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...

Saturday, 19 May 2018

Out On Blue Six: Haircut 100

....Or you'll never believe what this song's about #4

Now, normally when I do this occasional sub-series of my Out On Blue Six posts, I can waffle on about the deeper meanings of each song. However I'm really at a loss here and only have something that Nick Heywood himself said on an old episode of Never Mind The Buzzcocks I was watching earlier this week, because apparently the song was about the Falklands War!

Quite why or how this fey little love ditty was about Thatcher's lust for glory I have no idea. I mean, it's not exactly obvious from the lyrics is it? The only bit that sounds remotely political is the opening line; "I, I went off to the right" Thatcher's right wing policies anyone? As for the rest, and what really was so fear inducing about that lake I have no idea. As you can see from the Buzzcocks clip I've linked to above, it doesn't seem like Heyward knows either!

End Transmission

Frankie Boyle's New World Order

I was looking forward to the second series of Frankie Boyle's New World Order which started last night but it seems the order of the day was the usual BBC mandate to ignore the faults of the Tory government and give Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour party a good kicking instead.

The show opened now with how much better spent the £32 million that Harry and Megan's nuptials today could be; specifically cladding and sprinklers for all tower blocks in the wake of the Grenfell disaster that will surely be this generation's Hillsborough - odd considering Boyle has been quite outspoken elsewhere about this tragedy. Nor did it open with a discussion as to how the government continue to fail the victims and families of the Manchester bombing, and the police force investigating. It didn't even discuss the Windrush scandal and the Tories handling of the Skripal poisoning. No, instead it opened with a near 20 minute panel discussion on how Corbyn's Labour party is no longer fit for purpose because of anti-Semitism. That Frankie's opening monologue briefly touched upon Palestine's murderous actions earlier in the week, acknowledging that the MSM described it as little more than 'disturbances', to then go on and discuss this issue with the never popular David Baddiel without ever really addressing how being against Israel's actions does not make you a jew hater just goes to show how a once daring comedian has sold his soul to be on-message at the BBC. Incidentally Baddiel remarked that 28% of Corbyn supporters believe the world is run by a secretive elite of Jews and stated that as a fact of just how anti-Semitic we Corbynistas are. What Baddiel is actually referring to here a YouGov poll made during the Labour leadership election way back in 2015, where supporters of Corbyn, Andy Burnham Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall were each asked the question 'do you believe the world is run by a secretive elite?' And yes, 28% of Corbyn voters said that they did. But NO WHERE AT ALL did the question specify a Jewish elite. That's an extra dimension brought to the table by Baddiel himself that has no basis in fact whatsoever. In reality, many Corbyn supporters could be thinking of the Murdoch and press baron elite, the establishment in general or the sodding Illuminati. The BBC should apologise for putting what is, at best, a foolish prejudiced assumption from Baddiel and,at worst a blatant lie that benefits the Blairite red tories within the party out there as a stone cold fact. But I very much doubt that they will.  An unusually sensitive Boyle has since taken to blocking anyone on twitter who criticised the show; I've even seen someone who simply posted the show's name followed by a poo emoji got blocked. This from a man who has made a living criticising others in far more explicit terms.

A funny closing ten minutes on the Royal Wedding entitled 'We have 12 hours to abolish the monarchy', which Frankie admitted was originally going to be titled 'Prince Philip will die tomorrow as a final act of racism' but was told that was too near the knuckle, was not enough to save this dreadfully obvious piece of Tory appeasement. Interestingly some on the panel - which included Frankie's regular guests Sara Pascoe and Katherine Ryan - chose to play devil's advocate here, yet such a role was not in the offing during the Labour piece. It took Have I Got New For You something like a decade before all its integrity was lost by sucking up to the government of the day. It took Frankie Boyle's New World Order just two series.

Thursday, 17 May 2018

Breakheart Pass (1975)

Charles Bronson, the catfish mustachioed tough guy whose career in such similar fare stretches back to the '60s and '50s, could play these kinds of roles in his sleep (indeed, you could argue that he sometimes did!) but his eyecatching, unconventional leading man looks and his natural quiet charisma really shine through here in this multi-faceted role. 

See my full review at The Geek Show

Out On Blue Six: The Smiths

The perfect antidote for this nauseating Windsor-heavy week.

End Transmission

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Resnick (1992-'93)

British TV has always been awash with TV detectives, but they fall into two distinctive categories; there's the made-for-TV cops, and then there's those adapted from pre-existing bestselling crime and thriller literature. In the '80s and '90s it's fair to say that the BBC dominated the former category with a gold run of populist fare that featured the likes of Shoestring, Bergerac, and Spender. Whilst adaptations were principally ITV's domain, the jewels in the crown consisting of  David Suchet's Poirot, Jeremy Brett's definitive Sherlock Holmes, Inspector Morse and A Touch of Frost

The BBC's only real popular foray into adaptation was Lovejoy, but that genial, comfortable Sunday night offering was so far removed from the grubby, cutthroat violent and X rated nature of Jonathan Gash's original novels, and the programme only adapted a couple of the books in the first series anyway, so that need not detain us further.

