Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Specs Appeal

Victoria Coren Mitchell

(from the Fyeah... tumblr fan page)

So what if it's my second post about her in as many days. She's an absolute fox - with glasses or without!

Monday, 23 November 2015

Theme Time : Tony Hatch - Crossroads, RIP Hazel Adair

Just days after the loss of one pioneer of British television Peter Dimmock, it has been announced that another has died today; Hazel Adair, aged 95.

Adair can lay claim to the crown of queen of British soap opera, having created the very first example on ITV, Sixpenny Corner in 1955 and, alongside Peter Ling, she would go on to create the BBC soap Compact and, most famously of all, Crossroads which ran on ITV for 24 years and regularly pulled in 18 million viewers at its peak in the 1970s.

Famed for its wobbly sets, bobble hat Benny and Miss Diane, Shughie the chef disappearing for months on end when he only nipped into the kitchen for a potato peeler and that theme tune from Tony Hatch... 


Support Your Local Bobby - Stop the Cuts

I don't know whether it's funny or just plain infuriating that David Cameron (the cunt) is now calling for a bombing campaign in Syria in the wake of the recent terrorist attack on Paris, given that in 2011 he scrapped RAF Tornadoes, Nimrod surveillance planes etc as part of his extensive defence budget cuts costing millions.

It is infuriating that a man who has 'downsized' (ie made redundant) great swathes of MOD and service personnel and scrapped so much weaponry, technology and equipment, now believes it imperative that we place so much pressure on our now beleaguered (by him) forces.

It shows a complete lack of foresight on the part of this Tory government who seem determined to implement cuts in the most needed of services now, and to worry about the problems that those cuts may bring about later.

Prevention of a terrorist attack, such as the ones in Paris, here in the UK require some dedicated and effective performances from the likes of MI5 down to your local police force. So it's baffling to me that Cameron et al are making the same mistake once again - calling for cuts to many police forces across the land whilst at the same time proclaiming they're committed to our security! Should the unthinkable happen here - and let us hope and pray that it does not - we will be caught napping because there simply isn't enough money going round to protect ourselves.

This petition specifically focuses on asking Cameron and Theresa May etc to reconsider the cuts they propose to my local constabulary, Lancashire. Please consider signing it and please seek out similar petitions for your own region's force should they be under threat. We are constantly being reassured that London is protected, that it is near impossible for an attack to occur there. If that is true, and terrorists are considering attacking the UK, then to me that points to smaller cities being targeted by them. Cities like Liverpool, Manchester etc - cities that the Tory party staggeringly believe can be sustained with a significant loss to their constabulary. 

Only Connect to Dave

I've been a very happy chappy this past week or so, getting a great fix of my favourite play-along quiz show Only Connect (and the chance to letch more than just once a week over its host, Victoria Coren Mitchell) thanks to the current series on BBC2 Monday nights, and repeats of the very first series on Dave in the wee small hours.

What's interesting about watching those early episodes again now is seeing how subtly different the programme and Victoria's presenting style was back then. 

Certainly I found the first few episodes really rather anonymous, and it was only until about episode four or five that Victoria began to show her personality and throw out a few of the witty asides we have now become familiar with and which we cherish.

Overall, her style then was the burgeoning style of the minxy head girl, dressed down in a baggy jacket yet intellectually flirting with the teams by setting them a series of complex questions.

Whereas the current series sees Victoria very much in the style of a glamourous and dotty aunt, teasing the teams and more often than not forcing them into sing-songs!

