Monday, 16 October 2017

RIP Sean Hughes

When someone dies it's become something of a cliche to say that the news of their passing came as a shock. As a word or phrase to sum up your reaction it may mean well, it may even be true to a degree, but it can be in danger of becoming meaningless. The death of Sean Hughes today however, aged just 51, truly is a shock. It is, as Richard Herring said on Twitter, 'a punch to the soul'. This was a talent and a man taken from us way too soon.

"Everyone grows out of their Morrissey phase...except Morrissey"

And Hughes had a lot of soul, he was an effortless-seeming comedian, poetic and charming in that way only true Irishmen can be, with an act that was mischievously-meta, glorious silly, deeply  intelligent and above all very funny. He was the youngest winner of Edinburgh's prestigious Perrier award and among the first of that eclectic and exciting new comedic talent to strike out on TV in the early 90s with his own show entitled, appropriately enough, Sean's Show. Later on in the decade he was part of the original line-up of BBC2's Never Mind The Buzzcocks before branching out acting with a regular role alongside Peter Davison in the ITV mystery drama The Last Detective, a recurring role on Coronation Street and performances in the West End with As You Like It and The Railway Children.

Hughes had tweeted to fans earlier this month that he was in hospital receiving treatment for cirrhosis of the liver. It was announced on twitter by his former management that he died this morning.


The Yakuza (1974)

'With an impressive noirish body of work already behind him, Mitchum is utterly believable in his role as our ageing ‘urban knight’ Harry Kilmer, cutting a truly iconic figure of the genre as he wanders, baggy-eyed and turtle-necked, through the bustling neon-lit, rainy streets of Japan'

See my full review at The Geek Show

Sunday, 15 October 2017

Theme Time: David Pomeranz/Jesse Frederick/Bennett Salvay - Perfect Strangers

How's this for an '80s nostalgia rush? Yes, it's the theme to Perfect Strangers

This was a US sitcom that ran from 1986 to 1993 and was quite a favourite in our house. It was shown over here fairly quickly, with screenings on Saturday evenings in early 1987 before settling down in the post Wogan 7:35 slot on Monday evenings. I also have memories of reruns in the early '90s on Friday mornings during the summer holidays, but as far as I'm aware it hasn't been repeated since and despite being popular, the series is not available on DVD here in the UK. 

The series starred Mark Linn-Baker (who starred opposite Peter O'Toole in the film My Favourite Year) and Bronson Pinchot (who had appeared as Serge in Beverly Hills Cop) as distant cousins, Wisconsin born Larry Appleton and Balki Bartokomous, a shepherd from the Mediterranean island of Mypos, who each attempt to strike out in Chicago. The series was created by Mork & Mindy creator Dale McRaven who was inspired by the renewed patriotism he felt in America after the 1984 Olympics and wanted to write something about a couple of people who dream they can make it in a big city. The show's theme, written by Jesse Frederick and Bennett Salvay and performed by David Pomeranz encapsulates that bright, optimistic, empowering American Dream vibe with effortless, catchy and utterly '80s ease... 

And if you don't like that, then you've no poetry in your soul!

A consistent hit across its eight seasons in America, much of the success of Perfect Strangers came down to the great chemistry between Linn-Baker and Pinchot, a chemistry that thankfully seems to exist in real life too (how refreshing is it to find actors from a favourite '80s show who genuinely get on with one another? Yes Moonlighting I am looking at you) The pair perhaps haven't reached the peaks of success they deserved once the show concluded, but they continue to work extensively to this day, with Linn-Baker even appearing as himself in the recent HBO series The Leftovers, which looks at the inexplicable disappearance of 2% of the world's population. In the show, it's revealed that the entire cast of Perfect Strangers where amongst those who 'departed', but Linn-Baker is actually revealed to have faked his disappearance. 

Perfect Strangers had its own spin-off in the sitcom Family Matters and was even remade for Russia television in 2006.

It Was Thirty Years Ago Today...

15th October, 1987

"Earlier on today, apparently, a woman rang the BBC and said she heard there was a hurricane on the way; well, if you're watching, don't worry, there isn't, but having said that, actually, the weather will become very windy, but most of the strong winds, incidentally, will be down over Spain and across into France"

Several hours later, hurricane force gusts of up to 100 knots (or 120 mph) attacked the UK, France and the Channel Islands, causing a number of fatalities, power outage and felled an estimated 15 million trees. The great storm is said to have cost the insurance industry £2billion and an internal inquiry at the Met Office following Michael Fish's gaffe.

Fish himself maintains his report was taken out of context, claiming that his comment was in relation to the news story preceding his bulletin which referred to an approaching storm in Florida, Hurricane Floyd. However, he has appeared to contradict himself down the years, claiming that the call was from a colleague's mother at one point, whilst at others suggesting no one phoned up at all. Either way, it secured his notoriety and a snippet of the bulletin was even included in Danny Boyle's 2012 Olympic opening ceremony. 

