Saturday, 31 March 2018

Theme Time: Amanda Palmer - Drifters

Sometimes, I have to admit I get things wrong.

In 2013, I watched the first two episodes of the E4 sitcom Drifters and hated it so much I posted a scathing review on here.

However, a friend whose opinion I value, recommended I give it another try and I'm currently halfway through the second series and I'm struggling to see why I found it so objectionable after all. Certainly the first two episodes - indeed much of series one overall - aren't exceptionally good, but I do feel that Drifters slowly finds its feet and it is quite endearing and funny thanks to the performances of the central trio Jessica Knappett (who created and wrote the series), Lydia Rose Bewley and Lauren O'Rourke.

So this post is by way of an apology for my earlier criticism and a chance to share the theme tune, the ramshackle glory of Amanda Palmer's Leeds United

Out On Blue Six: Robert Wyatt

Robert Wyatt with one of the best covers of all time. Knocks spots of the original by The Monkees, let's face it.

Just last month I read the very excellent David Cavanagh book Good Night and Good Riddance, which looks at how thirty five years of John Peel at Radio 1 helped shape modern life as we know it. Writing about Peel's Sounds of the Seventies show from 10th October 1974 - which featured Wyatt in session - Cavanagh relates a story I'd never heard before and which left me quite shocked. It concerns Wyatt's performance of this on Top of the Pops. On seeing Wyatt arrive in his wheelchair ahead of the performance, the show's producer, Robin Nash asked him if he could possibly sit in an ordinary chair when singing as Top of the Pops is 'a family show' (!) When that request was refused, Nash -according to Wyatt's guitarist Fred Frith - asked if they would 'cover the wheelchair completely' because he thought it 'was in bad taste and might upset viewers' (!!) 

Robin 'Mr Equality' Nash

Wyatt stuck to his guns and refused, earning a 'you'll never work in this town again' style comment from Nash (a ban from the show was effectively lifted by the time Wyatt troubled the charts again with Shipbuilding almost a decade later). The performance went out, but Nash ensured the camera operators kept wide shots to a minimum. 

Cavanagh concludes this chapter remarking that Britain was clearly and thankfully a very different place in 1974 than it is now, but adding that "It's a curious thing that a disabled singer was frowned upon and a spinal injury taboo, but it was perfectly acceptable to feign psychopathy as long as you looked like Hitler" as in the case of Sparks' Ron Mael. I'd also add that it was perfectly acceptable for Top of the Pops presenters to grope young girls live on air and for cameramen to get as many upskirt shots of said girls as possible too.

Strange days indeed. It goes without saying that Cavanagh's book is heartily, emphatically recommended. 

End Transmission

RIP Bill Maynard

Veteran comic actor and TV legend Bill Maynard has died aged 89.

In a career that spanned eight decades, Maynard could be found in several Carry On films as well as their naughtier rivals, the Confessions movies, In Sickness and in Health and Worzel Gummidge. He had the starring role in two successful TV sitcoms in the '70s and '80s, Oh No, It's Selwyn Froggitt! and The Gaffer, and he took more dramatic roles in the likes of The Sweeney, Colin Welland's Play for Today, Kisses at Fifty, and the Andrew Davies Screen One drama Filipina Dreamgirls. Away from acting he tried his hand at singing, coming second in the 1957 Eurovision Song Contest, and - far less successfully - at politics, standing against Labour's Tony Benn as an independent candidate in the 1984 Chesterfield election and losing his deposit (hahaha) as a result. He even had his own radio show on BBC Radio Leicester from 2003 to 2008. But it will be his role as the scruffy old reprobate Claude Jeremiah Greengrass in the long running series Heartbeat and its crossover The Royal from 1992 to 2003 that Maynard will perhaps be best remembered for. 

Ill health and a series of strokes had plagued Maynard in recent years but he returned to our TV screens last year for a brief, two-line cameo in The Moorside, the drama about the real life case of the Shannon Matthews hoax kidnapping, just to prove to audiences that he wasn't dead yet!

Sadly, following a fall from his mobility scooter that broke his hip, Maynard passed away in hospital in Leicestershire.


Thursday, 29 March 2018

Out On Blue Six: The Blow Monkeys

....Or you'll never believe what this song's about #2

This is another good song whose meaning often goes unnoticed. Written by lead singer Dr. Robert, the song discusses its protagonist's anxieties and tragic self disgust at being a gay man during the HIV and AIDS crisis of the 1980s. The constant refrain of "Tell me why is it I'm digging your scene?" is the most soulful, poppy way of storytelling someone clearly challenging his own orientation, whilst the follow up line "I know I'll die, baby" is deeply fatalistic, but again the music almost belies it. The rest of the song acknowledges lingering death bed scenes in hostels ("They put you in a home to fill in, But I would not call that living" and "So sad to see you fade away") the homophobia and 'Christian' reaction to the growing epidemic ("It'll get you in the end,
It's God's Revenge"), hiding your sexuality or your ill health from both yourself and others ("Oh I know I should come clean, But I prefer to deceive") and the identity crisis the protagonist has regarding his sexuality in the wake of seeing his friends die and realising he may be next ("I know it's wrong, I KNOW it's wrong" and "I'd like to think I was just MYSELF again")

End Transmission

Playing Away (1987)

Horace Ové's 1987 comic film Playing Away tells a culture clash tale of inner city, urban contemporary black Britain with rural picture postcard village olde (and exclusively white) England through the game of cricket.

