Friday, 28 February 2014

Arthur Clears The Air

We all take smokeless fuel for granted now but, when it was introduced in the late fifties, it was like the launch of the i-phone 5 or something.

In 1952, approximately 12,000 Londoners had died as a result of ‘The Great Smog’, a pollution pea souper that brought the capitol to a standstill. The Clean Air Act of 1956 followed, decreeing a vast number of ‘smoke control’ areas, where it was illegal to burn coal. Conversion grants were made available to those who wished to install gas or electric heating, and a mind numbing variety of exotically named ‘clean’ fuels were marketed to a largely confused public.

‘Arthur Clears The Air’ is a short film which attempts to make it all a bit clearer but, as this is the last hurrah of the ‘I say, old chap’ era, does so in a completely incomprehensible way, with housewives dreaming of teddy bears coming to life, eerie energy themed masked balls and anamorphic representations of fuel (the personification of Welsh Nuts is a missed opportunity, by the way). The names of the fuels are so perfectly 1961 that you simply couldn’t make them up: Phurnacite, Seabrite, Gloco, Cleanglo...

It’s a sweet little film, but I was none the wiser at the end of it. Mind you, I don’t really ever burn coal, only tyres.

Listen, Move and Dance

The last caption sends a shiver down my spine. Thank Christ for Zumba.

Thursday, 27 February 2014

R.I.P, E.P

It comes to us all, of course, but this is a bit much. From 'Epic'.

W Is For Wyngarde


‘Epic’ is in many ways an atypical ‘Avengers’ episode: Steed isn’t in it much, and it has a small cast, rather than the usual cavalcade of familiar faces in small roles. If pushed to illustrate the freewheeling surrealism and gently experimental feel of the best of the programme, however, I would cite this episode as a perfect example. Full of striking visuals and with its tongue firmly in its cheek, it also gives a plum role for the genius of Peter Wyngarde to take flight.

The story is fairly negligible, but, for what it’s worth, Emma is kidnapped by a film director called Z.Z vom Schnerck who wants her to star in his magnum opus ‘The Destruction Of Emma Peel’. The film also stars two drunken, washed-up actors called Stewart Kirby (Wyngarde) and Damita Syn, who are more than willing to help von Shnerck abduct and murder if it revives their long dormant careers. Emma is not initially informed that she is in the film or, indeed, that the production will climax with her actual death onscreen.

Structurally and visually, the episode sometimes seems a precursor for both ‘The Girl Who Was Death’ and the UFO episode ‘Timelash’, both excellent episodes of sometimes variable shows. The studio setting gives plenty of scope to the production, not least the opportunity to parody a number of genres and stock characters.

Wyngarde is called upon to play, amongst others, a gunslinger, a 'red indian', Alexander the Great, a gangster and a machine gun toting German in a spiked helmet (another image prefiguring ‘The Girl Who Was Death’) , all of which are an absolute hoot (a thick slice of ham is part of the characterisation, of course – this is Peter Wyngarde doing Stewart Kirby doing the parts). We get to see Wyngarde’s superb facility for getting beaten up and pulling amusing faces, as well as hearing him do a variety of accents. He even gets to play the Dane, reciting the ‘To Be Or Not To Be’ soliloquy from the play that must not be named because it’s unlucky or something.

He’s brilliant, and terribly funny. I love him very much. Do you hear me, Peter, I LOVE YOU!

Saturday, 22 February 2014

It's A Small World

The Model Village,
West Cliff, 

It's all very picturesque, but I wouldn't want to live in the shadow of trees that big. Until I noticed his companion, I thought the blond haired chap was alone and just staring blankly into space, which would have made for a much more interesting picture. I'm surprised the little neighbours haven't got on to the little council about that little blue house or warehouse or whatever it is on the quayside. It's a bloody eyesore.   

Don't Get Mad, Get Murderous

I don’t know about you, but I tend to judge revolutionary groups by just how much mayhem they cause. I’m not condoning it, but, if you really feel strongly about something, and you can’t settle it by democratic means, you should almost certainly leave a trail of blown up cars, robbed banks, assassinated politicians and burned out embassies in your wake.

Britain’s own The Angry Brigade took a gentler approach, trying to avoid hurting anyone if possible but, ultimately, they proved to be utterly ineffectual and got caught and imprisoned, so it was not a massively successful policy. I’m glad that they didn’t kill anybody, of course, but they might have got further if they had.

So what were they so angry about? Well,  is was all about that bloody System that people often rail about, the capitalist world that, in their eyes, grinds people down and reduces them as human beings. They hoped that by sending a few letter bombs and machine gunning some empty embassies they would incite the working man to rise up and violently revolt against their oppressors. Typical middle class radicals, really: banging on about freeing the proletariat but expecting them to do all the dirty work and the killing and dying while the instigators talk about who’ll be in charge of what in the new order.

Hilary and Anna. Hilary is on the far left , Anna is too.  
In 1972, ‘World In Action’ interviewed two out on bail Brigade members, Hilary Crick and Anna Mendelson. They don’t have much to say for themselves (Hilary is particularly, almost smugly, uncommunicative), and refuse (or are unable to) present a coherent view of events, or even something approaching a defence. Anna tries, but generally drifts off the point very quickly. That said, it must be remembered that these are two people in their early twenties who are under enormous strain and are each facing up to 15 years in prison, so their reluctance to incriminate themselves, and their inability to think straight can be forgiven, especially it is not thought that they were major players in the group.

Perhaps the final word should go to Jim Prescott, the only working class member of the group, a man who was prepared to kill and maim for his cause, but wasn’t allowed to and spent 10 years of his life in maximum security prisons anyway: ‘I realised that I was the one who was angry and the others were more like the Slightly Cross Brigade’.

