Monday, 30 June 2014

Valerie Leon, Kidnapper

Lovely Valerie Leon is all smiles as she pulls her Jag alongside a young girl on a bike. 'I've got a note from your Mum' she says. Taken in, the young girl stops pedalling only for Valerie to grab her while that bloke who used to be in Emmerdale puts a bag on her head and bundles her into the back of the motor. Valerie! Really? Has it come to this? Kid-kidnap? 

From a 1982 episode of odd (but very popular - it ran for four years and five series) crime show 'Strangers' called 'A Swift & Evil Rozzer'.

Sunday, 29 June 2014

It's A Small World

The Model Village,

Oi, kid! That’s someone’s house, someone’s life. They might be in the bath, or on the toilet. But the kid doesn’t care, he’s come to stare, and stare is what he will do, the big faced bastard.

Saturday, 28 June 2014

King Of The Squares

I can’t say that ‘Arthur & The Square Knights Of The Round Table’ was the first thing I looked up on the internet when the internet came into being, but was in amongst my first dozen or so searches. It wasn’t that I was a huge fan, but my incomplete memory of the show (I was sure it had 'groovy' in the title) slightly annoyed me, and I’d never met anyone else who had seen it, so I needed to find out and move on with my life. So, here are the facts –

‘Arthur & The Square Knights Of The Round Table’ was an Australian cartoon that ran for 36 five minute episodes from 1966 to 1968. The writers and performers included Rod Hull, and the story-lines, which are more or less incomprehensible, feature characters of Arthurian legend dicking about with octopuses and beanstalks and genies and all sorts of non-canonical shit. The accents throughout are awful, and the animation is basic but garish. I originally watched it when it appeared as unscheduled filler between Anglia TV programmes in the early seventies. 

Like many cartoons of the era, it now comes across as little more than a hubbub of sound and colour, facetious rather than funny, frantic rather than frenetic, chaotic rather than kinetic. It’s actually rather tiring to watch, and I wouldn't necessarily recommend it - some things are better left as unscheduled filler between Anglia TV programmes in the early seventies, I suppose.  

Friday, 27 June 2014

Two Heads Are Better Than One?

Just over ten years after ‘Sir Gawain & The Green Knight’, Stephen Weeks got a second bite at the Arthurian cherry and, with the help of Israeli producers Menahem Golen and Yoram Globus, cranked out ‘Sword of the Valiant’, a sleeker, more expensive, more fantastical version of his earlier film.

For all the improved special effects and more elaborate sets, however, ‘Sword of the Valiant’ is a lesser effort. At least ‘Gawain’ had grit – this just has gloss – eighties gloss – but on a budget, which shows up its pretensions and proves to be a constant distraction. Sir Gawain is played by Miles O’Keefe, a man who had played Tarzan opposite Bo Derek and is less an actor than a nicely marbled side of beef. Weeks had wanted Mark Hamill, but the producers had their own ideas, so Weeks got his own back by giving O’Keefe the most ridiculous wig possible.

Sean Connery plays The Green Knight, and gives a performance which doesn’t bear much analysis other than wondering how much he got paid. Much more than Wilfred Brambell, I would have thought, who makes his last fleeting screen appearance here.

On the plus side, the wizard is played by David Rappaport, who was never a great thespian but is always a welcome presence. He doesn’t save this tripe, by any means, but he makes bits of it easier to swallow, and it’s always nice to see Peter Cushing and Trevor Howard doing stuff, even if it is beneath them. Ronald Lacey repeats his earlier role, and is more odious than ever (being creepy looking is a great gift for a character actor, one that intensifies with age).    

Director Weeks never made another film, although he is still with us, presumably working on his next production. I’ll bet I can guess what it might be.

Heads You Lose

‘Gawain and the Green Knight’ is a story that dates from the late 14th century. In it, a mysterious green hued axe wielding stranger enters King Arthur’s court and requests that someone behead him. The only person to take up the challenge is the youngest of the Knights, Sir Gawain, who borrows the axe and slices the man’s head clean off. Somewhat disconcertingly, the stranger picks up his severed noggin, places it back on his shoulders and says that he will see Sir Gawain at the Green Chapel in a year and a day at which point the stranger will have his turn, i.e. a go at hacking off Gawain’s head.

It’s a great opening. The story soon becomes a mystical romance with much mystical nonsense about foxes and girdles and kisses and, in the end, the Green Knight decides only to shame him, not to decapitate. I haven’t read it, of course, but I have hopefully conveyed the gist of it and the importance of learning. Director Stephen Weeks presumably has read the story, as he has made not one, but two film adaptations of it, which is particularly impressive bearing in mind that he only directed four feature films in total.

