Thursday, 21 June 2018

The Elephant in the Room of the BBC's NHS 70th Anniversary Season

My jaw dropped at a trailer on TV yesterday for BBC1's Life on the Ward, a two part documentary that sees a group of celebrities spend time in one of London's busiest hospitals and shadowing the staff there.

Quite apart from the pointlessness of shoving celebs in a hospital, my jaw made contact with the floor because of one specific 'celebrity', the elephant in the room of these anniversary commemorations - the former Tory MP and Shadow Health Secretary Ann Widdicombe.

Let's look at Widdicombe's attitude towards the NHS and health shall we by way of her voting record.

She voted against the introduction of foundation hospitals.

She voted against providing assistance to the terminally ill to end their lives.

She voted against the smoking ban.

She voted against all matters EU and migration which shows she has little regard for the NHS's mighty migrant workforce.

She has also said that the NHS was 'founded on all the wrong principles' and that effectively it is doomed to fail and needs replacing.

With all that in mind, it's utterly galling to see such a typically heartless, health privatisation-devotee Tory now attempt to sing the praises of the NHS in her retirement and make a buck or two for doing so as well, simply by watching some nurses perform a job she'd have happily taken from them when she was in government.

In fact the BBC's entire NHS at 70 season seems like an utter joke with well known Tory Nick Robinson hosting one special. It's funny how an allegedly oh so impartial public service broadcaster like the BBC can employ notable right wing figures to discuss a socialist issue as opposed to any notable left wing ones isn't it? The only decent programme that will commemorate the anniversary is on BBC Wales: To Provide All People is a star studded 'film poem' from the makers of 2016's Aberfan: The Green Hollow and 2014's Under Milk Wood.

Wednesday, 20 June 2018

The 'Brexit Dividend': The Curious Timing That Means We Should Beware Tories Bearing Gifts

We're hearing a lot from government this week about a so-called 'Brexit dividend' that will go to the NHS. 

What we're not hearing however is that this extra £20bn won't even begin to cover the cuts to the NHS that the Tories have overseen these last 8 years. That an increase of NHS spending to 3.4% is nothing like the 4%+ increase that the think tanks have calculated and have been campaigning for. 

We're also not hearing anything about the timing of Theresa May's pledge. If Brexit falls apart for this government, May will be forced to go to the country once more in the oft-rumoured snap election pencilled in for the autumn. With that in mind, this extra £20bn sounds increasingly like a sop to the electorate in the hope that they'll forget all the Tories failings and vote for them once more. Beware Greeks bearing gifts...or should that be Tories? Timing is everything, clearly.

So don't fall for their bribes and lies! It's all very well saying Brexit will allow us to spend more on the NHS (and we all know we've heard that before, or rather we've seen it before; a lie writ large on the side of a bus!) but if Brexit ensures that we can no longer employ the migrant workforce that keeps the NHS alive, how can the service ever truly improve?

The Sobering Thought Of Our Special Relationship

With the fascist President Donald Fart kidnapping migrant children and overseeing modern day concentration camps you'd think the UK would disassociate themselves from the US but no, we're still in the 'special relationship' and expecting him to visit next month.

Not surprising really. The rest of the world may look on aghast at what's happening to immigration policy in America but we're conveniently forgetting we separate and lock up migrant families for indefinite periods too. 

Fascism is popular again, Trump's leading the way and we meekly follow. Do you ever get the feeling that, if a war was to break out now, we'd be on the wrong side?

It's a sobering thought.

Monday, 18 June 2018

Look Back In Anger (1959)

The brooding Burton have accepted a significant drop in his fee to play the angry young man Jimmy Porter but it proved worth it, as the role quickly cemented his increasingly recognisable screen persona. Even today the image of him from this very film, dressed in check shirt and cardigan, holding a pint of bitter and staring with quiet defiance towards the camera, remains an iconic photo of the actor.

See my full review at The Geek Show

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