Monday, 31 December 2012

The Curious World Of Frinton-On-Sea

'The Curious World Of Frinton-on-Sea' was the first programme in the BBC documentary series 'Wonderland', and was originally shown in 2008.

Frinton is a place that I am extremely familiar with, having grown up a mere 15 miles away in Colchester. As a child, it was a quick drive out, although, more often, Dad chose to stop the Ford Consul short at the gaudier, stabbier Clacton-on-Sea, or circumnavigated it by a couple of miles to soak up the gentle seediness of Walton-on-Naze. The fact was, there wasn't much to do there for a car full of kids. The beach was nice, but there wasn't a one armed bandit, ice cream van or set of swings in the place - and it was full of old people, not the rosy cheeked, twinkly ones, but the ones who look at you like they fucking hate you.

In a way, a small triumph.

Angry old man, cheerful jumper.

This lady is cool. I hope she's still alive.

When I grew up into early manhood, it became a place of plunder. Old age plus money plus mortality meant the charity shops were always full of Easy Listening LP's, Super 8 camera equipment and M & S knitted ties. I'd never stay too long, just breeze in and get out as soon as I'd done the rounds. The young are scared of the dust of age landing on their shoulders, especially when they already have a car full of dead people's stuff.

Memorial Bench.


Beach Huts.

Frinton is a relatively affluent place, especially in comparison to Clacton and Jaywick, a little patch of ramshackle Jerry-built hell a few miles down the coast that I would describe as Canvey Island crossed with Tombstone. In comparison, Frinton is all leafy avenues, big houses, tea rooms, wool shops and a tennis club where Cliff Richard used to play in pro-celebrity tournaments. It has two places of worship, one C of E, the other the golf club.

The town has a history of protest, or perhaps more accurately, of digging its heels in lest it be dragged into the modern age. In its time it has been against fish and chips, takeaways and pubs, although, gradually, these things slowly appeared (the first pub only in the year 2000), each one adding to the erosion of the traditional Frintonian way of life (the initial Edwardian statutes for the town forbade a pier - too flashy - and other decadent fripperies, like cycling).

In 2008, the campaign was against the replacement of the manned railway crossing gates that had been in place for many years and, effectively, created a barrier separating the town from the barbarism of the outside world (the gates are the only one way in and out, so Frinton is effectively a big cul-de-sac - in more ways than one).

The creaky wooden gates offered no real protection, of course, but had a talismanic power. The proposal from Network Rail to replace them with automatic barriers operated by 'some lunatic from Colchester' (a residents words, not Network Rails) caused a fuddy duddy furore, and the BBC's cameras were there to capture most of it, including a farcical vigil where the elderly protestors messed up the rubbish chant ('What do we want? Safety! How do we want it? The gates!') and then started to wander off home at eight o'clock because they were cold.

As well as documenting the tinderbox atmosphere of Gategate for posterity, the programme also lingered on some interesting individuals who for various reasons (one claims to have been 'misled'), have made the town their home.  

Margaret runs Dickens Curios, an antique shop full of the most incredible tat. The stock doesn't matter, of course, as no-one ever goes in and, even if they did, I'm not sure anything would be for sale.

The Olde Curiosity Shop.

Margaret, suspicious.

The stock.

Margaret waits.

Elephant corner.

Margaret is one of those people who has lost her place in life (if she ever had one) and now just hangs about wearing a tabard. She has spent the last thirty years waiting for a man called Geoffrey to marry her, but Geoffrey denies even having a romantic relationship with her, the cad, while Margaret glowers and misses most of her mouth with a sandwich. To me, Geoffrey doesn't even look the marrying kind, especially in his sailor cap, but he just may not be the Margaret-marrying-kind.

Captain Geoffrey.

Geoffrey likes dancing, and Margaret has the grace of Boris Johnson, so he has another female partner. As Margaret is eager to point out, however, 'it's nothing romantic, just dancing'. When we meet Geoffrey's partner she grins and says immediately 'it's more than just dancing, you know'. Player / Bluebeard Geoffrey keeps his counsel.

The other woman.

Later we see the partners in the street, wearing almost co-ordinated red and green outfits. They walk as badly as they dance. The next shot is of Margaret looking out of her shop window before turning away, but this is clearly editorial trickery and her sad expression merely the Kuleshov Effect.  

Elderly Elves.

Charles is a sardonic, camp character who, for some reason, is always filmed while eating or smoking (perhaps that's all he does, I don't know). He moved to Frinton when he retired to join some ex-colleagues who promptly died and left him on his own. He doesn't give a shit about the gates. Charles is constantly hinting at a dark secret which, if revealed, would lead to that most awful of things in a small town, 'social death'. At first you think, 'well, he's just gay, isn't he?', until he begins to talk about his ex-boyfriend, Big John from Clacton, and you realise that, whatever he's hiding, it's not his sexuality. We never get to the bottom of Charles (so to speak) and, in a way, this lends calm, quiet, moribund Frinton mystery and, perhaps, even danger.

Charles, the enigma.

His sideboard, note chocs.

Charles always eats alone.
  'The Curious World of Frinton-on-Sea'* does one of the things that documentary does best - it turns a camera onto something mundane and makes it extraordinary. The funny, sad, odd people of Frinton are not at all unique, of course, they are simply representative of millions of people in the UK who simply exist from day to day and, as they age, slowly begin receding from useful life. In desperation, many will let littering or banning the wearing of shorts become as important to them as their jobs and families once were. The frightening thing is that we may be there before we know it: I already sign petitions and 'tut' a lot.