What a very British revolution.

Friday, 21 February 2014

A Cell Of One

B.S Johnson was a fiercely innovative writer and film maker who produced a series of experimental works throughout the sixties and early seventies. Despite his brilliance, he was unable to find his rightful place in the arts world and, overcome by despondency, he killed himself in 1973.

His last published work (in his lifetime) was perhaps his most accessible, the short novel ‘Christie Malry’s Own Double Entry’. In it, a callow but ambitious young man after money and sex applies the principles of double entry book-keeping to his everyday life: for every debit, there must be a corresponding credit. At first, this results in some minor vandalism and some lightly comical mischief. Ultimately, however, Christie’s rapier becomes a bludgeon and he becomes a terrorist, ‘a cell of one’, who poisons 20,000 people and tries to blow up the Houses of Parliament.

A film adaptation was made in 2000 and, although it’s no masterpiece, it has been unjustly overlooked, perhaps because of its very limited release (in 2002), its obvious budgetary limitations and the fact that it seems unable to work out whether it wants to be arty and oblique, surreal and subversive or ‘Trainspotting’.
Star Nick Moran is as bland as tapioca (Christie is basically a blank on the page, but there is a strong authorial voice behind him that is missing on screen), but overall it’s a decent, energetic approximation of the source material, and the tricky part of showing how Christie’s petty grievances (getting told off at work, his girlfriend’s rubbish job, tax) are ‘credited’ by increasingly disproportionate actions of revenge is done well and, just like the book, keeps just on the right side of ludicrous.

I’m going to stop there because I keep thinking about how incisive B.S Johnson would be if he was doing the review. He was a writer; I am a typist. We shall come back to his work at a later date. We'll come back to mine tomorrow.

Christie Malry's Own Double Entry

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Tomorrow People: A Much Needed Holiday

‘The Tomorrow People’ is a show of enormous ambition, being set at all times and all points in the universe and relying heavily on special effects, but it is undone by the execution, which is cheap and clunky and relies upon a largely untutored cast of kids to paper over the cracks. Where the show was successful, however, was in being emotionally disturbing. It’s easy enough to have a monster jump out at you, of course, and lots of people do that, but ‘The Tomorrow People’ took an indirect but no less affecting route, specialising in showing its youthful audience things that would nag at them and, later, twist their dreams into nightmares (I speak from personal – although not recent - experience).

Case in point:‘A Much Needed Holiday’, in which the young homo superiors repair to a distant planet to put on false beards, wear flip flops and swim listlessly and endlessly up and down an eight foot long paddling pool. Outside of the resort, however, nasty aliens with faces like the gravel at the bottom of a fish tank are at large, and are steadily stripping the planet of precious stones using a slave force of adolescent boys. They treat the kids appallingly: zapping them with stun sticks, making them grope around in the mud, putting them in cages, chaining them together as if they were livestock. I can clearly remener that, as a kid, I didn’t like that; I didn’t like that at all, and I was unable to process it before putting my sleepy head on. The resulting bad dream was almost as disturbing as the one I had about Terry-Thomas chasing me around the dining room table whilst dressed as a Pharaoh.  

Happily, back in the awake world, the Tomorrow People were able to sort it all out, freeing the boy slaves and exiling the arsehole aliens to some shitty rock in the middle of nowhere – forever.

I met Mike Holloway once, quite by chance, in the early nineteen nineties (he hired a video from the shop I was working in). Actually, I met him twice, as he had to return the film, and the second time he signed my Look In annual and we had a little chat about the show and the seventies in general. He was a really nice, cheerful, enthusiastic chap, but couldn’t quite disguise the wistfulness in his voice when he described the decade as ‘great times – the best’. I assumed he was talking about being in a group and on posters and starring in a TV show where he got to fire a ray gun every week, not about his legendary impersonation of a man who would later be revealed as the devil incarnate.

I particularly like the way he artlessly gives a little look to the right to get his cue. Bless him, he's just a boy.


Aliens could land in Trafalgar Square and exit their flying saucer on the backs of unicorns while a 78 year old Elvis sings ‘The Wonder Of You’ and, you can bet, if the media are present, some gormless British person will  ignore what’s happening right in front of them to turn around and gawp at the camera.

Example 1: this fellow is not interested in Jimmy Pursey and Sham 69’s request for their friend Harry to get a move on: he just wants to look questioningly into the camera and get his slightly defiant face into ten million homes. Well done, Sir, mission accomplished.

Monday, 17 February 2014

Unholy Relics

I’ve just had a very interesting weekend presenting some seminal Hammer films at the National Media Museum in Bradford. The highlight was getting to see some of the Museum’s archive, in particular material donated by Hammer (and others) make-up and effects genii Phil Leakey and Roy Ashton.

As well as a wealth of photos and sketches revealing all sorts of behind the scenes secrets, there was a small but priceless collection of three dimensional artefacts. For me, these relics were the equivalent of slivers of the True Cross or Moon rocks.

Old fangs.

Make up development shots from 'The Evil Of Frankenstein'.

From the Peter Cushing file of defunct newspaper 'The Herald'.

Gorgon Bites (top) and Vampire Bites (bottom).

'Now ventilated to let wounds breathe'

Vampire bites / scabs.

Noses and an ear.

Peter Cushing / Grimsdyke cast from Amicus' 'Tales From The Crypt'.

Finally, the Holy Grail of Hammer memorabilia, a set of fangs worn by Christopher Lee in 'Dracula' (above). By depressing his tongue, Lee could pump fake blood into the fangs and let it drip down the sides of his mouth. It's wonderful to know that these priceless objects are being preserved, and it was a real privilege to see them.