The first version, simply titled ‘Gawain and The Green Knight’ takes a lot of liberties with the text, inserting more exciting and action packed incidents from other medieval stories. It’s okay, and occasionally has a pleasantly strange European art film feel to it but, fatally, is a bit dull. Even worse,  ‘Monty Python and The Holy Grail’, which is clearly an extended parody of this film and others like it,  has rendered the original impossible to take seriously.

It gains points, however, for featuring two of Britain's greatest character actors, the capricious Geoffrey Bayldon and the waspish Murray Melvin. It then loses a point for having Robert Hardy in it, before regaining it simply because Hardy has such a ridiculous fucking haircut, which sounds, overall, like a win.

Thursday, 19 June 2014




The only woman Cowley has ever loved is back in the country - 
and someone wants her dead!   

001 The episode starts with a close up of a briefcase. I work in an office, and here the briefcases are filled with warm sandwiches, chewed pens and minutes from the last managerial meeting. But then I work for a local authority, not CI5. In the world of 'The Professionals', the briefcase is a supremely sinister object. Worst case scenario? A sniper rifle, or a bomb, perhaps nuclear; best case scenario: mucky photos, dirty money. So, no, Doncaster Council is not like CI5. Not at all.

002 The Annie who needs looking after is an American based evangelist turned politician. She's described as being a cross betwen Joan of Arc and the Tolpuddle Martyr, but is more like the missing link between Aimee Semple McPherson and a presenter for QVC. She's right wing, but not quite right wing enough for some, which is why people keep shooting at her. 

From the outset, it's clear that the usually implacable Cowley has a thing for her: "Handsome woman, eh?" he drools. "Not bad for an old ‘un" says the ever gallant Bodie. Cowley is disgusted: "Old? She can’t be any more than 45!" (actually, Cowley should know exactly how old she is)."That’s what I mean", says Bodie, never content to just stop digging once he can no longer see out of the hole. Those of us who remember his statement that a 'good woman' is one who is  'UNDER 50 and comes across' will be appalled at his rank hypocrisy. Bodie is nothing if not inconsistent when it comes to being a sexist hooligan.

Cowley assign Bodie and Doyle to protect Annie, even though it's out of their usual line of business. "Why us?", they bleat. Cowley is very firm on the issue: "Because I want it. Because I say so", something of a CI5 mantra. In an alternate universe, the show is actually called 'BECAUSE I SAY SO'. Don't ask for reasons, don't ask for logic - kill that man, beat that suspect, destabilise that country, risk your life for that woman with the hard hair - because I say so.  

003 Bodie and Doyle dress up as waiters and infiltrate Annie's hotel room, staging a mock assassination just to prove how shit her existing security is. It's a rather childish and alarming way of doing things, really. When Annie sees their warrant cards, she says ‘Georgie sent you?', neatly bringing us to the whole Annie / Cowley thing.

One of the main issues with this show is that, if you stop to think about it, very little makes sense. Of course, the answer is NOT to stop and think about it, but that's sort of the point of what I'm trying to do here so I usually end up with lots of unanswered questions and narrative disconnects. Example: Annie and Cowley used to have a thing, but the dates are all wrong, and because nobody took the time to align things, it seems to infer that Cowley was a sexual predator with a taste for young girls, which completely screws up the 'great love story' aspect. It's an extremely trivial thing, of course, but I haven't been able to sleep for worrying about it.

The Cowley and Annie thing certainly sparks Bodie and Doyle's imagination, and they spend some time debating whether their Boss is hot or not. Proto-Metrosexual Doyle takes a typically enlightened approach, unreformed Neanderthal Bodie not so much: 

"Well he must be an attractive man... I suppose...? I mean he's a bit aggressive but he would be attractive, wouldn't he?"

(pursing his lips and putting on a camp voice): 
"Not noticed!"
(Bodie takes a second to reflect) 
"Cowley and a woman!"

"Yeah! He'd kick the door down... throw her on the bed..."

"... and frisk her!"

Whatever the true facts of their relationship and subsequent break up. Annie brings out something previously unseen in Cowley. He becomes raw and clumsy – and his normally black eyes glitter with a mix of hope and disappointment – he says too much, tries too hard, and there remains a gulf between him and his lost love, his lost youth, his lost life. For her part, Annie looks at him slightly askance, as if she can't quite believe he's going to rake all this up again.