Thursday, 12 October 2017

Rita, Sue and Bob Too @ Liverpool Playhouse, 11/10/17

Anyone who follows me on Letterboxd will know that I have a long and deeply held love for Alan Clarke's Rita, Sue and Bob Too. Based on the 1982 play written by Andrea Dunbar, it's an affection that I seem to share with much of the north in general, given that there are many productions staged in the region on a regular basis. However, as I have previously blogged about, you must approach some of these productions with extreme caution (the most recent production pf Rita, Sue and Bob Too staged here in St Helens starred none other than Darren Day for God's sake!) as many of them seem to exist as adult panto full of has-beens and never-have-beens, rather than the faithful, intelligent adaptation Dunbar's piece truly deserves.

There's no such concern with the latest revival from the theatre company Out of Joint which arrived, as part of its nationwide tour, at the Liverpool Playhouse this week. For a start, that's because the play's original director Max Stafford-Clark is directing once more, alongside Kate Wasserberg, following a December 2015 workshop at the National Theatre. This newly edited production makes a lively piece even livelier; for a start, to highlight the early '80s setting, the play skilfully uses popular hits of the day (the likes of Soft Cell's Tainted Love, Culture Club's Do You Really Want To Hurt Me, The Human League's Don't You Want Me Baby?, Phil Collins' In The Air Tonight and, naturally of course given Bob's seductive technique, Cars by Gary Numan) as a way of moving from scene to scene, allowing the cast to alter the set up of stage whilst dancing, miming or singing along.

And what a cast it is! Hats off to casting director Amy Ball who has cannily sourced some excellent young talent to bring Dunbar's characters to life. No prizes for guessing that the Kay Mellow BBC1 drama In The Club featured heavily in her casting process as the production secured the talents of two stars from there, Taj Atwal and Gemma Dobson, to play Rita and Sue respectively. Both girls are impressive and authentic; Dobson's Sue is blonde, bonny and blousy, characteristics that easily bring to mind Michelle Holmes' portrayal in Clarke's film, whilst still having enough individuality in the performance to separate it in your mind. Atwal however is the real star of the show, reflecting Dunbar's original naive hopefulness to ensure the part of Rita truly is her own.

Starring as Bob is James Atherton, whose TV credits include stints on both Hollyoaks and Coronation Street, as well as an appearance in the recent film adaptation of Macbeth and in the recent Dave sitcom Porters, alongside Rutger Hauer. Like Dobson, Atherton also reminds you of George Costigan's star turn in Clarke's film, thanks to a similar, twinkly bug-eyed physicality, but his Bob is more in keeping with Dunbar's original interpretation; seemingly younger, and more obviously working class (as opposed to the lower middle class of Clarke's film) in his choice of clothes. I was 'blessed' to have a dead centre front row seat for this performance, which meant that I became all too familiar with Mr Atherton's bare backside and his modesty-pouched ballsack during the sex scenes! The nudity certainly took some in the audience by surprise!

Samantha Robinson stars as Bob's wife Michelle, whilst Sally Bankes and David Walker appear as Sue's mother and father respectively, rounding out a very impressive cast indeed. The play concludes as Dunbar originally wrote it - anyone expecting to see the same mish-mash of Rita, Sue and Bob Too and Dunbar's other play The Arbor, as per Clarke's film - will be disappointed. The final scene once again features Michelle and Sue's mum lamenting the disappointments they have had to face in life thanks to the men they had chosen to live with. As someone who experienced the film long before the play, I have always felt this an odd way to end the story as it essentially gives the spotlight over to two secondary characters in a somewhat too little, too late fashion. However, watching it last night it finally clicked; these two women are essentially the futures Rita and Sue have to look forward too. It's easy to see that Sue will become her mother, and it's equally (though tragically) easy to consider that despite getting her man, Bob will once again wander and play away from Rita. 

This revival differs from the last staging by Out of Joint in 2000. That production saw the inclusion of Rita's brother Sam, meaning a longer scene three and the necessity to rejig some of the dialogue from there to occur later in the production in a very good scene that sees Rita and Sue on YTS, which just happens to be where Michelle works too. Michelle is doing some extra work on the side as an Avon rep and Rita orders some scent from her, which leads into a very good climax to a later scene when a suspicious Michelle plays her ace card and warns Bob off from playing around with Rita and Sue because "I know what that scent smells like" - cue In The Air Tonight in a very satisfying manner, with the lights flicking on and off in set designer Tim Shortall's two tower blocks in time with Collins' drumwork!

