Thursday, 28 April 2016

Bedmates


Dita Von Teese & Stefania Farrario

RIP Barry Howard

Hi-de-Hi star Barry Howard has passed away following a short battle with cancer. He was 78


Howard starred as the supercilious, acid-tongued ballroom dancing instructor Barry Stuart-Hargreaves who reserved his most waspish asides for his equally haughty wife and dance partner Yvonne played by Diane Holland for the first seven series of the classic sitcom from 1980 to 1986. He was dropped in series eight and replaced by Ben Aris, with rumours at the time pointing to unreliability and an issue with alcohol. 

Howard continued to work in panto, often opposite John Inman as The Ugly Sisters in several productions of Snow White, and continued to appear on television with appearances in shows such as You Rang, M'Lord and the Russell T Davies sitcom The House of Windsor though he would often complain of typecasting following his most famous role. RTD would later give Howard his last acting role on TV, appearing in a 2009 Christmas episode of Doctor Who which bid farewell to David Tennant's Doctor.

RIP 

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Justice Comes To Liverpool

In the many news reports aired today, the same sentiment was repeated over and over; that Liverpool felt like a different city today, a city that could breathe again now that justice has been granted for the 96 victims of the Hillsborough disaster.

I had the privilege of being in the crowds this afternoon outside St George's Hall to pay my respects. It was a deeply moving sight, seeing the floral tributes and people laying bouquets, scarves, and T-shirts on the steps before the chimes of the town hall bells echoed across the city 96 times in commemoration not just of those who lost their lives, but those who campaigned long and hard for 27 years for this day. But it was an uplifting experience too, as we realised we had come together, no longer just in grief, but in triumph that justice had finally won out. 


I'd been at a picket line for striking junior doctors in the city earlier in the day too and found that to be a great experience of people coming together and uniting in a common cause too, so it really was something of a double whammy for me to experience today.

Unfortunately I couldn't hang around all day and so I was not one of the approximate 30,000 that lines the pavements from Lime Street Station to St George's Hall this evening. A shame, as it looked like a night to remember.

But, do I think Liverpool feels different? I think that, whilst we would all give anything for Hillsborough not to have happened (and by the same token for the NHS not to be in the crippling state it is currently in) it is nice to be in a position to reacquaint ourselves with a sense of solidarity, support and community spirit. To rub shoulders with people, chat and smile and feel for once like we're all part of something, and that things can change if we all stand together. 

If you ask me, Liverpool carries on, just like it always has, but perhaps with its head held a little higher and with less woes upon its shoulders after today.

It will never walk alone.

Wordless Wednesday: Not Fair, Not Safe



Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Postcards from Pripyat, Chernobyl


To further commemorate the thirtieth anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, here's the short film Postcards from Pripyat by Danny Cooke from CBS, which captures the remains of Chernobyl's ghost city via haunting drone footage.

Out On Blue Six : The Smiths

Today marks the thirtieth anniversary of the tragedy at Chernobyl. With this in mind, here's Panic by The Smiths, a song penned by Morrissey and Marr allegedly because of how 'Wunnerful Radio One' reacted (or rather refused to react) to the news as it broke.


The story goes that Marr and Morrissey were listening to the radio station when a news report announced the disaster at the Chernobyl nuclear plant in Russia. Straight afterwards, disc jockey Steve Wright played Wham's 'I'm Your Man' 

"I remember actually saying, 'What the fuck does this got to do with people's lives?'" Marr recalled. "We hear about Chernobyl, then, seconds later, we're expected to jump around to 'I'm Your Man'" 

While Marr subsequently stated that the account was exaggerated, he commented that it was a likely influence on Morrissey's lyrics. The band even commissioned a t-shirt featuring Wright's portrait and the phrase "Hang the DJ!" as pictured below.


Thirty years later, the cheesy DJ - no one's idea of Mr Wright - is still a mainstay of afternoon radio, albeit it on Radio 2 were he has hosted the same format show since 1999. No accounting for taste, I guess.

End Transmission


Justice at Last


Great news from Warrington; the 96 victims of 1989's Hillsborough disaster have finally been granted the justice they so long deserved. The jury returned to state that they were the victims of gross negligence and unlawfully killed.