The fictional Suffolk village of Sneddington is our location, where the charity minded, ultra conservative residents have been staging a Third World Aid week. To round the event off, the village team have invited the Brixton Conquistadores to a 'friendly' game of cricket which quickly proves to be anything but friendly.

Screenwriter Caryl Phillips claimed that his aim with the film was purely to entertain rather than address any deeply ingrained social issues, however I think he's being too modest. There's a really sound commentary going on here that shows the divisions not just between the Sneddington hosts and the visiting black community of Brixton, but also the divisions that occur in each group: it's clear that there's a line drawn between the middle aged Conquistadores such as team captain Willie Boy (Norman Beaton) and his deputy Robbo (Joseph Marcel) who arrived in the UK some twenty odd years earlier and their younger counterparts like Gary Beadle's pugnacious Londoner Errol. Willie Boy and Robbo are now at an age where they've realised their hopes and ambitions for a modern life in 'the mother country' have come to nothing. They're now considering making the move back to the West Indies, whereas Errol, who is undoubtedly a product of Brixton, represent the contrast and conflict between generations defining himself as he does as Black British. Likewise, there's a class division to be found in Sneddington, as best exemplified by the fact that the village has two pubs; one for the well-to-do captain Jeff (Nicholas Farrell) and one for the imposing ruddy faced real ale drinking farmer Fredrick (Bruce Purchase) and the local mullet-headed, disenfranchised youth who have seemingly just heard about punk some ten years too late, as represented by a pre-fame Neil Morrissey and Ross Kemp.

What's interesting to watch is just how quickly the friendly veneer falls away, largely through a fug of alcohol as resentments and racial prejudices come to the surface. The local yokel boys, incensed by the sight of Errol getting friendly with a busty young blonde they've clearly long since set their own sights upon, pick up Willie Boy's daughter Yvette (Suzette Llewellyn) in their Starsky & Hutch white-striped cherry red Ford Cortina and drive her to a secluded spot with the vague intention of raping her. It's a jarring moment for a film whose main aim is - as Phillips stressed -  to amuse and entertain, but it feels palpably real. Mercifully nothing comes of it, but it says a lot about the impotent frustrations of  such young men and the bitterness they feel towards outsiders. Meanwhile Willie Boy himself strays drunkenly into the 'better class of' pub and is soon given short shrift. Only the somewhat aloof and dreamy Godfrey (Robert Urquhart) proves to be an ally to Willie Boy and the visiting team, thanks to his time spent in, and lifelong appreciation for, Africa and the West Indies.

My favourite scene has to be the moment in the vicar's garden party where Errol, having watched a rather humble looking villager waiting on and handing out sandwiches, goes up to him and rather glibly asks "Can't you see they're oppressing you?", "What's oppression?" comes his suitably bemused reply.

Tuesday, 27 March 2018

Out On Blue Six: The Undertones

....Or You'll Never Believe What This Song's Actually About #1

I love songs whose meanings can take you completely by surprise. Believe it or not, this 1981 single from The Undertones has a very deep meaning; Bobby Sands and the Maze prison hunger strikes. 

Written by the band's lead guitarist Damian O'Neill and bassist Michael Bradley, the song was conceived (primarily by O'Neill, Bradley made the song's meaning more vague and acceptable to pop audiences) as a protest at Margaret Thatcher's refusal to meet the hunger striking IRA prisoners demands and grant them political prisoner status. The thing that was going to 'happen all the time, 'till you change your mind' was death.

It's perhaps these lyrics where such inspiration is at its most clear;

"Watching your friends passing by
Going to sleep without blinking a blue eye
Too slow to notice what's wrong
Two faced to you when you're taking them on"


"Everything goes when you're dead
Everything empties from what was in your hand
No point in waiting today
Stupid revenge is what's making you stay"

Despite the song's meaning, no one in the band could have predicted that the day they were called to appear on Top of the Pops to perform the single, 5th May 1981, would be the day Bobby Sands would die from his hunger strike. To mark the occasion, O'Neill performed wearing a black armband.

End Transmission

Monday, 26 March 2018

Tories Love To Smear Labour as Anti-Semitic, But They Should Look at Their Own Party

This brouhaha over alleged anti-Semitism in the Labour Party (conveniently raised ahead of May's local election to discredit Corbyn and dint his support) has, unsurprisingly, been a boon to the Tory Party who once again are trying to paint themselves as the nice guys and the Left as the real 'Nasty Party'

But if the Tories really are serious about being nice and finding the notion of anti-Semitism and racist prejudice so abhorrent then why do they insist on keeping so many homophobic, racist, sexist and Sectarian councillors and MP's in their party?

