonist, The Great Velcro. A professional magician who entertained children for thirty years, The Great Velcro serves as a warning for anyone who gets too complacent in their work, for The Great Velcro committed the sin of giving one disruptive child 'a clip round the ear' (although it isn't mentioned in the film, subsequent research online shows that the child did in fact have Asperger's, which puts a wholly different light on the proceedings - and I wonder why Asquith chose not to present the child's side of the story, if only from her challenging Velcro's version of events during their interview?) Daisy Asquith tracks the man down to his bachelor home, a museum piece dedicated to the world of magic and filled with the sounds of Bardot, to find a man in his sixties facing up to a retirement that he did not ask for. He describes how he felt on that fateful day and the moment when, bungled into the rear of a police car, he realised his thirty year career had gone down the drain. He spends his days now performing his old fashioned and rather dated magic tricks in old folks homes where the audiences are, he admits, much quieter and more respectful. But the glint in his eye has all but gone, suggesting that this is a double-edged sword. The sense that this is both a wilderness and purgatory combined goes implicitly unspoken between subject, documentarian and audience.

Asquith chooses her subjects with great and satisfying care; from the irreverent (Tommy) through to the obsessively dedicated (Potty) and from family men at pain to singletons in a similar emotional state. It's a rewarding documentary that I wouldn't have minded a follow up to, or even a series. You could even dramatise this and make a dramedy sitcom of it - Perry Benson as Tommy Tickle anyone?

Friday, 25 May 2018

Out On Blue Six: Cornershop

One song, two versions now. It's Brimful of Asha, the 1997 hit by Cornershop

The song was an ode to Bollywood playback singer Asha Bhosle and was released in August 1997, reaching number 60 in the charts.

Then Norman 'Fatboy Slim' Cook got his hands on it and his remix, which sped the track up and modulated it to a higher key, was released and reached number 1 in February 1998 

End Transmission

Thursday, 24 May 2018

Raw Material by Alan Sillitoe

As a young man, Alan Sillitoe was one of the first authors to capture my imagination. I was in my teens when I read Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, discovering a story printed on the page that actually felt like the life I saw and experienced on a daily basis. The drinking culture, the hard and depressed industrial towns, the philosophy of the protagonist, all chimed with me.

A couple of years ago whilst on holiday in Settle I picked up a couple of vintage paperback novels of Sillitoe and have just finished reading one in two gloriously sunny days flat this week. Though to cal it a novel is perhaps inaccurate. Raw Material from 1974 is part novel, part autobiography and part family history.

In detailing the lives of his ancestors, Sillitoe discusses at length the barbaric horrors of the Great War in a manner which would not endear him to Michael Gove. It's a fascinating read which enlightened me to a particularly bloody and shameful moment during that whole futile conflict - the incident at Meteren, 14th April 1918 - a chapter of our history that has been somewhat hushed up.

"I have scoured official histories, and searched divisional accounts, but can find no mention of it save for one book; Machine Guns: Their History and Tactical Employment by Lt. Col. G.S. Hutchinson, published in 1938" Sillitoe states.

On the 9th April, the German forces moved their artillery train of heavy guns from the Somme to commence the offensive on the Lys. The artillery disintegrated the Portuguese corps and routed the English who swiftly became demoralised and in fear for their lives, or 'panicked' as the official line has it. Resistance quickly collapsed in the face of the offensive as the officers and their young and inexperienced soldiers who had been holding the line at that point fled and deserted. Hutchison, the author of the book Sillitoe refers to, was the commander of the 33rd Division's Machine Gun Battalion and was ordered to the village of Meteren, near Bailleul, to defend a tactically important hill against the enemy. 

"He relates how, on his reconnaisance on 12th April" Sillitoe explains in discussing Hutchinson's account, "he went into a roadside estaminet and found a crowd of British stragglers, fighting drunk. He ordered a machine gun to be trained upon them, and sent them forward towards the Germans where, he said 'they perished to a man'"

"By 14th April the Germans were attacking once more, and again men were inclined to flee. Hutchinson therefore ordered the sergeants in charge of the gun teams to fire on any British troops who began to retreat. He then goes on to say 'From near the mill I saw one of my gunners destroy a platoon of one regiment which in its panic had taken to flight'"

"For this confession of atrocity," Sillitoe recounts, "no one was ever brought to trial. The line at this point had only recently been reinforced by very young and half trained soldiers, boys who were dragged unwilling from farm and factory, slum and office. For not playing the game, and obeying the stringent rules laid down for them, the Gestapo machine gunning officers and sergeants murdered them"

"As far as I can ascertain from official history the units from which the forty murdered men of this platoon could have come were the 1st Scottish Rifles, the 1st Queen's Regiment, The XXI Corps Reinforcement Battalion, or from three platoons of the 8th Middlesex (Pioneers)....If anyone lost a member of his family this day and from one of those regiments it is possible that they were not shot by Germans, but that they were butchered when faced with an overdose of British rancour" Sillitoe concludes, adding quite understandably "How many more were there?" 