The jury found that Ch Supt David Duckenfield's actions breached his duty of care to the football supporters that day, that failures by him and commanding officers led to the crush on the terraces and confusion regarding the opening of the Leppings Lane exit, and that police errors overall led to the dangerous situation at the turnstiles. They also found that the major incident was not declared quickly enough by the South Yorks constabulary and Ambulance Service, leading to delays in the emergency response. 

They also found that the Sheffield Wednesday stadium itself had defects and an incorrect safety certificate amongst other issues.

The 27 year campaign from the families and survivors is at last fully vindicated and David Cameron has praised their long struggle - interesting, considering how for many years the Tories seemed content to lay the blame squarely at the fans door thanks to inactivity and the slurs made by Tory fave The Scum.


Protect the NHS


Today marks the start of the BMA's 48 hour industrial action which will see all junior doctors from all areas of the NHS walk out and protest against Jeremy Hunt's imposed new contract. I wish the doctors all the very best today and tomorrow and pledge them my undying support in standing up for what they believe in and fighting this government's harsh anti-NHS regime. It's not safe and it's not fair. 

Monday, 25 April 2016

Out On Blue Six : Blackstreet



End Transmission


The Legend of Barney Thomson (2015)


Based on a novel by Douglas Lindsay, The Legend of Barney Thomson is an impressive directorial debut from actor Robert Carlyle; a quirky and grubby love letter to his native Glasgow - it's certainly good to have him back on these shores making small, cultish movies.  

Starring as the eponymous Thomson, Carlyle is a modern day Scottish variant on Sweeney Todd: a hapless, discontented barber pushed further to the back of the shop because of his lack of patter who uses the tools of his trade to diminish the local population. It's all an accident of course, at least initially; a skirmish with his boss who wants to sack him concludes with him getting a pair of scissors embedded in his chest. Luckily for Thomson, Scotland is currently in the grip of a particularly unpleasant serial killer, who posts dismembered body parts to the constabulary (a leg here, a hand there, a cock and an arse) represented by DI Holdall, an increasingly embittered cockney fish-out-of-water played by Ray Winstone, and his rival, the ambitious, modern thinking and officious DI Robertson (Ashley Jensen), who are stymied for a lead on the killer's identity. 


Much of the buzz around Barney Thomson was the casting of Emma Thompson as Carlyle's character's raddled bingo playing old mother Cemolina, despite Thompson being just two years older than Carlyle in real life. It's a wonderfully eccentric stroke, and the performances - Thompson drenched in prosthetics - matches it, so its easy to see why this became the film's main draw and point of interest. Yes, it's a 'big' performance but, as the nightmare mother from hell, it really couldn't really be anything else so it would be churlish and rather joyless to complain. It also perfectly compliments the increasingly jittery (and very funny) turn from Carlyle as things get disastrously out of hand.


But its worth pointing out that Carlyle didn't just stop there when it come to pulling together a strong cast; there's also a delightfully foul mouthed cameo from Tom Courtenay as the police chief, Martin Compston, James Cosmo, Stephen McCole, Barbara Rafferty and that wonderfully underrated Scottish acting legend, Brian Pettifer as Charlie, Thomson's friend; a man who has to ask Thomson to go on the fairground rides with him for fear of looking like a paedophile going on them alone. Fair enough too; with his tight curls, '70s frilly shirt, suit and bowtie, he cuts the kind of figure that you really wouldn't trust with your kiddies.

If all this sounds OTT, it's pretty accurate, but to call this outlandish would actually do it something of a disservice. Carlyle, perhaps taking a leaf out of Irvine Welsh's book, creates a realistically drab and curious Glasgow that is only marginally heightened. For example, I could imagine someone like Charlie existing there, as much as the Henderson barbershop still being a going concern. Granted, some of the characterisation, the more outre moments of gore and the denouement may occasionally threaten to tip the action into more surreal and more familiar waters, but Carlyle's hand remains firmly on the tiller to keep the authentic localism and sense of place largely intact. The lounge music soundtrack - all Acker Bilk, Engelbert Humperdinck and Roy Orbison - really helps with this, along with Fabian Wagner's sublime and eye catching cinematography.


Based on this evidence, I really hope Carlyle steps behind the camera again soon. 