How's this for a rogue's gallery?

It's Corbyn Bashing Season - Must Be An Election On The Horizon

In recent weeks we've seen Jeremy Corbyn denounced as an agent for a Czech spy in the 1980s, and we've seen his stance of advising caution in the wake of the Skripal poisoning attacked, with the BBC depicting him as a Soviet stooge on Newsnight with a conveniently distorted hat and a red hue to his image against the background of the Kremlin. Just this weekend alone we've seen Owen Smith whinge about being sacked from the cabinet because of his views on the EU do not correspond with the leadership, and now we've got the old cries of anti-Semitism ringing out again. Why, anyone would think there's an election on the horizon. Oh there is!

Let's take these attacks individually shall we? The first, the Czech spy scandal held no weight whatsoever, and resulted in the odious Pub Landlord lookalike Tory MP Ben Bradley being forced to publically apologise and cough up for a slanderous tweet defaming Corbyn when he swallowed the rumour hook, like and sinker.

No matter how much they spin it, the oh so impartial BBC did mock up a graphic to make Corbyn look rather Soviet in an edition of Newsnight. OK, they used the same backdrop for Tory MP Gavin Williamson (he of the intelligent 'Russia should go away and shut up' comment) but, as Channel 4 News' FactCheck points out, unlike with Corbyn, they didn't shade Williamson's image in a deep red and the hat was distorted and made to look taller thanks to the curved screen.

Now onto Owen Smith. This Blairite is happy to spin the lie that Labour's stance on Brexit is as clear as mud when in reality it is absolutely crystal clear. Jeremy Corbyn has adopted a compromise position, one which respects the EU vote but remains adamant that the final deal must pass Keir Starmer's six tests. Put simply, if the Tories negotiation proves disastrous (as it almost certainly will) Labour will oppose it.

Let's not forget that Labour sought to defeat the hard right Brexit-mongers who wanted to rip up workers rights, food standards and consumer protection by adding amendments to the EU Withdrawal Bill. They were left with no option but to vote against said Bill because the Tories refused to comply with these amendments. Weirdly, this vote has seen them dismissed by many in the press as colluding with the Tory government?!

Smith refused to agree with Starmer's six tests and official Labour policy and wanted to push his own bespoke Brexit policy. Why? Did he do this because he genuinely wants a second EU referendum as he claims or has he broke ranks to create as much confusion, furore and mud slinging as possible? My guess is the latter. And it's funny how we now live in a world where a strong leadership display from Corbyn is criticised whilst Theresa May's outright refusal to keep order amongst her own ministers, including Boris Johnson's outright dangerous lies, is somehow seen as exemplary.  

Much like Smith's disastrous, laughable and lamentable leadership challenge, his bid to put a spoke in the wheel of his own party clearly hasn't worked as well as he and his fellow plotters had hoped. Which is why we are now seeing the anti-Semitic stuff rearing its ugly head again, with John Mann (of course) making ominous and damaging statements from within the party that Labour is set to be destroyed over this issue. 

It's worth noting that this time around the anti-Semitic slur isn't being laid at Corbyn's door. This is because they cannot make this mud stick against him personally. It's very hard to call someone a racist when they have a long history of fighting racism, when they hold the Sean MacBride Peace Award, and when, as Benjamin Zephaniah pointed out on Question Time the last time this was in the news, Corbyn shared a police cell with him once for standing up to the racist Apartheid!

So no, this time around they're claiming that the Labour Party is riddled with an ingrained culture of anti-Semitism, and that Corbyn's crime is to not act quickly enough to stamp it out and to allow these people to get too close to him. Inevitably, many of these critics are pointing to Momentum arguing that the predominantly young, left wing intake that grass roots movement has brought about are pro-Palestine - views that Corbyn himself shares and has never made secret of. And this is the rub for me; to be pro-Palestine, to be anti-Israel, does not mean in any way that you hate the Jewish people. It is not anti-Semetic to disagree with Israel politics. 

All this is to try and dissuade voters from supporting Labour in May because the establishment are running scared of further gains for Corbyn's party.

Once again, don't believe the lies and smears of the Tories, the Blairites and their propaganda arm within the MSM. Dig deeper, question what you're told and make your own mind up.

Out On Blue Six: Red Lipstique

Heard this on Radcliffe and Maconie last week. Very quirky, and I was very taken with it. Goth disco? Surprised I hadn't come across it before to be honest.

End Transmission

Saturday, 24 March 2018

Bridgend (2015)

From 2007 to 2012 there were some 79 recorded instances of suicide among young people in Bridgend, South Wales. The similarities between each tragic case were striking - the teenagers had hung themselves, they knew one another, they went to the same school, they visited the same social networking sites and online chat rooms - but their reasons confounded the authorities, the community and the wider world. I well remember these curious, tragic cases and know that no answer has ever been given.