*A quick update on Frinton-on-Sea seems in order, as things have changed a lot since the programme was made in 2008. The gate revolution failed - the new barriers were erected the following year with a minimum of fuss as the work was carried out late at night when all the zimmer frame Che Guevera's were in bed. In the last few years, a number of bars and restaurants selling - ulp - foreign food have sprung up, as has an enormous toilet block at the top of the beach. There's a mini supermarket, new mock deco houses on the seafront that cost nearly a million quid each and, after eight o'clock, the beginnings of a cafe culture. The average age of the person on the street now seems to be about 40 and the men all carry brown leather satchels. I'll bet Margaret hates it, I certainly do.  

Sunday, 30 December 2012

The British Private Press

This is Jasper. Yes, they have awful hair, now let's move on. Jasper have a core trio of drums, bass and guitar, and a couple of multi instrumentalists who provide keyboards, additional guitar and a pretty tidy horn section. They all sing. Their LP is a cut above many private press albums, featuring some  interesting and well arranged covers and three self penned tracks, although they're not particularly good. A tight little band, a bit glam, bit pop, bit disco, their occasionally camp album is well worth fifty new pence of anyone's hard earned.

Here's a medley of the sort of stuff which I'll bet used to go down a storm in the caravan clubs, holiday camps and miners socials they played in. It could never really be described as cool, but it certainly has something. This was recorded in Huddersfield on an undisclosed date, but I'm guessing early 1978.

Saturday, 29 December 2012

Witching Time

‘Hammer House Of Horror’ was a bit of an event when first shown on ITV. Filled with stars, thrills, sex, nudity and gore, it was broadcast on Saturday evenings in a prime slot. I remember every episode in great detail, which is not surprising as I was absolutely obsessed with the show. I was 12.
My interest started with first episode ‘Witching Hour’, originally shown on 13th September, 1980. Sexy ginger Patricia Quinn plays Lucinda Jessup (I didn’t even need to look that up, it’s seared across my mind), an executed 16th century witch who is brought back to life by a propitious lightning flash to wreak chaos upon grumpy horror film composer, Jon Finch, who now owns the cottage where she used to live.
Lucinda is a remarkably forward girl, and spends most of the show flashing bits of her milky white body and shagging Finch, who seems completely oblivious to the age difference between them (she’s about 330). When Finch’s cheating wife turns up, he realises that the strange supernatural affair must end, so he tries to give Lucinda the elbow but, as I have learned from bitter personal experience, you should never break up with an insane woman who can do witchcraft. The wife gets rid of the witch in the end, but it’s a hell of a job and, ultimately, you can't help feeling that, at some point in the future, Finch's character will start to remember that Lucinda was rather attractive and fun to have around, not to mention being rather outgoing in the bedroom, and he'll then think maybe his Missus was a bit hasty, silly cow.
This show was responsible for a long held tradition in our house. I have two younger brothers who, like me, were absolutely enthralled by the show, particularly the milky flesh bits. To this day, if any one of us bares a nipple we are cursed to cup it and purr in a West Country accent ‘is this the body of a witch?’ - even though the actual line was something quite different. 
Deadly stuff, this daft old telly - it leaves permanent scars, especially on the memory.  

Friday, 28 December 2012

It's A Small World

The Model Village,
West Cliff, Ramsgate,

It's all a bit wonky and olde worlde, but absolutely marvellous. No wonder the kids are so enthralled. The model village opened in 1953 but closed fifty years later due to falling visitor numbers and persistent vandalism by twats. Happily, many of the buildings and figures were relocated to other model villages, including Bekonscot and Merrivale in Great Yarmouth.

Thursday, 27 December 2012

Interesting Postcards

Royal Coachmen,
The Royal Mews,
Buckingham Palace,

The bloke second from the right seems to have crapped out in terms of gold braid. He can, however, go down the shops in his uniform without kids chucking stones at him.

Tuesday, 25 December 2012

Merry Christmas!

From everyone at Island of Terror, i.e. me.

Don't Open Till Christmas

Right. Wow. Okay. 'Don't Open Till Christmas' looks like it was made on the hoof with borrowed equipment in about two days. The script is full of holes; scenes are either too short, too long or missing entirely; the performances are inept; the settings a succession of deserted alleys, rented halls, borrowed flats and a couple of London landmarks after the tourists have pissed off home. But where else can you see Father Christmas get his cock cut off?

Written by exploitation serial offender Derek Ford, this tawdry concoction was directed by Edmund Purdom, a British actor of the fifties who was once a household name without ever really being in anything successful. Purdom is an awful director, the sort who points his camera at the New Scotland Yard sign to establish where we are and that it is day, then holds the shot for a very long time before arbitarily cutting to an office that is clearly not New Scotland Yard and, somehow, it's now night.

As well as 'directing' Purdom also stars as the police inspector trying to track down a psycho who really has it in for blokes in Santa suits. One gets knifed, one gets speared through the mouth, one selling chestnuts has his face pressed against the hot plate then is garroted and left to catch fire. Eyes are detached, arteries spurt, guts drop out and, yes, cocks get cut off. It's a hoot. When the killer is asked just why he hates men dressed up like Saint Nick he simply replies 'because they remind me of Christmas'. Fair enough, Sir, you're free to go.

Other notable elements include a look at how the London Dungeon used to look in the olden days, the usually sexy Caroline Munro and her awful band performing a really shitty song, and lots of snatched / stolen footage of Londoners getting ready for Xmas. It's cheap, it's gory, it's sexist, it's trashy - it's recommended.