So at some point in the '90s the BBC woke up to the sobering fact that ITV had the monopoly and thus they attempted to produce adaptations of other popular literary detective series for themselves. Perhaps the most successful (in terms of long-running at least) of these was Dalziel and Pascoe, the chalk-and-cheese sleuthing duo created by Reginald Hill. That series got off to a very strong start thanks to fabulously droll adaptations from Alan Plater and Malcolm Bradbury no less, and ran for eleven years - though they abandoned the source material provided by Hill very early on, offering us the law of diminishing returns. 

But on a par with those early Dalziel and Pascoe adaptations is a mini-series from four years earlier - the BBC's attempts to bring John Harvey's sandwich eating, multiple cat owning and jazz loving Nottingham based cop DI Charlie Resnick to the screen. The channel made just two adaptations of the Resnick novels - Lonely Hearts and Rough Treatment - starring Tom Wilkinson and, having watched them for the first time just a couple of years ago, I've been scratching my head to think why they didn't go on to adapt every single one of them because, quite simply, this would have given ITV's Morse and Frost a good run for their money.

It helps of course that the author himself, John Harvey, adapted the novels for TV. But crucially the director of Lonely Hearts, Bruce MacDonald, understands the material beautifully and gives us something unique that still stands out as a distinctive piece of drama some twenty-four years later. Crucially MacDonald's style, combined with his knowledge and understanding of Harvey occasionally somewhat fragmentary writing style, works in close harmony to deliver an deeply atmospheric piece. Like the jazz beloved of our central character, Harvey's writing often strays from the narrative through line to provide quirky and unusual flourishes or glimpses of other themes. This is best exemplified in the way that we see the team at Nottingham CID (which includes a youngish David Neilsen before he headed to the cobbles of Coronation Street, looking rather different with short hair and a military moustache, and actor/writer William Ivory as a scene-stealing leery, neanderthal cop who despite his blunt methods gets the job done in a way we cannot help but admire) involve themselves in other secondary cases or how we catch references to their home lives. All of these instances help lend a sense of multi-dimensionality and authenticity to the proceedings.

That said, MacDonald's directorial style isn't going to be to everyone's tastes and it is not without its flaws. In creating such a distinctive atmosphere it often runs the risk of being a touch too oblique, with sections of footage done, POV style, from the perspective of our protagonists, often lingering on minor details and abstract items. And there are a lot of moments set at night were everything is just so damn dark - but that might actually be down to the quality of the off-air recording from 1992 (sadly these adaptations have never been officially released and only bootlegs are available) that I watched, I don't know.

The world of Resnick as created by John Harvey is both a well-written and addictive one, and I've enjoyed reading a few novels in recent years. Tom Wilkinson inhabits the character depicted upon the page rather well (though I perhaps expected and would have liked a more native Notts accent) and accurately captures that kind of melancholic detective who seems to have a black cloud perpetually hovering above his head and feels a little too much really well. It's a cliche now I guess, the over-empathetic policeman, but I don't imagine it was at the time. 

The second adaptation, Rough Treatment, arrived a year later in 1993. It was another classy production but, with a different director (Peter Smith) at the helm it felt a little lacking with little to lift the proceedings above watchable, despite Jim Carter and Tom Georgeson as a good pair of chalk and cheese crooks and Sheila Gish having fun as the bored and frustrated wife of a TV director. However, I don't believe for a minute that this slighter offering sealed the fate of any further adaptations - ultimately I can only presume the ascent Wilkinson's career enjoyed round about the mid '90s with The Full Monty ultimately taking him to Hollywood was the real reason Resnick was so short-lived.

DI Charlie Resnick has been on my mind this week because I'm reading another novel and am tempted to revisit these adaptations this evening. In looking over my review (which originally appeared on Letterboxd) I came across John Harvey's blog and saw that the great man himself actually referenced my review here - to have a celebrated author you personally respect single out your writing and describe it as 'really interesting' has made my day!

Wordless Wednesday: Market Scene

Tuesday, 15 May 2018

RIP Margot Kidder

Sad to hear that Margot Kidder passed away at the weekend at the age of 69.

The Canadian actress was best known for her role as the intrepid Daily Planet journalist Lois Lane in the Superman movies of the '70s and '80s (ie the best ones - well, the first two anyway) and the '70s festive slasher Black Christmas. 


Saturday, 12 May 2018

One Summer (1983)

Written by Liverpudlian playwright Willy Russell, One Summer is the story of two scouse schoolboys who flee their life of crime and gang turf wars to seek refuge in the Welsh countryside in the titular brief summer. For my money, it is arguably one of the finest evocations of the scouse character I've seen. I was going to say the juvenile scouse character but, to be honest, there are still grown men in Liverpool who dismiss anything that isn't traditionally macho or they don't understand as 'soft'.