Saturday, 23 April 2016

The Key (2003)


The Key is a sweeping and ambitious three-part drama from 2003 that is a paean to 'the Red Clyde', the strong trade union movement and Labour support that existed in Glasgow for decades but which is now a thing of the past since the independence referendum and the 2015 election that saw the SNP become the overwhelming majority party for Scotland.

Written by Donna Franceschild (Takin' Over The Asylum, Donovan Quick) The Key is a very human story which focuses on three generations of one family, taking in events of the twentieth century from World War One and the Bloody Friday strike of 1919 to Blair's Labour landslide victory of 1997. At the heart of the story is the militant Mary Corrigan (played by Dawn Steele as a strong young woman and June Watson in later but no less impassioned years) whose life mirrors the century, and the mystery of the titular key she habitually wears around her neck.

Refreshingly, and perhaps what I like the most about The Key is that the story is told pretty much exclusively through the eyes of its strong female characters. There's not just Mary, there's also her daughter Helen (Anne Louise Ross) who enters the world of work when her husband (Ewan Stewart) is crippled by an accident at the shipyard and rises to the ranks of regional organiser with a public services union, and her granddaughters Jessie and Maggie (Frances Grey and Ronnie Ancona); the latter is a determined and ambitious young woman who is standing for parliament as a Labour candidate, whilst the former is the families dreamer, a wannabe writer, worn down by life and working in a dog-eat-dog call centre.

The other thing I really like about The Key is that, six years into the premiership of Tony Blair, it dared to point out that New Labour wasn't the utopia we had all hoped. Its depiction of the importance it puts into market forces and its betrayal of the old left and the unions is something that was pretty verboten to say at the time - so perhaps it could only be a Scottish drama that had the balls to make such a statement, sowing the seeds for the disillusion we have seen since the referendum. With that in mind, the main message of The Key is that change comes not from politicians, but from honest, hard working people who stand up and say enough is enough, things are unfair and they need to improve. These people are therefore the likes of Mary, Helen and Jessie rather than Maggie, whose decision to become a 'Blair Babe' is based on her having fully embraced the ethos of New Labour simply because she doesn't want to be on what she perceives to be the losing side like her parents or Mary before her. Throughout, The Key remains authentic to the story of people being caught up in the wider power struggle occurring around them, rather than those in positions of power in the first place.

Unfortunately it's not without its flaws. Some of the dialogue and performances veer into spoof territory (it's really difficult to spout political soap box rants without them appearing a little cliched) and overall  it's perhaps too epic a story to be told in just three one hour episodes. The budget doesn't really stretch to illustrating the canvas in full either, with scenes depicting Bloody Friday and The Battle of Orgreave looking a little unrealistic because they can't really match the numbers. It's the kind of story that deserves a cast of thousands, so it naturally suffers a little on a small BBC budget. Nevertheless, it does boast a solid cast and it is good to see the likes of Ken Stott, Kevin McKidd, Katy Murphy, John Sessions and Paul Copley in relatively small parts in the broader brushstrokes of history, whilst Dawn Steele and Frances Grey impress in the stories biggest and somewhat parallel parts.

The Key seems curiously largely forgotten for a programme that only aired thirteen years ago (not all that long ago in TV terms) so it's good to see that it has been released by Simply Media, a DVD company that is doing a great job of releasing some treasures from the BBC archives, with a good many productions from the '80s, '90s, and early '00s finally seeing the light of day. 

TMWRNJ: Histor's Eye, St George's Day Special, 1999

Celebrate St George's Day with Lee and Herring's two pirate time travelling crows, Histor and Pliny, from an episode of the second series of This Morning With Richard Not Judy. Come with me now, as the crow flies...

video


I've kept a teensy bit after the sketch on, just because I think Nathalie looks surprisingly fetching in her St George outfit!


Out On Blue Six : Billy Bragg and The Blokes


Happy St George's Day!


End Transmission


Friday, 22 April 2016

Amongst Barbarians (1990)


Watching Amongst Barbarians as a ten-year-old in the summer of 1990 had a profound effect on me. It sent me to bed with cold sweats and a racing mind and the bristling events of the play have remained with me to this day. Like the final episode of Blackadder Goes Forth it put my febrile imagination in the position of someone knowing they were about to meet their death - how does anyone accept this? Catching it on YouTube now marks the first time I've seen it possibly since that original broadcast (I'm not sure if it was ever repeated) and I'm pleased to report it remains a strong, highly emotive piece.