Sunday, 22 November 2015

RIP Keith Michell & Peter Dimmock

Two losses to the world of entertainment this weekend; Henry VIII star Keith Michell and the first presenter of Grandstand Peter Dimmock have both died, aged 89 and 94 respectively

Australian born Michell will forever be known as the actor who brought Henry VIII to life in the classic 1970 BBC series The Six Wives of Henry VIII and its subsequent big screen remake in 1972, Henry VIII and His Six Wives - which ironically had only been repeated on TV again last weekend. He returned to the role in 1996 in The Prince of Pauper. Other roles included parts in All Night Long, The Hellfire Club and a memorable Heathcliff in a 1962 adaptation of Wuthering Heights. He was also a regular in Murder, She Wrote and was a renowned artist and singer, lending both talents to Jeremy Lloyd's Captain Beaky poems. RIP

A former RAF Flight Lieutenant, Dimmock joined the BBC after the war as head of outside broadcasts and famously oversaw the coverage of the Queen's coronation in 1953, which was the largest OB event undertaken and that time and saw more than 20 million viewers. The broadcast had the effect of doubling the number of TV owners in the UK within a year. That was the year that saw Dimmock move in front of the camera as the host of sports programmes such as Sportsview (later renamed Sportsnight) Grandstand and Sports Personality of the Year. A true pioneer of television. RIP


Veronica Carlson

Saturday, 21 November 2015

Angels Are So Few (1970)

"Be not forgetful to entertain strangers, For thereby some have entertained angels unawares" ~ HEBREWS, 13.2 

The first of my purchases from the new BBC Store, which is essentially a newly launched online archive of material both past and present, Angels Are So Few was the first play Dennis Potter wrote for the Play for Today series and is an example of one of his 'visitation' plays. These plays typically feature an ethereal and peculiar stranger who enters a suburban home, bringing buried secrets and sexual and/or emotional traumas to the surface during his stay. Like Son of Man, his previous BBC screenplay for PfT's forerunner The Wednesday Play, which told the story of a particularly human (with all the strengths and weaknesses that that implies) Christ's arrival into Judea, this piece concerns an earthy and flawed young man called Michael who is convinced he is an angel; though it is made clear, from Potter's pen to the audience, that he is not. 

Played superbly by Tom Bell, Michael descends upon a suburban street telling its residents to appreciate things of everyday beauty such as the dried up leaf he possesses. It's a positive message but it is met with much disbelief, scorn and cynicism which reveals Michael's threatening character. "I feel sorry for you," he is heard to mutter to those who refuse to see his way of thinking. "I feel extremely sorry for you" he reiterates before a cruel fate befalls those 'non-believers', much like the shenanigans Matt Damon and Ben Affleck's celestial pair would later get up to in Kevin Smith's Dogma. Despite not really being an angel, can Michael actually influence events? Potter certainly enjoys playing with the ambiguity.

When Michael meets repressed and stultified middle class housewife Cynthia (an exemplary Christine Hargreaves) it becomes clear that his desires for purity within the kingdom of heaven stem from a sexual neurosis he is suffering from. He views sex with complete and utter distaste, believing it to be dirty and unwholesome. Indeed, he physically recoils from one old woman's description of a female angel that was painted on the banner in her local chapel when she was a child; "Angels with tits?! There's none of that in heaven. Flesh rubbing against flesh. It hurts!" he roars, clearly pained. Cynthia however, trapped in a loveless marriage with her dull husband, believes sex can be something free and open, beautiful and necessary and sees in Michael her chance to indulge and rid herself of her sexual repression. Coaxing him back to her house for a second time, she seduces him and effectively robs him of his wings, throwing his deluded self belief into disarray.

It's a bold piece from Potter and pointed the way forward for much of his later work which would again explore the visitation set-up, most notably with its pinnacle, Brimstone and Treacle, and would become - to quote the play's director Gareth Davies - 'sleazy' and 'self indulgent'. This would be the last time Potter and Davies worked together precisely because of this very clear and obvious artistic and creative difference. It's a shame, as this is a deliciously blackly comic tale with some real laugh out loud moments from Potter and two extremely strong central performances from Bell and Hargreaves. As Michael, Bell almost pre-empts the northern itinerance that David Threlfall would later bring to the part of Frank Gallagher in Channel 4's Shameless, whilst Hargreaves manages to engage our empathy even when she somewhat selfishly turns the tables for her own sexual desires in the final reel, destroying an already deeply vulnerable young man who, it is implied, has escaped from some sort of psychiatric care and whose fear of sex may point towards an abusive past.