It takes a brave or frankly crass director to tackle a dramatic interpretation of these events and thankfully, Danish documentary filmmaker Jeppe Rønde is wise and sensitive enough to know that offering audiences his own imagined answer for this spate of suicides just wouldn't work. To do so, really would have been crass and presumptive. As such, anyone expecting to find a coherent narrative and answers in his film, Bridgend, will be far from happy, but frankly such criticisms aren't valid in my point of view. To come to this film expecting a reason for what happened, for it all to be tied up in a bow, is just stupid.

That's not to say that Rønde doesn't make some elliptical, vague suggestions though and I'm sure many of them have already crossed  the minds of anyone who, like me, has been fascinated by this case - does rural isolation and alienation play a part, or is it simply the lack of opportunity to be found in such small, disenfranchised and rather hermetic former mining communities? Is there something strange and secretive going on via the online community, or is it just a way for the victims to hit back at their parents who simply cannot comprehend their lives and have failed them all in some way? 

The one criticism I can appreciate however is that this is 'too soon'. There are people still suffering, still grieving and still mourning these inexplicable deaths that, to fictionalise them, is bound to prove offensive for some. It's surprising that Rønde, a documentary filmmaker, didn't make a documentary about this strange saga really as I am sure that a) there would be a market for that, and b) it would be more palatable for those left behind.

As a narrative piece Rønde draws on not only the Nordic Noir of his Scandinavian roots, but also the rich seam of similarly themed Welsh Noir that started with the Philip Madoc series A Mind To Kill back in the 1990s and continues to this day with bleak and compelling Hinterland. As such what we get is a hauntingly shot movie that makes great use of natural light to capture the leaden, drizzly skies of the economically neglected, raw and rugged Welsh valleys. The atmosphere is bleak and portentous - sometimes verging on the folk horror territory in fact - and it wouldn't be incorrect to say that Rønde's film explores the baffling, mass hysterical nature of what occurred in Bridgend in a similar manner to Carol Morley's The Falling, Peter Weir's Picnic at Hanging Rock and Sofia Coppola's The Virgin Suicides. Despite these likely inspirations and the inherent eerie strangeness, Rønde still manages to ground his film with a very real sense of what that kind of an isolated and isolating town may represent or feel like for someone approaching adulthood, with all the mixed up feelings that stage in life can inspire, and captures a fine and sympathetic performance from his leading lady Hannah Murray and an intriguing one from God's Own Country star Josh O'Connor.

A History Lesson For Boris Johnson

He's spent the week comparing Russia's hosting of the World Cup to Nazi Germany's 1938 Olympics, so it's time to remind him of a couple of things:

1) 20 million Russians were killed fighting the Nazis during World War II, so to liken them to Hitler's Nazis is both ignorant and disgusting.

2) Here's a photograph...

It shows the England football team ahead of a game in Berlin in the '38 Olympics, giving the Nazi salute.

They were instructed to perform the salute by the then British government...which was, of course, the Conservative party.

But what about the Russians, you might ask, did they give the Nazi salute to appeal to their hosts too?

Um no, Russia opted to boycott the '38 Olympics, seeing Nazism for exactly what it was.

Friday, 23 March 2018

Boris Johnson Is An Outright Liar

The idiotic and dangerous Boris Johnson is playing the Skripal affair for everything he can get. His weird Churchillian fantasies are coming to the fore; likening the Russian hosts of the World Cup to the Nazi Olympics (and conveniently forgetting that the Nazis wouldn't have been defeated without Russia's brave soldiers) and posing in vintage war rooms. But worst of all, he's lying through his bloody teeth, leaning heavily on experts in a way not seen since Blair's sexed up Iraqi WMD dossier.

Here's what Boris Johnson said to Deutsche Welle in an interview yesterday;

"They (Porton Down) were absolutely categorical. I asked the guy myself, I said 'Are you sure?' (that the Skripal's have been poisoned by the Russian nerve agent Novichok) and he said there's no doubt" 

Let those words sink in for a moment. 'Categorical'. 'Sure'. 'No doubt'.

No compare them to what was said by evidence submitted by the government at the High Court yesterday (the same day Boris ran his mouth off saying how sure this was the Russians) from Porton Down.

"Blood samples were analysed and the findings indicated exposure to a nerve agent or related compound. The samples tested positive for the presence of a Novichok class nerve agent or closely related agent."

That evidence proves that Porton Down, by their own words, are not 'sure'. That they are not in 'no doubt' and that their findings are not 'categorical' as Boris Johnson claims. So he is lying. He is dangerous. He is the real traitor to the British country he represents and claims he loves dearly. It sickens me that ordinary people who are advising caution are being painted as treasonous and not patriotic. But this proves Russia should not be considered an enemy. There is no clear answer as to who was responsible as yet. It is dangerous to claim otherwise.

Please do not believe the hype of the government propaganda machine of the MSM; the Murdoch newspapers and the BBC. Look beyond the hysteria and jingoistic hyperbole for the facts. Read Craig Murray's blog and share widely. Because make no mistake we are being lied to. We are being set up to fail.