There are some scenes which you'd swear where changed to add a contemporary resonance too. On returning home I checked my script book of Dunbar's original to make sure that lines such as Bob's about the danger of London compared to the North "there's too many things happening down there that you don't see up here" wasn't added to reflect the naive mindset that existed before this year's tragic Manchester Arena bombing that believed anywhere north of Watford was unlikely be targeted by Islamic terrorists, but it wasn't; it was there all along. Likewise, Bob's comment of "that's what you get when you have a woman prime minister in parliament" was always a part of his Thatcher/unemployment grumble and was not specifically beefed up to imply Theresa May for today's audience. In short, the truth that Dunbar wrote in 1982 is just as relevant now. 

I really cannot praise Out of Joint's revival enough. It is not only one of the funniest plays, but it also has to be one of the best staged plays I have seen in some time and, at just one hour twenty minutes (and with no interval) it licks along most agreeably and with great energy, whilst never outstaying its welcome. Praise too for Jason Tyler's lighting and Tim Shortall's costume design, alongside his responsibilities for the sparse but excellent set; a series of chairs and a backdrop of Yorkshire between two monolithic tower blocks really does create a believable world and affords the audience a journey back in time too. 

Rita, Sue and Bob Too stays at the Playhouse until Saturday and, when I checked earlier, there are still seats for each of the remaining productions, including some front row ones (for anyone who wants an up close look of Atherton's arse!) From there it moves on across the country taking in Warwick, Oxford, Northampton, Doncaster, York, Derby, London, Huddersfield and lastly, Mold, at the start of February next year. It really is well worth catching, providing you're not someone easily offended by language or nudity that is.

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

RIP Norma Sykes, aka Sabrina

Sad news reaches us today that Stockport's own Sabrina (real name Norma Sykes) passed away last November at the age of 80. There's a very good obituary/article in today's Manchester Evening News that details not only her passing, after years of living as a recluse in California, but also a potted history of her life and career. It's a shame to consider her final years were spent seemingly so unhappily and equally sad that it's took us almost a year to realise we have lost one of our own.

Despite being once described as someone who couldn't sing, couldn't act and couldn't even walk properly, Sabrina had star talent by the bucketload...or should that be cup load? Her prodigious 41" bust secured her celebrity from the '50s onwards, often as the glamorous stooge of Arthur Askey. It was certainly enough to warrant her the tag of Britain's answer to Marilyn Monroe and Jayne Mansfield all rolled into one and, among the many impressive facts regarding her fandom, is the tales of how a 4,000 strong mob in Sheffield almost ripped the dress from her in an attempt to get near or the 10,000 Australian fans who flocked to Pert airport and almost caved the roof in!

I had previously blogged about Sabrina here


Monday, 9 October 2017

The Plot, Like His Hair, Thickens

We need to talk about Richard Osman.

I caught a tiny bit of Pointless Celebrities on BBC1 at the weekend and found Osman's hair positively offensive. It's ridiculously long these days - and curiously so - because...

Exhibit A

 Exhibit B

Ahem, all together now...


I never know where I stand with Osman: I used to like Pointless when it started, and I find so many things he has done admirable; including throwing a few digs Jeremy Clarkson's way on Have I Got News For You and apologising for (and refusing to shake the hand of) Kelvin Mackenzie appearing on an ep of Celebrity Pointless. But I found his shtick was becoming increasingly self satisfied, and his appearances on other TV shows started to dominate. He also seems to be labouring under the same misapprehension that did for Jonathan Ross all those years ago, namely the mistaken belief that he is a professional comedian rather than a TV celebrity. Watching him attempt to smugly spar with real comics like Frankie Boyle or Greg Davies on the former's Election Autopsy and the latter's Taskmaster started to get irritating. And this feeling of dislike is exacerbated by that bloody awful flagrant wig or weave!

Magic in the Moonlight (2014)

I do love that poster.

Coming immediately after Blue Jasmine, Magic in the Moonlight was viewed as a great disappointment and another ho-hum entry in Woody Allen's remarkably prodigious output. But it's really not as bad as many have made out - in fact it's a rather nice, frothy romantic comedy with more than a nod to the likes of PG Wodehouse and Agatha Christie.

Colin Firth is on fine curmudgeonly form as Stanley, a 1920s British professional magician who performs under the Oriental guise of Wei Ling Soo to great acclaim. In his spare time, the coldly rationalist and practical Stanley is a notorious debunker of phony psychics and mediums and it is this skill that takes him to the glorious south of France one summer to discredit Sophie Baker, a young American spiritualist played by Emma Stone, whose apparent gifts have impressed a clique of fashionable and wealthy Brits and Americans who are resorting on the Côte d’Azur. 

Stanley relishes the opportunity to take another fraud down and save her marks from parting with some of their fortunes but, as he witnesses at first hand Sophie's astonishing powers he finds his lifelong pessimism and general outlook rocked to their very foundations. 