Not released to DVD and not repeated for some years, the addition of Angels Are So Few to the BBC Store (alongside some other previously unavailable Potter plays) is a very welcome one indeed. 

To get the BBC to consider repeating some of these classic Play For Today's please sign the petition I started here

Friday, 20 November 2015

From Essex to the Jungle

I have never seen an episode of The Only Way Is Essex (or TOWIE as I believe it's affectionately known) and, to be honest, I couldn't think of anything worse than watching an episode.

But, having watched I'm a Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here this week, I must admit to seeing the show in a new light thanks to the gorgeous Ferne McCann

She's definitely my kind of girl; lovely body and a sharp striking profile with lovely big eyes, nose and teeth.

This 60s inspired photoshoot on her website puts me in mind of a young Barbra Streisand

Ferne stepped into the jungle earlier this week alongside fellow 'constructed reality' TV stars Made In Chelsea's Spencer and Geordie Shore's Vicky (nope, me neither) Spencer has surprisingly left already due to 'medical grounds' leaving gorgeous Ferne and the hilarious and charming Vicky

These winter nights have just warmed up!

Miss Julie (1999)

"If they aren't any better than us then what is the point of us striving to better ourselves?"

Miss Julie is a Swedish play written in 1888 by August Strindberg concerning the toxic love between Jean, a servant and the titular Miss Julie, his master's daughter. Despite the play's age and its foreign setting, it remains something of an oft staged favourite in the provincial theatres of the UK, and it's easy to see why; the explicit theme of class warfare and the implicit theme of Darwinism, coupled by Strindberg's naturalistic approach mean that it still has much to say to its contemporary audiences in a country that still feels the harshness of its class divide. It is the antithesis of Downton Abbey.

The play has also been adapted several times for the cinema, and this 1999 adaptation from director Mike Figgis is especially worth watching. Figgis does relatively little in lifting the film from its stage origins - there are no sweeping shots of the Midsummer's Eve lit Swedish landscape or much filler, the whole thing is shot in an obvious studio, which highlights the artificial nature of the painted scenery during the brief sojourns 'outside'  - but what he does do is use the camera in a variety of interesting, intrusive Dogme-like ways to capture the spark and passion between his two leads, Saffron Burrows and Peter Mullan. 

I would actually argue that this (along with Paddy Considine's directorial debut Tyrannosaur) is Mullan's finest hour. An actor with a plethora of strong performances behind him, it's no small compliment to claim that he's particularly electrifying here in drawing out the grasping ambitions of his footman, Jean, in contrast with the equally ugly arrogant privilege Burrows displays as Miss Julie. I defy you to try and take your eyes off him and, when Miss Julie comments that his eyes resemble ''burning black coals'' you realise that there is no finer description for Mullan's powerful, unflinching stare. Much comment has been made remarking on the height differences between the willowy Burrows and the diminutive Mullan, but I actually think that that is only fitting for the characters; the upper class lady and the lower class male servant. When he talks of climbing the branches to reach the top of the tree and the golden eggs in the nest he dreams of (a clear metaphor for his desire to become gentry) you can almost see Burrow's statuesque imperious frame as the physical embodiment of that desire, with him climbing up and trampling over her which, as a notion, only adds to the imagery of their hurried, rutting copulation in the larder from which neither character can ever go back. 

In the third role, that of the cook Christine, Maria Doyle Kennedy is just as impressive. Overall, this is a classy adaptation that has the ability to grip the viewer from the off.

Thursday, 19 November 2015

The Lady In The Van (2015)

I took my mother to see The Lady In The Van. On leaving the cinema, her first remark was,

"I didn't know Alan Bennett was gay?" 

