Friday, 15 February 2019

I Believe That Children Are The Future... the song goes, and today we have seen that to be the truth as an estimated fifteen thousand children from around the UK went on strike from school to demand that the government urgently take the climate emergency seriously.

This movement all began with fifteen-year-old Swedish schoolgirl Greta Thunberg who began skipping classes last September to protest outside government buildings. It's an inspiring movement and a delight to see, but of course Downing Street have criticised it, saying that the disruption to planned lesson time was damaging. 

Um, not have as damaging as doing bugger all about this huge threat! 

Indeed Thunberg herself tweeted that whilst Theresa May claims this day of action wastes lesson time, "political leaders have wasted thirty years of inaction. And that is slightly worse".

It comes as no surprise that Jeremy Corbyn and Caroline Lucas were the only leading political figures who stood in solidarity with the children of the UK today. 

These children are facing detention for their actions but are not to be deterred; there is talk of regular strike action to achieve their demands, and I hope that is the case.

Children are the future. They need to know that our planet has one too. 

Thursday, 14 February 2019

Out On Blue Six: Billy Bragg

Earlier today I posted Billy Bragg's Fourteenth of February to celebrate St Valentine's Day. But if, like me, you're single and the whole day is a pain in the hole, don't worry, cos Billy's got us covered to with Valentine's Day is Over....

And in just 5 minutes time that's exactly what it will be. Over for another year.

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Out On Blue Six: Billy Bragg

Hello young lovers everywhere! And old ones too! What else would I choose for St Valentine's Day but Billy Bragg's The Fourteenth of February? Enjoy...

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Wednesday, 13 February 2019

Callan: Wet Job (1981)

I've been a Callan fan for years but there was always one I put off watching, because I'd heard so many bad things about it, and that is Wet Job, the 1981 one-off reunion and farewell episode. 

Well OK, I geared myself up and I finally watched it last night's nowhere near as bad as I feared actually. The common criticism for this Callan 'reunion' is the direction from Shaun O'Riordan and the score from Cyril Ornadel and I have to agree both are utterly below par; O'Riordan's infuriating penchant for obscure close-ups and odd angles seems to want to emulate the visual styling of Sidney J. Furie in The Ipcress File, with one tense, climactic meeting shot from the ground so that we see only the protagonists legs,whilst Ornadel is clearly trying to ape Wendy Carlos' synth approach to classical chamber music, and fails dismally with a score that is both irritating and intrusive.

But there are some good things. I like how both Callan's creator James Mitchell and his performer Edward Woodward are keen to portray a changed man. Physically, with his grey hair, glasses and respectable suits, Woodward looks more like his other great former secret agent character, The Equalizer, than he does the short haired, man-on-the-street David Callan we are used too. Whilst, on the page, Mitchell is keen to address the passage of time and the inference that Callan is no longer the man he was. The subject of age is brought up by several characters, and it clearly rankles with him, whilst there's a pleasingly vulnerable moment when, despite the growing danger, the former deadshot now has to remove his glasses and give them a quick rub before finding his target. It goes without saying too that Woodward is excellent in the role. Having spent the past couple of weeks watching him in 1990, the series he did between the original Callan series and this one-off, it's clear to see that he was an actor who was almost always recognisably himself, but who had the skill to build some very different characters through performance, physicality and diction.  His Callan is always a joy to watch, bristling as it is with barely restrained civility. Unfortunately, Mitchell's script and characterisation here isn't giving Woodward the depth he needs. The set-up is all there - Callan is now a lodger/lover of the well-to-do Margaret (Angela Browne) and has his dream of owning a militaria collectables shop realised - but the premise of him being forced back for one last job doesn't adequately explore how painful it is for the man to summon up the killer hiding within this new veneer of respectability.

Of course the other great joy of Wet Job is the return of Russell Hunter as Lonely. It's a genuine pleasure to see Woodward and Hunter's effortless chemistry and their characters fascinating co-dependency relationship on screen, though it's clear this time around that Lonely has something of the upper hand. Whereas Callan is a civilised, respectable man for as long as the section allows it, Lonely truly has made the break. The once malodorous petty thief is now, if you can believe it (and it's clearly Mitchell's satire) the owner of the 'Fresh and Fragrant Plumbing Services', having been taught the trade during his last sojourn at Her Majesty's Pleasure. Not only does he have a successful business, he also has himself a twenty-seven-year-old  fiancĂ© whom he is to marry the subsequent week! It's interesting to see Callan facing up to the reality that he needs Lonely more (and perhaps that has always been the case) than Lonely needs him, and there's some small satisfaction to be had in Callan having to relinquish his hold on the previously hapless sidekick, even though this means that Lonely has very little to do in terms of the actual drama of the plot. Just like Woodward, it's a real pleasure to see Hunter inhabit the role he was arguably most famous for one last time.