Allen has long been fascinated with the notion of magic and it has played an integral role in many of his films, from the characters on the silver screen coming to life and entering the real world in The Purple Rose of Cairo, to Zelig's uncanny chameleon abilities. Ghosts and the notion of the afterlife have also previously appeared in his work, most recently in his London set movie Scoop. Here however, in the shape of Stanley, Allen takes a resolutely cynical point of view to such fantastical concerns whilst at the same time exploring what it takes to shape such a rational mind. In a scene that seems to hark back to Manhattan, Stanley and Sophie escape a sudden thunderstorm and take shelter in an observatory where Stanley reveals that when he first glimpsed the starry night sky as a child there, the thought of the universe beyond rather menaced him. It was just too big for him to consider and everything in Stanley's life from that point on could be argued as an attempt to couch the world and life in safe, easily comprehensible terms. 

Sophie on the other hand sees the starry sky and finds it romantic. They are complete opposites, Sophie believing that we should all embrace a level of delusion into our lives whilst Stanley seeks to understand and be able to explain everything, yet they start to fall for one another. It is only when Stanley begins to consider that Sophie may be the real deal that he starts to enjoy life, freed from his restrictive desire to have an answer for everything.

Both Firth and Stone are tremendously likeable and charismatic performers who are easy on the eye (especially in the beautiful vintage period costumes) and possess a lightness of touch that is just right for such fare, yet their chemistry is not as winning as it ought to be. The big problem here really is the age-gap (and the connotations of such an age-gap romance in Allen's own life are not lost on viewers) with their interplay more befitting of an acerbic uncle and a bright and carefree niece than potential lovers. The supporting cast, including Simon McBurney, Eileen Atkins, Marcia Gay Harden, Jacki Weaver and Hamish Linklater, have relatively little to do (certainly Allen seems to forget Harden, McBurney and Weaver completely for long stretches of the narrative) but the whole thing is really rather lovely to look at - almost like a 1920s postcard of the French Riviera come to life - and it's best to let the whole thing wash over you.

Sunday, 8 October 2017

The Ghoul (2017)

The blurb on the DVD of The Ghoul decrees that it is 'The latest standout addition to a thriving new wave of British cinema' and it's a claim I completely agree with because, just as our society seems to be in the grip of replicating the excesses of the '70s and '80s, so too does it appear that we are culturally in an exciting position of rediscovering just what it was that previously made the British film industry of such an era so special and unique. The kitchen sink social realism movement has recently been beautifully revived by the likes of Clio Barnard and Andrea Arnold, whilst the more experimental, cultish edge of yesteryear has also been born again, and perhaps surprisingly so, by a comedy contingent that consists of the likes of the film's debut director/writer Gareth Tunley, Alice Lowe (who stars here and was previously responsible for Sightseers and Prevenge) and a director who not only paid his dues with sitcoms such as BBC3's Ideal, but who went on to become the current enfant terrible of British cinema and who serves as the executive producer of this effort, Ben Wheatley.

Like the Möbius strip that is often alluded to in the film, The Ghoul deals with its narrative and the nature of an identity crisis in a similar manner to Nic Roeg's Performance, which is again referred to in the film's blurb. In exploring the nature of identity, The Ghoul focuses specifically on psychoanalysis and it intriguingly suggests, in a rather sinister manner, the notion of a therapist's secret desire to live on in the traumatised mind of their patients. As someone who has sat in both chairs in the counselling process (in that I have had counselling and I have trained as a counsellor) I can totally relate to the idea that a therapist remains in the mind of a service user long after their relationship concludes thanks to the coping strategies they instill into them to combat their depression and anxiety. Obviously, we believe that's a good thing, but the narrative of The Ghoul allows even someone with my experience to consider this from a left field perspective that our hero is in the process of something which may indeed be detrimental.

Obviously Performance is a film that looms large over The Ghoul, but the film equally pays homage to a number of head scratchers and chillers from this period, including with Mike Hodges' Get Carter with its almost mythical references to 'Up North' and composer Waen Shepherd's title track which alludes to Roy Budd's iconic score. For me, British cinema is in really good health so it's rather ironic that some critics, including the Grauniad's wob-eyed idiot Peter Bradshaw utterly failed to get the point of it.

And I haven't even mentioned the impressive cast! Tunley assembles a plethora of comic talent from his time on the Edinburgh Fringe circuit, including Tom Meeten who is brilliant and suitably ambiguous as Chris, our tortured lead and Alice Lowe as the woman he carries a potentially dangerous torch for. Meanwhile, as with Wheatley's High-Rise and also the poignant Notes on Blindness, Dan Skinner once again proves he is far more than Vic and Bob's comic sidekick, Angelos Epithemiou in his role as both Meeten's friend/colleague and Lowe's partner. Niamh Cusack and Geoff McGivern co-star as the ambiguous psychotherapists, with McGivern - the original (and inspiration for) Ford Prefect in The HitchHikers Guide to the Galaxy and currently stealing the show in Mitchell and Webb's new sitcom Back - especially impressing in what is a particularly elusive and deeply charismatic role, whilst Rufus Jones and Paul Kaye provide admirable and intriguing support in secondary roles.