It's a naive enough remark, but she then went one better by adding

"I thought the men coming round the house were doing jobs for him?"

It's the kind of maternal comment that Bennett has made a career from. But if that means my mum has now become an 'Alan Bennett Mother', what does that make me?

Fans of the National Treasure himself will lap this up, after all it has Bennett's wonderful dialogue and sly, deadpan humour and there's the familiarity of having it directed by his long time NT collaborator Nicholas Hytner. There's also the simply marvellous cast, with cameos from The History Boys alumni, alongside the likes of Roger Allam, Deborah Findlay, Jim Broadbent, Gwen Taylor and the lovely Claire Foy in more substantial roles, topped by two (or is that three?) superlative performances; Maggie Smith as the titular character, Miss Shepherd, and Alex Jennings as Bennett himself - both Bennett, the writer and Bennett, the man living through the experience of having this demented old dear taking up residency on his drive. Smith is, of course, genius and in describing her performance I can only reiterate the phrase Danny Leigh used in last week's Film 2015 review "Miss Marple meets Gollum" - there is no finer description. But Jennings deserves an equal amount of the accolades here, skilfully crafting a three dimensional interpretation of Bennett rather than offering up an impression or imitation for 100 minutes.

This is a very enjoyable film, comic and deeply tender as it explores Bennett's difficult relationship with both his ailing mother (Taylor) and his surrogate mother, Miss Shepherd. It's not perfect - I would argue that it's a shame the film couldn't find in its heart a way to end on a sincere note, opting instead for some rather jarring grand comedic gesture, whilst some of the characters (specifically those created for narrative purposes like Broadbent's somewhat panto villain) seem to offer little more than a walk on for a famous face like an old Morecambe and Wise sketch - but I think it's important to remember that, fifteen years of squatting on your doorstep or not, Bennett's tale is a very slight one as witnessed by the slender tome it started life out as. Ultimately, Hytner has delivered an enjoyable film that shows in Smith that the grand dame of British acting is in extremely rude health.

Fighting Back : Petitions to Sign

This link will hopefully take you all to my profile on Change and a list of all the petitions I have recently signed - the first 2 pages being the most recent that I would normally ask you to consider. 

Let me know if this works, it saves me highlighting every petition for these posts.

Sign this 38 Degrees petition to protect the Freedom of Information laws

Sign Hugh's War On Waste Petition

Sign this petition to protect our right to strike

Out On Blue Six : Ali Campbell feat Pamela Starks

Another one that's bound to roll the years back. I'd actually pretty much forgotten it until, for some reason, a line from it popped up into my head. A quick Google search later and here we are. The fact that the video is actually taken from VH1 just adds to my 90s nostalgia as that's exactly how I remember watching it. 

How could I have ever forgotten this beautiful song?

End Transmission

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Rapid Reviews : Naked At The Albert Hall by Tracey Thorn

There's a great passage (one of many in fact) in Everything But The Girl singer Tracey Thorn's latest book, Naked At The Albert Hall, which sums up how I feel about singing.

"If singing makes us hear, open up and be receptive to the emotion contained within words, it is also true that beyond a certain point singing can become so florid as to draw more attention to itself than to the words being sung, and that is a different kind of singing altogether - one I don't have much time for"

So that's us against and, in favour, Simon Cowell and his flying monkeys.

Naked At The Albert Hall, the follow up to her much recommended autobiography Bedsit Disco Queen, is a fascinating and enjoyable read that I heartily recommend to any singer, music lover or anyone interested in what the voice can do.

I would also recommend it to fans of Everything But The Girl, Dusty Springfield, The Carpenters, Nick Drake, Scritti Politti and many more, and devotees of the genres of jazz, soul, folk, pop and rock and many more, as they are all discussed within these pages. 

It's a must for anyone who likes to sing and appreciates what it is to sing.