Thursday, 22 March 2018

Walk Like a Panther (2018)

Walk Like a Panther has been in something akin to development hell for some time now. I first heard about this story of a group of former wrestlers from the 1980s donning the lycra one more time some years ago in a newspaper article that announced it was a forthcoming TV sitcom that would feature the acting debut of Les Dawson's daughter Charlotte alongside Stephen Graham. In many ways it's a shame that its fate wasn't a TV series as that's exactly what this felt like.

It felt like watching Benidorm.

And I hate Benidorm.

It's really hard to see just how so much talent can be so pitifully served by one movie. The screenplay really is abysmal and you have to feel sorry for Jason Flemyng, who has just two scenes and the first of which requires him to vomit a ream of maudlin exposition before he keels over and dies. Meanwhile everyone else courageously battles through dialogue that is so densely written and tin-eared that I wonder if the writer/producer/director Dan Cadan has ever really heard anyone have a conversation in his life. Characterisation is also poor, with characters acting erratically from scene to scene just to push the plot forward or provide some attempt at humour.

It's also really hard to see actors who have previously impressed you seem to lose their ability to actually act. But that's exactly what Walk Like a Panther does to the likes of Graham, Flemyng, Dave Johns, Michael Socha, Christopher Fairbank, Neil Fitzmaurice, Robbie Gee, Julian Sands, Jill Halfpenny, Sue Johnston etc etc... the list goes on, because virtually every cast member here is a familiar and an often rather loved face. Unfortunately several of them appear to be acting in completely different films; Dave Johns brings the same sense of downtrodden poignancy he delivered in I, Daniel Blake whilst in contrast many others are setting their sights firmly on Benidorm like cartoonish comic caricatures. It's bizarre really. Worst of all, Walk Like a Panther will leave you wondering what the hell is happening to Stephen Graham's cinematic career. I can see why he probably wanted to do this, to show his lighter, comedic side, but he really should have got out when he saw the final script -  even Charlotte Dawson ultimately steered clear of this! Thank God Save Me came along to well, save him! Only Stephen Tompkinson seems acutely aware of the fact that he's in some kind of working class contemporary panto and delivers a boo hiss performance in keeping with his villainous role.  

The film's biggest crime though is that it is woefully unfunny. The trailer contains all of the film's jokes, so save yourself the bother and just watch that. I laughed just twice across the painfully long 110 minutes: the first was when Brian McCardie said that Julian Sands' character 'Looks like David Soul...if he'd've been a crack addict' and the other was when a cameo-ing Lena Heady's brewery boss Miss Winters (who is engaged to writer/producer/director Cadan in real life) arrives with the line 'Winters is coming' It's funny 'cos it's a Game of Thrones in-joke, y'see? Well, no one else in the cinema got it. And this was a crowd of annoying 50-somethings, one of whom said 'tea' out loud when one character brought in a tray of tea.

In it's defence, Walk Like a Panther benefits from being filmed in beautiful Yorkshire, and it does actually come alive a little in the final reel which showcases the wrestling that Cadan clearly wanted to pay tribute to. It's also still better than the deeply ill advised big screen revival of Dad's Army, but this remains a very poor British comedy. Mentioning this feeble effort in the same breath as The Full Monty is insulting.

Out On Blue Six: The Specials

I make no excuses for posting two tracks featuring Terry Hall in the same week. The first was for the great man's birthday, this second one - Stereotype by The Specials - is to highlight the fact that it's being used as the theme tune for what is, in my view, the best thing on TV at the moment; Save Me.

Written by and starring Lennie James, I fully intended to watch Save Me as it went out each week on Sky Atlantic. However, it was just too good to pace myself and I ended up watching the last two eps last night. Unlike a lot of dramas at the moment, this kept up a great head of steam throughout and didn't peter out at the final hurdle. It also has a great cast, including Suranne Jones, Stephen Graham and Jason Flemyng (both redeeming themselves after the dismal big screen Britcom Walk Like a Panther, which I endured at the cinema last week), Susan Lynch, Barry Ward and Kerry Godliman to name but a few. It also has a great sense of place and character too, depicting a realistic inner city working class locale (in this case, London) that is becoming all too rare to see on a TV more or less swamped by cliche, period drama and middle class angst. Watch it, you'll love it. 

End Transmission

Tuesday, 20 March 2018

Gig Review: Simon Day @ Liverpool Philharmonic 14/3/18

He smiled, wielding the marker pen in his hand as I approached at the end of the show. "Great to see a Thotch t-shirt" he said, gesturing with a nod to my chosen attire. I mumbled my thanks. "Yeah, I don't get any money for it," he replied. "But still great to see"

Ever since The Fast Show, I've loved Simon Day. Most recently of course, he's almost singlehandedly kept BBC4's comedy output going with the various mockumentaries about his Gabriel-esque prog rocker and former Thotch frontman, Brian Pern, so I leapt at the chance of seeing him perform live at Liverpool Philharmonic's Music Room last week.