Friday, 6 October 2017

Out On Blue Six: Neil Young

Quite an apt track for what's happening in the skies tonight, Harvest Moon by Neil Young... 

^ Just one of the photos submitted to the BBC Autumnwatch page tonight.

End Transmission

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Wish Me Luck, Series Two Review

It's almost a year to the day that I jotted down my thoughts on the first series of the 1988 ITV drama Wish Me Luck, which focused on the heroic exploits of British female SOE agents in WWII Occupied France. At the time of posting I recall saying that once I'd watched the second series I may post a bit about how I felt about it. Well, better late than never!

Series two pretty much continues where the first series left off with several characters returning such as daring agents Liz Grainger (Kate Buffery), Kit Vanston (Michael J Jackson) and Colin Beale (Jeremy Northam), alongside their dedicated and concerned superiors back in Whitehall, Colonel James 'Cad' Cadogan (Julian Glover) and Faith Ashley (Jane Asher). Only the wonderful Suzanna Hamilton as the half French, working class Jewish Londoner Matty Firman is AWOL from this point onwards, with only a couple of brief mentions that she was deployed elsewhere in the fight against the Nazis in the initial episodes. Many TV series would struggle to lose arguably its leading lady between series, but Wish Me Luck thankfully averts such fate by the consistent quality of the scripts and drama overall. 

Of course, it isn't long before we are introduced to some new characters as 'Area 7' is in trouble; an entire circuit have been captured and executed by the Nazis and SOE have to work fast to plug the gaps. Cad and Faith, aided by Liz in her new non operational desk job, are soon on the look out for new operatives to send over to help resurrect the circuit under the supervision of the region's firmly ensconced dour Scottish agent saboteur Gordon Stewart (It Ain't Half Hot Mum's Stuart McGugan) and they find them in the young and eager Emily Whitbread (Jane Snowden) and the older Vivien Ashton (Lynn Farleigh) pictured from left to right below.

Emily is your typical well meaning but naive heroine. Keen to do her bit, her appointment is initially considered impractical because her French isn't good enough to pass for a native. However, the pressing need for a new 'pianist' (ie wireless operator) and her skill in this field mean that she is ultimately too good to pass up on and she spends much of her training improving her Francais and fretting over her virginity: the latter comes to a head when she learns that an agent may have to use their sexuality in the fight and, determined not to lose her virginity to a Nazi, she elects to spend the night with her boyfriend before she flies out - a decision that will come back to haunt her when, in the field, she begins to show all the symptoms of being pregnant. Played sympathetically by Snowden, Emily is a character who the audience can easily engage and identify with. Her relationship with the Ferriers, the kindly French family (played by Gillian Raine, John Boswall and Mark Anstee) who operate the safe house she is assigned to, is especially touching and, although Snowden is sometimes a little underwhelming with some of the drama the script requires of her (understandable given that the actress was only twenty-three at the time) it somehow works for her character. Of course Snowden is also very easy on the eye, which I'm ashamed to say always helps and, in a certain light, reminds me a little of Scottish actress Julie Graham. 

Vivien is the opposite of Emily. Older, wiser, more upwardly mobile and with seemingly less patriotic zeal, she is actually the widow of one of the agents who has been executed by the Nazis that she is sent out to replace. It seems like her intentions to serve her country are deeply personal - enough to raise some initial concern and reservations from Liz at least - but Vivien is slowly revealed to have another, covert yet equally personal motive for being in France. Some years earlier, she had toured the country as a dancer and had given birth to a baby girl which she passed up for adoption. Knowing that the girl is now a young woman (played by future Capital City actress Trevyn McDowell) and still living in France, it is Vivien's intention to reunite. Farleigh was an established actress even by 1988 and, whilst I've seen her and appreciated her in several other things (she's Mark's mum in the brilliant Christmas episode of Peep Show for example), she really bugged me in Wish Me Luck. Thankfully, that irritation seemed intentional given her character and personal motivations - motivations that land her fellow agents in great danger - but it doesn't make her any less annoying I'm afraid!