Monday, 16 November 2015

RIP Saeed Jaffrey

And yet another sad loss has been announced today - veteran actor Saeed Jaffrey has passed away at the age of 86

Jaffrey was another real favourite of mine, a British and Bollywood screen legend, the veteran actor notched up something like 200 screen appearances and his distinctive flair graced productions as diverse as My Beautiful Laundrette, Gandhi, The Man Who Would Be King, Dil and The Chess Players, whilst his TV appearances included Common As Muck, Jewel In The Crown, Gangsters, Little Napoleons and Coronation Street.



Sunday, 15 November 2015

Smoking Hot

The divine Romola Garai

Tonight's Tele Tip : Live From Television Centre

Tonight on BBC4 from 9pm, the BBC - in association with Battersea Arts Centre and the Arts Council England - will return to the iconic Television Centre for five pieces of incredible, genre busting theatre in Live From Television Centre

I've singled this programme out tonight because one of the acts is the delightful, inspiring Jess Thom aka Touretteshero whose live show Backstage in Biscuitland I have previously blogged about here. Broadcast from Biscuitland will see Jess being filmed in her makeshift dressing room as she prepares for the live finale. Having tourettes, a neurological condition which makes her say 'biscuit' 16,000 times a day and offers her an extremely unique perspective on life, Jess starts to wonder if she'll make the finale in one piece, especially in light of the comic misunderstandings she must navigate.

Shown as part of the BBC's On Stage season, Live From Television Centre's five distinctive acts will hopefully show that the stage isn't just for classic plays and visiting Hollywood stars, that it is primarily for people with a unique take on life, delivered in a manner that benefits the audiences in particular (as a paying punter to a previous Jess gig, I can certainly attest to that) In short, theatre should be for the bums on seats and tonight, you don't even need to leave your living room. That's got to be better than watching this year's especially poor line up of Z list celebrities eating kangaroo cock in the jungle, right?

Saturday, 14 November 2015

RIP Warren Mitchell

Terribly sad to hear that Warren Mitchell has died today aged 89. He was one of my favourite actors and his iconic performance as Johnny Speight's monstrous comic creation Alf Garnett Til Death Us Do Part and In Sickness and In Health secures his status as a comic legend. I still regularly watch Alf and find Mitchell's performances so carefully layered, so vividly brought to life and so hilarious. He will live on in our memories for that role alone.

But it's worth remembering that Mitchell wasn't just Alf Garnett. In a career that stretched decades he showed great versatility and an immense talent, securing two Olivier awards for bringing Arthur Miller characters to life; Death of a Salesman's Willy Loman in 1979, and Gregory Solomon in The Price in 2004. He was also a talented Shakespearean actor playing King Lear on the stage and, of course, Shylock in The Merchant of Venice in the BBC's adaptation from 1980.

Born in Stoke Newington as Warren Misell in 1926 to an English father and a Russian mother, the Jewish Mitchell and lifelong Spurs fan quickly became an atheist when he elected to play a game of football on the sabbath. When no lightning bolt struck him down dead, he realised there could be no God. He took a place at Oxford to study physical chemistry, where he met Richard Burton who encouraged his interest in acting and, in 1944, the pair joined the RAF for the final year of the war. After demob, Mitchell gave up his Oxford studies to focus on his acting instead and joined RADA, performing with the left wing Unity theatre, where he met his wife Connie. He changed his name from Misell to Mitchell when he stood in for DJ Pete Murray on Radio Luxembourg and began to carve out a niche playing swarthy villainous roles on film and TV, most notably in the likes of The Avengers and The Saint, before Speight's bigoted creation came a calling.

He will be much missed. As his great nephew, breaking the news on Twitter, said, he was "the last of his generation" What a generation it was, and what a great talent Mitchell was.


Out On Blue Six : Morrissey

It's hard to know what to say after yesterday's devastating news from Paris; a series of attacks are said to have left approximately 127 dead so far, though that count may rise before the day is out. 

Nothing I can say can be effective enough, so I offer my thoughts and my love and this song, about giving love to that city

End Transmission