With such horrors in mind, is it any surprise that the Etaples Mutiny had occurred just seven months earlier in September, 1917 - a mutiny that was eventually quashed by two battalions from the Front? 

Is it any surprise - given how hushed up Meteren seems to be - that the documents surrounding Etaples (which should have come to light last year after the hundred years had passed for the files to enter into the public domain) were 'accidentally' lost to a blaze in the late 1970s - around the same time that William Allison and John Fairley's book on Percy Toplis, The Monocled Mutineer, was published.  As for Lt.Col G.S. Hutchinson, a man so utterly unrepentant in his role in such mass slaughter of his fellow countrymen that he happily presented us with the facts in his own book, Sillitoe discovered that he was awarded the Military Cross and te Distinguished Service Order, as well as being mentioned four times in despatches. After the First World War, he became involved in political work in Poland which Sillitoe attests that "it was here that he seems to have become infected with the virulent anti-semitism which lasted until his death" He was the author of some sixteen books on military and political matters, one of which was effusive with praise for Nazi Germany. Using the pseudonym of 'Graham Seton', he wrote several penny dreadful adventure novels, which often cast Jews and foreigners as the villains. In 1933 he set up the National Workers Movement; an organisation that was heavily influenced by similar bodies he had seen first hand in Nazi Germany. He sat on the National Playing Fields Association's Executivr Council and on the board of Gordon Boys School. He spent the Second World War working for the air ministry and died in 1946.

Out On Blue Six: Buzzcocks

After yesterday's post it was only going to be one song wasn't it?

End Transmission

Wednesday, 23 May 2018

Love You More (2008)

Over the weekend, I made the mistake of rewatching Sam Taylor-Johnson's young John Lennon biopic Nowhere Boy. I'd seen it just once before, where I found it to be no masterpiece, but even then I enjoyed it more than I did this revisit. 

To counteract this, I decided to rewatch and share this other music based short from Taylor-Johnson (nee Wood), Love You More. Written by Patrick 'Cornish Curmudgeon' Marber, this is a beautifully bittersweet, tender and sexy look at two teenagers coming together over their mutual appreciation of the Manchester band Buzzcocks in the summer of 1978. 

The sense of excitement and anticipation, of euphoria and timid uncertainty and ultimately the enthusiastic naivety that comes with the stirrings of first love is gloriously captured by Taylor-Johnson, most notably in the scene in which the two teens played by Andrea Riseborough (looking not unlike one of my exes) and Harry Treadaway sit in the bedroom listing to the eponymous Buzzcocks track. The moment which really chimed with me was the close up of the hairs on Riseborough's standing to attention and Treadaway's subsequent panicked, dry mouthed beer swigging response. It's so real and yet at the same time feels so original for it to be captured in such an arresting, artistic manner.  As with a lot of artistic director's works, it's the little details that speak volumes - and Taylor-Johnson's film is full of beautiful little details.

A perfectly crafted short with excellent timing, strong direction and performances, I am willing to bet money that this is more sexier to me than the director's best known offering, Fifty Shades of Grey. It's certainly better musically than Nowhere Boy.

Warning; this is really quite steamy...

Wordless Wednesday: Tootling Along

Tuesday, 22 May 2018

The 1990s: Football and Music in Perfect Harmony

Dave broadcast a thoroughly enjoyable trip down memory lane last night. Entitled Football's 47 Best Worst Songs it was your standard list show fare; a host of largely non entity talking heads (one was called a 'social media celebrity', um, what?) mix with recognisable faces to offer up opinions in an enjoyable clips package of all those ill advised world cup and FA cup anthems from the last forty or so years. But just occasionally, we were reminded of the times when football and music came together in perfect harmony (more often than not these times involved Keith Allen) and I think the best time that happened was the 1990s. Just check out these crackers to see what I mean...