Other new characters in this series include the aforementioned McGugan as Gordon, a saboteur who initially appears very tetchy and unwilling to suffer fools gladly, but shows a warmer and kinder heart in response to Emily's pregnancy, McDowell as Vivien's flighty young daughter Yvette who is busy courting a Nazi officer much to Vivien's horror. Replacing Warren Clarke as the chief Nazi villain this series is Donald Gee, an actor famed for playing comedy clergymen in sitcoms of old and cast brilliantly against time here in a chilling turn as the ruthless Voller, whilst Carmel McSharry of In Sickness and In Health fame plays a particularly nosy and suspicious neighbour of the Ferrier family, keen to get to the bottom of just who Emily really is. It's a real nuisance, love-to-hate character, putting me in mind of a neighbour of my own who always seems to appear the minute I go up to our garage!

So, where does that leave our more established regulars? Well it's initially all change for Liz; flying a desk and working as an instructor, whilst making a go of the domestic life with her priggish husband, Laurence (Nigel le Vaillant) for the sake of their little girl. However when she's elected to form the welcome party for the returning hero and her old flame Kit Vanston, their romance is rekindled. Any guilt Liz may feel about this is soon gone when she discovers Laurence himself in flagrante with another woman. With their marriage in tatters -  and with a particularly nasty move from Laurence that sees him take sole custody of their daughter - and Colin Beale forced to return to England, Liz feels she has no option but to return to active service behind enemy lines...and Kit soon follows her too when it looks like the Area 7 circuit is about to go the same way as the last one. Once again, Buffery really impresses in her role as Liz Grainger. She's tougher now, more seasoned from her experiences of the previous series, but still vulnerable beneath this hardened, outer shell. The actress is at her best in the moments of high drama, be it during her covert activities or in her domestic life, but she also possesses a nice light tough as evinced in her great natural chemistry with Jackson as her lover Kit Vanston, who also once again convinces. However I can't not talk about Kit Vanston without mentioning how faintly ludicrous he looks in the scenes set in England where he is expected to wear a uniform. As an agent in the field, Jackson is fine. As a serving officer, he ought to at least have got his bloody hair cut! Seeing his bountiful ginger curls peeping out beneath his cap really took me out of the series and nixed some otherwise solid period detail. 

There's a little less going on in the corridors of Whitehall however, which means there's not a lot to do for Julian Glover and Jane Asher. The former at least got the opportunity to share the screen with his real-life son Jamie Glover as his character's son, called confusingly, Julian. But Asher really gets very little to do beyond appear anxious for the likes of Liz, Emily and Vivien. Tom Chadbon also briefly appears in two episodes, and I really do mean briefly - not sure what was going on there? - and a new Gaullist ally appears to work alongside them too, but is equally rather forgotten about. This is a little disappointing but on the plus side it does mean we get to see more on location filming which of course was done in France. However the series is still shot on videotape which gives these exterior scenes a flat visual style, and some of the nighttime action setpieces are presented somewhat disappointingly as a result, whilst interiors are shown up for being a little fake.

Series Two of Wish Me Luck has a few other changes to consider too. For a start, there's just seven episodes this time out, as opposed to the eight of series one and, whereas previously, the actors playing Nazis spoke English with an accent, now everyone is speaking straight English naturally; be they British characters, French characters or indeed German. One of the other changes to the series this time out is the theme tune and opening credits. Given that Hamilton departed, the titles understandably had to change and became more inclusive for the rest of the cast as we see their faces appear after a rather evocative shot of a jet streaking across a silverly bomber's moon. Denis King's series one score is also sadly gone too, to be replaced by a theme that both feels more fitting in the WWII mould and manages to cleverly incorporate Kurt Weill's J'attends un Navire, a tune that, when whistled by agents, was used as a password to identify one another. 

What doesn't change is the fact that Wish Me Luck continued to be an engrossing, gripping and suspense filled drama in its second series - a fitting tribute to those brave souls who risked - and indeed gave - their lives for our freedom.

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Out On Blue Six: Tom Petty, RIP

Another day, another tragic loss to the creative world of entertainment as it's revealed that Tom Petty passed away from a cardiac arrest at the age of 66. 

I had started to write this post last night before bed as that's when his death was announced but then curiously it appeared that the reports had been unconfirmed. Now it has sadly been confirmed that he has indeed passed away. Terrible news, just terrible.


End Transmission

Saturday, 30 September 2017

Out On Blue Six: Sweet Female Attitude

Utterly divine garage track from the spring of 2000. Can someone explain to me how that is already 17 years ago now??

End Transmission

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

If The BBC Is Impartial, Then How Come Their Political Editor Is A Speaker At The Tory Party Conference?

Yup, Laura Kuenssberg's at it again. Her impartiality is an utter joke as it's revealed she's been invited as a guest speaker at a fringe event at the Tory conference.

Words fail me. They literally do; because I've lost count of the number of times I've complained to the BBC about her obvious, clear bias for the government and been told she's no case to answer.

If she is to speak at conference, then how is this acceptable for a supposedly impartial public funded broadcaster and a bastion of free speech?