A startlingly young David Morrissey and Spencer Leigh are our two leads and from the off, Morrissey shows the abilities that has made him the reliable star he is today. Leigh on the other hand can be quite frustrating with a slightly more wooden manner and an irritating ability to screech his lines at several decibels too loud (and they wonder where Harry Enfield got his 'Scousers' characters from?) It's surprising then that, off the back of this and Derek Jarman's Caravaggio, it was Leigh who, alongside the likes of Tim Roth and Gary Oldman, was proclaimed to be a key member of the1980s Brit Pack movement of actors by The Face journalist Elissa Van Poznak. 

In contrast Morrissey, who chose to take up the offer to train at RADA followed by a stint at the Liverpool Playhouse, has perhaps proven that slow and steady ultimately wins the race. Both young actors are grounded by a great turn from James Hazeldine as their rural mentor, Kidder. Hazeldine was an accomplished character actor on stage and screen and brings every  one of his years experience to bear on the production, whilst remaining deeply generous to the pair of young leads. His premature death in 2002 at the age of 55 has left a gaping hole in British TV.

Made during the summer of '82 against the backdrop of the Falklands War and the rampant Thatcherism that was notoriously setting in place Liverpool's 'managed decline', One Summer is certainly evocative of that period but it hasn't really dated all that much. Today's innercity kids face the same problems and society at large still believe in the 'lock 'em up' solution to juvenile delinquency. With that in mind, it's easy to see not only One Summer's influence on subsequent films and TV (including the work of Shane Meadows) but also its potential to be remade as a film (something Russell has often expressed a hope for) as it's still highly relevant. Should it ever occur, perhaps David Morrissey could now take the Kidder role?

This was the perfect mini series to watch across last week's long and unusually hot May bank holiday weekend.

Friday, 11 May 2018

Blackball (2003)

Blackball is a deeply misfiring Britcom from writer Tim Firth and director Mel Smith that stars Paul Kaye as a cheerfully insouciant young rebel who sets out on the road of sports stardom, ruffling the feathers of the sedate and genteel conservative world of crown green bowling along the way.  

Just like Firth's other features (Kinky Boots and Calendar Girls) Blackball is based partly in truth. The inspiration for Paul 'Dennis Pennis' Kaye's bowling prodigy Cliff Starkey is Griff Sanders, the self-styled 'bad boy of bowls' who routinely flouted the hallowed rulebook by rolling a cigarette, drinking cans of lager and eating a bag of chips whilst on the grass. But perhaps his biggest transgression was to call the Devon County Bowling Association club secretary a 'tosser', which earned him a ten year ban from the sport (a savage blow which the club tried to ease by citing that, given that most  bowls players were OAPS, ten years was only a sixth of an average playing career!) By 1999 however, with sponsorship and TV coverage demanding 'a character', Sanders was allowed back into the fold and became a minor sports media darling. Naturally a degree of poetic licence comes into play for the movie; affording Starkey with a Romeo and Juliet style romance with Kerry (Alice Evans) the daughter of his nemesis and rival, the snobbish, ramrod straight club champion Ray Speight (James Cromwell), as well as a shot at becoming the England champ, with both rivals having to put their differences aside in a crucial, high stakes match against Australia.

I'm a great admirer of Tim Firth's TV work (Preston Front is one of my all time favourite series), but all too often his opportunity to work in film requires him to churn out deeply formulaic fare. Sometimes, it works - Kinky Boots is quite good and Calendar Girls (which came out at the same time as Blackball) was a resounding success, even though I didn't personally get the hype - but it really doesn't work here. I'm not altogether sure if Mel Smith's direction and Firth's writing is a happy marriage; Smith's humour leans towards the naturally silly and large, and is heavily influenced by his own performing career in sketch comedy. As such the pacing of the film never builds up a suitable head of steam, remaining sluggish and unambitious and offering audiences just a few intermittent chuckles - which are often usually followed by a roll of the eyes. Firth's writing is usually more lyrical, more character driven and ultimately more real, but all that's more or less absent here as he marches to the beat of Smith's drum. However, what writer and director do rather harmoniously provide is a traditional take of David and Goliath via the British class system. Kaye's Starkey represents the plucky, happy go lucky working class underdog who must beat and ultimately win over the stuffy, pompous middle class elitists that dominate his chosen sport, before snatching victory from the jaws of defeat in the final reel. In that regard, Blackball follows the path of most sport movies, and it does it so uniformly that the sport itself - bowls - doesn't really matter and what is arguably one of the most parochial games actually fails to be distinctive in any way, shape or form. 

Ultimately, what just about keeps Blackball afloat is the host of British comic performers and recognisable faces who appear in the film -  from Johnny Vegas to the legend that is Bernard Cribbins -  and inject a bit of much needed life into the proceedings. Weirdly, Hollywood's Vince Vaughn also appears as Starkey's unscrupulous, flashy agent. He's there presumably to attract US audiences - where the film was bizarrely retitled National Lampoon's Blackball

Thursday, 10 May 2018

Out On Blue Six: Shampoo

Did someone mention 'girl power'?

Spice Who? 

Shampoo were there first.

End Transmission