Day was performing four of his best loved characters; Billy Bleach, the bubble permed know-it-all from The Fast Show and 2003's underappreciated single series sitcom Grass; Geoffrey Allerton, a fey voiced Yorkshire poet who could conceivably be the lovechild of Alan Bennett and Philip Larkin; Tony Beckton, a Charles Bronson style notorious hardman and habitual prisoner; and lastly Brian Pern himself.

A sell out show, this was a nicely relaxed and very funny evening with much to appreciate from all four comic creations. I'm still chuckling at Bleach's observation that a buttoned up Fred Perry means you're a mod, whereas if you undo that top button you're just a fat bloke, and his anecdote about how he keeps his infant son amused with the Nintendo Wi game Hangman, in which you play Albert Pierrepoint; "it teaches him Maths, cos he's got to guess the drop". The Zapata moustached Beckton regaled us with tales of tunneling out of maximum security prisons in the '70s via a David Essex poster, whilst Pern entertained us with his poignant hit I Wish I'd Told My Dad I Loved Him Before He Died and his humanitarian anthem to save the bee population, The Honeycomb is Over. But it was arguably Allerton who provided the most laughs for me with his various poetic odes, one of which can be seen here from the TV series Bellamy's People

It was Allerton's poetry anthology that Day was selling and signing after the show which saw him spot my Thotch t shirt. It was a privilege to spend just a couple of minutes with the man, to say how much I appreciated the show and to say what his candid autobiography Comedy and Error personally meant to me. But then it was off into the bitterly cold night and a rail replacement bus service home. Oh well, at least Allerton's words kept me chuckling along the journey.

Monday, 19 March 2018

Out On Blue Six: The Colourfield

I'm reliably informed that today is Terry Hall's 59th birthday. So to say happy birthday to the big man, here's his 1985 Colourfield single, Thinking of You

End Transmission

Sunday, 18 March 2018

Out On Blue Six: The Real Thing

Heard this more or less on repeat in The Grapes in Liverpool last week (I think someone was mourning Amoo's passing) and it's been kicking around my head ever since. Beautiful song...

End Transmission

The Facts Behind The Hysteria

With all the mass hysteria going on at the moment, you'd be forgiven for missing this damning letter to the Times

Further to your report ('Poison exposure leaves almost 40 needing treatment', Mar 14) may I clarify that no patients have experienced symptoms of nerve agent poisoning in Salisbury and there have only ever been three patients with significant poisoning. Several people have attended the emergency department concerned that they may have been exposed. None has had symptoms of poisoning and none has needed treatment. Any blood tests performed have shown no abnormality. No member of the public has been contaminated by the agent involved.
Stephen Davies,
Consultant in emergency medicine, Salisbury NHS foundation Trust

It's also worth pointing out that the government's line that the nerve agent is 'a type developed by the Russians' doesn't mean made or used by the Russians. And in the midst of the attacks against Corbyn for advising caution (including the 'impartial' BBC's decision to photoshop him as a Russian stooge behind a USSR backdrop last week) how come no one is concerned with the £30,000 donation made to the Tory party by the wife of a former Putin minister - just one of many donations from Russians in recent years. Even Litvenyenko's widow is talking about this, but the media don't seem to want to give her views an airing.

Once again, my advice is look to the truth and not what the government are saying. This is May's Falklands moment and she's loving it, as is the odious Boris Johnson who seems to think he's his beloved Churchill; just in time for The Darkest Hour buzz. Why? Because just like Thatcher's government in '82, it gives them the perfect excuse to bury the real unrest and disasters occurring under May's premiership and the chance to boost her ailing approval ratings with the sheep like contingent of the general public. Brexit, Grenfell etc can all be ignored while they wave what remains of the Union Jack against the menacing Soviet bear.

Wednesday, 14 March 2018

RIP Jim Bowen

More sad news as it has been announced that the northern comedian, actor and Bullseye presenter Jim Bowen has died at the age of 80.

Bowen was a Maths teacher and a deputy headmaster originally, but he was compelled to try comedy after watching Ken Dodd perform two nights in Blackpool in the 1960s, and there's a bitter irony to be had in the fact that Bowen died just two days after his inspiration and hero. The years spent on the stand up circuit in the pubs and working mens clubs paid off, as Bowen bagged a regular spot on Granada's stand up showcase The Comedians in the 1970s. This led directly to the show Bowen became synonymous with, Bullseye. Arriving on our screens in 1981 the partnership of darts ability and general knowledge quickly proved to be a winning formula and Bullseye became a Sunday teatime mainstay for 14 years, attracting up to 17.5 million viewers in its heyday, and providing Bowen with both a clutch of catchphrases ('You can't beat a bit of bully', 'let's have a look at what you could've won' and 'super, smashing, great' to name but a few) and household name status.