We need Dennis Skinner to take them to task.

Whilst we're on the subject of conferences, can someone explain to me why, when Andy Burnham specifically pointed out in his complaint that the Labour conference was too London-centric that it wasn't 'a criticism of Jeremy' and that this same issue has been at play under Miliband, Brown and Blair, have the BBC ran with Burnham criticises Corbyn over London-centric Labour?

Mind you, I'm not altogether sure what he's on about. Because the North has been ably represented by Angela Raynor (Ashton-Under-Lyne) and Rebecca Long Bailey (Salford) in speeches at conference. Is Burnham's beef really that a Northern male voice isn't being heard, specifically his own? Can he not recognise a northern accent when it comes from a woman's mouth?

Tuesday, 26 September 2017

RIP Liz Dawn and Tony Booth

They say it comes in threes and, after losing Bobby Knutt on Monday, we now must say goodbye to two other Northern legends; Coronation Street's Vera Duckworth, Liz Dawn, and Til Death Us Do Part star Tony Booth

Leeds born Liz Dawn became a household name and a cultural icon thanks to more than thirty years on the Manchester cobbles. Like Bobby Knutt, her career started out on the club circuit where she performed as a singer. In the late '60s she began to pick up acting work, most notably in Colin Welland's Play for Today Leeds United! as well as several of Alan Bennett's TV plays for that strand also. She arrived in Coronation Street as a semi-regular in 1974, before becoming full time when Tarmey arrived as her husband Jack in 1979. Together they became two of the soap's biggest legends and equally one of the countries best loved and most entertaining couples.

Dawn left the soap at her own request in 2008 when her health began to deteriorate. As a former heavy smoker, as well as her time performing in smoky working men's clubs, had led to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and she spent her time after leaving the show campaigning to raise awareness and funds for the British Lung Foundation. She was also a regular campaigner for the Labour Party. Dawn returned to Coronation Street in 2010 as Vera's ghost in Tarmey's final episode of the soap, before making one last TV appearance in a Christmas episode of rival soap Emmerdale in 2015. She died peacefully surrounded by her family at the age of 77.


The irrepressible Tony Booth brilliantly brought to life the 'scouse git' son-in-law of Alf Garnett in classic TV sitcom Til Death Us Do Part, a role not a million miles from his own personality, certainly in terms of his left wing politics and his unabashed vocal attitude towards them. A Labour member and activist all his life, Booth became a thorn in the side of his own son-in-law, Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair (the war criminal) accusing his government of throwing away billions on the war in Iraq rather than looking after pensioners or paying public sector workers a fair wage. He also criticised his daughter Cherie and Blair's decision to send their eldest son to a private school. He was also very active for pro-Palestinian causes.

Married four times, including a marriage in the 1980s to Coronation Street's Pat Phoenix whom he first met as a young man in the '60s and who he declared to be the love of his life as he nursed her through a terminal illness, Booth had eight children and a career that stretched back to the '60s with notable appearances in the Confessions movies, the John Wayne film Brannigan, Jimmy McGovern's Priest and appearances in all three major soaps; Coronation Street, Emmerdale and EastEnders. He had been suffering from Alzheimers as well as chronic heart disease and pulmonary disease for some years and was 85.


RIP Bobby Knutt

Really saddened to hear the death of comedian, actor and Northern legend Bobby Knutt today at the age of 71. His agent confirmed that Knutt had died suddenly on Monday whilst holidaying in the South of France. 

Born Robert Wass, Knutt began performing whilst still at school in the early '60s as a singer in a a number groups. He later moved into comedy, performing on the working mens' club circuit with partner Geoff Morton as double act Pee and Knutt, before going solo in the mid '60s and securing slots on The Comedians and The Wheeltappers and Shunters Social Club.  

In 1977, Knutt was cast in the lead role for Ken Loach's two part Play for Today drama, The Price of Coal which looked at life for a Yorkshire mining community. Other acting roles included parts in Coronation Street, Last of the Summer Wine, Hetty Wainthrop Investigates, Our Friends In The North, Common as Muck, All Creatures Great and Small, Heartbeat and a recurring role in Emmerdale as Zak Dingle's brother, Albert. In 2012 Knutt announced his retirement from panto and cruise liner cabaret work due to a shoulder operation that went wrong. Most recently, he had been starring in the long running ITV sitcom Benidorm.

In 1986, Knutt married Olympic Bronze 4x400 relay medallist and one time award winning body builder Donna Hartley and remained with her until her death in 2013 at the age of 58.


Saturday, 23 September 2017

Beat The Devil (1953)

"Time . . . time. What is time? Swiss manufacture it. French hoard it. Italians squander it. Americans say it is money. Hindus say it does not exist. Do you know what I say? I say time is a crook."