As Bodie and Doyle are back at HQ having a cup of coffee, a bloke called Charlie is sweeping up. He served under Cowley in the army, and seems to have been kept on as some sort of mascot - oh, and to fill in some blanks. Charlie once carried a broken legged Cowley for a mile across rough country – and every single step was unbearable agony – but, according to Charlie, that pain was NOTHING to what Annie did to him.

004 There are actual black shirts in this episode (The 'NBP'), British fascists organised by a former army colleague of Cowley’s – Cowley hates him. 

In many ways this episode is as much about race as 'The Klansmen', but here it simmers rather than explodes in a shower of n-word fireworks, particularly when Cowley realises that Annie’s current lover is her black manager. Knowing Cowley as we do it’s hard to equate his obvious disapproval with out and out racism, but it’s clear that this has to be part of the problem: no man is good enough for Annie, it seems, especially a black one.

005 The world of CI5 revolves around mercenaries and hitmen and there's yet another hired killer in this episode, a small, intense man played by Keith Buckley, a familiar face with an interesting CV – any man who has appeared in 'Virgin Witch', 'Dr Phibes Rises Again', 'Special Branch' and 'Excalibur' is alright with me. I think he’s dubbed here, which is a strange thing, really: he's a professional and perfectly competent actor. This hit man is a bit of a joke, to be honest. He’s ridiculously indiscreet, recruiting a gang of Hell's Angels from a local transport cafe to help him do the job and, at one point, brazenly driving his van up to the venue for the assassination and pulling in just as Cowley is pulling out – the Angels pile out of the van, in broad daylight in a public place, all tooled up, laughing their heads off - not a care in the world and not giving a shit about being seen. It’s not how I’d do things.

006 This episode’s main dramatic drawback is that the storyline involves a full scale riot, and the budget simply isn’t there to achieve this. Stock footage is employed, from the 1971 film ‘All Coppers Are…’) and angry mob sound effects are dubbed unconvincingly over the action to try and convince us that a clearly unoccupied building in the middle of nowhere is under siege. It doesn’t work, and kills the episode stone dead.

007 Have we mentioned Annie’s hair? She has an extraordinary hairdo, a sort of ozone layer depleting helmet that never ever moves. It reminds me of one of those paper Xmas decorations that are shaped like a bell, only made out of wire wool and straw.

008 In an interesting take on the strange dynamics at work between these hard bitten men of action it’s worth noting that Bodie and Doyle are obviously unimpressed with Annie, and treat her with some disdain. Why? Because she broke Cowley’s heart. It’s quite sweet, really, like two schoolboys being off with the girl who chucked their mate.

009 We meet another CI5 agent in this episode. Not sure if I caught his name, but it hardly matters. He's a smart, clean cut, open faced man in his early twenties. We see him three times: at Annie's hotel standing thanklessly in the corridor; a pissed off Cowley walks straight past him without even acknowledging his existence. Secondly, we see him giving the thumbs up to show he's in position. Finally, we see him being shot in the guts repeatedly before falling to the ground like a sealed sack of dead shit. Bearing in mind that he has an elevated shooting position and a clean sweep of fire, the fact that he is outgunned by an amateur clumsily wielding a shotgun is a disgrace. Perhaps it's best for all concerned that he gets taken out - he's clearly not up to the job. 

010 Naturally, there’s a big fight at the end – Doyle gets pasted this time. It could be worse but, for some reason, the Hell’s Angels take a long while to realise that it’ not particularly effective to attack him one at a time. Just as Doyle is about to be overwhelmed, Bodie appears, standing on a high wall and waving his gun around. ‘Drop everything’, he says, ‘including your pants’ – before jumping ostentatiously to the ground to watch the bikers strip off.  Doyle has a broken arm (CI5’s sick records must be so ridiculously above the national average, it’s astonishing that there are ever enough of them on duty to get anything done) but he bravely soldiers on until everyone is under arrest at which point Bodie says: ‘Alright, sunshine, you can pass out now’ and Doyle duly flakes out. That’s discipline. 

All that’s left is for a concussed Cowley to shoot Annie’s manager / lover. It’s necessary, but you get the sense that he’s more than happy to do it.

As a postscript, Bodie and Doyle drive Annie to the airport. She doesn’t have any luggage for some reason. They stop at the hospital so she can have a go at Cowley for saving her life, and then she gives Bodie and Doyle a secret message for 'Georgie' that we don’t hear and they decide not to pass on to their already heartbroken leader. It’s a funny old episode, really, I can’t say it’s my favourite.