Away from Bullseye, Bowen had a sideline in acting, appearing in Victoria Wood's TV play Happy Since I Met You and the 1980s property development drama Muck and Brass, alongside Mel Smith. In later years he appeared in The Grimleys, Jonathan Creek and as bewigged Blackpool bar owner Hoss Cartwright in Peter Kay's sitcom Phoenix Nights. He was also the president of Morecambe Football Club.

Between 1999 and 2002 Bowen had his own morning show on BBC Radio Lancashire but an ill considered, on air racist remark let to his resignation. In recent years Bowen suffered a series of strokes. He died in hospital this morning with his wife Phyllis by his bedside.


RIP Stephen Hawking

Another very sad day - Stephen Hawking has died aged 76.

Not just a respected genius, but a genuinely good man with a voice that increasingly shone a positive light in these strange and often dark times.

'Quiet people have the loudest minds'


Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Secret Society (2000)

Secret Society is a little seen comedy from 2000, somewhat in the mould of The Full Monty, and it is all about a group of plus sized female factory workers in Yorkshire who become sumo wrestlers. It is a British/German co-production from director Imogen Kimmel, who co-wrote the screenplay with Catriona McGowan.

It stars Charlotte Brittain of 1998's Get Real (pictured above;whatever happened to her? She's so sweet, charming and sexy here) as Daisy, an insecure young woman who has problems accepting her size and her beauty despite the clear belief from her husband Ken (Lee Ross) that she is gorgeous as she is. Unfortunately, despite Ken clearly being mad about her, he's a bit of an amiable well meaning prat who is unable to hold down a job or get their lives on course for the future. Determined to make Daisy feel good about herself and make some money he hits upon the idea of her posing for saucy postcards and resolutely fails to understand or read the signs that Daisy is acutely embarrassed and uncomfortable by this venture - and you can't really blame her, when his idea is to paint rodent features on her bare breasts and print postcards with the legend 'Greeting from the Yorkshire Field Mouse'. I could have done with some explanation as to his thinking here, really I could.

Realising that she has to bring home the bacon herself, Daisy gets a job in a local veg packing factory run by Marlene (Annette Badland) and which seems to employ more than its fair share of ample women, each of whom keep to their own secretive clique. Singled out as having potential by Marlene and the no-nonsense supervisor (Sharon D. Clarke), Daisy is tested by being told she must clean the toilets as well as her official work duties. When she finally snaps and hands in her resignation, Marlene realises that her young protege is a strong willed woman who has what it takes to become part of their inner circle, the secret society of the title - their sumo club. 

Marlene has long ago realised that, for plus sized women, size is not a weakness it's a strength. Using sumo training and its philosophy - 'shin' (spirit) 'gi' (skill) 'tai' (body) - she teaches her workforce that the body is a tool to use to its optimum, as opposed to their brains being ruled by their body and the hang-ups they may associate with it. This is clearly beneficial to Daisy and much more enlightening than Ken's hamfisted methods of trying to make her recognise her attractiveness. But of course, as Daisy takes the rocky road to self discovery and self confidence that she must keep secret from Ken, he begins the descent into insecurity and vulnerability. 

Ken's mates (James Hooton and Charles Dale) are both UFO obsessives who work at the local video shop. When Ken loans some kind of titillating alien amazon women film (featuring Hooten's Emmerdale co-star Lisa Riley who surprisingly gets 6th billing in the film despite only having three scenes and one piece of dialogue) from them and attends a few of their meetings he begins to believe that Daisy's new secretive mood and physical confidence is a result of aliens taking over her body! Like Ken's harebrained postcard scheme, I'm not quite sure what the filmmakers were going for her and the resulting subplot falls pretty flat at a time when the film should be stepping up a gear to reach its climax. By the final reel, Marlene has convinced her sumo sisters to go public for a tournament against a visiting team of male wrestler from Japan and there's a dilemma for Daisy who has walked away from her friends to be with the clearly distressed and confused Ken and to be little more than his wife once again. Will she stay that way or will the pull of her sisters have her return to the fold not only to continue on her course for enlightenment and size acceptance but also to win the tournament for her team? 

Well the answer is of course a predictable yes, she will return and she will win - but everything feels so rushed (especially given that one minute Daisy is watching the bout on TV at home with Ken and the next minute she's there, all dressed up and ready to go - just how near was the arena to their house?!) that you can't help feeling shortchanged.  

Despite these niggles in the film's denouement and the fact that, for a Fully Monty-esque comedy there isn't really much in the way of laughs at all (though thankfully it never once makes cheap gags about either weight or sumo; there's no 'big nappy' comments here), and that unfortunately - apart from Brittain, Badland and Clarke - the other female sumo wrestlers are little more than glorified non-speaking extras rather than characters in their own right, Secret Society remains a good film based solely on its merit in terms of not only female empowerment, but empowerment for women who are above a size 12. No wonder it's such a rarity.

Monday, 12 March 2018

RIP Ken Dodd

Another legend gone - Ken Dodd, one of a kind and the last in the great music hall tradition, has passed away at the age of 90.