The return of the Section is less successful however. Hugh Walters stars as the latest inhabitant of the Hunter role, and he is his usually coldly effete self. There's a dialogue to be had here about the changing structure and persona of the secret service, how it now appears to be run by civil servants whose pen really is mightier than the sword of the previous retired army officers, but again Mitchells' script doesn't really dwell on it which makes the scenes between Woodward and Walters a little toothless beyond the basic tangible resentment and manipulation. There's yet another deadly chinless wonder in the mould of Meres and Cross but he's so forgettably drawn that I can't even recall his name. Incidentally Meres, we are told, was murdered by a diplomat in Washington after being caught in flagrante with said diplomat's wife. There's a brief reunion between Callan and Liz, but as Liz is now played by someone else it rather robs it off any impact - especially as the actress unfortunately seems quite aloof to his greeting.

As for the plot itself, it sort of falls into two threads. The first concerns Daniel Haggerty (George Sewell), an ex left wing reporter and MP who now works in demolition. He blames Callan for the death of his daughter (after Callan assassinated her boyfriend, she took up smoking and has succumbed to lung cancer - not very convincing and Mitchell's script seems to know it, as it becomes rather superfluous. It would have been much better and more morally edgier if Callan had been ordered to assassinate his daughter) and plans to expose Callan in his memoirs. Meanwhile Margaret’s niece, an Oxford don named Lucy Robson Smith (Helen Bourne), is not only helping Haggerty with the book, she’s also attempting to organise the safe passage of her lover Dobrovsky (Milos Kerek),  a dissident Czech philosopher, to the UK with the help of a left-wing student activist cell.

Unfortunately neither plotline is up to scratch and, despite the potential of the longer 80 minute structure to tell it, Mitchell muffs the opportunity badly. Somewhere along the lines it is revealed that Haggerty is in fact a KGB agent of one of Margaret's dinner party friends and he has to forego his vendetta with Callan to assassinate Dobrovsky instead, but it's hard for the audience to actually care by this convoluted stage. It doesn't help either that the characters are so poorly drawn and in some cases not very well performed. Sewell was a great actor (check out Special Branch for example) but he seems lost here and struggling with a sketchy character who seems to be drawn up by various different influences, disappointing all. Worse, he gets to share just two scenes with Callan, which rather robs them of any dramatic impetus. In short, he deserved a better role in Callan than this.

Weirdly despite being more recent, Wet Job has dated far worse than the Callan series of the 1960s and '70s. It's all very flatly shot on videotape and boasts some very of its time production values and styles. I know I've highlighted the problematic direction and music before, but it really does bear repeating, especially the latter. If we could somehow excise Ornadel's score this would be a significantly more enjoyable experience (indeed, I'd notch it up an extra half star). I just don't know what he was thinking, it's so intrusive and odd, spoiling the mood at every turn and often when music isn't really needed at all. Sometimes the score appears out of nowhere and disappears just as quickly and you're left wondering just what was everyone thinking?

If anyone expected further reunions to come for Callan after Wet Job they didn't happen. It's no surprise either as both Woodward and Hunter hated it, both citing the music as a major problem too. Instead Woodward went Stateside to become an unexpected star as the Callan-lite Robert McCall in The Equalizer (it is said the creators briefly resided in the UK in the early 70s and cast him as a result of seeing Callan then) whilst Hunter continued his hugely successful career as a jobbing actor, guest appearing in virtually every TV show you'd care to name. I know I've criticised many aspects of this one-off farewell but I do believe it is better than its reputation and I think I actually prefer it to the cinema spin-off because unlike that (which was a retread of the very first episode, A Magnum for Schneider) this does at least try to do something new.

Wordless Wednesday: The Great OutDors

Tuesday, 12 February 2019

Out On Blue Six: Sleaford Mods

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RIP Gordon Banks

The 1966 World Cup winning goalkeeper Gordon Banks has died at the age of 81.

628 appearances in a fifteen year long football league career, with 73 caps for England. A sportsman and a gentleman. A sporting great.


Sunday, 10 February 2019

I Stand With Wavertree

I deeply resent that the Labour deputy Tom Watson has seen fit to slander my fellow Labour members up the road from me in Wavertree as anti-semitic because they dared to say they no longer had faith in their MP, Luciana Berger. The simple fact of the matter is that Berger is a consistent negative voice when it comes to Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour leadership (indeed in a recent radio interview with Eddie Mair she couldn't even bring herself to say that she wants a Labour government!) and she is presently refusing to rule herself out of jumping ship from the party any time soon. To raise an objection to her behaviour has nothing to do with her religion, or her sex for that matter. Has it really come to this - that you cannot criticise or question a Jewish person for fear of being labelled anti-semitic? Are they above reproach? Watson has called those Wavertree members who moved for a vote of no confidence 'bullies', but I feel it is he and those who are vociferously supporting Berger who are the real bullies.

Here is what Wavertree have to say.

Man's Best Friend

Just a little Haiku (is there any other kind?) I penned for my adorable companion, my dog Boozy.

With your snowflake face,
And your eyes like Whitby jet,
You are man's best friend.

Friday, 8 February 2019

RIP Albert Finney

Devastated to hear that one of my cinematic heroes, Albert Finney, has died at the age of 82.