~ Peter Lorre as Julius O'Hara

How much you enjoy Beat The Devil depends on your tolerance for a film with its tongue stuffed so firmly in cheek. John Huston's 1953 film is loosely based on a novel by Claud Cockburn (under the alias of James Helvick) from a script by Truman Capote that was written day-by-day during the shoot - a process that was hidden from both the cast, including the film's star and financier Humphrey Bogart, and the studio who, in all likelihood and initially at least, expected to be making a thriller noir in the style of The Maltese Falcon. It's fair to say that the audience expected that too, but what they actually got was a camp comedy masquerading as a noir thriller. Or is it the other way around?

The film's plot is like trying to pin down smoke and, in the end, it doesn't really add up or matter anyway. Essentially the story concerns Bogart, Lorre, Robert Morley, Gina Lollabrigida, Marco Tulli and Ivor Bernard as a disparate bunch of crooks (who could give The Ladykillers a run for their money in the motley crew stakes) stranded on Italy's glorious Amalfi Coast waiting to board a ship bound for Africa where their plan is to get rich from the country's uranium deposits. They become distracted by a British touring couple, the Chelms (Jennifer Jones and Edward Underdown) who may or may not be landed gentry from Gloucestershire. Sporting blonde hair, a sometimes wavering cut glass English accent and the kind of fitness techniques that would have earned her a cash-in workout video if the film were made a couple of decades later, Jones has the measure of the gang at first sight - "They're desperate characters," she warns Underdown. "Not one of them looked at my legs" - but quickly proves to be as dangerous thanks to her wild imagination and penchant for storytelling. Capote's script is a delight here, pre-facing all of her outlandish porkies with the key phrase "In point of fact..." that it becomes a comic catchphrase the audience grows familiar with. His irreverent humour, and desire to place it specifically on the lips of Jones, reaches its critical point in a scene where Bogart actually creases up right there on camera - it's during the gangplank scene, and the offending line is that Jones is something of a witch and "could have been a professional". It's not the only incident of corpsing captured on camera either; look out for the scene in which the run-soaked and long suffering ship's captain (Saro Urzi) finally breaks down into frenzied histrionics at his passengers and you'll see the purser (Mario Perrone - a restaurant pianist cast on a whim in Rome despite not knowing a word of English and yet given the most eloquent pieces of dialogue!) unable to stifle his laughter. Meanwhile Capote tests the audience's own breaking point when he has Lollabrigida, the archetypal Italian sexpot second only to Loren, claim that "Emotionally, I am English", before winsomely daydreaming of high teas and Country Life magazine. And then there's the fact that the Lorre has an Irish name! And that his partner, Tulli, can't ever pronounce it: "Ohurra", he says to Lorre's increasing frustration. Beat The Devil is a film therefore less concerned with its own nefarious plot and more concerned with eccentric behaviour and campy one liners. Pity poor Jones though, she had clearly signed up with something else in mind and petitioned Huston and Capote with the concerns she felt regarding her character's continuity whilst at the opposite extreme, Morley and Lorre, who clearly got it - and Morley in particular getting his Sydney Greenstreet moment, were encouraged to come up with their own dialogue and happily did so. 

Beat The Devil is the kind of film that looks like it was made by a cast and crew having a lot of fun. Indeed, the actual nature of the film seems like an imposition on what was essentially a group holiday to Italy! Tales of high stakes poker games, feats of machismo, and marathon drinking sessions litter the legends of this production, as indeed do tales of illness and injury: an impacted wisdom tooth laid Capote low, and on another occasion he left Rome to check on the health and wellbeing his pet raven Lola! The writer made a habit of speaking to Lola on the phone each day and when the bird fell silent, he feared the worst and would not be settled until he was by its side.  But perhaps the most famous injury was to the star itself; on a drive from Rome to Naples, Bogart was involved in a car crash which smashed his bridge, requiring a replica set of dentures to be sent from his dentist in California. The production cannot disguise this event - not only does Bogart look pretty ill and run down in some scenes (more so than from the hangovers we imagine much of the personnel endured) he was also unable to deliver some dialogue and the then unknown comedian and mimic Peter Sellers was hired to dub some of Bogie's lines. The fun is trying to spot them; there are a few moments when Bogie's bourbon burr is replaced with something altogether more youthful, but it's a credit to Sellers' talent that overall it's really very hard to see the join. 

Despite the fun had by all, it's clear that everyone involved had a strong work ethic and optimism for Beat The Devil and were disappointed when it was given the thumbs down by critics at the time. Bogart in particular was disappointed with it's outcome, which is to be expected when you consider he ploughed his own money into it. His opinion of the film and its reception was that "only phonies like it" suggesting the trend for post-ironic pleasures that has only grown in the sixty odd years since its release was not something he would care for.