Watching him leave hospital almost a fortnight ago was a bittersweet experience; he looked incredibly frail from the chest infection that had laid him low for several weeks but he still managed to smile and joke with reporters, fans and hospital staff because, for Doddy, the show must go on. A fascinating character, he had the ability to keep audiences in stitches for marathon shows but away from the limelight he was conversely a very private and indeed shy man, as my friend who was his neighbour in Knotty Ash would testify. I think this portrait from David Cobley manages to capture both these sides to his character, depicting him backstage and 'off duty' yet still suggesting the performance thanks to the mirrors and him holding court with an unseen private audience.

Today may be a sad day, but it's important to remember just how much happiness Ken Dodd gave us all


Sunday, 11 March 2018

RIP Dorka Nieradzik

If you are a telly obsessive of a certain age, then the name Dorka Nieradzik will be familiar to you. The Polish born hair and make-up and visual effects designer's name that jumped out of the closing credits for shows ranging from Doctor Who to Last of the Summer Wine, so it is sad to hear that the multi award winning Nieradzik died of cancer last month at the age of 68.

I couldn't top the lovely obituary from Toby Hadoke that featured in The Guardian last week, so I'm not going to try. I'm just going to post the link here


Friday, 9 March 2018

Made (1972)

1970 saw the Royal Court production of Howard Barker's play No One Was Saved. Barker's piece was both a deliberate, pessimistic riposte to Edward Bond's 1965 play Saved - which had shared the same South London working class milieu - and heavily influenced by the Beatles 1967 song Eleanor Rigby. The heroine of No One Was Saved is Rigby herself, a young working class single mother who is seduced and abandoned by several men, including a priest (Father McKenzie) and a cynical rock star (based on John Lennon), as a terrible tragedy - the violent death of her baby - strikes.

Having attended a performance of Barker's play, producer Joseph Janni believed it had the potential to become a really good film and commissioned Barker to write a screenplay. Dispensing with the notion of a straight adaptation, he opted to take much of the framework of his original play to tell a story that was more ambiguous about its influences. Indeed, with the inclusion of Janni as producer, John Mackenzie as director and Carol White in the lead role of grieving single mother and lonely young woman Valerie, the film itself would go on to wear another more noticeable influence, namely Ken Loach's Poor Cow. Janni had produced that earlier film starring White, whilst Mackenzie had served as assistant director upon the production. 

Enticing Carol White back from her ill advised attempts at cracking Hollywood would prove to be a masterstroke, as once again she delivers a perfect and easily sympathetic study of a similarly put upon single mother searching for love and a better life in the midst of hardship, mistreatment and tragedy. She is paired opposite two very interesting casting choices and performances; the first is Roy Harper, the folk rock musician who had been discovered at Les Cousins in the mid 60s and was, by this stage, gaining some international acclaim. A novice when it comes to acting, there's nevertheless an authenticity that Harper brings to the part of Mike, an anti-religious troubadour (an update of the Lennonesque rocker), thanks to his musicianship and his own spiritual views, that simply wouldn't exist if the part was played by an ordinary actor. The second is John Castle as Father Dyson, a handsomely saturnine actor who brings an ambiguity to his interest and concern for White's Valerie. 

Both men seem to want a better life for Valerie, yet there seems to be an implicit understanding between the film and its audience that the better life they're pushing for will somehow benefit them far more than it may benefit Valerie. Dyson's motivation to help Valerie is never openly addressed, but there's something about the 'right on' public image he presents to his congregation that doesn't quite gel with the moments alone we are privy to throughout the film. Small scenes, such as his obvious awareness of, and pleasure in the fact, that the waitress at an Italian restaurant is giving him the eye whilst he is sans dog collar, only serve to sow the seeds of our doubt and wariness in his character, and the certainty and conviction he has regarding his own methods and society at large are often shown to be woefully naive and incorrect. 

Meanwhile Harper's Mike - in keeping with the original play's denouement that sees Rigby hearing the Beatles track she inadvertently gave her name to on the radio and realising she's been used - jets off to America, seemingly without another thought for Valerie, as he presents to the world his new hit, 'Social Casualty'; a track that details misfortunes that are unmistakably influenced by Valerie, especially as, just like Eleanor Rigby, it repeatedly mentions her name.

Whilst the film clearly owes a debt to Poor Cow, Mackenzie's approach is a little more arty than Loach's social realism. This is Mackenzie long before he hit the big time with The Long Good Friday, but he's already showing his potential; most notably in the way he edits and cuts several key scenes to create quick collages that serve to drive home the ensuing emotions Valerie is feeling. Nevertheless the film is anchored with an attempt to depict an accurate reflection of a then contemporary London, and the warts and all aspects of social cancers such as racism, juvenile delinquency and football hooliganism (the latter two being the catalyst that sparks the horrific moment in which Valerie's baby perishes) are all conveyed to get across the film's overall message that the reason society is dying is perhaps because faith has died.

Out On Blue Six: Public Service Broadcasting

Just one of the fabulous soundscapes from PSB's new album and a tribute to mining; Every Valley 

End Transmission