This BBC2 Screenplay film is an adaptation of a stage play that made its debut at the Royal Exchange in Manchester a year earlier in 1989. Based on true incidents, Amongst Barbarians may be set in Penang, Malaysia, far away from Margaret Thatcher's Britain, but the Thatcherite attitudes regarding the decline of the British Empire loom large throughout the piece. Two young Englishmen have been arrested for drug trafficking and are sentenced to death by hanging in 28 hours time. Their relatives have travelled to the former British colony in an attempt to come to their aid and bring about a stay or reprieve, however they soon find out there is nothing they can do. The futility of the situation, along with the oppressive heat, increases their testy and agitated behaviour, and their racism and jingiosm becomes increasingly apparent until we are left to wonder just who the real barbarians are. 

Playwright Michael Wall adapted his own play for the BBC which boasted an impressive cast; Con O'Neill and Lee Ross played the two smugglers facing the death penalty, alongside Rowena Cooper, Anne Carroll, Kathy Burke, Madhav Sharma and, in his first dramatic straight role, sitcom star David Jason. As Only Fools and Horses was a big favourite in our house I'm sure he was the big draw for watching - and whilst he, and the rest of the cast, are all fantastic, it's actually Ross and O'Neill who perhaps deserve all the accolades here; the former angry and pugnacious railing against a fate decided upon him in a land he can't even find on a map (the tragedy being that he had won the holiday to Malaysia in a newspaper competition) whilst the latter is largely cool and quick witted, resigned to his fate until the film's final stages when its revealed he isn't perhaps quite the smuggling bigshot he'd like everyone to have believed. Ross' family (Jason, Cooper and Burke) are the family from hell, with Jason cutting a truly pathetic figure as the redundant (in more ways than one) father, a man who no one - not even his own family - want to listen to who realises that the one role he has in life, to protect his son from harm, is something he has failed at. It's a tragicomic performance that builds on the pathos he had already established with the character of Del Boy, thanks to the nine years he had at that point of playing the role. Whilst O'Neill's mother, an expat from Spain may look more civilised than that brood but is in actual fact a coke snorting hard faced Thatcherite ("I don't like her as a person, but I do admire her politics") who believes anything can be solved by giving people what they want - as witnessed by her belief that selling herself to the governor could result in her son's pardon - and that its a man's world that women help oil the wheels. 



Directed by Jane Howell, the production is entirely studiobound and in keeping with its theatrical roots. It's the kind of production that just wouldn't get made now; they'd fly the cast out to Malaysia (or a similar stand in locale) at considerable expense for what amounts to simply establishing shots. Granted it would look more impressive but I actually doubt it would improve upon what we have here. The sense of claustrophobia, of increasing hysteria is actually complimented by the closed in environment a studio shoot brings about and it has the right unnerving effect upon the viewer right up until that dramatic closing scene.

Wall's play is still produced professionally and in am dram circles to this day, which makes it all the more unusual that the BBC film isn't as well known as it perhaps ought to be, leading me to wonder if the corporation is somehow ashamed of their studio based plays, for fear of them appearing 'dated'. There's actually precious little written online about the production (and no screencaps whatsoever hence the lack of them appearing here. I couldn't be arsed taking any myself, apologies!) but I did stumble upon this article from 1990 and the New Straits Times, whose reaction to the production is melodramatic, erroneous and offended - no, it wasn't shot on location, it didn't feature the Sikh guard smoking and it completely misses the point of the title.

To get the BBC to consider repeating some of these classic plays please sign the petition I started here

Liv Tyler by Anton Corbijn, 1996




Posted for no other reason than to inject a bit of perkiness back into proceedings after what has been a pretty crappy week of blog posting. These photos, taken by Anton Corbijn, of the beautiful Liv Tyler were for Stern magazine, in 1996.