Salford born Finney shot to fame in the early 1960s, cementing a screen persona as the original (and best) angry young man in groundbreaking films like The Entertainer and Saturday Night and Sunday Morning. He became synonymous with Woodfall Films and a British New Wave movement that sought to bring northern working class life to the screen as realistically as possible, and Finney was unmistakably the real deal. What Brando was doing for American cinema, Finney was doing for the UK. He followed it up of course with Woodfall's bawdy romp Tom Jones and became an icon of the swinging 60s and a major international star.

The tail end of the '60s and '70s saw him stretch himself both in front of and behind the camera. He directed Charlie Bubbles, his one and only directorial effort and a highly personal film penned by fellow Salfordian Shelagh Delaney in 1968, and financed another Salfordian Mike Leigh's first film, Bleak Moments in 1971. Indeed Finney would never forget his Salford roots and would do much all his life to help the arts and culture in the city (he was key in developing the Lowry for example) and to encourage young people's opportunities. He could have comfortably continued to play straightforward leading man roles as he had done in the previous decade, but the 1970s saw him approach more character based roles, including the title role in the musical Scrooge and (for my money the best) Poirot in 1974's Murder on the Orient Express. This continued into the '80s with roles in The Dresser alongside Tom Courtenay and Under the Volcano, whilst the 1990s saw him feature in a variety of work from Dennis Potter's Karaoke and Cold Lazarus on television and becoming a favourite of US filmmakers like the Cohen brothers (Miller's Crossing), Steven Soderbergh (Erin Brockovich and Traffic) and Tim Burton (Corpse Bride and Big Fish). In more recent years, Finney found himself providing stately support in big budget blockbusters  such as the James Bond film Skyfall (a very amusing cameo) and its rival, the Bourne series.

He was nominated for a Best Actor Oscar four times in his career and once for Best Supporting Actor, and he won a BAFTA, an Emmy and a Golden Globe for his performance as Churchill in the 2002 TV movie The Gathering Storm. He refused a CBE in 1980 and a knighthood in 2000 on principle (good man!) and overcame a battle with kidney cancer in 2011.

There won't be another like him. A true great of cinema. RIP

Sunday, 3 February 2019

A (Protest) Song for Europe

Maxine Peake. Alexei Sayle. Ken Loach. Mike Leigh. Roger Waters. Julie Christie. Vivienne Westwood. Caryl Churchill. Roy Battersby. Peter Gabriel.

I mean, these people were already heroes, but they're even more so now thanks to an open letter in the Guardian asking for the BBC to press for this year's Eurovision Song Contest to be removed from Israel on account of their systematic violation of Palestinian human rights.

"On 8th February," the letter reads, "The BBC will screen You Decide, the show it says will 'deliver the UK the artist it deserves to fly the flag out in Tel Aviv in May. For any artist of conscience, this would be a dubious honour. They and the BBC should consider that 'You Decide' is not a principle extended to the Palestinians, who cannot decide to remove Israel's military occupation and live free of apartheid."

You can read this inspiring letter and the full fifty signatories from the creative arts here. Doubtless some will leap upon it as a sign of rampant anti-semitism existing within the political left of this country, but let's face it those who say that are very silly people indeed. 

Silent Sunday: Poor Cow

Saturday, 2 February 2019

Out On Blue Six: Curiosity Killed the Cat

The weekly BBC4 repeats of 1987 Top of the Pops are dominated by Curiosity Killed the Cat right now, taking me back to my childhood and the days when my big sister had a big crush on lead singer, Ben...

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Friday, 1 February 2019

RIP Jeremy Hardy

Very sad to hear that Jeremy Hardy has died from cancer today at the age of 57.

Hardy was a Perrier award winning comedian familiar to fans of both the live comedy circuit and Radio 4 shows such as The News Quiz and I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue, as well as his own show, Jeremy Hardy Speaks to the Nation. He was also a respected political activist on the left, campaigning for Jeremy Corbyn's leadership of the Labour Party, and for the release of Danny McNamee, wrongly-convicted for the IRA Hyde Park bombing of 1982. He also stood bail for Roisin McAliskey, the then-pregnant daughter of Bernadette Devlin, when she was arrested and held for 18 months with no charge. In 2002, he travelled to Palestine and made the documentary film, Jeremy Hardy Versus the Israeli Army, recording the work of the International Solidarity Movement in the Palestinian struggle. Whilst filming, he was caught up in the Israeli siege of the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem.


RIP Clive Swift

Clive Swift, the Liverpool born British actor known to millions for his portrayal as henpecked Richard Bucket in 90s sitcom Keeping Up Appearances has died at the age of 82.

Swift many credits also included Born and Bred, The Old Guys and in two editions of the BBC's celebrated Ghost Stories For Christmas; The Stalls of Barchester and A Warning to the Curious. He also starred in films like Alfred Hitchcock's Frenzy, John Boorman's Excalibur and David Lean's A Passage to India, as well as making two appearances in Doctor Who; firstly as Professor Jobel in 1985's Revelation of the Daleks and in 2007 Christmas special, Voyage of the Damned, as Mr Cooper.


Plus Size Bond Girls: February