Theme Time : Alan Parker - Dempsey And Makepeace

After a couple of days of shocking premature obituaries, I thought it was time to bring a bit of cheeriness back to the blog, so what better theme to celebrate than the incredibly upbeat, pumping score to the cheerily naff 80s ITV actioneer, Dempsey and Makepeace



Running for three series from 1985 to 1986 Dempsey and Makepeace certainly ranks as one of the strangest cop shows ever to appear on our screens. It's influences seemed to range from The Persuaders! and The Professionals and it appealed to children, but occasionally its content would attempt to veer into harder edged, more cynical territory like The Sweeney, whilst at the same time hoping to emulate the cop shows from the US that were becoming increasingly popular in that period, shows like Miami Vice, Cagney and Lacey and Moonlighting. Needless to say it wasn't always a successful marriage of ideas, though lead actors Michael Brandon and Glynis Barber would have a successful marriage; falling in love on set, they wed in 1989 and remain together to this day.


The premise of the show was the oddball pairing of two police detectives: an elegant British noblewoman, Sgt (Lady) Harriet Makepeace, and a streetwise blue collar New Yorker, Lt James Dempsey, both working for SI 10, an elite and armed unit of London's Metropolitan Police. The initial stages of the feature length pilot for the series was a bit Serpico in that Dempsey's partner was killed during a drugs operation and, uncovering high level corruption in New York and in fear of his life, Dempsey is forced to flee to the UK on the pretence of an international police exchange programme. Landing in Gordon Spikings' (that excellent bluff Welsh actor Ray Smith) SI 10, Dempsey is forced to partner with Lady 'Harry' Makepeace, the daughter of the stately home owning Lord Winfield. This chalk and cheese pairing eventually bond over their own unique differences to the rest of the squad around them and make a good team as they fight crime on the streets of London.


As I mentioned earlier, the show had an appeal for kids; I know I enjoyed it and I seem to recall merchandise like annuals, comic strips, Jigsaws, toy replica cars and transfer sets (see below) from that time.



My dad hated it (and I don't think he's ever quite got on board with Brandon, who he viewed as a cocky yank) though he would still watch it, either for me, or because with only 4 channels back then there wasn't anything else on. To the 6 or 7 year old me however, Glynis Barber was the epitome of a pretty lady and probably one of the reasons I enjoyed the show so much.


When the series was repeated by cable channel Granada Plus in the late 90s I remember trying to watch it, but only really enjoying it for its nostalgia. It was a cheery yet corny affair that never seemed to pull its intentions off. Still, cracking theme by Alan Parker - not, the Alan Parker, the director, but the man responsible for, amongst others, the theme to Angels and the soundtrack to Jaws 3, as well as being the uncredited electric guitarist on such tracks as The Walker Brothers No Regrets, Bowie's 1984 and Donovan's Hurdy Gurdy Man! 




Thursday, 21 April 2016

Out On Blue Six: Prince, RIP

OK, what the fuck is going on? Can people please stop dying! I cannot believe another talent has passed and at such a young age - just 57. He died at his recording studio at home following a short illness.



1958 - 2016

RIP

End Transmission



RIP Guy Hamilton

It's getting really disheartening to blog the deaths of so many talented people seemingly every other day, so its with a heavy heart that I report Guy Hamilton, director of several Bond movies, has passed away. But at least he reached a good old age of 93, unlike Victoria Wood's untimely passing yesterday.


Hamilton was responsible for one of the greatest ever James Bond movies, 1964's Goldfinger, and followed it up with three 007's on the trot in the early 70s; Diamonds Are Forever, Live and Let Die and The Man With The Golden Gun. But he wasn't just a Bond director; Guy Hamilton was responsible for some truly great movies, many of them ranking among my favourites, such as the war films The Colditz Story, The Battle of Britain, and Force 10 From Navarone, Agatha Christie mysteries like The Mirror Crack'd and Evil Under The Sun, groundbreaking fare like The Party's Over and the Harry Palmer film Funeral in Berlin. 

RIP

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

RIP Victoria Wood

This is going to be a very short post/tribute because I just can't get my head round it yet, but there it is; they said it on the news so it must be true.

Victoria Wood has died aged just 62 after a short battle with cancer.


I was such a HUGE fan. Crying as I type. Don't know what to say. I grew up with her inimitable Northern humour, she was the ultimate retort to any idiot who said 'women aren't funny' and now she's gone. Gone far too soon. Shellshocked.

RIP